RAISED TO BE NICE! My Intellectual Biography
This is how I became who I am ...Sorry for all none english speakers, but this text gibt's nur in enhlish. Aber my english is not so compliziert. Therefore just try! Denk daran: You can do it, if you really want! And if you want to get to know me, wär das wenigstens eine possibility!
Waking up at the Ecole d'Humanité
Exciting times at the University of Oregon
From being a Teacher to being a free school activist
Home and non-schoolers – a late discovery The Beginning of School - The End of Learning?
Retreat into the Realm of History
Adding a "global perspective". What travelling can do to you
And now: What's happening next?
I was born in Luzern, Switzerland, in 1955. When I was 4 years old, my parents moved to Basel, Switzerland, which I consider as my home town since then. When I was born I had, what adults called, "bad eyes". By the age of twelve my vision was all gone.
I attended Kindergarden, elementary and high-school (Gymnasium) in Basel. My childhood was protected, middle class, a bit on the boring side. I was an okay student and like many middle class kids, I kind of liked school -, not because I really really liked it, but because I never thought, that I had an alternative to it. However: In retrospect I'd say especially the eight years I spent in that old Gymnasium were a complete los of time. In 1968 I was 13 years old, but my milieu was to conservative to be affected by the events of these turbulent times: In our history class we were still stuck in old Egypt and at home politics were not much of an issue. My parents would read the newspaper but it would never occur to them, to get actively involved in the fight for free public transportation, clean rivers, against nuclear power or any other of the many struggles of the time.
After graduating from high school I spent one year as a student at the University of Oregon. When I came back to Switzerland I got my first job as teacher and "family head" at the Ecole d'Humanité. This experience was crucial for my personal and professional life!
Waking up at the Ecole d'Humanité
The Ecole d'Humanité is a fascinating international boarding school in the midst of the Swiss alpes.The school is small - aproximatly 150 students and 50 staff members from around the globe. Its history goes back to the beginning of the twentieth century, when many dissatisfied educators throughout the western world started to try out alternatives to the standard school whose establishment was part of the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century.
The contrast between the prestigious old fashion gymnasium I had gone to and this liberal alternative school could not have been bigger! Instead of the peaceful bordem and monotony which dominated my own highschool years I found cheerful kids and highly motivated adults who seemed to be interested in just about everything which went on around them. Instead of fixed timetables and set rules I found a system of flexible classes from which the kids could choose and a weekly school assembly and all kinds of additional meetings and committees, in which all things concerning the school were being discussed and taken care of. The discussions included everybody: the kids and staff as well as the headmasters of the "Ecole" and Edith Geheeb, the wife of the founder of the school, who turned 90 the year I started to work there.
Not only did the students decide pretty much on their own, which classes they wanted to take. There were also no grades at the "Ecole". Students went to their classes because they had chosen to go there, not because they had to. Instead of tricking and pressuring our students into learning we tried to help them to find out, what they wanted to do in their lives and at the school. Because of the flexibility of the system the school was able to help students prepare for all kinds of exams. Academic courses were usually restricted to morning hours, so that the afternoons would be free for individual activities and a broad range of classes in sports, arts and crafts.
The students, who came from about 20 countries around the world, ranged in age from 11 to 12 to 18 or even older. Classes like all other activities were usually organized around a common interest or a certain topic not according to age.
A few months before I began to work at the Ecole, Ruth C. Cohn had started to work with the school. She was hired as a consultant psychologist, but she had warned the headmasters, that she would not restrict her work to the so called difficult kids like most psychologists in her position would. Instead she wanted to focus on the situation of the adults and on the style and structure of the school, assuming, that if the school was in good shape, most "difficult kids" would not create a problem anymore. The school had accepted this aproach and had just started with a very intensive and productive process of self evaluation, when I got there.
The Ecole was not just an interesting school. It was a special way of life, a special way of reacting to and interacting with each other. To have lived and worked at this school did therefor not only leave me with a strong interest in questions of schooling and education. It also left me with a clear sense of what it means to live our lives as subjects, as responsable human beings, actively involved wit our world rather than as objects, as inanimate parts of an anonymous machine.
