左边是林木幽深的峡谷，右边是绿树成荫的住宅区。 每次走上这条山路都会很愉快，因为路的尽头就是北温哥华的温莎屋学校（Windsor House School），那里有一群真正快乐的孩子们。
温莎屋学生的父母们，希望孩子快乐胜过希望他们成功，所以只有被父母无条件爱着的孩子才会被送来这里上学。他们的爸爸妈妈大概永远不会说：“如果你……爸爸妈妈就不爱你了”这种让孩子从此一辈子没有安全感的话。这里学生不想上课就不用上课， 不想做作业就没有作业，考试成绩全体家长选择不看。这样的学校，不用说得让所有的“虎妈”“狼爸”发疯，就是最开明的父母，如果你的孩子到了十几岁还不会读，不会写，不会算，而且还不想学， 也得焦虑不堪。有的家长把孩子送来是因为这里的“课外活动”丰富多彩，等他们发现这里并无“课内活动”时，就只好澄清误解，把孩子送到“正常” 学校去。因此，温莎屋学校制定了严格的招生程序以排除不合实际的期望，家长和孩子除了两次与校方面谈外，还包括三天的亲身体验。目前学校有大约150个学生。每年的名额有限，想来而来不了的孩子只能排在等候名单上。
书和先例也不是完全没有。温莎屋的建立不是靠凭空想象，它也不是独此一家。这样的自由学校，世界各地还有一些。最出名的有英国的夏山（Summerhill School，一所昂贵的私校），美国的桑德伯里（Sudbury Valley School）和专为穷孩子开的阿尔波尼（Albany Free School）。夏山是所有自由学校的老祖宗，1921年由苏格兰人亚历山大•苏兹兰德•尼尔（A. S. Neill）在英格兰风景优美的农业区建立，已有九十多年的历史。尼尔生在一个儿女众多的穷家庭，从小不被父母看好，经常挨揍。长大以后也不顺利。在长期的教师生涯中，尼尔认识到传统的教育方式完全行不通。创办夏山并任校长四十年后，尼尔出版了《夏山：一种培养孩子的激进方式》（Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing）。这本书最早在美国出版。首次征订时，全美没有一家书商愿意提前预订一本。十年后，该书已列入美国至少六百门大学课程的必读书目。至1970年，已有法文、德文、意大利文、西班牙文、葡萄牙文、日文、希伯来文、芬兰文、挪威文和丹麦文的译本。初版的扉页前附有一张明信片，以收集读者的反馈。明信片返回率高达百分之二十五，超过邮购目录返回率。许多人写道：本书是“我读过的最伟大的书”，和 “对我一生最重大的影响”。也有一位妇女寄回书要求退款，原因是她丈夫说两者之一必须从家里滚出去：这本书或她自己。伟大的哲学家弗洛姆为这本书写了序言。结尾处他写道：“这本书将为爱，肯定，自由这些词提供新的涵义。我相信尼尔的著作是将会生根发芽的种子。假以时日，他的思想将为一个新的社会所广泛承认，在那个社会中，人本身，和他的解放，将成为一切社会努力的最高目标。”
有什么是温莎屋的孩子学不到的呢？几乎所有的知识和技能，从历史地理到语言数学， 从哲学思考到编程上网，都可以无需学校这样一个集体，由单独的个人通过自学和独立思考完成，孤独、没有平辈压力的环境反而有益于学习的自由和思考的深度。而那些书本教不了、老师无法传授、书斋里学不会、模拟学不像、必须在一个活生生的群体中通过平等真实的互动与亲身实践才能学会的知识和技能，孩子们能够在温莎屋学会。这些也正是现代社会最需要的知识和技能：人性的优点和弱点、互相尊重和妥协的必要、寻找双赢的解决方案、充分的沟通、清晰的表述、专注的倾听、周密的思考、理解他人的观点和立场、说服他人、表达和实现自己的愿望、争取支持、组织、管理、领导、合作、谈判、建议、创新…。 一般的学校只教授那些孩子们可以自学的科目，而不提供这样一个自我管理的环境让孩子们培养这些自学不了、成年后难以补课、却对任何个人与社会都最为重要的见地和能力。哪一种学校才是真正耽误了孩子呢？
Shi Tiesheng, a Chinese writer, says: “To write is to prevent suicide.”
He died on the last day of the year 2010, four days before his 60th birthday. Having spent 38 years in a wheelchair, making matchboxes with other unskilled workers for a living for over a decade, he knew what he was talking about. Shi is one of the most profound and unpretentious writers inChina.
He had not expected to live to almost 60. His illness had brought him to the verge of death more than once. Daily living was difficult. He had to rely on medical help to clean his blood every two days, after his kidneys failed. Energy was of limited supply. If a friend was to visit in the afternoon, he dared not move much the whole morning, in order to save energy for the visit. It was a thoroughly tortured life, a life without health and all the pleasures health bestows. How could you buy the pleasure of taking a walk? He found he could not even recall the sensation of walking. The memory was gone soon after the departure of the function.
It was not a life lived by common standards. There was no feeling well or looking well. Yet he lived. And he wrote.
He lived and died in abundant, genuine love, love from his wife, his friends, his doctors and nurses — some of these health workers were his lifelong caretakers and lifesavers. Instead of a funeral, his friends gathered and celebrated his 60th birthday, in their brightest and handsomest clothing. They brought him colorful fresh flowers. “This time,” said his wife to these friends, “he has plenty of energy for the party.”
In his work, Shi says, “Death is something we don’t need to rush to. Death is a festival that is bound to come.” It had finally come.
He donated every part of his body to anyone in need of a transplant and to medical research. He hoped an autopsy would finally discover what went wrong in his spine at age 21. At that time, everyone was praying it was a tumor, which would mean it could be removed and he cured. Yet whoever he prayed to with all his might did not grant him this favor.
People say his profession is writing. He corrected that view. “My profession is being sick. I write in my spare time.”
A hot-tempered youth who yelled at his doctor and threatened to chop the doctor up alive if he could not be made to walk again, he came to a profound peace with a fate that seemed most unjust. If such a life is the price to pay for a mature soul, he made the price worthwhile. His writing is free of pretense, of shallowness. The clear, simple, earthbound words awaken deep sorrow and love in his readers. It is the soul behind the words that his readers feel.
Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could clear up their own thoughts first before they debate with others, if everyone could understand or even try to understand what the other is saying before disagreeing? Much antagonism and even war could be avoided if this were the case. Meetings would be a lot shorter, relationships a lot easier. But the majority of people are ready to take a stand on any issue before they have a chance to think about it and collect the facts. Shallow, unclear, and heated discussion based on shared ignorance is characteristic of most conversations. Often a dialogue is nothing but two monologues intertwined, propelled forward by a lot of positive or negative misunderstanding, sometimes echoed but never heard.
It helps to have an ordinary intelligence if accompanied by audacious honesty. Such a mind will keep asking for clarity until it gets it. Not being afraid of looking stupid forces the other party to be clear and straightforward. Such a person will not buy superfluous arguments and muddled reasoning, and thus drives them out of existence.
Average academics write in big words, dry style, and cumbersome structure. Outstanding intellectuals write in simple words, vivid style, and clear structure. The empty brain spends all its effort on the façade, while the substantial mind only seeks to get the message across. The small intuitively try to intimidate, while the great just let themselves be seen.
Depth, substance, magnificence do not lend themselves to those looking for quick success. People learn to cheat because it works in the world of humans. A lot of things work in the human-developed world: vulgarity, cruelty, hypocrisy, self-deception, flattery, corruption, evil, stupidity, incompetence. None of these works in truth-seeking.
The natural laws cannot be cheated. There is no shortcut. On this scale I too am constantly being measured, and each time inevitably find myself worth exactly the work I have done, no more, no less.
