Walter Hövel

Children need the whole village

 

„During my childhood I was confused and it was only possible to develop into an independent person slowly or very little. I was like a water drop outside of the ocean. Only once I had been an adult and could make my own decisions about what I wanted and how I wanted things, it was possible to develop further. Now, I am once again the talkative, happy and curious child, which my mother talked about. Thus, the answer to the question: „How can you avoid the drying out of a water drop? “„Throw it in the ocean because in its natural setting it will never dry out“

Elisabeth Naranjo Martinez, Uni Bremen 2014

 

 

As a young teacher, more than 30 years ago I wrote down my first experiences and thoughts about learning and school. In the state schools of the 80s it was only possible to have a vision where children can set their own learning time and determine their learning content as well as create their own learning environment. Now after 20 years, as I am retiring from school life as headteacher of Grundschule Harmonie, we have shown that more is possible. I am using my leaving of school life as a stimulus to look at the future of schooling, from the standpoint of the present day situation. I will not only be looking at daily school life at the Grundschule Harmonie. As a result of many awards, as for example the Deutschen Schulpreis, the certification as Europaschule or the award for individualized teaching we have come in contact with other outstanding, excellent schools. It’s worth looking at these schools.

 

Most of the surrounding schools do not try to improve the situation in their schools, they do so only in emergencies. The „makers” have learned „only to do as good as a common lesson demands“. They stand in front of their learners as the person in charge and put the „subject“ between themselves and their students. They copy the school that they themselves experienced as children or how they were educated as teachers five to thirty years ago into present day school. Few dare to improve and even fewer dare to think of the school of the future. Schools with up to date development with a high learning culture in a consciously, democratically organized school environment are „beacons” in organizations or work groups such as Blick über den Zaun“, „EuDEC“ , Deutsche Gesellschaft für Demokratiepädagogik, Arbeitskreis „Offener Unterricht“, exemplary Comeniusprojects, as well as schools which have won the Jakob-Muth-Preises or the Deutschen Schulpreises. All these schools dare to take new routes. Each and every one in a different manner but with the similarity of moving in the direction of the learner and the quality of learning.

 

Mainstream School gone astray

In my opinion general state school as a state-prescribed mandatory course remains in a rather poor condition, compared to having the positive examples and despite the comprehensive school island Elementary School. Reality is dictated by an inhumane selection within a streamed school system . Not education but social background determines learning success in the form of marks and graduations from school. This damages not only many people who must learn within this system but also the expectations of achievement within society. An over abundance of Gymnasiums are breeding grounds of a Bourgeois/middle class belief in the maintenance of an educational case system. Currently mainstream school is has the distinction of rather exclusive practice with disabled and people and people made disabled. It is full of exhausted and overstrained teachers and appallingly underpaid head teachers. There are thousands of frustrated, disappointed, under qualified and psychologically stressed learners. Many parents appear to be disoriented, uncertain and confused. Ministerial reforms move at a snail's pace.

 

 

Education should be available to all. We must make no class distinctions.

Confuzius

 

Naturally this picture could be described more differentially. The large number of committed and devoted teachers, the tutoring parents, the successful teachers and the already mentioned positive examples of „beacons“ as well as the unremitting hardworking middle and upper educational directors in many federal states deserve a better evaluation. On one hand the local media write shallow newspaper reports on individual projects and activities while on the other hand the private television centers and gazettes of large media corporations spread educationally harmful nonsense. They polemicize and warn about the downfall of grammar and spelling, the reduction of years of schooling to a European level, the downfall of education as a result of open learning, the Anglicization of the language, the loss of special schools and they curse the comprehensive school. The silent leave taking of the previously loved but now cumbersome Hauptschule can now be recognized as a modern only “dual” streamed school system.

 

Young people of today are left alone with their (high spirited) courage to face life, joy of play, and ambition to learn. Many do without criticism or the desire for alternatives. Many lose their joy of learning as well as their trust in others in society and school. Parents, school, the community we have no time for them. Young people must learn as quickly as possible to be quick, conform, functional and finished. More and more children and young people refuse to cooperate. Others are no longer able to go on. Others copy provided knowledge, reduce what they do to what is asked of them. Our learning is being isolated within the mass of people. Politicians foster society’s fear of something new instead of appealing for the improvement of the future. Self tuning, conform behavior is fostered instead of promoting brave, democratic behavior. The drops dry up although there is a huge ocean.

 

Let us come back to „learning“.  Let us look towards the direction of learning as Michael Schratz, the head of the jury for the Deutschen Schulpreis does “learnwards”. Let us look at the possible development of school. Surely there will continue to be examples as a result of initiatives undertaken by pedagogically thinking people and financial and institutional pushes.

             There will continue to be a forward development of curriculum (visible for example in many math elementary school curricula), the closing of special schools in Bremen or the local elimination of marks.

             There will be continued funds where church and other multi cultural influence on education are sought. Societies need for full-day school and the implantation of inclusion will continue.

