by Emanuel Williams
The following three items came in repsonse to Emmanuel's piece on the subud educator listserv. If you are interested in joining the list, contact melinda wallis.
I've been thinking about education. There's a phrase we often use - without thinking about what it means... "Thinking outside the box."
The box. We kind of know what it means, but it's a slippery expression.
I believe that the "box" is finished. Whatever we mean by the Box inside of which we usually think (and talk, and do stuff) — it's over. Not right now, but in terms of its usefulness, its effectiveness, even its relevance — its time is over. It's brought us to a point at which we are destroying our planetary home. We've lost our way. The walls of the box we have built around ourselves, around our civilization, are destined, I believe, to crumble.
If this is true — and of course I have no way of proving it — then what does this have to do with education? Pretty well all the world's educational systems are training children, teaching students, to think and learn and work, inside the box. "Socialization" we call it. (See Doris Lessing). But if the days of the box are numbered then this is a waste of time. It's worse than a waste of time.
If what I'm saying is true, then, when the walls of the box begin to crumble, when "things fall apart, the center cannot hold" we will desperately need human beings who have learned to live, to work, to feel, to relate to one another and to the planet . . . . OUTSIDE THE BOX.
How do we do this?
The only way we can do this is to create and run schools which are themselves OUTSIDE THE BOX. This means that the curriculum is, to the extent that is possible, is a blend of what we believe to be truly worth working on - our High Human culture - and activities that are chosen (for want of a better word) by the children themselves.
Children are not yet inside the box. We are. So we have to create environments in which they are free and able to follow their inner impulses or guidance. In this way they will learn everything they will need, both inwardly and outwardly.
This is not a fantasy. It's been done. It's not hard to set up such a school.
This is some of what I've been thinking. What do you think?
by Maria Popova
Reprinted from Brain Pickings and shared on the Listserv by Latifah Taormina as an example of thinking outside the box.
“Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.”
British philosopher, mathematician, historian, and social critic Bertrand Russell endures as one of the most intellectually diverse and influential thinkers in modern history, his philosophy of religion in particular having shaped the work of such modern atheism champions as Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins. From the third volume of The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell: 1944-1969 comes this remarkable micro-manifesto, entitled A Liberal Decalogue — a vision for responsibilities of a teacher, in which Russell touches on a number of recurring themes from pickings past — the purpose of education, the value of uncertainty, the importance of critical thinking, the gift of intelligent criticism, and more.
It originally appeared in the December 16, 1951, issue of The New York Times Magazine, at the end of the article “The best answer to fanaticism: Liberalism.”
Perhaps the essence of the Liberal outlook could be summed up in a new decalogue, not intended to replace the old one but only to supplement it. The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:
Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
- Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.
shared by jan duniewicz
Inspired by your sharing of “Bertrand Russell's 10 commandments” and more… I’d like to share with our Subud Education Forum another additional aspect and another wisdom. It’s a quote from Haim G. Ginott (1922-1973) a teacher, child psychologist, psychotherapist.
Please forgive my bringing such a heavy subject, it summarizes however my own life experience and my approach to education.
Haim G. Ginott's quote on Educated Murderers:
I am a survivor of a concentration camp.
My eyes saw what no man should witness:
Gas chambers built by learned engineers,
Children poisoned by educated physicians,
Infants killed by trained nurses
Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates,
So I am suspicious of education
My request is: Help your students become human. Your efforts must never
produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns.
Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our
children more human.”
A REsponse from Salamah Pope
Ah, yes, a very great quotation. Thank you Jan.
But the trouble is: no one (anthropologists, psychologists and philosophers included) knows what it means to be fully, truly, Human!
Yet Bapak told us. Or, rather, he gave us a method, told us how to come up with a fool-proof description. Thus: take away (so to speak) everything that is material, vegetal, and animal in us - which leaves the Human Spirit (as I call the two human energies Bapak talked about (jasmani and rohani).) Doing that - as I have done with twelve-year olds and older - gives a good description of what a real Human being is like.
And a rational system of finding the truly human values, too. Plus a universal ethic, based on the testament of nature, thrown in.
If a school is to get going "outside the box", then I think using Bapak's ideas would be a good start.
