Ten years ago I used to take our dog walking these country lanes.  His large, shaggy soulful frame is long gone and I am reminded, as I take the same walk, of his beautiful friendship.  This time through the heavy silent mist of a mid-November afternoon I am walking with an Indian friend from Canada.  He has been staying at the school for some time and we talk about his experiences and discoveries; he is researching for a book on a different approach to education and has gained fascinating insights from his interviews and conversations.  We walk slowly up the drive to the large house, the fields either side exude a soft stillness and the leaves fall in quiet flurries to the ground exposing the trees to their winter skeleton.  We are not hemmed in by the thick mist, there is not that cloying claustrophobia you can get in the cities and towns, instead there is an atmosphere of gentleness and peace.

The next day I am invited to spend the morning observing and interacting with several classes of students, girls and boys aged from thirteen to nineteen.  These students come from all over the world and have recently joined this particular school community; the only one of its kind in Europe.  Many are a long way from home.  The first two classes explore the role of peer counsellor through role play and reflection.  It is an opportunity to develop the process of listening and observation in respect of human behaviour; so responses to non-verbal as well as verbal expressions are discussed.  There is no authority in the classroom in the sense of an expert and the students are free to question any aspect of what is going on: the intelligence and sharpness of their observations is no surprise to me, but may be of some news to those who consider teenagers only to be capable of receiving knowledge rather than thinking for themselves.

During the human development classes I am given the opportunity of asking the student questions about their experiences of being listened to, which also includes reference to some participation in their own learning.  The vast majority of these students are in their first term at the school and, therefore, their memories are very recent.  Their background varies from home-schooling, through small ‘alternative’ schools, ‘regular’ schools, to one student who had come from a school in South America that had three thousand students. In general they had experienced limited communication with adults.  For some it would be purely about academics, others had relationships which led to broader and more meaningful conversations, a significant few talk about having no relationship beyond that common to most traditional hierarchical and disciplinarian schools.  Many say that they had articulated their thoughts, but had not often been listened to in a way that engendered some kind of response that acknowledged what they had been saying.  Some mention anger and frustration as being a regular facet of their lives with adults.

However, although an examination of their present situation is not an intention of my questioning, several talk of this:  the usage of adult’s first names making a significant difference; active involvement if the running of the school; the culture of the school that does not depend on a hierarchy and an acknowledgement that everyone is learning together.  These young people are relaxed, open and articulate - it is a delight to be with them.

Meanwhile, the UK Government is working hard to ensure the vast majority of children do not have access to a culture of learning in which they might participate fully.  No opportunity is given for them to even question what is going on.  Power is being used to promote a thoughtless, inhumane and ultimately useless approach to education dreamed up from a male-orientated, militaristic, narrowly academic ideology.   Education has become a battleground dominated by fear, distrust and frustration – hardly a creative environment in which both teacher and students can thrive.  We have become so obsessed with what goes on in our heads and what our hands can produce we have forgotten our hearts: for when the heart does not beat the brain can no longer function and the hand is still.

In this quotation it is important to understand ‘he’ is also ‘she’.

‘The true teacher is not he who has built up an impressive educational organization, nor he who is an instrument of the politicians, nor he who is bound to an ideal, a belief or a country.  The true teacher is inwardly rich and therefore asks nothing for himself; he is not ambitious and seeks no power in any form; he does not use teaching as a means of acquiring position or authority, and therefore he is free from the compulsion of authority and control of governments.  Such teachers have primary place in an enlightened civilization, for true culture is founded, not on the engineers and technicians, but on the educators.’                 J Krishnamurti Education and the Significance of Life (1953)

This is why I went into teaching, why I had to leave teaching and why I will return.