Outside our new home we have a magnificent black walnut tree, from all aspects of our small apartment we can see the solid grey/brown of its sturdy trunk, at night we hear the wind rushing through the leaves and the soft sway of its boughs.  Its height dwarfs the newly built wooden pavilions; it has come from another land, as have so many in the community we have recently joined.  

Lately I have been reminded on two separate and very different occasions of the power of the technological advances that have been made over the last decades, notably in the area of communication which has increased the potential for human connection all over the world.  However, this is not being mirrored with any sense of change in the quality of human relationships: wars continue; fragmentation of communities continues; greed and exploitation abound.  In addition to this there is ever increasing evidence of the dehumanising of much of humanity.  Systems, profits, economics and policies are destroying the lives of the poor, the vulnerable, the weak and the powerless in all parts of the world.

So what as an educator can I do?  For I must do something.  Years ago, just before finishing my course in education, I heard some people discussing teachers referring to that group as ‘a bunch of mischief-makers’.  Since then I have caught myself from time to time being drawn into the mass of people whose view of the young has not changed much since the Victorian era, finding myself being inadvertently institutionalised.  However, where I am now this role of the teacher is being challenged and that is why I am here.  In a community where the intentions of the place are explicit in learning about the whole of life, then it is incumbent upon all of us to explore all aspects of living.  However, there is a danger here that in such beautiful surroundings, superb healthy food, comfortable living, where there is intentionally no pressure, day to day life slips into a goldfish bowl of self-absorption and complacency that separates the community from the outside world: the inner from the outer. So finding a means to connect with the outer world is very important and to explore the conditions where the teacher becomes the student and the student the teacher, and falling back on the authority of knowledge and experience is not enough.   Being a conduit of expertise to furnish the desire for certainty is no longer the role of the teacher in a world where living is a process of uncertainty.  Interestingly, many of us, staff and students, have been experiencing moments frustration, inertia, and doubt, typical of the transitional stage in the movement towards radical change.

One of those groups that have been dehumanised are adolescents; not necessarily children, nor young adults; but those in their teenage years who are coerced into schooling, regimented, uniformed, and plagued by exams.  Across the world this section of humanity is being programmed into becoming economic units, exploited, dependent on the stimulation of entertainment, shaped by narrow ideas of success and haunted by the dark shadow of failure – whatever that might mean.  It seems to me that it is the role of the teacher to question these assumptions with the students, to listen and not to preach, direct or adopt the authority of superior knowledge.   For this to happen there must be a relationship that is based on trust and affection and that may not happen quickly for these qualities are not necessarily found easily.  Steps are being taken, hesitantly, carefully for we are all human beings.