A Graduation Speech by Varindra Vittachi
Commencement address delivered to the graduating class of Metropolitan State
University, June 25, 1988, at North Heights Lutheran church, Arden Hills, Minnesota,
by the Honorable Varindra Tarzie Vittachi, Deputy Secretary-General (ret.)
of the United Nations.
I come from a culture which believes that everything and every man and woman has
an inner being and an outer being. Even a word has an inner and an outer — an
outer, literal meaning and an inner and deeper meaning. For language is not merely
a mechanistic device to express or communicate a wish – like please pass the salt –
or state a direction or a fact. That is only the outer function of words. The inner
function of words is to speak the truth to ourselves and to others.
Words are the language of our dreams about what we love and fear. Words are the repositories of the values we hold most dear. That is why we associate language and education so closely, as though they were first-cousins if not brother and sister. That is why when a child in Sri Lanka, my country, needs to be taught to read the first letters, it is done with some ceremony. The child is taken by its parents to the guru down the road and presents him with a handful of betel leaves as a mark of respect and then is taught to read the first letters of the alphabet. That is the beginning of a process of
education that continues through life and on through the next and the next until the cycle of birth and rebirth ceases to spin.
I have never doubted that in the beginning was the word. Yes, language is the beginning and middle and end of a conscious life. But this does not mean that those who have learned many languages are necessarily more educated than others. I know that many Americans and Britons who are robustly monolingual feel a sense of inadequacy in Europe and Asia where people almost naturally speak several languages.
You may take some comfort from my experience of many United Nations officials of my acquaintance who know six or seven languages and are illiterate in all of them. I once asked Marcel Marceau, that great genius of mime, if there were something he could not mime. He paused for a moment. He had never before been asked that question. Then he replied, “Yes. You cannot mime a lie.” What I am trying to convey here is my conviction that whatever language you learn and use, it is important to be able to hear its inner resonance, see its many facets and directions, and marvel at its wonderful ambiguities. In that sense every educated person is a poet, even if they have never written a line of verse.
To use an instance from recent scientific conjectures about the brain — the left hemisphere of the brain uses the outer language of facts and data while the right hemisphere finds meanings and patterns in them. The right hemisphere is where concept and revelation and inspiration are to be found. In an educated man or woman both functions are balanced — the inner and the outer, the left and the right, the male and female principles are balanced. That is the meaning of enlightenment, of Buddhahood.
That of course is to speak of perfection. You and I are not there yet and may never get there in this lifetime. But this is not a reason for wringing our hands in despair, for education is a process, a progression by degree — slow, immeasurably slow most of the time, but occasionally advancing to greater heights, suddenly, by the gift of revelation. All we can do, therefore, to be educated people is to be willing to see that education is not only an accumulation of information or knowledge, but a process which internalizes knowledge and transforms it into being and practice.
A university professor may have a very large fund of knowledge but also exist at a very low level ofbeing, while a peasant in an African village may have very little book knowledge but have the being of an angel. Nor is education merely a means of acquiring skill or a formal testimonial of qualification for career advancement. It is that, but much more.
Being an educated person is an end in itself. We often measure a man’s worth by the hierarchical status he has in the company he works for, by the number of college degrees he has tacked onto his name, or by the size of the material wealth he has acquired. What a travesty of the truth about life to assess a person by what he has rather than by what he is. What nonsense to imagine that education is an acquisition of college degrees or that formal education and wisdom are synonymous. Some of the wisest people in human history — Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, who are revered by hundreds of millions for their transcendental wisdom and also for their moral teachings — had no formal education. I dare to suggest that Jesus would probably have flunked an examination for a doctorate in divinity.
I have now placed education and wisdom together here and proposed that wisdom is not necessarily identical and synonymous with education, nor is it the product of education, but a quality that grows along with education. The word “wisdom” has an accretion of many different connotations. I was once on a television program where several of us journalists were interviewing Dr Jonas Salk, the discoverer of the first polio vaccine. He had just published a pivotally significant book, Survival of the Wisest – as distinct from “fittest.” An American journalist asked him, “Dr Salk, what do you mean by wisdom?” I said to myself, “Aha! This is going to be interesting.” We Asians think we have a monopoly of wisdom. We think that the West is clever, but we are wise. So I said to myself, “How is this Westerner, Dr Salk, going to respond to this question?” Without batting an eyelid Dr Salk explained: “I think wisdom is the ability to look at the future retrospectively.”
