December 17, 2014

The #BlackLivesMatter Movement and a New Paradigm for Schools

In the midst of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, protests are happening all over the country.  Everyone is looking for solutions and the conversation inevitably turns to education.  Recently, Reverend Alex Gee took a listening tour through high schools in Wisconsin to "find the cultural and academic pulse of young black males."  Here is one thing Rev. Gee found:

"The young men stated that too many teachers and administrators underestimate their ability, worth and potential.  They mentioned feeling unwelcome and expendable."

The conclusion that we hear in the media often is that we need better teachers, more funding, accountability and a raft of stricter regulations.  However, these will not solve the problem and many freedom movements throughout history have known this.  In fact, many freedom movements have thrown out the "Western" system of schooling and re-invented education.  From Mississippi Freedom Summer to Gandhi in India to Paulo Freire in Brazil and more, all re-invented education.  Why?  

Under oppressive governments, it became clear to each of them that an education system implemented by the government would only serve to support the needs of the government.  The American system of education is no different.  Our system is based upon obedience and conformity.  If you do what you are told, you are rewarded.  If you do not do what you are told, you are punished.  Wear uniforms, walk in straight lines, don't talk, raise your hand, compete against your classmates to see who can be most obedient to the teacher, get a pass to use the bathroom, get good grades.  This is not a system that encourages independent thinking or critical reasoning.  It is not a system that develops the individual.  It is a system designed to oppress and break the individual.  It is a system that conquerers have used for centuries to homogenize a population.

Among many examples, the United States used it in establishing Native American boarding schools in the late 1800's.  U.S. Army officer, Richard Pratt, founded the first Indian boarding school called the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.  In 1892, he described his philosophy in a speech, saying:

“A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one.  I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead.  Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”          
What were the horrible, oppressive methods of this school designed to kill the Native American culture?  Wear uniforms, walk in straight lines, don't talk, raise your hand, compete against your classmates to see who can be most obedient to the teacher, get a pass to use the bathroom, get good grades.  Add to that, students were only allowed to speak English, just the same as when California banned bi-lingual education in 1998.  Or when Russia banned the Crimean language in schools after invading Crimea in 2014.

So, when young African-American males say that schools underestimate their worth and they feel expendable, that is the result of a "schooling" system designed to dehumanize the individual in favor of obedience to authority.  The solution is not better teachers.  The solution is a different system.  We need a system that values and develops each individual and says YES! to who they are, their ideas and their passions.  We can say YES! to their individuality, their decisions, their successes and mistakes.  We can say YES! to the content of their character knowing that they are on a path to fulfilling their own dreams and desires.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. told us:

"I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be."

Mississippi Freedom Schools in 1964 did not have grades, uniforms or tests.  It was a free-form, multi-age learning experience where people learned to question and think critically.  According to a memo to Freedom School teachers:

"The purpose of the Freedom schools is to provide an educational experience for students which will make it possible for them to challenge the myths of our society, to perceive more clearly its realities, and to find alternatives, and ultimately, new directions for action." 

The goal was valuing and empowering each individual, not breaking them.  Freedom Schools wanted students to become active, engaged citizens.  They knew that the traditional "Western" school system was oppressive.  Why fight to maintain it?  They started over.

Gandhi started over too.  He founded the Nai Talim or "New Education" system in India.  He dumped the British system of education in favor of empowering schools in the native language that recognized each individual as "mind, body and spirit."  He said in 1917, "All education must aim at building character."  Gandhi wanted schools that validated the individual spirit, embraced local culture and valued the efforts of young people to benefit their community.

In Brazil in the 1950's Paulo Freire launched adult literacy programs leading him to write the landmark book, "Pedagogy of the Oppressed."  Literacy was a requirement for presidential voting in Brazil, so the illiterate poor had no political influence until Freire came along.  He called "Western" education the "Banking Concept of Education."

“In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing.  Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry.  The teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own existence.”

Instead, he suggests:

“Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”

He says teachers and students should be in an egalitarian, respectful relationship where students have voice rather than being coerced into a "culture of silence."  A culture of silence only perpetuates the submissiveness of the oppressed.  Instead, Freire argued, knowledge should be co-constructed without the authoritarian power structures of traditional education.  This evolution of the classroom begins by valuing and giving voice to the life experience of the students before they even enter the classroom.

This is just a sample of how freedom movements have cast off the traditional system of schooling and re-invented education.  Today, America is going through another social upheaval.  Our system of policing is broken.  We need to start over and re-imagine it.  It is the same with education.  We need to start-over and re-imagine it.  Freedom struggles from around the world are speaking loudly to us now about education and we should listen.  They don't teach these lessons in school. 

December 6, 2014

The Value of Spinning

One thing I value about Gandhi's leadership in the struggle for India's independence was his Constructive Program of spinning.  Not only did it create the economic and spiritual independence sought by the Indian people, it gave everyone something productive to do when no one knew what to do.

When Gandhi was uncertain of what to do next in the movement, he would spin cotton.  It was an effort that allowed him and others time to think and strategize while continuing to work for independence.  Sometimes he would think for weeks or months on end.  Nonviolence has no timeline.  
Nonviolence is often seen ONLY as civil disobedience.  While Satyagraha is visible and confrontational, Constructive Program builds the just and peaceful world that does not yet exist.