Exciting times at the University of Oregon
After a couple of years at the Ecole d'Humanité and three rather dull semesters at the University of Basel I decided to return to the University of Oregon to continue my own education. In the summer of 1979 I graduated from the U of O with a B.A. in education. My thesis titled "Education for Political Potency – From Masses of Consumers to Masses of People" was my first systematic attempt to understand what's wrong with our schools and to propose an alternative to the present model of scientific mass education. It was an exciting and very productive adventure, in which I greatly profited from the learning environment I found at the University of Oregon. It was the spirit and social climate of the 1970s for sure, but it was also the structure of this avradge American university, which accounted for this positive experience!
I did my thesis within the framework of a so called "independent study program", which allowed students to develop and pursue their own studies across and outside of the limitations of the standard BA programs offered by the various departments of the university, if they found at least three professors, who were willing to serve as their advisors and graduation committee. I profited immensely from the freedom this program offered to me and I was generally impressed by the wide range of learning opportunities which an ordinary state university like the University of Oregon offered to its students. I was equally intrigued by the way US universities combined an almost unbelieveable freedom with a high degree of structure and disciplin: The range of classes I could choose from to work toward my BA was enormous compared to the limited possibilities at european universities. At the same time the individual classes were much more planned out and structured than the lectures and seminars at European universities. Reading asignments for every single meeting of the class and written tests in the middle and at the end of each term made it pretty much impossible to pass a course without some sort of active participation.
Although I never really researched this in depth, I felt at the time and still feel to some extent, that universities in the US generally do a much better job at preserving or stimulating genuin curiosity and significant learning than european universities. In this sense the U. of O. was in many ways another inspiring example of an alternative aproach to education.
From being a teacher to being a free school activist
After returning to Switzerland in the fall of 1979 I first tried the life of an indipendent artist. I then thought (and still think today at times) I should be some sort of political comedian and activist singer. However, for some reason my dream didn't materialize, and after a while I decided to go back to school and get a MA in education and psychology at the University of Zürich.
In the fall of 1984 I got a job at a swiss teacher training college. I started it with best intentions and a strong belief in the possibilities of "inner school reform", but after half a year I came to the conclusion, that I (in contrast to some "good" teachers I know) couldn't successfully bridge the gap between what a teacher in todays schools has to do in order to survive and keep floating and what I considered to be good teaching. I knew, that compromises were necessary and possible, but I realized, that I was not able nor willing to live with such compromises. I felt and still feel too strongly about the damage our attempts to "teach" almost inevitably afflict on the trapped audience in our schools. I had seen the slow decay of vitality and honesty during my highschool years and I had seen an alternative to this murdering of souls as Ellen Key, the famous swedish author had called this invisible drama in her book "the Century of the Child" at the beginning of the twentieth century. I couldn't pretend not to see and not to feel inspite of all my good intentions to be reasonable about it and to accept "certain realities".
I tried a couple of other teaching jobs, but when I felt fatigue and cynicism settle in I definitely gave up my dream of "inner school reform". Since I didn't want to leave the battle field like so many disillusioned teachers, I decided to do some research on alternative and free schools in Switzerland. IN the mid eighties information about these mostly private initiatives at the fringes of the official system was almost non existent, and it looked like an interesting idea to put together a reader on the subject. I thus started to collect material on Waldorf, Montessori and other alternative and free schools in Switzerland. I interviewed many parents and teachers involved in these schools and, noticing their relative isolation from each other, I helped to organize the first of a series of annual meetings of Swiss Alternative Schools in 1986. Two years later the first edition of the planned reader appeared. It sold relatively well and for a while I was The Expert on alternative schools in Switzerland. With a number of likeminded friends I continued to be involved in organizing meetings, speaking at public events and writing about the situation of these schools, about their history and the educational and political concepts underlying their work. For some time I was an active member of the European Forum for Freedom in Education , founded during the turbulent months of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and of similar initiatives in Switzerland.
Home and non-schoolers – a late discovery
During an extended trip through the US in the summer of 1987 one of my friends had told me, that she intended to home school her daughter. At first, I didn't understand, what she was talking about. When I finally understood, I was shocked. It was the first time I heard about home schooling and the idea just didn't seem right.
the fact, that I - holder of a BA and an MA in education and an "expert" on alternative schools - had neither heard nor thought about home schooling before, shows how stuck we all were then in our belief in the concept of a uniform education delivered by some experts be they representatives of the state burocracy or of some alternative school ideology.
After having overcome my initial shock I soon got very interested in the concept of growing up without schools. I started to publisize the idea over here as much as I could. I looked into the legal aspects involved in home schooling and tried to gather some information about people who were presently home schooling their children in our country or who had done so before.
