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?