So, find your Constructive Program.  Take time to spin.  There is no hurry.  You are building the solutions you seek.    

November 29, 2014

Free Nonviolence Training

As a service to to all of the #BlackLivesMatter groups, I am offering free 90 minute Skype or Facetime trainings in the philosophy and methodology of Nonviolence.  Feel free to forward this invitation to those who might be interested.  See the description below and email me at: to set up a time.

Learn the power of Nonviolence.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement is here and it is strong.  We are angry about Mike Brown and police brutality.  We want to do something but what?  What is going to be effective in creating real change in our communities?  What is going to empower people and challenge the status quo without causing a civil war?

I would like to introduce you to Nonviolence or what Gandhi called, "the greatest force at the disposal of mankind."  Gandhi defeated the British Empire with it and never fired a shot.  Martin Luther King studied Gandhi's techniques and as King said of the Civil Rights movement, "we expressed anger under discipline for maximum effect."      

Today, there are tremendous misconceptions about Nonviolence.  It does not mean "Sit down and be quiet."  It also does not mean march in the streets and sing "We Shall Overcome" and everything will work itself out.  These are cartoon versions of Nonviolence that are rampant in American schools and culture.

Nonviolence is strong, courageous, strategic action with a very specific philosophy and methodology.  It has been used with great effectiveness in overthrowing the most brutal dictatorships and regimes.  It will work in our communities but it requires training and planning.

Please contact me to set up a free online training session for your group.  Email me at:  I offer this as a service to our communities.  There is no catch.  There is no obligation.

As King said, "The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice."  It bends with Nonviolence.  Contact me and let's work together to create a more just world.    

Here is my bio:

Dave Soleil has over twenty years experience developing the leadership skills of thousands of college and high school students, MBAs, and nonprofit and corporate clients.  He is passionate about teaching the philosophy and methodology of nonviolence for transformational social change.  Gandhi called it "the greatest force at the disposal of mankind."

Dave is the former Chair of the Leadership Education group for the International Leadership Association.  He also was the Associate Director of the Center for Global Leadership and Team Development in the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine. Dave has worked as a consultant for many universities and nonprofits including the Interfaith Youth Core, Georgia Tech, Emory University, Agnes Scott College, the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University, the Foundation for Teaching Economics and more.

Dave is also a founder and staff member at the Sudbury School of Atlanta, a K-12 school dedicated to empowering students.

Dave received his Masters degree in Nonprofit Management from Indiana University and holds a certificate from Emory University in the Nonviolence philosophy and methodology of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

November 16, 2014

Blueprint for a Nonviolence School

Can we design a school based on nonviolence?  Can we find inspiration from the lineage of nonviolence activists and change agents?  Can we determine a model that supports what the Metta Center for Nonviolence calls, a New Story?

Let's begin with Myles Horton:

I think if I had to put a finger on what I consider a good education, a good radical education, it wouldn't be anything about methods or techniques.  It would be loving people first."
-from the book, "We Make the Road by Walking"

1.  Respect the inherent worth and dignity of every individual 
Each person, regardless of age, is a complete human being with strengths, abilities, interests, experiences and passions.  They are not a vessel to be filled, nor a voice to to be silenced.  The nonviolence school would be egalitarian and multi-age.  We would create, co-create and recreate knowledge together and as individuals.  We would seek to empower the intrinsic motivations of each person and eliminate externally imposed measures that serve only to support obedience and conformity.  We would ask, "what are you interested in?"  "What are you passionate about?"  Then, we would empower each person to discover and fulfill their swadharma.          

2.  Every Person has Voice and Choice
Voice and Choice are an extension of respect for the individual.  Each person, regardless of age, would have voice to express their interests, passions and experiences.  They would also have the power (choice) to pursue those interests with others or by themselves.  Agency is another term that applies here.

3.  Encouraging the development of mind, body and spirit 
"Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony." - Gandhi  The compliment to mind, body and spirit are actions of word, thought and deed.  These all are interwoven and would be encouraged.     

4.  Nonviolent communication (NVC) and restorative justice
The practice of NVC and restorative justice would be a framework for communication and conflict resolution.  There would be no principal's office or retributive justice.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "an insistence on community, even when one seeks to break it."  When issues in our community separate us, we work to bring our community back together rather than ostracize or punish people in our community.    

5.  Embodying service
"I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be." - Martin Luther King, Jr.  Service would be a value and a practice.           

6.  Encouraging the lifelong study and practice of nonviolence
This would likely encompass spiritual practice, social action in both constructive and obstructive programs, teaching others about nonviolence, and other explorations of the practice, science, philosophy and methodology of nonviolence.

There is a growing trend of schools similar to this, particularly emphasizing numbers 1 and 2.  Democratic schools, free schools, unschools, Sudbury schools, and other similarly inspired programs follow numbers 1 and 2.  The rest you can modify to fit the needs of your community.  This could be a model for after-school programs, "Sunday schools" or other schools seeking to encourage the spiritual journey of young people. tutoring programs, music schools and more.