The response in the alternative school communities or in the community of the academic world was very slow. The idea, that children could grow up without schools seemed to scare many people. They were quick at pointing to the possible abuse of the idea by some nerrow minded fundamentalist parents and to remind me of all the children from a less educated background who would certainly not do anything else but watch TV and do drugs if this idea should gain more recognition.
Unlike me most people over here didn't seem very interested in the liberating potential of home schooling and nobody was intrigued by the somewhat disquieting fact, that after 150 years of institutionalized education we just didn't know anymore, how children would develop intellectually and socially if they could just continue with their lifes the way they did before school started.
Although the concept of home schooling or growing up without schools has since made it across the Atlantic and the number of active home schoolers is slowly growing, most people still react with indiffernce or panic to the idea. Only a few seem genuinly interested. When I talked privately or in public about home schooling – not as the solution to all problems and a feasible alternative for all kids, but as an interesting thought and a valuable possibility for some people – I have often felt and still feel like a doctor who explains to an audience, which had grown up with daily drugs and vitamins since age seven, that under most conditions children were perfectly capable to stay alife and grow up without constant medication, that such medication was in fact often harmful, because it tends to interfere with or even sabotage the complex interplay of the various aspects of their growth process. The idea understandably scares the hell out of people who are used to compolsiry programs of medication since age 7. It is the same fear which the idea of growing up without schools evoques in people, who have no clue as to how their children would develop under such circumstances.
The beginning of school - the end of learning?
My experience as a student and teacher in various "alternative" and "straight" schools, my exposure to all kinds of radical thinkers and courageous practicianers had eventually convinced me, that something is fundamentally wrong with the way we "teach" our kids and we "run" our schools: Instead of letting children grow into this world the way they do during their first years, struggling to understand and master what ever they encounter around them in their own way and time, helping here and there a bit, taking dangerous things out of their way, but mainly just enjoying to be with them, watch them, talk to them and make sure they're being fed and clothed alright, we turn this whole process of development upside down once they enter school. Now all kinds of adult experts determine, what our children have to do, when they have to do it and how they have to do it.
Our trust in the natural growth processes which guided the learning of our children in the first years of their development with such apparent success seems to melt down to nothing in the face of school. Although we have seen, how efficiently our kids have mastered their lives up until now and how much they have learned, we seem to have some sort of nervous break down, when school starts: Suddenly we feel a need to "teach" them all kinds of things. We create school curicula and lesson plans to insure, that they learn the right things in the right way at the right time. We are afraid, that they might fall behind. We hand them over to "school", the institution which has over the last two centuries become the number one specialist in teaching the children all they presumably need to know in order to make it in the adult world. And when the educational machinery doesn't produce the results we hoped (and payed) for, we don't turn back to the old ways; instead we crank up the engine to keep the learning process going: We invest in new technologies of teaching and new strategies of classroom management, turning the simple process of growing up, being curious and wanting to participate in this world into a ever more confusing mix of faulse promises, pseudo comradery and submission which can only be handled by highly paid professionals who themselves labour under the threat of a impressive hierarchy of experts. – Afraid that our children won't make it in later life, we start to hand them over to all kinds of special training places at an ever earlier age, thus turning them into citizens and workers before they ever get a chance to become something like an indipendent human being.
The results of this crude procedure are very ambivalent: On one hand this kind of mass education creates a high ability to function within abstract structures, a high readiness and ability to obey given orders and fulfill prescribed taskes. IN this sense modern schools are very successful. They produce exactly the kind of fearful, diligent and uncritical people who keep the loud and brainless machine of progress up and running. However: We are not supposed to talk about school in these terms, because this could strengthen the position of those, who never fully bought into the rhetoric with which compulsory education has been legitimized since its beginnings in the nineteenth century.