             I think that the state mainstream school as it is today does not meet the proficiency level needs of our society and all its extremes from corporation interests to personal interests.

             I believe that most children and young people are bored by the low level of learning offers and are stressed by test, marks and diplomas. There is neither a tying in of present interest, or a preparation for life being with or without a career or apprenticeship.

             I believe that teachers are as stressed with their class and course sizes in the state schools as single mothers are at home.

             Because of the dissatisfaction with education there shouldn’t be stoked fears against changes, but the model school should say goodbye to his formative years as a copy of an early industrial authoritarian establishment. A democratic information society and its demands should lead to a systematic new vision of school.

             As a result I am taking the freedom, which I also took in the past 40 years of work, to lead me to change in school and learning. I am taking the freedom to think of a „modern school“ or better a change in learning in the future. In the end the realization of visions of today are that what must be changed again in the future.

 

The State of Development at the Grundschule Harmonie

This vision encompasses the experiences that I have made myself. I am describing a future based on what ha already been achieved by children, colleagues, other adults, parents and leaders at the Grundschule Harmonie since 1996. Since 1995, 5 to 11 year old children at the Grundschule Harmonie determine their own learning program, individually and together within the circle.

 

             They do not work on plans of adults, but organize and realize their own plans

             They learn to read and write on their own.

             They no longer read in school books but on the net and in “real” books in a school which has a library with no borrowing system.

             They write their own texts and read aloud in them in a weekly poetry reading, comparable to a  „Weekly Poetry Slam“.

             They learn through the freedom of expression of theater, music, art and dance.

             They learn mathematics itself, beginning with catching hands on materials to catch the necessary techniques, the solving of complex questions and the mathematical measurement of space and time.

 

             As a result of their own questions and topics of interest as well as those of others, they learn to work out information, research, experiment and invent.

             Step by step they learn their way into a never ending new world.

             They learn within and outside of school.

             They learn to present their findings, in order to measure their own achievements, to share their learning and to obtain new questions and tasks.

             They learn to assess themselves, they learn to organize and structure their own learning as well as the cooperative learning.

             They learn to reflect on their work, to verbalize and to plan newly.

             They learn to take on responsibility of their own learning, being and where they are going.

             They learn to take on responsibility for their environment. As a result of international projects and cross border activities they learn to to respect and value people of all nations.

 

The Grundschule Harmonie avoids the structures of lessons so that children can find their own structures. Teachers are no longer there to always know the right answer, to correct and to give marks but to learn themselves, to keep the level of learning high and to facilitate as many chances and occasions of learning as possible. Everyone learns together so that they can always learn more and learn on their own! All are not taught by the teacher but become their own teachers.

 

 

'You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.

Abraham Lincoln

 

 

Learning Spaces

The Grundschule Harmonie was built differently than most German schools. When planning the school the architect Guido Casper orientated himself on the building of Cologne Rosenmaarschule of the 1950s and on the ideas of Hugo Kükelhaus . The building that resulted in 1996 was and is a bungalow built with a great deal of wood and glas, a large forum and rooms that have exits to the outdoors. Therefore there is a school that on the inside could develop a village structure. There is space for open and democratic pedagogic. It is not by accident that many out of the ordinary schools have village characteristics. These can be found for example at  Grundschule Welsberg in Südtirol, in Sekundarschule Hausen in Switzerland , in Südschule Lemgo, in Hans Alfred Keller Schule in Siegburg, in Bildungsschule Harzberg  und in many others. Village type buildings are created in order to use new learning environments and let the spirit of school and learning development blossom. Dorfähnlich Gebäude entstehen, um neue Lernräume  zu nutzen, um Schul- und Lernentwicklungsgeist einziehen zu lassen. Although the district was against it, children, parents and teaching staff planted and created a school yard, similar to a Huckleberry Finn countryside filled with bushes, hiding spots, trees, waterholes, ruins, docks and fire pits. Children today find a learning environment where you can learn, play and live, something that is a thing of the past for too many  .

 

In the case where school is lucky enough to have a building which doesn’t fill the cliché of a school building similar to an industrial and factory building, the next step to an aesthetically pleasing animating school environment was possible. From not being dictated by Taylored  lessons to open learning within the school we approached the thought of a children's village even more. After only a short time the school removed itself from the typical image of school. Several factors resulted in a steady and constant change. The external characteristics of the building and the school area were the starting points.. In addition came the development of the pedagogic mindset of the teachers and parents. An educational development took place that made self determined learning possible. What became more and more evident was that the children were able to develop school themselves. It was possible for the people learning and working here to develop the feeling of living on an Island. However, this „Island“ had excellent contact to schools and universities on a national and international level.  A form of „learning and school development trade“  developed. For many we were an accepted partner because our „Island“ had enough of its own pedagogic know how and products. One weak point was the trade with neighbors. As a result, already in 2006 as part of a Comenius-School Development Project with Pädagogischen Hochschule Kärnten mit Pia-Maria Rabensteiner und Gerhard Rabensteiner the Grundschule Harmonie  hosted a „Regionalkonferenz“  .