There you have it. There is an education from the past, knowledge about previous human experience which when internalized into current behavior and practice gives us pointers to the present and future. In that condition what a person is and what that person does are the same. He is educated and morally right. He is wise. Let us try now to list the characteristics of an educated person. (Because of the clumsiness of the English language, I have to apologize if I use masculine pronouns when I refer to both genders. Forgive me and allow me to use the word man to speak for both men and women. Let me speak for a moment from our Asian wisdom. The word man comes from the Sanskrit manu, meaning “hand of God”. So when I use the English “man”, I am using it in that sense of a human being as an extension of God not as male vs. female). What then are the special characteristics of an educated person – an educated “man”?
- He will never make a display of his knowledge. He is the sort of person who can amuse himself when he is alone in a room or alone in a crowded plane on a long Pacific flight.
- He will have developed a habit of skepticism. (In my reading of the NewTestament, Doubting Thomas has always seemed the most educated one among Christ's disciples.)
- He will ask the question “why?” more often than he asks other questions such as “how?” and “how much?”
- He will ask himself, Is it right to do this or that? rather than, can this or that be done?
- He will be excited by symbols and miserable until he explodes the meanings out of them, because symbols are the keys to culture.
- He will constantly look for perspective and context in his search for understanding, because there is no meaning without a relationship.
- He will not be satisfied with how things look but will want to know how things are.
- He will bear in mind that most people’s view of the world is determined by what they want to protect, be it power, job security or status.
- He will know that in politics and diplomacy everything is about something else.
- He will not commit the pathetic fallacy of believing that the absence of proof is proof of absence.
- He will look at the world from a moral viewpoint but avoid being moralistic and self-righteous. (I feel that I can cope with a sinner but not with a person who is selfrighteous.)
- He will be willing to defend other men’s right to choose as rigorously as he defends his own. The mark of a human being is having the faculty of choice.
- He will be able to empathize with the tribulations of other people even though they are strangers in looks and culture. There is only one human race.
- He will understand that human relationships are about caring and sharing and equity.
And, most important of all, the educated man will know and feel that he is not living in a self-sufficient, self-motivated nation-state as our nineteenth-century ancestors did, but in a single, intricately intermeshed world, in a mosaic of peoples which makes a wonderfully varied but related culture of one human race.
I have a young son just completing his undergraduate degree at an American university. He is half Sri-Lankan and half-French, and he is fluently bilingual. His mother died recently and we made a pact when she died. When he graduates next year, we shall go on a two-year journey around the world, and I, at his request, shall help him to open his eyes and see people and the lives they lead, poor and rich, without blinkers and without the distortions of prejudice and stereotypes. That, I believe, will be the beginning of his life as an educated young man, a man without boundaries, a citizen of the world, a truly universal man. He will also learn, I hope, the important life-giving lesson that human wealth comes not from what we have, but from what we can do without. Many years ago I leaned that lesson from the greatest Indian since the Buddha.
As a very young journalist in December 1946, I had the opportunity and great privilege to meet with Mahatma Gandhi. My father-in-law at that time was representing our country in India, and I was to be introduced to the great man at his house. So, with my colonial values I went to a British tailor and got myself a spanking new suit in Royal Air Force blue. That Sunday morning there was Mahatma Gandhi seated on a rattan settee on the lawn, his cane at his feet by his side.
About twenty other visitors were gawking some twenty feet away, for in India distance is a sign of respect. I was taken to meet him. He looked up at this splendid sartorial vision and said, “Oho, one of our smart southern neighbors?” Sri Lanka being southeast of India, I felt distinctly slapped on my face. And he turned, because he could not stand the Westernized Oriental gentleman which he himself had been at one time in his life. The others giggled at my embarrassment because people so often love to giggle at others” discomfort. Mahatma Gandhi saw all this and took compassion on me. Patting the place next to him, he said, “Sit down right here.”