I helped start a school similar to this and offer this as a blueprint for others who wish to make a nonviolence school their constructive program.  The results are incredibly empowering, creative and fulfilling.  Reinventing education in this way is also the subject of a book I am writing under the working title, "The Content of their Character."  

Feel free to contact me if you have questions about opening a nonviolence school.  It is possible.  You can do this!  In the words of Peter Block, "the future appears as we gather."         

November 15, 2014

Part 8: "Stayed on Freedom": Social Movements and Re-Inventing Education

A "talking book" by Horton and Freire.
Before I even begin about Paulo Freire, I have to recommend two books.  This is essential reading and encompasses far more than I can put into a blog post.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed
We Make the Road by Walking

These books are just two of dozens authored by Freire.  "We Make the Road by Walking" was also the last book Myles Horton authored.  He approved the final draft of it just days before his death.

Paulo Freire is from Brazil and is one of the most widely influential authors related to education.  While we have explored many re-inventions of education in these posts, most educational circles point to Freire as the father of "critical pedagogy."  He was the bridge between freedom struggles and educational theory.  He spoke truth to power in education.  That doesn't invalidate the work of Tolstoy, Gandhi, Freedom Schools and more.  Their work in education was simply overshadowed by their more popular efforts toward freedom and social change.

Early on, Freire was influenced by a popular movement of populist politics in the Brazilian Northeast.  This was around the time of the Cuban Revolution, 1959-1961.  The Catholic Church increasingly supported Liberation Theology and focused efforts on the poor.  Literacy was a requirement for voting in Brazil which excluded a large majority of the illiterate poor population in Brazil.

This backdrop set the stage for Freire to launch adult literacy programs, much like the Citizenship Schools of the Civil Rights movement that originated at the Highlander Folk School with Septima Clark.

Freire was so successful in his efforts in northeast Brazil that he was invited by the federal government to coordinate a national literacy campaign.  However, a military coup in 1964 drove out the populist government and Freire was exiled.  He returned to Brazil after 15 years when the military regime gave way to democratization.  

Let's pause for a moment.  You know how a statistic sticks in your head and then you go back to find it and you just can't.  Here's that statistic.  I believe it was in "We Make the Road by Walking," but I can't find it for the life of me.  So, take it with a grain of salt.  I remember seeing that the literate electorate in Brazil was about 250,000 people.  Freire's literacy programs touched around 750,000 people.  So, you can see how his literacy programs were downright dangerous to a government of the elite that wanted to hold on to their power.

So, what was his philosophy on education?  Traditional education is a political tool of the oppressors.  However, it can be used for liberation as much as oppression.  Here's a sample from Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

“Pedagogy which begins with the egoistic interests of the oppressors (an egoism cloaked in the false generosity of paternalism) and makes of the oppressed the objects of its humanitarianism, itself maintains and embodies oppression.  It is an instrument of dehumanization.” 

He called it the "Banking Concept of Education."

“In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing.  Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry.  The teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own existence.”

Instead, he suggests:

“Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”

He says teachers and students should be in an egalitarian, respectful relationship where students have voice rather than being coerced into a "culture of silence."  A culture of silence only perpetuates the submissiveness of the oppressed.  Instead, Freire argued, knowledge should be co-constructed without the authoritarian power structures of traditional education.  This evolution of the classroom begins by valuing and giving voice to the life experience of the students before they even enter the classroom.  Sounds a lot like Myles Horton?  Now you know why they wrote a book together.

Freire's programs were for adult education but they apply equally to younger people.  It begins with valuing the inherent worth and dignity of all people.  His model promotes freedom and equality and empowers students with their own voices, experiences, thoughts and actions.

For now, this is the end of my exploration into the lineage of re-inventing education through freedom struggles, humanitarian efforts and nonviolence.  There are many more stories to tell, like the Reggio Emilia form of education that began in Italy after WWII with the sale of a German tank, nine horses and two military trucks and the belief that "children are powerful people, full of desire and ability to construct their own knowledge."  It was an effort to bring freedom to education to ensure that fascism would not return.  

So, given all of these rich and deep connections, what might a school of nonviolence look like?  I shall write about my experience and ideas in the next post.  

Next: Blueprint for a Nonviolence School

November 14, 2014

Part 7: "Stayed on Freedom": Social Movements and Re-Inventing Education

Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy was a well-known and established author in 1859.  However, he considered abandoning writing altogether.  Why write for the Russian people if most of them could not read his writing?  So, Tolstoy embarked on a trip to Europe exploring different methods of pedagogy and schooling and looking for a new path for Russian education.

In one of this journals, he remarked, "In education, once more, the chief things are equality and freedom."

Upon his return to his home Yasnaya Polyana, he founded 13 schools.  Here is his writing about, "The School at Yasnaya Polyana."

"The children bring nothing with them, - neither books, nor copy-books.  No lessons are given for home.  Not only do they carry nothing in their hands, but they have nothing to carry even in their heads.  They are not obliged to remember any lesson... They are not vexed by the thought of the impending lesson.  They bring with them nothing but their impressionable natures and their convictions that to-day will be as jolly in school as it was yesterday."

No child was forced to "learn."  Tolstoy summed up the coercion of the Western model of education well, "Force is used only through haste and through insufficient respect for human nature."  There was no homework, no grades, no tests or other forms of extrinsic motivations.  Young people of multiple ages joined in voluntarily and there was a structure of freedom for students with equal contribution by students and teachers.

