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 

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