 

 

Children's University

Another important step in the development of Grundschule Harmonie is „Kinder-Uni“ . Every 14 days the children decide upon offers of seminars or lectures. The content is not based on what is chosen by teachers dictated by the restrictions of curriculum or a school time system. The contents unfold  and expand the diversity and complexity of state plans to the reality and desires of these small and big learners, including teachers. 

 

For years offers of learning have been finding their ways into our school as children's university. Many of them are “school” or that what is defined as „good lessons“ and - they are allowed to be: the combination of missing Soma Cubes, Art and Lyrics, Texts out of a Box, Tangrams, Obstacle Sport, Clever Calculating, Printing, Carving, Experiments, Excursion to the Sewage Works, Sports, Beware Construction Zone, Math, Stars and Prominence (English), Role Plays -  Audio Book  on Pirates, Mobile Phone Stories, Using the Internet, Writing for Beginners, Nice Mathematics, Habitats for Research,  „A Very Hungry Caterpillar“, „Wrestling and Scuffling“, Working with Pastel Chalk, Presentations on personal topics, Spelling and Grammar can be learned. There are lectures on „Basic Mathematical Concepts“, Dinosaurs, European History, the Diversity of European Countries and Regions, the EU Member Countries ….....

 

The fire of learning is kept burning by children, adults and guests. Things that are normally highlights in a school year are part of daily school/learning life :

             A neighbor comes and talks about his childhood and his own experiences during the war and Nazi time in a fascinating manner.

             The crazy banana music program is created and put on independently.

             In many small and big groups, class internal, with other classes together and outside of school groups children work for half a year on the 100 year history of our neighborhood.

             The „Rheinische Lesefest“ (Rhineland Reading Festival) lets authors read with the  „Zeitdetektiven“ and the  „Moorländern“.

             In the new Psycho-Motoric-Room there is the offer of „Beware Construction Zone“, learning with movement, structures and language.

             An entire circus show is prepared for the school assembly in English.

             Language researchers work on how language is made.

             In the „Mathshop“ currencies, the economy and society are discovered in role plays.

             English E-Mails have been written with partners at the English school since 2006.

             “Glibbermasse“ (mass of slime) is examined in a big research project.

             A marble run is built out of paper and cardboard.

             Philosophy  with Children 

             Children think of their own table role plays and lead through the plot.

             Children are constantly shown how to work on and present personal topics of interest by adults.

             „Momo und die Zeit“ is shown as a film and then the children's own definition of time is worked on.

             A visit to an old age home is prepared in detail.

             A singing workshop concluding with a show, together with a local choir is worked on for weeks including visits to other schools .

             All four primary schools take part in the activity „Our Community reads“. During two days there are 70 reading stations in the community.

             A week long hike is undertaken to the River Rhein with several overnight stays.

             A bicycle tour to the shipbuilding yards on the Ems. 

 

The Children's Universities had the following titles

             „Children's History Questions“ 

             „Inclusion“

             „Children's Rights“ 

             „Telling Stories“              

             „Transfer of Competence“

             „Food and Drinks“

             „Table Smalltalk“

             „Customs in other Countries “

             „Sugar in Drinks  - Analyzes of Food“

             „Colorful and Sweet – Got Ya! How Our Supermarkets Trick Us“

             „Vegan Diet – A Picture Book“

             „Garden of Senses: The Touch, Smell, Taste, Sound and Sight of Fruit and Vegetables“

             „Table Manners“

             „Food and Drink Word Fields“.

 

The children decided in Children's Parliament to include these types of Chidlren's University as a fixed part of the school schedule. A resulting decision was that children could offer their own Children's Uni courses. The topics are then called „Beware Construction Zone“ (with building blocks), Cup songs, Trains, Extreme sport (Muscle building), Mixing Colours, Dinosaur films, Airplanes with Elastic Motors (with prior knowledge),  Writing Stories, Telling Stories, Stories with a Red Threat, Guitar, Mobile Phone Conversations, Hockey, Cone Slalom, Juggling, Judo, Nature Art, Logicals, Math Shop, „My favorite....“, Sewing, Nature Pictures, Obstacle Courses, Horses, Robots, Chess, Carving, Sofa King , Rod Monsters Theatre, Tai Chi, 1.000 Dangers Stories, Team Games, Experiments with Taste, Dog Presentations, Wave Board for Beginners, Reading Warrior cats, Practicing Drawing, Drums,  Werewolf, Table Tennis, Obstacle Courses in the School Yard, Mummies, Films about Bionics,  Cementing Water Pipes, Researching the Bermuda Triangle, Basketball, Relaxation Practices in Natures, Skipping, Weaving Pearls....