Tolstoy also remarked, "...the pupil has always had the right not to come to school, or, having come, not listen to the teacher."

Again, we see the connection of another school throwing off the Western model of education in favor of:

1.  Valuing the inherent worth and dignity of the students.
2.  Multi-age environment.
3.  Promoting empowerment of students.
4.  Informal environment with freedom and equality.

Sounding familiar?  Nai Talim, Freedom Schools, Hull House, the Highlander Folk School, Yasnaya Polyana are all cut from the same educational cloth.  Tolstoy's schools, while short-lived, became a strong influence on the Summerhill School in England and later Sudbury Schools in the U.S., Free Schools, Unschooling and other models of democratic education.

Next: Part 8, Paulo Freire and Pedagogy of the Oppressed 

November 13, 2014

Part 6: "Stayed on Freedom": Social Movements and Re-Inventing Education

Boys from Jane Addams' Hull House who built their own clubhouse in the 1920's.
When Myles Horton was in graduate school in 1930 in Chicago, he was considering what sort of educational program could create social change.  His program required him to spend time with an organization engaged in social work.  He chose to spend time with Jane Addams at Hull House in Chicago.

This was five years before Addams death, in 1935, and one year prior to her winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  She had long since established the first kindergarten in Chicago in 1889 and the first public playground in 1893.  What was appealing to Horton about Addams and Hull House?  Professor Jon Hale wrote about it in the American Education History Journal:  

"In many ways, Addams' views reflected dominant progressive thinking. For instance, her writing indicates a belief in democracy and the importance of incorporating students' experience in education. For Addams, the 'democratic ideal demands of the school that it shall give the child's own experience a social value; that it shall teach him to direct his own activities and adjust them to those of other people' (Addams 1964, 180). While this clearly resonates with progressive thinking, Addams' commitment to alleviating social ills was of more importance for Horton. At Hull House, Addams took direct action in establishing a new social order."

While the educational efforts at Hull House were not exactly what Horton was looking for, according to Hale, "Jane Addams is significant in this analysis for she is representative of Horton's search for models of critical education that would resonate with his notion of achieving radical social change through education."

Jane Addams believed in empowerment at any age.  Hull House had a philosophy that affirmed the inherent worth and dignity of all people.  Hull House offered a myriad of classes and opportunities for people of all ages and even had its own marching band.  As a side note, the most famous alumnus of that marching band?  Benny Goodman.

Shortly after Horton's experiences at Hull House, he visited Denmark to study the Danish Folk Schools and thereafter, the Highlander Folk School was born.

However, the lineage continues further back than Addams.  Throughout her life, Jane Addams was influenced by the work and writings of Leo Tolstoy, who in 1859, founded his own school which was radically different from the traditional model of education.

As another side note, Jane Addams was aware of Gandhi's work in India and they exchanged letters.  As well, Addams' work and philosophy was also influenced by John Ruskin, the art critic, philosopher and author of "Unto This Last."  Ruskin's book on economics was instrumental in Gandhi's life as he began his campaign in South Africa and it helped him form his ideas, now known as Gandhian economics.  Gandhi also reflected on Ruskin's ideas on education in his writing, "Some Reflections on Education" from March 28, 1932.

As you can see, the connections here grow wide and deep.  Connecting the dots is challenging because the more dots I research, the more dots I find.  Both Addams and Gandhi looked to Tolstoy for inspiration for their work.  We will explore Tolstoy's work in education in Part 7.

Next: Part 7

November 2, 2014

Part 5: "Stayed on Freedom": Social Movements and Re-Inventing Education

Septima Clark and Rosa Parks at the Highlander Folk School in 1955,
before anyone knew who they were.
Connecting the dots:

Nai Talim and the Freedom Schools were two well-documented efforts to re-invent education toward empowerment.  Other efforts to establish a new vision for education is where things get very interesting.

Just prior to the launch of the civil rights movement in the mid-1950's, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, John Lewis, Septima Clark, Ralph Abernathy, James Bevel and more visited the Highlander Folk School under the direction of Myles Horton.  Not only was Highlander instrumental in educating leaders of the Civil Rights movement, professor Jon Hale wrote the following in the American Education History Journal in 2007:

"Another notable connection between Highlander and the Freedom Schools comes in March 1964 at the conference called for the curriculum planning for the Freedom Schools. Myles Horton was in attendance at this meeting, ensuring, at least, that the tenets of critical education espoused at Highlander would be represented."

Founded during the depths of the Great Depression, Horton wrote about his vision for the school in 1931, saying:

“I would like to see a school where young men and women will have close contact with teachers, will learn how to take their place intelligently in a changing world.  In a few months, free from credits and examinations, utilizing only such methods as individual requirements called for… it is hoped that by a stimulating presentation of material and study of actual situations, the students will be able to make decisions for themselves and act on the basis of an enlightened judgment.”

Highlander was based on the Danish Folk High School movement which began in 1844 as a way to bring education to the adult lower classes in Denmark so they could also be active participants in the modern Danish state. Hallmarks of the Danish Folk High School movement included:
  • Students and teachers learning from each other
  • Freedom from examinations
  • Freedom from state regulation
  • Social interaction in a non-formal setting
  • Multi-age environment
As a side note, there are still 70 Danish Folk High Schools in Denmark with 5000 to 7000 people attending every year.

