There is a beautiful article written by Marc Chehab – It asks, “What will happen if a child realizes this that ‘What we see arrives faster than what we hear’ Himself or herself”
For someone to arrive at this conclusion autonomously is utterly profound. It’s also radically corrosive to power. It’s profound because it may lead to some very deep reflections on their place in the world; and it’s corrosive to power because it teaches them that whether something is or isn’t true does not depend on what a teacher or a book says. It depends solely on whether it’s actually true – on whether what you see does in fact arrive faster than what you hear. The article read how Socratic reflection is still being punished for the same reason that Socrates was executed for: because the communities that surround the education system are scared of the consequences of letting pupils think freely, because for the socio-economic system to survive you need obedient people with more or less no urge to question. We do not need musicians and artists on the street but workers in the industry. Not people who have found their own meaning but who have learnt the meaning we wish to teach.
And probably that is why, not just here but world over, schooling with a set curriculum, decided by the experts, and the powerful, is being seen as panacea, as a source of hope, as a means to promote this one single monoculture. Why else would a child in Ladakh, a child in Kerala, and the one in the Rajasthan (and possibly in Africa and Europe too) be studying exactly the same stuff, which has less to do with their own culture, their own little place and their own language and geography.
But there have always been few trying to break out and creating free learning and living environments for children.
- Leo Tolstoy, in early 1800s, started a school for the children of poor peasants in Yasnaya Polyana, where he taught himself. While this venture lasted only about three years, it represented the concerted effort of one of the world’s most famous literary figures to alter the state of Russia’s educational system.
- For over 20 years Gijubhai ran a child-friendly school in his native Bhavnagar, Gujarat. He wrote a small book called Divaswapna (meaning to “day dream”) recounting his year long work with children. You could read the book here.
- Rabindranath Tagore went on to create, abode of peace, Shantiniketan. Here he started Patha Bhavana, the school of his ideals, where children were free to live and learn from the beautiful surroundings.
- Sosaku Kobayashi from Japan started a school called Tomoe. Kuroyanagi, one of the students, wrote a beautiful book called, Totto-chan, the Little Girl at the Window, describing the values of the unconventional education she received at Tomoe Gakuen. The space got bombed during the WWII and never recovered.
- A.S. Neill in 1921, founded Summerhill in England. The space runs as a democratic community. Members of the community are free to do as they please, as long as their actions do not cause any harm to others. All lessons are optional, and pupils are free to choose what to do with their time. Neill believed that “the function of a child is to live his own life – not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, not a life according to the purpose of an educator who thinks he knows best.”
‘A Little Grove’, is one another attempt to give children a chance to participate in designing their own lives. Here we dream of a way of life where there is no compulsory schooling and different ways of knowing and learning are encouraged, wherein there are spaces where people come together to share and learn from one another, wherein artists, farmers, scientists, activists, musicians and people well-versed in any other discipline are willing to teach someone who wants to learn at a nominal cost, wherein the knowledge that would otherwise be freely available is not boxed in grandiose buildings and sold to people at exorbitant prices. A way of life wherein irrespective of their age everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner.