unrewarded, and elemental
An introduction to the principles of Huzanity School
There are two kinds of education: learning
about practical matters, and learning about life. The former is a body
of knowledge that can be taught. It can be organized in complex systems
and institutions, and imparted in systematic ways to large populations.
The latter is not so easily quantified. A different kind of school is
Most schools impart practical skills,
and offer practical rewards. They prepare students for a job or a profession.
They serve society. They make society go. But they are not suited to
help find out where society ought to go. For this, we need more subtle
skills. It won’t help much to learn to build a bridge or alter
a gene or win an argument. We must know why, and unless we do, we are
shallow and mediocre creatures, and so is society.
We want teachers, because we desperately
seek a guide. The teacher imparts, and the student receives. The lecturer
speaks, the student listens. The professor summarizes and propounds;
the student memorizes and repeats. Technical matters can be imparted
in this fashion, but what about profound ones? I don’t think so,
because profound learning about life requires a creative effort on the
part of the learner. You have to find out yourself; if you do not, you
simply do not know.
As long as there are teachers, there will
be dogma. The temptation to defend theories and serve interests is too
powerful. Even without teachers, it’s not easy to approach a subject
without prejudice. Where bias exists, learning does not. Education becomes
an ideological instrument, a tool of indoctrination. Whether there’s
a hidden motive or one that is openly proclaimed, whether it’s
political, religious, or corporate, whether it’s in the hands
of a repressive conformist or an anarchist rebel, the process of discovery
is blocked. Humility, about what one knows, and defends, and is, is
an essential starting point of education. But where does it come from?
A practical benefit of education is personal
gain. Our schools tempt students with grades, credits, degrees. Rewards
are given and punishments are threatened. The victors are promised worldly
success, and failure means exclusion and expulsion. With this constant
struggle for survival being acted out in the background, who can concentrate
on the material at hand?
A more subtle seductive force, which schools
utilize, are images of fulfillment and personal satisfaction. This too
is a practical benefit, which turn one’s focus inward. Knowing
oneself does not mean finding or consoling oneself. It does not mean
guidance or support. It does not even mean finding balance or broadening
one’s horizons. These are all standards of self-interest, greed,
One can find diversion and entertainment
in an educational setting. It can be a place for escape and adventure.
It can be an opportunity to accumulate and wield the power of knowledge.
But it’s not likely that one is going to learn very much, except
for technical subjects, if one is not prepared for fundamental re-orientation
Is this too idealistic? Are the heavy
structures and compulsions of educational institutions a necessary compromise
for real human beings? Certainly the system does work for some people.
But how many adults turn to institutional settings when they want to
answer the critical dilemmas and satisfy the craving for understanding,
which they have? Who is willing to submit their will and play the silly
games, which are required? These games are fine for children, for followers,
technocrats, and pleasure-seekers. ? Adults--independent, authentic
seekers of truth—cannot play them.
There’s a flaw in our paradigm.
In fact, the whole paradigm is heavy and oppresses the imagination.
We have created elitist and intimidating retreats, designed for those
with money or talent or luck. Where are the schools for those who are
ready to learn, and ready to assume the responsibility that learning
entails? Where are the dynamic and open schools, fertile spaces for
the many decades of an adult’s learning life? Are we condemned
to solitary book reading and occasional lectures, to movies and restaurants,
social events, and imported corporate diversions?
An ‘educational setting’
It’s easy to criticize, and to say
what is not; it’s harder to imagine viable alternatives. What’s
the alternative to massive buildings, large fees, and distinguished professors?
What kind of school would be without bureaucracy, teachers, dogma, rewards,
and fulfillment, and yet engage the student in serious work?
Let us imagine an ‘educational setting’
which is inviting and open, belonging to all, like a public library. Students
come and go, reading and conversing at an adjacent café, attending
public forums, slide shows, discussions, signing up for classes. Set aside
from the rush of daily events, but right in the center of the city, it’s
an integral part of daily life. It expresses and validates a certain spirit:
prayerful openness to what is beyond and what one does not already know.