Many regarded the Highlander Folk School as a training program for organizers, but Horton disagreed. He saw Highlander not as a training center, but as a place for education. in the book "We Make the Road by Walking," he said:  

"We've called our work adult education. We thought of ourselves as educators. We deliberately chose to do our education outside the schooling system."

Life-long learning and people being able to solve their own problems was of paramount importance at Highlander. Horton did not use traditional teaching methods. He would not give anyone "the answers," nor did he want to. He recognized that telling people what to do would only make them dependent upon him for answers.

“Stretching people’s minds is part of educating, but always in terms of a democratic goal.  That means you have to trust people’s ability to develop their capacity for working collectively to solve their own problems.”

Empowerment was the educational root of Highlander. He practiced what was "experiential education." However, what students learned did not come from their experience in the classroom, as the term is used today. For Horton, students learned from the experiences of life before they even walked into the classroom. Horton believed the students already had the answers. Paul Freire said that Horton "was just awakening their memories concerning some knowledge and concrete experiences... What Myles did was to touch their memory about a subject and to remake the road."

This is where our road through the history of education forks. I hope to address both routes. Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, had a similar journey in adult education in Brazil. So similar in fact, that Freire and Horton co-authored the book, "We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change."

Shall we now travel to Brazil with Paulo Freire, a man whose educational programs for the illiterate poor were so successful that he became a threat to the establishment and was jailed and then exiled?  

Or should we travel father back in time with Myles Horton to his formative years in graduate school in Chicago where he spent quite a bit of time with Jane Addams at Hull House? We shall soon see!

Next: Part 6

Part 4: "Stayed on Freedom": Social Movements and Re-Inventing Education

1964 was Freedom Summer.  It was an effort organized by the major civil rights organizations at the time, SNCC, CORE, SCLC and NAACP, to register voters and educate young people in Mississippi to become agents for social change.  As detailed in a COFO memo to Freedom School teachers in May, 1964:

"The purpose of the Freedom schools is to provide an educational experience for students which will make it possible for them to challenge the myths of our society, to perceive more clearly its realities, and to find alternatives, and ultimately, new directions for action."

Freedom Schools were the educational efforts that brought together more than 3000 students in 41 schools across Mississippi.  However, these "schools" were radically different from traditional 'Western' schools.

They were multi-age and had students ranging from small children to the elderly.  They met anywhere and everywhere from church basements to parks, homes, kitchens or under a tree.  When a host church in McComb, MS was bombed for hosting a Freedom School, the classes were "held on the scorched earth next to the blown out wall."  The teachers were primarily volunteer college students and questioning was the mode of instruction.  They questioned the institutions of racism and prejudice, what does the majority culture have that they wanted or didn't want and more.  It was a free-form environment where a teacher could toss out his or her entire plan if the students were interested in discussing something more local and more relevant to their experience.  Empowering the students was the focus, not the teacher or the curriculum.  There were no grades, no homework and the only test was life in Mississippi after Freedom School.  

Staughton Lynd, a history professor at Spelman College, was chosen as the Director of the Freedom School program.  He described the program like this in 1965:

"...our approach to curriculum was to have no curriculum and our approach to administrative structure was not to have any (I will explain this in a moment). So my answer to the question: “How do you start a Freedom School?” is, “I don’t know.” And if people ask, “What are the Freedom Schools like?” again I have to answer, “I don’t know.” I was an itinerant bureaucrat. I saw a play in Holly Springs, an adult class in Indianola, a preschool mass meeting in McComb, which were exciting. But who can presume to enclose in a few words what happened last summer when 2,500 youngsters from Mississippi and 250 youngsters from the North encountered each other, but not as students and teachers, in a learning experience that was not a school?" 

Lynd commented on the free-form structure:

" helped us to break away from the conventional paraphernalia of education, to remember that education is about a meeting between people.  We said at Oxford: If you want to begin the summer by burning the curriculum we have given you, go ahead!  We realized that our own education had been dry and irrelevant all too often, and we determined to teach as we ourselves wished we had been taught."

After hosting the Freedom School convention in Meridian, MS, where students put together their own mock political program, Lynd had this conclusion:

"But in the not very distant future candidates running for Congressional office will be real, not mock, candidates, and will have to declare themselves intelligently on a variety of issues. These candidates may come out of Freedom Schools. If we do not take their program seriously, it means not taking their ideas seriously. If we do not take their ideas seriously, we should ask ourselves what the Schools are for."

Once again, like Gandhi's Nai Talim, we find Freedom Schools cast off traditional education in favor of empowerment.  Age grades were set aside for multi-age learning.  Curriculum was thrown out the window in favor of what was socially relevant.  Cultural norms were questioned and the results needed to be taken seriously.

"The Freedom Schools challenged not only Mississippi but the nation. There was, to begin with, the provocative suggestion that an entire school system can be created in any community outside the official order, and critical of its suppositions. The Schools raised serious questions about the role of education in society: Can teachers bypass the artificial sieve of certification and examination, and meet students on the basis of a common attraction to an exciting social goal? Is it possible to declare that the aim of education is to find solutions for poverty, for injustice, for racial and national hatred, and to turn all educational efforts into a national striving for these solutions?"
-Howard Zinn

For more information on Freedom Schools, check out these first-hand accounts and resources.