 

Kindergartens come as guests and the children work together with the little ones in Children's University. They visited the seminar „Nice Mathematics“ and created patterns, ornaments and circular pictures with mosaic stones. There are „Math Shop Projects“ where rod puppets are built and played with. There are „Discovering the Pond“ with the finding and inspection of newts, yellow edge beetles, whirligig beetles, water bugs, water spiders snails and frogs. As part of Boys' and Girls' Day the students from the neighboring school between year 5 and 11 offered seminars in teams of two. The topics included „Experiments on Surface Tension and Detention“, „Pythagoras Theory“, „Power Training without Equipment“, Easter Crafts, „Surface and Calculation of the Circle“ and “Addition and Subtraction

The seminars and lectures are not only offered by teachers or other adults working in the school but by experts or parents in the neighborhood. In time school is enriched by children's University being offered by more and more by children themselves, more and more people of the district, of universities and businesses from our entire regional and digital life. The diversity of learning grew with the children’s desire to learn and with the vast diversity of offers. The community of learners and teachers, which university should be creates an abundance of personal learning possibilities in a „normality of learning“.

 

 

Family and Village Ideas Everywhere

Teachers of the future will not be the all round geniuses of fundamental pedagogy or exciting experts in their subject field. The complexity of our reality no longer makes this possible. The expectations of society will have to burst the framework of school.

             How should this work when we admit that teachers cannot know enough, cannot meet the various needs and worries of individuals and not fulfill the expectations of parents?

             How must the young people’s learning in the finding of personal and common knowledge be organized?

 

A solution began to grow in my head the more I heard the statement   „Raising children needs a whole village“, a statement that apparently originates from Africa.  The thought that the place of learning can grow in the village began to grow in me. Firstly it is obvious that what media offers on a global basis goes far beyond learning with text books, learning from teachers or the memorization of lessons. Unfortunately school is far away from being able to organize the learning chances and opportunities of electronic media due to the over dimensions of the collection of all knowledge available. The knowledge and thinking of the world has already become a village possible to enter called the „World“ within a computer, while the teacher of a Gymnasium still tries to ban Smartphone and Wikipedia from the classroom. Society and the economy will make sure that our education is incorporated into the world of the computer. In the end the statement of Marx‘ and Engels‘ „The ideas of the ruling class are ruling ideas in every epoch, this means the class  which has the material rule of society also has the spiritual rule. 

 

In this manner a new way of thinking in various speeds also took its path in pedagogy.

 

Schlössli Ins

Many years ago I found, at the time a functioning Pestalozzi-Waldorf-Model . The school was spread throughout a village of 200 souls. The children lived in various houses. There was a farm, a „smith“, a pottery, a sewing and weaving room a house with a metal workshop. Regrettably the teachers and operators of this unique school missed separating the learning from school and failed to integrate learning into the village life, into the houses and workshops. Unfortunately they kept the division between life in school (mornings) and life in the houses (afternoons and evenings) until they were in such conflict that this well thought out model was terminated.

 

Summerhill

I came upon the democratic age old model Summerhill. Here there also seemed to be a division: exemplary democratic cooperation here and again boring school there, where one can officially skip school.

 

Janusz Korczak

Janusz Korczak, forced in the Warsaw ghetto orphanage, called to live amidst violence and death a community that valued learning and living, independance and democracy. A village grew with jurisdiction of their own, children's rights and self determined learning. This was not a copy of a village, it was a modern  public body in which the future lived.

 

Rebeca und Mauricio Wild

In 2013 I came upon a very well developed school model in Ecuador. After many years of schooling, influenced by Montessori, learning on journeys (challenges) and „non-directive“ learning Rebecca and Mauricio Wild, over 70 years old closed their school and opened a completely new model. It can be described as learning without school in cooperatives with their own currency (Suenios). Children at primary school age learn only with their parents and older children completely alone. The houses of learning are a small village within a village.

 

Celestin Freinet

In the middle of the 20 century Celestin Freinet described a Children's Republic  as a playing, learning and living paradise close to nature which could exist without adults. Starting from a real environment a child would create a personal way of life and have sufficient rules from which its whole life would be guided by . He opened the French people's (village) school through the praxis of cooperation which has a deciding influence on pedagogy today . And his school started in a village.

 

Reggio

The Reggio-Pedagogic sees raising children as a community responsibility. The German country Kindergarten in Winzin writes: „What makes country Kindergartens special is the close relationship with the village, the village community and structure. We see the village, the environment and nature as places of education and learning environment, which is used actively to research and discover with all their opportunities, offers and characteristics. The focus of Reggio-Pedagogy is the child who wants to research and learn with all its senses. The child has a researching spirit, enjoys discovering and the desire to adventure. Children should be able to meet this potential to the fullest without being buried by prepared knowledge from adults. The child is an active subject with personal rights. It is a committed researcher, scientist, creative artist and „constructor“ of its own development.