During our own school-education, most of us have learned to accept (if not embrace!) the common myth that forced mass schooling is a sign of social and cultural progress to be defended under all circumstances and without hesitation. For the average citizan in most "modern" countries it is a clear sign of immature juvenil behaviour to call schools a prison (and alternative schools "alternative prisons"). Amongst professional teachers and others directly involved with schools such statements usually create considerable anger and understandable dismay. Most of them truly believe in the necessity and the positive value of what they are doing. Although it is obvious for many, we are not supposed to openly say, that the success of modern schooling is based on a Large scale destruction of individual selfdetermination and courage, loss of personal ingenuity and self confidence, loss of INDEPENDENT thinking, loss of connectedness with oneself and with the immediate social and natural environment. Such allegations are looked upon as treason, and they threaten in deed one of the essential myths of modern societies. The priests of the new scholastic regime tell us, that first of all, what we say is not true and secondly, it has to be like this because it has always been like this. We may not be convinced by the propaganda but, like in the story of the emperor's new clothe, we are all kind of shy to confront the obvious: modern schools are not a place of personal growth, a place of critical thinking, a place of sharing and caring, a place of creative development and emotional security. In the contrary: Inspite of the naive effort thousands and thousands of teachers and administrators put into their work and inspite of our continued romantic investment in the concept of "education", education as it is organized and performed today is not only a dehumanizing and disorienting experience for millions of individual students it also threatens the very future of the society which organizes and sanctions the big scale domestication which takes place in our schools. While compolsiry education as we have developed it in the West over the last 200 years keeps our civilization running by mainstreaming us into its tasks and functions and into its specific ways of thinking. In order to achieve this goal schools have to systematically ignore or punish thoughts, questions or actions, which do not fit there purpose. Thus people slowly loose tuch with their own inner self and they become pretty much incapable to seriously question the society they live in and to resist, when they disagree with its goals or actions.
The fact that the massproduction of "educated people" is one, if not the biggest industry in all modern economies makes an open and rational discussion of the whole thing even more difficult: We like to think, that the reasons for our involvement as teachers, publishers of school material, professors of education or school administrators in the field of education are predominantly idealistic or at least rational. To think, that the main reason for us to do, what we do, could simply be money is too distressing for most of us. And yet, money probably plays a much bigger role in all school reform debates than we usually suspect, for when we talk about modern schools, we are not just talking about a historical phenomenon or educational concepts or psychological preferences. We are also talking about money - big money! - and all kinds of material privileges and status symbols gained by being (and staying) "in education". Abolishing mass schooling is therefore an enormous economic challenge as well and we won't get anywhere, if we do not look at this aspect of the problem as well..
It is true: Many have said these and similar things long before me. Just read Wilhelm von Humboldts or Emma Goldmans essays on the limits of public education, read George Dennison's "Lives of Children" or Carl Rogers "Freedom to Learn" or look at the websites devoted to the recent work of John Holt, Joseph Chelton Pearce, Ivan Illich or John Taylor Gatto, to mention only a few: They all voice similar criticisms and share similar hopes. But the fact, that others have said something before us, doesn't necessarily mean, that we shouldn't say it again. In times of crisis some things cannot be repeated enough! And besides: Most of us are so deaply connected with the myths and rituals I have just described, that our whole being fights the idea to really let go of this dream. At least for me the process of unlearning is long and slow.
Retreat in the relm of history!
Although I still had and have a lot of sympathy for all alternative and free school initiatives (not necessarily because of WHAT they do but because of the fact, that they do take their lives in their hands at all!) the slow decay of my bourgeois believes in school also started to affect my enthusiasm for alternative schools. I began to feel more and more trapped in my functions as free school activist as the years went by. The movement seemed too tame, too involved with the dayly routines of keeping ones own school going, dealing with "difficult" parents and kids or indifferent burocrats and a public, which for the most part didn't understand, why anyone would even consider starting a free school . There was little time and energy left for "politics" and politics themselves rarely got beyond rather trivial issues and requests, which had less and less to do with what I wanted to be involved in. Thus, at the End of 1993 time to quit my work as alternative school advocate had come.
Not quite knowing what to do – and not quite ready to face the consequences of my disenchantment with "education" -, I picked up a project which I had started some years earlier. I withdrew into the peaceful land of history to write an extensive biography of Paul and Edith Geheb-Cassirer, the founders of the once famous "Odenwaldschule" and the "Ecole d'Humanité", the school, which had trigggered my passion for education in the 1970s.
The "Ecole" had asked me in the late 1980s to help put together their school archive – consisting of thousands of letters of the two Geheebs and all kinds of documents they collected during their long lives. Academic interest in the project was there and even funding was possible, for Paul Geheeb (1870-1961) was an outstanding educator of pre-nazi Germany, and the fact, that he left his country and emigrated into Switzerland after the nazis had come to power also counted in his favor, because it was something like a promise of personal integrity and courage.