October 31, 2014

Part 3: "Stayed on Freedom": Social Movements and Re-Inventing Education

"All education must aim at building character." 
-Gandhi, 1917

Nai Talim or "New Education" was Gandhi's term for a new kind of school in India.  He recognized that "Western" schools were tools of conquest and not education.  Western schools were designed, not for the benefit of the individual or the local community, but for the benefit of the conquering state with the outcome of obedience, conformity and loyalty.  Schools had to be re-invented in order for India to truly be independent from British rule.    

In 1835, Thomas Babington Mcaulay wrote the "Minute upon Indian Education" advocating for English education in India.  Here is how Gandhi summarized Mcaulay's views:

"Macaulay despised our literature.  He thought we were over-much given to superstitions.  Most of those who drew up this scheme were utterly ignorant of our religion.  Some of them thought that it was a false religion.  Our scriptures were regarded as mere collections of superstitions.  Our civilization seemed full of defects to them.  Because we had fallen on evil times, it was thought that our institutions must be defective.  With the best motives, therefore, they raised a faulty structure."

So what were these new schools?  In a letter requesting funds for the Ashram, he wrote:

"The experiment now being carried on at the Ashram seeks to avoid all the defects above noted.  The medium of instruction is the provincial vernacular.  Hindi is taught as a common medium and handloom weaving and agriculture are taught from the very commencement.  Pupils are taught to look up to these as a means of livelihood and the knowledge of letters as a training for the head and the heart and as a means of national service."    

In Hind Swaraj, he wrote: "Our ancient school system is enough.  Character-building has the first place in it and that is primary education.  A building erected on that foundation will last."

In Navajivan on February 28, 1926, he said,"True education is something different.  Man is made of three constitutents, the body, mind and spirit.  Of them, spirit is the one permanent element in man.  The body and the mind function on account of it.  Hence we can call that education which reveals the qualities of spirit."

Gandhi wanted schools that validated the individual spirit, embraced local culture and valued the efforts of young people to benefit their community.  

October 30, 2014

Part 2: "Stayed on Freedom": Social Movements and Re-Inventing Education

Before and after picture from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in the U.S. 
Before we can reinvent education, we must understand why it needs reinventing and why education was of concern to freedom struggles and other humanitarian efforts.

Without writing a dissertation on the history of education, the "Western" model of education which mandated public schools for all young people, whether in America or England, was deeply rooted in obedience, conformity and homogenization of a population.  Both models sprung up in the mid to late 1800's during times of conquest and colonialism, and were designed to produce industrial workers who were loyal to "the crown" or to the American government.

At the time, "teachers" were the keepers of knowledge.  We didn't have the internet or even public libraries.  In order to get your education, you had to be in the same room as the teacher and the teacher told you what to think and what to do.  If you responded in the way the teacher wanted, you were rewarded.  If not, you were punished.

Mandated public education is an extremely powerful way for governments to control the beliefs and attitudes of young people that will last their whole lives.  It is no secret why an imperialist government would want to implement public education in newly conquered territories.

In the 1850's, the U.S. had 31 states and over 3 million slaves.  The term "Manifest Destiny" became popular as America expanded westward deeming their conquests as "divine providence."  The government funded boarding schools for Native American children.  U.S. Army officer, Richard Pratt, founded the first Indian boarding school, called the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.  In 1892, he described his philosophy in a speech, saying:

"A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one.  I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead.  Kill the Indian in him, and save the man."      

Upon entering these schools, Native American students were forced to cut their hair short, take English names, wear European-style clothes and uniforms, speak English, convert to Christianity and more.  These were not gentle steps to nudge children into developing as valued individuals.  It was overt cultural genocide to produce graduates who were conforming, obedient, loyal and ready to serve the needs of American businesses and government. 

The system of public education in India was much the same.  So, for someone like Gandhi, who wanted to empower the Indian people, to embrace their native culture and language in a movement toward Hind Swaraj, re-inventing education was essential.  Traditional "Western" schools were tools of conquest, not education.  And therein lies the root of the connection between nonviolence, freedom struggles and reinventing education.        

Next: Part 3, Nai Talim, or "New Education."  Gandhi's effort at re-inventing education. 

October 29, 2014

Part I: "Stayed on Freedom": Social Movements and Re-Inventing Education

A Nai Talim school - Gandhi's effort to reinvent education.
“Our graduates… are a useless lot, weak of body, without any zest for work, and mere imitators.  They suffer an atrophy of the creative faculty and of the capacity for original thinking, and grow up without the spirit of enterprise and the qualities of perseverance, courage and fearlessness.”  
-M. K. Gandhi, 1917

One hundred years later, the complaints about traditional education are the same as Gandhi saw in 1917. What if education were re-invented through the lens of nonviolence? As a founder of a K-12 school myself, I have been looking for clues to innovations in education from those who have studied and practiced nonviolence in history.

The results were surprising, deep and connected.

In fact, the theme of re-inventing education in freedom movements, humanitarian efforts and other expressions of nonviolence was pervasive enough that I now expect every freedom movement to have some mention of re-inventing education, if not a fully realized plan for it. Through these posts, I want to share with you the connections I've found and hopefully shed light upon ways we can re-invent education to be in alignment with the principles of nonviolence.  

From Tolstoy to Gandhi, Jane Addams, Myles Horton and Paulo Freire, Freedom Schools and more, each of these people and movements invented or re-invented education in some way and often influenced each other in their views of education. It creates an interesting lineage of education innovation both real and implied dating back more than 150 years.

Of course, drawing these historical connections and the conclusions from it requires a few disclaimers. Reinventing education and the philosophy of education is last-page-news compared to the events of a freedom struggle. To say that education ideas get "short-shrift" is an understatement. For example, in researching Freedom Schools from the Freedom Summer effort in Mississippi in 1964, I found a 400+ page book written exclusively about Freedom Summer. Out of 400 pages, three pages were dedicated to details about Freedom Schools. Most books will provide one paragraph. There is no definitive work on this subject that I have found. That is also why I think it is important to document what I have found.  

That said, my explorations have been mostly to inform my study of nonviolence and hopefully to add to the perspectives and insights we derive from the practice of nonviolence. I hope you will join me on this fascinating journey through the world of education with the lens of nonviolence.  

Next: Part 2 

October 21, 2014

What is Constructive Program?

The flag of India with the spinning wheel; the symbol of India's constructive program.
One of the most important elements of nonviolence is the Constructive Program?  What is a Constructive Program and how does it work?

A Constructive Program is a positive effort to create the changes you want to see in the world.  The classic example was used by Gandhi in the struggle for India's independence from the British Empire.  Gandhi encouraged the Indian people to spin cotton on a spinning wheel in order to make their own cloth.  Rather than purchase high priced cloth from the British, making cloth empowered the Indian people with something everyone could do, developed self-sufficiency and created goods to boost local economies.

Even when Gandhi was uncertain what to do strategically for independence, he would spin and ask others to spin.  Regardless of knowing how to proceed with the British, every minute of spinning was contributing to economic self-sufficiency and independence for India.  Spinning became the symbol of Indian empowerment and independence.  That is why the spinning wheel sits in the center of the flag of India.

Nonviolence is not a knee-jerk reaction to take to the streets, or have sit-ins and protests when there is something you see as unjust.  Far from it.  A Constructive Program is a powerful and strategic way to be the positive change you want to see in the world.

In 1964 in Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker and Bob Moses created the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.  African-Americans were not allowed to vote or participate in the democratic process, so they created their own political party that garnered 80,000 members.  This was a kind of Constructive Program.

Simple efforts like buying local, buying organic, shopping regularly at a farmer's market, or riding a bike to work can be part of a Constructive Program.  These efforts also build community, a common purpose and can grow the movement for your cause.

A key question for your own Constructive Program is:
How can you empower people with simple, positive actions that create the solutions you seek?

August 22, 2014

#Ferguson makes me angry. Teach me about Nonviolence.

Hands up, don't shoot!
You are angry, sad and upset about what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri.  The injustices in Ferguson are reminiscent of the Civil Rights Movement and the pictures remind us of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The unarmed youth, Mike Brown, laying dead in the street for hours, is just a modern version of a lynching for all to see.  You want to do something, but what?  Take to the streets?  Rise up?  Speak out?  Stand up for justice?  Rebel?  Revolt?  And what does that even mean?

The Civil Rights Movement was rooted in the philosophy of Nonviolence.  But what is that?  How does it work?  Most people think that the Civil Rights Movement was Martin Luther King giving the "I Have a Dream" speech and then everything was fine.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The philosophy and methodology of Nonviolence is very specific and incredibly powerful.  It is not just refraining from violence.  It is a way of living, acting and organizing that creates positive social change.

There are six principles that Dr. King identified as the principles of Nonviolence.  Among many influences, Dr. King studied Gandhi extensively.  If you don't know who Gandhi is, he led India to independence from the British Empire through the philosophy and methodology of Nonviolence.  If you want to dive deep into Nonviolence, read King, read Gandhi, and follow the Metta Center for Nonviolence.

To start, love is the root of Nonviolence.  We're not talking about love like it's Valentine's Day.  We're not talking about giving candy and love notes to Ferguson police.  It's the kind of deep love that recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of all people.  Here is what King said about what he called, "Agape love" in his book, "Stride Toward Freedom:"

"Agape is not weak, passive love.  It is love in action.  Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community.  It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it.  Agape is the willingness to get to any length to restore community.  It doesn't stop at the first mile, but it goes the second mile to restore community.  It is a willingness to forgive, not seven times, but seventy times seven to restore community... He who works against community is working against the whole of creation.  Therefore, if I respond to hate with reciporical hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community.  I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love.  If I meet hate with hate, I become depersonalized, because creation is so designed that my personality can only be fulfilled in the context of community...

In the final analysis, agape means a recognition of the fact that all live is interrelated.  All humanity is involved in a single process, and all men are brothers."

It is the insistence on community, even when one seeks to break it.  Nonviolence begins from a place of love and then we put that love into action.