He wanted to make it up to me. So I sat gingerly, poised at the edge of his chair. And I was thinking, “How on earth am I going to raise my head again?” But like a smart boy in class who asks an intelligent question to get out of a jam, I produced one. I said, “Gandhiji, because of your work all of us in Asia are going to be free very soon. If you have one piece of advice to give all of us in Asia, what would this be?” He looked around, his face kind of purpling with sadness, reflecting for about twenty seconds, I suppose. Then he looked up again smiling with that incredible toothless grin of his. He said, “Reduce your wants and supply your needs. Make no mistake. Our needs make us vulnerable enough. Why increase out vulnerability?”
Ladies and Gentleman, I have reflected on that advice for forty years. It might be worthwhile your reflecting on it for the next forty.
Thank you very much.
Hamidatun Karapetian, known professionally as Marjam, was teaching in the Los Angeles public
school system — and loving it — when her graphic designer husband was offered a fantastic job in Silicon Valley. For the first time in years, the family could live on one salary. They were thrilled. Hamidatun resigned from her teaching job, and the family packed up and moved north. Everything was perfect . . . until the dot com crash in 2002. There they were, in their lovely, expensive new digs, with Hamidatun still paying off student loans — and no job!
Fortunately, Hamidatun had a Multi-Subject California teaching credential, an M.A. in Bicultural Development and a B.A. in English and Anthropology. This enabled her to teach at many development levels, including the Gifted, with a variety of culturally diverse schools. In Los Angeles, she had taught students of all backgrounds — Hispanic as well as Armenian, Russian, Asian, Middle Eastern, East Asian, and Pacific Islanders. So she went right out to the local schools and got hired. But . . . as the Silicon Valley economy continued to struggle, the schools began to let their teachers go. In most USA school districts, the most recent hires are the first to be let go. Hamidatun was the most recent hire, and so, she was let go.
What to do? What to do? She got an idea. When she had taught English for Speakers of Other Language (ESOL) classes in East Los Angeles, she had become acutely aware of how difficult it is for non-English speaking students not only to understand the language, but also to understand the jargon that is part and parcel of every class in school. Every subject, every textbook, every standardized test, uses language in their directions and assignments that you would hear only in a classroom setting. To help these students, Hamidatun had made little lists of those words so they would better understand class instructions and assignments Like little dictionaries. The stundents were very grateful as they did indeed help. Maybe they could use lists like that in Silicon Vallery. Hamidatun decided to put together some lists for some of the core subjects, duplicate them at a local Kinko's (a chain of photocopy shops in US) and give them to some of the teachers in that school in Silicon Valley. Maybe that would make them want to use her as a teacher, after all.
But her graphic designer husband, Aswan, had a better idea. "Don't show up with a bunch of photocopies. Let me design them first, and then you can take them to the school. They'll look more professional." He was right, and she was right. WizdomInc was born.
The program enjoyed immediate success! WizdomInc provided Englisih language learners equal access to the curriculm with their Bilingual Content Dictionaries and companion Bilingual Content Dictionaries. Each dictionary contains key terms, definitions, and phrases that teachers use in core subjects: two levels of Math, two levels of Science, Language Arts, and three levels of Social Studies. Students using the dictionaries raised their test scores by 40%. National Public Radio broadcast the story to the nation. Today, Wizdominc provides their dictionaries to schools in more than 18 states in the USA.
In the summer of 2010, WizdomInc relocated to Los Angeles, California. It also expanded its programs to the workplace with the creation of Occupational Dictionaries for adult employees in a variety of industries and trades. "Several years ago," Hamidatun explains, "I had the opportunity to teach English to a diverse community of adult employees at a factory that manufactured filtration products. I worked there with management to develop a vocabulary list for the employees and then I translated it. The management immediately found that communication with employees improved, that employees had more confidence, and that they were motivated to study and learn English so that they could communicate with management. Employees also become able to communicate more easily with the community at large. Soon after, I had the opportunity to work in the same capacity at a Hilton Hotel: I developed a vocabulary list for the hospitality industry, created a dictionary out of it, and watched employees become better able to communicate confidently with management and guests." And so it grew.
What Hamidatun totally understands, is that if we are to express ourselves in the world, it's not enough to know what our talents and abilities are. We also need the right tools to make that self expression possible. Otherwise we are lost. She also understands that it all starts with oneself. "Educators who make developing their own inner selves a priority are the ones who are best at helping others develop their talents and gifts." — LT
HALIMAH POLK, PhD
Here are a few observations about the schools that I’ve seen that support the full development of truly human qualities in their students.