 

Tempelhof

The Free School of Gemeinschaft Tempelhof writes: “We make the whole village for living available. Farming , garden, cheese dairy, bakery, kitchen, shop, trades (sewing, carpentry, metal, mobile living), artist ateliers, musicians, IT businesses, graphic office, administration, seminar and guest businesses, adults with various careers and various native languages and democratic consensus culture. All this is made available to children and youth of the school as decentralized places of learning and to accompany learning.” 

 

Volksschule Mödlham

Even when this school has far less than fifty children it is not closed. The reason lies in the year 1909! At the time the farmers of the village donated land and built a school so that their children did not have to travel the eight kilometers to the next school in the heat and cold every day. In this school blooms pedagogy with a Salzburgian special mixture of Montessori und Freinet, a work of the headteacher Thomas Körner. The reason may be that people still have the proximity to the sense of a school, because it was built by their own great great grandparents. Perhaps the lack of understanding of school for many adults is due to the fact that school is too far away. People need a relationship to come from the old village in the future of the new.

 

 PrinzHöfte

The concept of Free School PrinzHöfte has existed since 1996 . It is far beyond its time. It connects systemic thinking, ecological ways, a modern Freinet education and democratic self determined learning and current elements of a „modern“ pedagogy with one another in a manner that their thoughts and practice also arrive at the „village idea“.„The children have diverse opportunities for learning. In the school and school yard there are numerous corners for play, time alone and cave building, a vegetable garden, a pond, small animals (hens, ducks, geese and rabbits), organic beekeeping, a wastewater treatment plant, a greenhouse, field and forest,. There was wood, clay and metal work shops, a large hallway with clay oven and bread baking. In addition the children had the opportunities to take part in the work of the various people working there. This could be baking bread in the kitchen, in the recumbent bicycle repair shop or in the water analysis lab of the AGUA firm. Working with bees and poultry was also possible as was working in the vegetable garden. The children had the opportunity to deal with the adults doing what they do at work: architect, cook, butcher, saleswoman, secretary, landscaper, water engineer, electrician, mason, kindergarten teacher, physics professor and teachers for permaculture.” They also say “That is where we see the special potential of our school. The personal relationships of the children is not limited to children of the same age and in their relationships with adults they are not dependant on the „teaching personnel“. In comparison to a regular isolated school we want to make it possible for children to have firsthand experience with real work fields in our school environment.”   They came, like others upon the "traveling school" and the "challenges". As a school from kindergarten to 10th grade they established students’ companies. "In former times you were told, ‘not for school you learn, but for life’.  We say: ‘Not for the life you learn, but in it’”  

 

Grundschule Heiligenhaus

At the primary school Heiligenhaus in the small town Overath near Cologne the school news let grow the school together more and more to a village. The school has no forum, no place of meeting, no "stoa". An evolving pedagogy and the humanization of learning forms democratic interaction. So here the school radio occurred, made by children and aired regularly. Through the reliable and professional guidance of Anne Lachmuth participation, communication, independent learning and the pro-active attitude of the children grow together.

 

 

Bildungsschule Harzberg

At Bildungsschule Harzberg   thirty children find their school in an old school building. They learn, work and play in eight rooms in the „family business“ of  Stephanie und Falko Peschel. Around the school building in a large yard there is a greenhouse, a tree house, a trampoline, horse stable, barbeque area, swimming pool, sandpit, football pitch, sheds, a large chess board, a pulley, a fire pit, a tunnel slide, a stage, various swings, hens, trees to climb in, various equipment, building play areas and all this combined with individualized open learning according to the concept of the Peschel family.l  Teaching personnel from the region that have not been educated to teach help for example musicians, native speakers, athletes and artists. Falko Peschel sees himself more as the father of the family. He finds himself in the village thought but defines it more precisely with the statement: „Not an staged family, not a copied village!“

 

Escola da Ponte

A state exception, similar to Grundschule Harmonie can be found at Escola da Ponte in Portugal . At this school children decide on a daily basis with a contract whether or not they are coming to school. They create their democratic-social community as well as their work and learning in a „village like“  school in many areas independently.

 

Gerd Oberdorfer

He connected his village school in the Swiss mountains with the world. He arranged for the school's own school bus and a school trip wagon which can be joined to any train in Switzerland. As teacher of the Educational High School he remained mobile with a rentable „Research Box“ on Four Wheels.  .

 

Approaching the village thought from outside of School

In contrast to society's age old concept of orphanages, children without parents or children of parents who are not able to or are not allowed to raise them have lived in “Kinderdörfern“ („children villages“) . In groups which imitate or replace families children are fostered, they receive therapy and access to education. These families are „villages“. „The goal is to provide the children with security and rules  of a family“.  Within this concept the „children's villages“ are replacement for the positive influence of community otherwise not present.  The children should learn what they would not learn without a „family“, without a „village“, without a sense of belonging to a group. The children's village thought reduces the definition of family and village to the care of those who otherwise would be excluded from society. Taking into consideration the singling, the   number of split up families and children in full day schools - those who call themselves conservative are calling for the return of the “healthy family” (which never existed), others are thinking about being able to meet the legitimate needs of children. Thus another African saying: „Honor your child and it will honor you“.

 

Hearst Tower

In architecture the Hearst Tower of Norman Foster  in New York is a significant signal for the future. An office building does not separate itself from its neighborhood but becomes part of it. Through openness and transparency, through the connection of usefulness and aesthetics it communicates with its neighborhood so that a „House Community“ results within. If Norman Foster built a school it would be in this building and its neighborhood and it would only be out of the ordinary because young people would learn together with older people within.

 

Nelson Mandela

Let us turn to Africa and the original country with the „village education thought“. Mandela and leading members of the ANC were locked up in prison on Robben Island. „During the stay on the „Island“ the ANC members developed a fine tuned education system for the inmates, through which they passed on the political fundamental and history of the ANC. This so called „Mandela University“ became a unique place of learning and education, which even included the white security personnel“. 

They demanded their freedom and rights, but they used the terms that they were given in order to learn. What an example for how in the surrounding area people are being killed and suppressed but that education is the most peaceful weapon to freedom. So Nelson Mandela said: „Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.  This is a lesson to all those who, do nothing or excuse their actions, quoting the bad surrounding conditions. The alternative a la ANC is, to use the existing given framework to its advantage so that the necessity for the change of the conditions became evident! The democratic labor movement began not coincidentally with "workers' education associations".

 

Julius Nyerere

The statesman from Tanzania tried to introduce his Ujamaa-Modell an African „Family Socialism“ in the 60s and 70s of the 20th century. This was to be based on an improvement of the traditional socialist village community. He wanted to combine traditional knowledge with modern knowledge in education. „In our traditional African community we were part of a community as individuals. We took care of the community and the community took care of us“. „Education should combine traditional with modern knowledge and should not take place primarily at the desk, but should be the transfer of practical skills, for example how families feed themselves properly or make tools. Schools should be independent, they should be self sufficient through farms and the students should be guaranteed a large amount of self determination.“  Although he could not make this model become reality within the economic and ideological reality in Africa he did anchor this thought deep within his society.

 

The Village’s Core

What is the best quality of the village that makes the village a village? I think it is the most obvious: It’s an entity. To live in the village one must work. To live in the village one must play, dance and laugh. To live one must live together with others in the village. However, above all, with and without rule, one had to work to stay alive. . Jeanette Martin, ethnologist at the university of Bayreuth, spoke at a symposium of the Neandertalmuseum  about her studies in an African village in Benin. She said that through the eyes of a child today three things influence their life as they have for thousands of years:

             the work („that each child also does not like to do“),

             the increasing presence of the state in the form of the village school

             and for several years the presence of the outside world in the form of a mobile phone, especially in the hands of children.

 

Giovanni Vetere, an exceptional artists  from my home town, likes to talk about his childhood in Calabria in the 40s and 50s of the 20th century: „As children we already worked from morning to night. Here our siblings educated us, not our mother and father. The father had the say in the family, the mother took care of food and making sure that the threshold guaranteed the rules of behavior in the family. Playing in the village mostly in the evenings, served the "unattended" trying out one's own life path in childish game and its rule-making. "

 

In other reports from other childhood village experiences, in fairy tales, by Astrid Lindgren, in the rainforest or in stories of older people there is always the focus on work, which influences the daily life and relationships of people. The estrangement of work through industrialization, the ruling of corporations with their banks and media resulted in „Replacement Institutions“ in the form of state schools. Learning is separated from life and work. Consistent with this the first supporters of reform pedagogy working in this unsatisfying and over expensive institution called themselves representatives of „work pedagogy“.  Even all „modern“ attempts to reform school, without the experiences of the „reformers“ come to the same results through organization development, systemic thinking or holistic approaches: An individual must be at the centre, personal activity is asked for, responsibility must be taken on, creativity, learning must become a personally and active process.   Society's separation of school and life must be overcome. Some try it through improved teacher training, improvement of the quality of lessons, more brain research and scientization and an even more effectiveness of classroom management through the leading role of adults. Others, like the sons of the artist Arno Sterns   have exceptional arguments for school’s abolition (as well as arguments against „Homeschoolers“).

 

The abolition of school today and change to learning could take place in different ways:

We do not have to go back to the village - We are the village!

 

The presentation by the pediatrician Heribert Renz-Polster  at a Freinet symposium at the beginning of 2014 at the FH Frankfurt initiated the village thought.  It was clear and simple: „We are the village. Children do not have another one. We must learn to use the village we have.“ „ We have learned to „network“ for decades. We are being asked to „regionalize“ our work. We are learning to gain helpers for our work at school. This is resources work. We are learning to get support for children at school so that they can all learn together (inclusion). However at the centre there is always the same: Win people from beyond school for children's learning. The abilities of teachers and school is not enough. It's not about creating the X-th project for sugar coating of state regular school lessons. A change must change the core  of the state school system. This must grow and be wanted. Each and every person (!) must be included in this process, if school is to play any sort of positive role in the education of people.