In 1924, Gandhi said, "My study and experience of non-violence have proved to me that it is the greatest force in the world."  Rev. Jim Lawson, whom King called, "the mind of the movement" and trained countless groups in Nonviolence said that "Nonviolence has far more power than what anyone actually knows.  Period."

Here are the six principles King identified for Nonviolence:

Principle One:
Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
Nonviolence is a courageous and aggressive positive force that confronts injustice with love.  It is the insistence on community coming out of deep agape love.  Freedom Rider and activist, Bernard LaFayette says, "the goal is not to win over the opponent.  The goal is to win them over."  We want them to see the injustice too and join us.  You must be active and courageous in speaking out and confronting the injustices with your firmly held belief that all lives matter.  King teaches us that this insistence on love and community must be a way of life.  If not, how are you going to stand and speak out for justice amongst your peers?  Your family?  Your community?  How will you speak out when others disagree with you?  Chide you?  Shame you?  Attack you verbally or physically?  How are you going to speak out in the face of the deafening silence of good-natured people who just want to drink a latte and ignore the whole thing?  How are you or the people of Ferguson going to face tear gas, tanks, rubber bullets and police dogs?

How strongly do you believe in inherent the worth and dignity of all people?

This was the challenge of our parents and grandparents during the Civil Rights Movement.  They stood up with love.  It's our job now to stand up too.

Principle Two:
The Beloved Community is the framework for the future.           
This is the "I Have a Dream" message where our society lives together, not only in the absence of conflict, but in the presence of justice.  That is the definition of true peace, where we sit together at the Table of Brotherhood, working together to eliminate systems of injustice, racism, poverty, war and violence.  This includes sitting at that table with the Ferguson police because they too are human.  They too have the spark of the divine within them that we so greatly respect.  They need our help in bringing them out of the evil system of injustice of which they are a part.  No one said this Nonviolence thing would be easy.  Believe in love.  Insist upon community.

Principle Three: 
Attack forms of evil, not persons doing evil.  
The systems and structures of evil that create the injustices in Ferguson and elsewhere were collectively built by us.  They can also be dismantled by us.  In Nonviolence, there is no "us vs. them" mentality.  There is only us and those who have not yet joined us in dismantling the systems of injustice.  When we attack persons doing evil, we inflict violence.  To paraphrase King, darkness does not drive out darkness.  Only light can do that.  Hate does not drive out hate.  Only love can do that.  Violence does not drive out violence, only Nonviolence can do that.  Focus on dismantling the system that creates the injustice.              

Principle Four:
Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause to achieve the goal.
This is a tough one for many people.  This means accepting the blows of police, the rubber bullets and the tear gas without retaliation.  How can you possibly do this?  Because of your insistence on love and community.  It dramatizes the issue for all to see when a violent and brutal police force attacks a peaceful demonstration.  This is a major reason why the Civil Rights Movement awoke the conscience of our nation.  It was not the police violence alone.  When police violence meets violent protests, people see chaos and no way out.  When police violence meets organized peaceful protest, it puts the injustice on a platform for all to see.  It evokes empathy, compassion and the need for change.  By suffering without retaliation, we all become Michael Brown.  Remember, the police are human too.  How many times will they shoot rubber bullets at peaceful protestors before their own conscience tells them that their actions are brutal and immoral?  Only suffering without retaliation can evoke those feelings.  It's not about the police officers.  It's about dismantling the system of injustice of which they are a part and winning the hearts and minds of the people to make it happen, including the Ferguson police officers.

Principle Five: 
Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence.
In addition to avoiding physical violence with others, we must know that the love we extend to others in the campaign includes you too!  You are strong.  You are worthy.  You are making a difference.  You are doing the courageous work that your children and grandchildren will benefit from in the future.  Look at how far America has come since the Civil Rights Movement.  It is our turn to take the next steps.  We owe a great debt to our parents and grandparents.  Part of paying that forward is believing in yourself the way they believed in you and in a better America.  When our parents and grandparents stood in front of the fire hoses, police dogs and tear gas, they did it for us.  Believe in yourself.  You have descended from a courageous and loving people who had their minds, "stayed on freedom."  You can do it too.

Principle Six:
The universe is on the side of justice.  
King echoed the words of Rev. Theodore Parker, "The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice."  I will also add, it bends because we bend it that way.  There is no question that we are acting on the right side of justice when we seek justice through Nonviolence.  The universe is on our side because our actions are rooted in the universal truth known as love.  Love in action will result in a more just world.  Nonviolent means achieve Nonviolent ends.  Nonviolent ends are justice and the Beloved Community.  You are acting on the right side of history.  Be bold as you put love into action.

I hope this explanation gives you a philosophical base and methodology from which you can turn your anger and sadness into action.  Every person's actions and every person's contribution will be different depending on where you live, what you do and what you want to do for justice.  Maybe you live far from Ferguson and will organize an effort in your home town.  Maybe you are going to join the protests in Ferguson.  Maybe just forwarding this post is your contribution today to get Nonviolence into the hands of those who need this message most.  Every contribution through Nonviolence is important in creating a more just world.

Our hearts break over Ferguson.  Let your heart break open with deep love and compassion that will be your inspiration for Nonviolent action.    

In peace,