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 

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