 

Networking and Regionalizing

Once again the example of Grundschule Harmonie is being used. First we learned to take on those studying the future teachers during their training. They were not stressful but brought new ideas. They were and are often emotionally closer to the children than the majority of older staff. When a school has the reputation of having high pedagogical expectations, then those who have the same calling come. We learned to include parents in school. The first ones were terrible. They tried to imitate the lessons that they themselves experienced: Children had to read without sense like “ practicing barking”, computational boxes in homework format, spelling and grammar exercises... Then there came a new type of parents. They offered things such as Life of the Vikings, Printing, silk screeing, baking, writing with a feather, A Children's Fire Brigade (!) etc. Today they arrive with their own things such as playing the Harp, Discovering Fish Species in Indonesia, Overview on all Species of Dinosaurs, Food from the Far East, Tai-Chi, Speaking Turkish, Spanish, French, and Bee Colonies etc. We began to bring in „native speakers“ with the help of the city hall registration, in order to bring the language into the school. „Ein-Euro-Kräfte“ (long term unemployed) came to work, often without a school diploma. We offered them an environment of recognition and they accompanied the children, learned with the children, often things they missed themselves in school. They understood problems; they were often close to the children. They began to offer things such as printing, multiplication tables, computer, painting and drawing, making music, garden work, building and masononry work. Others helped in the kitchen, in full day school or the custodian. They learned to expand upon the self determined learning of the children and offered playing hockey, girl's football, creating art objects, playing games, land art, research and experiments etc.   

 

More and more people interested in doing internships came from around Germany and abroad and brought juggling, how to organize your notebooks, unicycling, little legwork, help for writing texts, working with children on writing their own texts, working on self chosen topics, telling stories, or a glimpse of Chinese or Latvian. Students in the Inclusion Program at the University of Siegen, have been coming twice a week for a period of three semesters since 2009. They accompany the children in their daily school life, support their independence and learn about inclusion work. Innumerable guests from our direct surroundings come to the children's university. A mathematician, who is listed among the world's most intelligent people talks about  the building of the atomic bomb, Grandparents talk about getting „all fancied up“ in the early days, a sailor talks about the significance of flags, an Anglican priest shares his knowledge on the writing of the bible. The neighbor from India introduces his country, a biologist shows the medusas that he breeded, the car mechanic explains how a motor works etc. Representative of the various political parties come and take part in a podium discussion prepared by children, ,a firefighter reports on pyrotechnics, the forester explains all about mushrooms....

 

All (!) trainees, who have been coming for years are approached and included by the children. In addition Johannes Merkel from the Uni Bremen presents his art of communication, Ben Schreiber from Luxembourg comes as a knight, the actor Haydar Zorlu presents himself as Goethes’ Faust... There are guest presentations by children from other schools. We learn to communicate with other schools and institutions through the internet .

 

We have a scientific cooperation with the University of Bielefeld (inclusion), the University of Cologne (grammar), the University of Bremen and  the  Teachers’ Collage of Education from Carinthia/Austria (democracy and school development) …We invite state projects such as „Skills for Life“, „Kunst und Schule“, die „Rheinische Lesenacht to our school. Because many children no longer see their parents working or their work, we started the „Primary School Career and Job Internship“. At this time children can go to their parents' workplace as an intern and experience it first-hand. The second possibility was the possibility to visit in groups and the third was that parents could come to the school and introduce their workplace and work to the children.

 

The school opens not only its doors, they open to society. The catholic parish used our forum for mass, choirs to practice, dog schools to meet or conferences take place here. Seminar groups from universities and schools from  within Germany and abroad use our school as accommodations while working at our school.

 

Networks grew which again resulted in learning opportunities with and in „our village“. If the community continues to get closer to networking and regionalization there would be many more opportunities to make schools a communal and international meeting point of learning and culture. In the region our children organized a podium discussion at a congress . As part of international school projects , they visit other school to exchange their experiences on learning and democracy. In the school year 2014/15 there was the first „School Development Meeting“ within the framework „Blick-über-den Zaun“  with children from Eis Schoul in Luxemburg and Clara-Grunwald-Schule in Freiburg.

 

The Village is the School

Teachers have to approach the education demands in the future differently. Open, self determined learning of the children in one answer. The other is that all people(!) must be available for children's learning. A possible future school lies within teachers not being too stressed with the teaching of learners but all people of the community will be the offers of learning for all people. School, community, the town, the quarter will be the places of learning. This contact with experts and competence, meaning to organize it with all people of society will be the responsibility of school in the future. We have started. 