The advantage in learning is not to the
quick or the clever; it's to the slow, the relentless, and the humble.
The one who knows is not who remembers more, but who cares more. Great
questions do not require subtle knowledge, eloquence, or big words. The
privileged are not at an advantage. No special vocabulary or training
is needed, and there are no prerequisites, when it comes to insight and
discovery. The poor, and those who are suffering, are, if anything, closer
to the truth, because they are not as burdened with the arrogance of their
possessions and power. Our school must be accessible to the dispossessed,
and this alone would yield a new vitality to those who are accustomed
to fancy settings, book learning, and sophisticated company.
What will we study? No subject matter is
inappropriate. We can apply our inquisitive perception to any aspect of
life and nature, any scheme or conjecture. There is a special filter which
can illuminate the essential features of this vast landscape. The field
is wide, but a path a runs through it. We cannot and don’t want
to know every detail, but some things we must know: What is the core truth,
the origin and the intention? How does it hinder or contribute to what
is vital for life and for society? How does it elevate or desecrate humanity?
Classes will address the principal elements of
daily life in society: technology, globalization, law, prisons, architecture,
politics, etc. There should also be classes on history, ethics, government,
science, and other general topics. What is essential is a dynamic, intense
focus on vital issues: how we are impacted, altered, and the possibilities
for change. They should address our real questions, responding to the
particular interests of students taking the class. And they should provide
the resources that students will need to find out what they need to know,
introducing students to the breadth of the subject. In addition to the
core classes, there should also be a forum to develop classes that respond
to contemporary events and particular interests.
Before class meets and discussion begins,
it’s important to have already begun exploration of the subject.
An hour or two of study is typically sufficient to provide background
material and to suggest the principal issues involved. Unlike teachers,
good books do not review, dictate and assign. They agitate, awaken, inspire.
There are several kinds. Some—we could call them ‘classics’—are
valuable because of their influence. They may be wrong, but to some extent
they have made us what we are. Others are intrinsically valuable. They
might contain the remnant of wisdom that humanity carried forward (often
mixed with that which is unwise), or simply insightful commentary that
elucidates problems and raises questions.
A little dose of humility, about what one
knows and needs, is an essential starting point. Mind-learning by itself
is top-heavy and unbalanced. The heart and the hand are as important as
the mind. Class activities, in which students bring personal experiences
to bear on the subject, are an essential part of each meeting. Community
action is a way for students to express what they’ve learned in
tangible ways, and allows students to continue to meet long after the
class ends. We seek unity of the ideal and the real, culminating in action.
An authentic educational setting can recast
conflict and bring together interests that seem hopelessly divided. As
long as we cherish that which is close to us, and reject that which is
foreign, division exists. But if we begin with humility, unobstructed
by the prejudice of personality and personal desire, we can see the good
in each side. Then, standing back, we survey the whole truth. It’s
a process of humility, understanding, and connection. Overcome one's own
limitations, thoughts and biases. Look deeply into 'what is.' Know something
or someone truly.
We want a place where learning occurs through
the active work of the student, in dialogue with community members, discussing
profound writings, relating them to personal experiences, and lifting
up their eyes together to that which is greater than us all. Teachers
are not necessary. But something not normally required of students is:
humility and care.
There are plenty of schools that teach practical
subjects. I’m not suggesting that we eliminate them. They serve
a useful and necessary purpose. But when it comes to answering fundamental
questions, where do we turn? It’s a sad state to be left alone;
lost in the vortex of the internet, staring at electronic symbols, who
knows where to click? Much better is a vital give and take, face to face,
engaged with others in the essential task of lifting and transforming
our own selves through learning. It’s great when these moments occur
through chance meetings or occasional gatherings. The results might be
less haphazard if a place were specifically set aside for that purpose.