Had I known, that my temporery escape into the past would turn into an expedition of almost 10 years, I would not have gone on the trip, but when it started to dawn on me, that this project might take longer than I expected, it was too late to stop ... and now, after the thing is over, I can say, it was all in all a fantastic experience. I met all kinds of (mostly dead and yet very alife!) people from decades long past, getting a sense of who they were and what they wanted! The german woman's movement of the late 19th century, the attempts to revitalize the chirch and other social institutions, the struggle of the german social democrats to be accepted as a legitimate political force, the vehement struggle for a renewal of western education at the beginning of the 20th century, inspired and interconnected with all kinds of picturesque life reform movements advocating free love or veganism, eastern spirituality or a classless society … and Paul and Edith Geheb-Cassirer were right in the middle of all this, serving you might say as my "personal guides” and "informants”, walking me through the final years of Wilhelm II, the last German emperor, into World War I, through the Weimar Republic and the beginning of the nazi era and taking me into Switzerland, where they started all over again with their "school of mankind", an idealistic project, which – as Paul Geheeb stated in his opening speech of the new school in April of 1934 – was even more important because it looked so silly and out of place in this "time of rising nationalism" ...
The material result of this excursion into history is a two volume biography of twelf hundred pages, which appeared in german in 1998 and 2006. The research was in part funded by the Swiss National Science Fundation. In the course of the project I got a PHD from Berne University. Having started my life as a faithful sun of the academic sect part of me felt quite flattered by this "promotion". However, the renewed contacts with swiss and german universities during this time increased my distaste of these institutions and their pseudo intellectuality.
The personal results of this project are a bit more difficult to summarize: On one hand my growing awareness of the initiatives and activities of educators like Geheeb has added quite a bit to my scepticism toward the prophecies of modern school reformers, who tell us since generations, that the big turn around in education, we are all hoping for, is just around the corner! While this insight is a bit depressing, I also met many people of something we could call alternative history -, an interesting, courageous bunch of "strange" people, who often didn't fit into the established order of things, pacifists, who defended human decency and love, when their leaders preached hatred and fear, economists who worked on economic concepts beyond the mechanisms of selfishness and gread, which govern todays economies or, last but not least, guys like Geheeb, who in his quiet way never gave up his belief, that kids didn't have to be forced into becoming decent and educated beings, but who instead insisted in the simple fact, that all human beings by nature want to be part of the community and contribute to it, want to be loved by their fellow human beings and learn all it takes to be a grown up . . .
Adding a "global perspective". What travelling can do to you!
In 2004, after the Geheeb project was over, I felt ready for a break. Being a bit of an adventuror I left Switzerland and travelled by boat, bus and train through Turkey, Iran and Pakistan into India. I have always enjoyed traveling off the beaten track, but this trip was special, longer and more adventurous than any of my prior travels. Besides, it was my first time in Asia and I didn't really know, what I was looking for. The only thing I knew was, that I wanted to see Santiniketan, where, in 1901, Rabindranath Tagore, one of Paul Geheebs famous friends, had started a school quite simular to Geheebs Odenwaldschule. Well, I did see Santiniketan. The Tagore school is still there but its free and inventive spirit seems to have gone long time ago. Santiniketan itself has developped into a small town with a pieceful, almost european feel to it. A visit of the Tagore school was "not possible".But during this five month trip I visited quite a few other schools in India and Pakistan: boarding schools, street schools, regular day schools, schools for rich and poor kids, "alternative" and "straight" in their educational approach. Besides that I ate strange food, touched strange plants and animals, I rode a camel and many bicycle rikshas and other unfamiliar vehicles, sat in packed trains and busses for days, wandered through the streets of Quetta and Islamabad, Lahore, Delhi, Daramsalla, Kolkata and many other cities, widnessed all kinds of ceremonies and – most important: I met many people, who told me about their lives, their traditions, their believes, their hopes and fears. Some of these encounters were brief, fleeting impressions if you want; some of them turned into friendships for life - inshallah.
During a second trip to India in November 2005 I spent a few days at Shikshantar, The Peoples' Institute for Rethinking Education and Development in Udaipur, Rajastan. It was a brief visit, but it made me think. It was the first time, I met a guy who couldn't read and who said, that he didn't care to read, that the emphasis we westerners put on reading and writing was part of a colonial take over, which threatens the traditional lives his people live until today. It was the first time, I heard an educated adult say, "I don't won't to learn how to read and write". I started to wunder, what our ancesters have said, when the smart guys from the urban centers came and told them, that they should send their kids to school, so that they would learn to read and write.
