I am sitting in the summer sun outside the barn that has been converted to create a schoolroom for twenty children, inside there is a high-ceilinged schoolroom, two toilets and at one end, a kitchen.  A redwood tree towers over the building, one of the landmark trees of the area, and there is a stillness in the air now that the laughter and activity of the children has ceased for the day.   The singing of birds in the surrounding woods and the call of a buzzard from far above is contained within that stillness. I look up to see the wide-winged birds wheeling through the blue on a warm flow of air; an expression of freedom and power.

I have been here for nearly a year now.  The grass we planted as seed in the autumn has grown to cover the mud of the Spring to create a large play space around the solid form of the old oak.  It is a place for young children to wander about, to sit and daydream, and to chase each other, to take a book and read or a piece of paper on which to draw.  We, the adults, learn together with the children, watching them, listening, laughing and being silent.  It is a good place; not idyllic for that is mere fantasy – usually thought up through some theory.  Nothing is rushed, there are few deadlines to be attained and there is plenty of time for questions.  If there are tears, anger or unhappiness we have the space to address all these emotions – sometimes with a gesture of affection, sometimes it takes patience and words.

Through economic circumstances I had to leave this school after only two years.  That was nearly ten years ago.  Occasionally I see those children.  They are friendly, bright and still enjoying learning, still clearly valuing the freedom, cooperation, space, affection and a love of learning we all experienced in that time.  For me those two years were a blessing.

‘Your children are not your children,
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.’

From The Prophet by Khalil Gibran  (1923)

I read this when I was in my late teens, many, many years ago.  Its meaning has resonated in me for all the time I have been a father, educator, and now a grandfather.  In my relationships with other parents, as a teacher and as a houseparent, I have met others with this outlook, but a much larger number to whom this way of looking at their children has no meaning at all.  These parents see their children as possessions, valuable, to be protected, but ultimately belonging to them.  This brings a mutual dependency; their children seek the approval of their parents and the parents want their children’s’ love to be expressed through obedience, conformity and achievement.  So, often the parent’s response is to indulge the child materially and to monitor their every move – there has been much written about the collapse of children’s engagement with nature (George Monbiot recently wrote in the Guardian that ‘Eleven to Fifteen year olds (in the UK) now spend, on average, half their waking day in front of a screen).  These parents separate their children from others, putting them in competitive roles and creating further fragmentation in their relationships…….

I’ll be exploring this further as I examine whether there is another way to approach education rather than child-centred, parental choice or state dictatorship; something that encompasses consciousness and the world in which we live.