 

Imagine all (!) adults are required, for various periods of time to offer their knowledge in their area of expertise to children, young people and other adults in some manner. This would include „Learning Computer Languages and Programming“ „ Baking Marble Cake“, „My Knowledge of Autism“, „Fixing Bikes“, „Making Fruit uices“, „How  Pain Tablets Work“, „How Do I Milk a Cow?“, „The Logistics of Rubbish Pick Up“ and „What Happens During Pregnancy”. Schools job would not be too work through the torture of subjects in the curriculum at the same pace for everyone. Instead there would be two legs:  One would be that the children take on responsibility for their self determined learning and the other would be the organization of access to the entire breadth of knowledge in the village, community and quarter. The knowledge itself would no longer be the compilation of the social content in school subjects, but the sparking of the real knowledge of society.

 

The village becomes  “Uni-Versitas” of the learners and teachers, „universitas“ as the embodiment of the whole, the whole of all things and society's whole. All take on responsibility for the learning of young people, for the learning of the community.  They would do this is a concrete manner through their responsibility of directly passing on their knowledge.  How this look would: Online there would be a summary of all things being offered by all people of a district. A district would learn together. There would also be guest events, which cover knowledge that is missing in the town area. The children, who are mixed age groups, decide where and with whom they register.  The school organizes the help so that all people fill their wishes and get the information about all the opportunities available.  The school knows who is where on what day. Public transportation is set up so that all learners can get everywhere. Smaller children are helped through a community school travel service.  Starting in kindergarten, which is integrated into a lifelong community learning network the children learn to organize their learning in this manner. This cannot be forced but grows into the existing school.  Today the path  is called „individualized and open, cooperative and personally active learning“, „inclusion“ , „systematic thinking“, „networking“, „regional thinking“, „participation““ , etc., etc.  This path crosses through a continuing network and the growing of an awareness of a regional responsibility for  education to arrive at a general change in thinking.

 

The next steps

So the local working group inclusion” will offer to all members of the community a learning event : individuals or groups invite other members of the community to a topic which they know about and which they enjoy. „In our community there are many people who know about something, who can do it, explain about it, show it, initiate it etc. They offer their knowledge. As many as possible begin to invite others to learn.“   What is being looked for should be as far away as possible from school learning and have an optimal nearness to the joy of learning. They offer this „Conference together with other initiatives, businesses, institutions, offices, practices, foundations, organizations, and individuals.  They want to reach various circles to offer topics and to take part in the event: young people of the Eitorf schools, poor, unemployed, old people, disables, local historians, the Mosque, teachers, , administration, tradesman.... People will be invited through „education agents“. These are staff members, leaders, acquaintances who work at the cooperation partners or have good contact there, for example companies in the music school, administration or in the hospital, teaching colleagues, artists, the job center, banks....“ „A program develops from the abundance of potential offers and the abundance of possible topics. The list of possible topics is principally larger that the number of inhabitants in Eitorf.  An aim of the work is also to make clear for a large number of people that they have something to say. Everyone has something to offer. Everyone in a communion is important! “ 

 

"The object of interest is not to mold the child, but to allow him to reveal itself “

Maria Montessori

 

The people of a community are the learning place of all

This is how the village school could do it. It becomes the „stoa“, the village square, the campus, the piazza, the meeting point with all for all. It needs the communication and cooperation with nature and society, with ethics and the knowledge of the people.  We do not need the learning poverty of a school test, when there are innumerable learning opportunities in our village! The new school cannot be a public budget factor where money must be saved.  School must be so intelligent that it is completely intertwined in daily life, research and work. It must be so intelligent that it is not a burden factor but that it should be invested in to that an immediate and long term profit can be seen. It is not about reconstructing the village of the past. It is about the systemic question what the quality of a village is. How do I bring this quality into modern time?  The village is a community, a living and learning organism that is responsible for the education, health, finding the meaning of life of many. Most of all since the beginning of democracy the focus of the modern village should be Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, not your job, leisure time and fun, not a life of work, employee freedom and their power and happiness. Democracy cannot be forced through revolution, power or majority. Democracy can be negotiated, it must grow with everyone. A village organizes itself, makes the rules for within and outside, and through dealings with other villages, towns and cities it can have local, national and international dealing and benefit from this richness. On the other hand school can make international, critical and prejudice free contact possible.

 

If school wanted to continue as it is and not only be the school of selection for the advantage of the petty bourgeois it would have to improve its teacher training in such a manner that it would come to a significant increase of the teaching power. The number of good teachers would have to increase 10 fold. This path is already a dead end. Said in another manner the path would be not to put the biggest emphasis on the teacher but on the potential of the village society. This means learning with the children is taken on by every(!) member of society, everyone becomes a teacher, teachers and learners in the village of the future. However we already live in our village. The village is as it is today but also as far as we can imagine it. Thus our learning today is what we are able to do already today in an inclusive school, family, media, science and society's division of power and service.  If we want to develop further, if we want to learn better, we must make the better learning sustainable, we have to put through by convincing.  This point of view has no alternative.

 

Humanity can grow up, as the introductory quotation says. If learning in today's school is the water drop, which dries up for so many people. „Throw it in the ocean, because in its natural setting it will never dry out“.

 

Finally, it is the children who will be the village of tomorrow!

 

 

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