In Switzerland and Germany and in western Europe in general, we know about the resistance the modern schools met at first, but most of what we know concerns the catholic and (to a lesser degree) the protestant church: they were not happy about the change, because until then, they had the monopoly on education and schooling. Now the representatives of the state came and clamed the monopoly for themselves, a move which was only one of many others, which were part of the change of power between the church and the modern, so called democratic state, which markes the 19th century history of western Europe. IN school we learned, that this was a good move, that the introduction of compulsory education and the move toward realistic, worldly rather than religious subjects meant liberation of the "uneducated" masses. I sort of always took it for granted, that the people were happy about the schools they finally got and that the only parents, who resisted the change, were greedy reactionaries who abused the kids as cheep labor on their farms and in their workshops. It never occurred to me, that they may have had other reasons to resist the schools which the new progressive governments started to force on them. Maybe they felt, that there was no need for so much reading and writing. Maybe they felt, that schools would make their children only restless and unhappy, always on the look out for a better life. Maybe they thought, their life was good enough, the way it was. Maybe ...
We don't seem to know, how many school resisters we had in Switzerland (or any other western european country for this matter) in the 19th century and what reasons they gave for there "civil disobedience" when they were questioned by the police or the judge.Although tons of educational research is being done over here year after year, it looks like these questions have never been studied in any detail! Maybe the school resisters of the 19th century were not as stupid and backward. Maybe they felt, that 6 or 8 years of compulsory schooling would change their lives in ways, they didn't want their lives changed. Maybe …
I remember having read an unpublished study by Rudolf Saurer about the situation in the Canton of Berne after the political changes of the early 1830s, in which the author claims, that the people never asked for more schooling. They turned to their new democratic governments for all kinds of things, but not for more schools. I remember reading about the disgust and suspition Tolstoi felt toward the western European schools, which had been recommended to him by experts as models for the schools he wanted to open for the children of his peasants. After having visited quite a fiew of these recommended establishments around 1850 he wrote in one of his educational essaies, that he just couldn't belief, that an institution, which had to be forced onto the children and their parents with the kind of brutality he had seen throughout France and Switzerland was really adding to the happiness and the humanity of the children. I remember that John Taylor Gatto challenges the myth that compulsory education has anything to do with the fact, that people had to learn how to read and write. "Looking back", he writes, "abundant data exist from states like Connecticut and Massachusetts to show that by 1840 the incidence of complex literacy in the United States was between 93 and 100 percent." (Underground History of American Education, New York 2003, p. 52) Although I seriously doubt Gattos figures, there are others like the historian Harvey Graff, who argue, that mass schooling was not meant to spread literacy, but rather to temper and channel it. Uncontrolled reading by workers was felt as a threat to the ruling classes. If there's really no direct connection between literacy and modern mass education, the theory, that modern schools were not established as agents of emancipation but rather as agents of control and domination, instruments to colonize the people, to ingrain the rules of modern wage slavery into our brains and bodies seems at least possible. For Noam Chomsky there's no doubt about this: "Far from creating independent thinkers", Chomsky says, "schools have always, throughout history, played an institutional role in a system of control and coercion. And once you are well educated, you have already been socialized in ways that support the power structure, which, in turn, rewards you immensely." (Chomsky on MisEducation. Edited and Introduced by Donaldo Macedo. Lanham Maryland 2000, p. 16)
For me it is still difficult to look at our schools in such an unromantic way and accept them as mear extentions of the capitalist machine, which is spreading western culture around the globe, thereby destroying what it once helped to create: fair living conditions for all of us, the protection of our personal freedom within a democratically organized community, the protection of our fundamental human rights ... But as I get older, this interpretation of modern mass education seems less and less strange or threatening.
And now: What's happening next?