Really good schools devote themselves to the whole child’s development-intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually on an individual basis. This sounds obvious but it’s really true. One of the memorable projects undertaken at the Pestalozzi School in the 1990s was a 5000k bicycle trip from Quito through the mountains of Ecuador into Brazil to Manaus, a city at the beginning of the Amazon river and rainforest. The project was almost totally conceived, designed, and planned by the participating students themselves. They developed the finance plan, got sponsors, and raised the money for the trip, including buying the food, supplies and arranging accommodations; they bought the bicycles and arranged training sessions for novice riders. They researched the history of the areas they would visit; they mapped out the trip, and arranged for sleeping accommodations. According to Rebecca Wild, nightly whole group meetings were organized and led by the students to work on conflicts that arose each day.
Really good schools help students find out about themselves and their talents. I call this the “curriculum of me” and this was at the heart of Bapak’s advice on education. Schools execute this in many different ways, but always there exists a place in the school program that allows students to discover their talents and idiosyncrasies. For example, at Collegio Amor in Colombia, all ninth graders were required to take a very unique “career building course.” One assignment was to have the students reflect seriously about 3 possible career paths they would like to follow. For each career path, they were to look at their life experiences and write a justification for the particular career path chosen. The next step was to present these 3 choices to their peers and justify them in light of what their classmates knew about them. This is an important antidote to a problem that exists in developing and developed countries where often students choose career goals because of parental pressure or great money-making potential. So a Colombian student might dream of becoming a well-paid engineer. His classmates and teacher might remind him that he hates maths, but he’s a big talker with a great future in communications!
Really good schools offer rich challenging curricula with many choices. They offer exciting learning adventures, many opportunities in all the arts, investigations in all the sciences from biology to astrophysics and nanotechnology, humanities centers, riveting mathematics materials and manipulatives, environmental studies, an array of physical activities from construction to soccer, and well-stocked libraries. From this range of exciting learning opportunities students are asked to make choices about what they want and need to learn. This daily habit of decision-making, making choices for themselves, seems to instill a love of learning and develops confidence and purpose.
Really good schools investigate and cultivate the environment. There may be a huge communal garden created by students. The school may be nestled into a natural environment to which students have daily access. The school may organise adventures into the wilderness. The school fosters a love of natural world and a deep commitment to protect it.
Really good schools nurture cultural diversity. Small classes where students can befriend and appreciate each other, opportunities for learning about other cultural groups, or a multi-ethnic student body seem to further tolerance. When student diversity flourished in the Subud Schools it seemed to be expressing our Subud experience of worshipping with different races and ethnicities and economic circumstance…instilling an almost unconscious gestalt of tolerance that permeated the atmosphere of the school itself.
Finally, really good schools place a high premium on student HAPPINESS. When I asked Monica Ramirez, the former director of the Collegio Amor school, what would be a sign to her that the Collegio was a true success, she answered immediately, “I would see on each of my students ‘the faces of happiness.’” School should be a place where students can find joy. When I interviewed students in really good schools I was astounded by how happy they were, how eagerly they looked forward to their next day at school. If you’ve been around kids in most schools, you know how rare such enthusiasm is.
Looking over these observations, I am reminded that no school that I have ever observed fulfilled all these goals, nor is this litany of observations exhaustive. Furthermore, I would be at a loss to create such a “perfect school” given all the constraints that exist both politically, socially and economically here in the US and even more so in the rest of the world. Usually when educators discuss school reform, they talk in terms of improved test scores, reduced drop-out rates and increased college admission. To me these outcomes are merely by-products of a really good school. If we were to focus more on human aspirations for our schools, perhaps we could design or choose a better — not perfect — but a better school for our children.
Halimah E. Polk, Ph.D.
ABOUT HALIMAH POLK: A long-time Subud member, Halimah earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University, her Masters degree from Stanford University and her doctorate from Claremont Graduate University and San Diego State University. She has worked as classroom teacher, as a program director for low-income ethnically diverse high school students, and as a full-time college professor. A few years ago, Halimah launched her own company, Educational Concepts, which specializes in grant-writing, development, and evaluation as well as project and curriculum concepts for non-profit organizations. Want to talk? Please contact Halimah with your ideas about education and schools. firstname.lastname@example.org