Well, to tell you the thruth, I don't quite know. I feel, that I cannot and should not give up my fight for a change in the way, we deal with our children: I see the insane drivenness of our civilisation, excited and reinforced by an economy based on alienation, fear and gread. I see the amount of unhappyness and unnecessary stress we create and recreate for ourselves and the world around us, not understanding, not wanting to understand what we are doing. I see, how this process has been picking up speed over time thereby getting more and more out of control, so that we who once dreamt to be in charge of the machine of progress are about to be destroyed and devoured by it. I feel, that our educational system – rational and orderly as it looks to the untrained eye –fules this insanity in many ways. I see how this could be different, how we could transform our schools into places of growing self awareness and of deepening involvement with the world, places of mutual caring and interest, places of courage and curiosity. I see how we could turn our present educational system into a culture of all kinds of learning opportunities – formal schools, independent networks of learning, networks of experimentation, a culture based on participation and dialogue centering around the interests, hopes and needs, dreams and fears of real people, regardless of their age or any other social atribute, a culture of conviviality as Ivan Illich called it in the 1970s, a culture beyond the nightmare of world wide suspicion and gread, a truly rational and democratic culture, a change not just for kids, but for all of us …
I see this possibility, I see beginnings here and there. I think of places,which function differently than the big machine, places, where people still stop and talk when they meet, places, where people feel safe, places, which mean something to the people who live and work there. I see this and I know, how people change, when their environment changes, how they open up and start to smile, when they feel welcome and useful. I think of many big and small organisations with simular hopes and fears. I think of all the people who have said and say exactly what I try to say. I see all this and I feel, that I cannot leave this struggle.
However. There are days, when I see us dancing in the ballrooms of the Titanic, not willing or able to understand and deal with the insanities and the pseudorationality of our western life style, not willing or able to give up our habits, not believing in the possibility of change and full of resistance toward those, who step outside the cyrcle of myths and polite selfdeception, which makes up most of what we call our intellectual life. I see how the big machine continues to grind along polluting and destroying, turning this planet into a big garbage dump run under ever more degrading conditions by billions of willing slaves. I see social networks falling apart, I see humor and leasure disappear, I see solidarity crumble, I see us dragged into a world wide war faught under the dictate of so called efficiency and productivity, a war fuled by gread and fear, by faulse hopes and promises, a war which we will eventually all lose, regardless how rich, how "educated" or "privileged" we might be!
On such days I sometimes hate my big words and all my thinking and talking and writing, for it seems so useless, so silly, so limited. Depression and desperation settle in. But then I get angry again and I feel that I have to say, what I see and sense happening around us not because it will make a difference, but because I just have to do it. I feel alarmed as if I were waking up in a burning house, seeing everybody around me sound asleep!
On other days I am calm and happy and I wunder, whether my passionate wish itself is not a dubious thing, for how many times have people faught for what they believed to be a good cause thereby just creating only more misery and confusion. Usually these moments of complete detachment don't last long. It just doesn't seem right to ignore suffering and injustice around me and withdraw into some sort of academic glass bead game or sit on my meditation cushion and wait for inlightenment. I realize though, that fighting with clinched teeth and hatred is not a good choice. So I try to fight with humor and a caring heart, detached and involved at the same time. Some of you may say, this is the buddhist way. I don't know. I think it's the way we should try to work out our conflicts and our struggles be they struggles within ourselves or between us. I say, I try. I'm not a holy man, so I don't succeed all the time! I am also not very disciplined. I read a lot these days, I stroll through the internet, I think and talk to others about my ideas letting them simmer and develop. Sometimes I wish I were more of a doer, but I am not. Although my bones are starting to remind me, that I will not live for ever, I am not in a hurry.
Having just come back from the land of history and from India I am still in the process of reconnecting with Swiss and European realities. Part of this reconnection is the creation of this website. At the same time I have started a second site for all groups and people interested in the idea (and project) of deschooling Switzerland. Whether this site will trigger any discussion and action remains to be seen. It is certainly my wish, for I feel, that we need some sort of radical educational movement or organisation, which takes on the fight with todays educational establishment, fighting with humor and a caring heart, but fighting with determination all the same. When I look around in Switzerland and the European Union I find many small groups with simular ideas and goals, but no overarching organisation of the sort I envisage. Sometimes I am asked to talk about my research on Paul and Edith Geheeb or about my experiences as a blind travellor. I hope that I will get more occasions of this sort in the years to come. Last but not least I have some textes about the development and consequences of the educational overkill at work in modern societies on board of my computer, textes and fragments which I hope to turn into a book before long. The public doesn't understand the depth of the problem yet and the educational establishment is not interested in the kind of change I am proposing, but change will come, that's for sure. Therefor we better be prepared.
©2007 by Martin Naef
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