My classroom is out there, by the lagoon. There is always so much to learn. When I look at the incomprehensible beauty of the scenery, I try to understand, not only with my intellect, but with my whole being. The blue mountains with snow caps, the sky with soft feathery clouds, the forests, the gardens, the lake, the fountain, the swans, seagulls, mallards, geese, pigeons, raccoons, and squirrels all seem to be teaching me something, so very beautiful, lively and grand, more than anything I have learned from books, from society.
The masses take pride in being practical and scorn imagination. They have no idea that their whole lives have been shaped by imagination, and they fall for it all the time. The imagination of Homer alone created the foundation of Western culture. The tale of Creation still reins the crowd. They believe in a future state. They go to churches to worship. They spend money on festivals, games, rituals, fluffy movies, and escapist fiction. Yet they mock “imagination”. They mock their innermost longing.
The masses drink coffee to stay stimulated, take drugs to be ecstatic or free from anxiety and depression, but refuse to do any serious work to improve their minds. Shortcuts are always preferred. The outer quality of life always outweighs the inner quality of life. You can boast about a trip to the tropics, and get plenty of oohs and aahs, but your friends won’t envy you if you have just read a thought-provoking book. That’s simply not cool, man. You’ve got to go out more. Travel rocks.
I want to find out what screwed up the lovely and lively children the majority of adults once were. What in society, in education, in employment replaced their beauty with ugliness, depleted their spirit, made them mean and coarse? If we can find these things, can we change them? Can each person develop from a lovely and lively baby to a lovely and lively adult? Why not? Is society anti-human by nature? Does growing up have to be the death of the spirit? Why?
We are really still in a primitive stage, despite all our technologies and sciences. Despite the complexity of all the derivatives, we are basically still animals living a life of feeding and breeding. Everything else is just decoration.
The human side of us is still far from developed. Most people do not live a life of the mind. Most people cannot appreciate the finest poetry and music. Most people work for pay, not passion. Their jobs often bring neither satisfaction nor growth. Many of them blind their conscience to be able to do their job. Many people do not have the urge to live life in an honorable way. Look at all the spammers, and even worse, scammers.
About 60 years ago, Carl Rogers, one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, gave a presentation at a conference organized by Harvard University. The conference members were experienced, sophisticated teachers. He had been invited to give a talk on “Classroom Approaches to Influencing Human Behavior.”
Although he was allotted two hours, his presentation was short. It was simply a few points that expressed some of his deepest views on education. Inspired by Kierkegaard, whose honesty he had always admired, he wrote his points out as honestly as he could and presented them in his usual modest way. Then he opened the floor for discussion.
What happened afterwards was not what he had expected. He was besieged by a storm of emotions, with attacks coming from every quarter. His educator colleagues demanded he confirm that he did not mean what he said. Occasionally, there was a voice of agreement from a teacher who had not dared to utter such thoughts.
Many participants lost sleep that night. Although Rogers made no attempt to have his statement published, it was widely duplicated by members of the conference. A few years later, two journals obtained his permission to publish it.
So what was all the furor about? What did he say?
The main points are:
- Nothing significant can be taught.
- The only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.
- Such self-discovered learning cannot be directly communicated to another.
- When teaching does happen, the results are detrimental. It seems to cause the individual to distrust his own experience, and to stifle significant learning.
Rogers affirmed that many consequences can be implied from these points. For instance, we would do away with
a) Teaching. People would get together if they wished to learn.
b) Examinations. They measure only the inconsequential type of learning.
c) Grades and credits.
d) Degrees as a measure of competence.
e) The exposition of conclusions, for we would realize that no one learns significantly from conclusions.
The complete list of points can be found in Personal Thoughts on Teaching and Learning (1952) , included in his book, On Becoming a Person (1961), which is very valuable reading.
This book also includes an illustrative example of his oddly effective “teaching” as experienced by a participant: Carl R. Rogers and Non-Directive Teaching, by Samuel Tenenbaum, Ph.D. The four-week course described by Tenenbaum took place in the summer of 1958 at Brandeis University. The students were a diverse group of teachers, doctoral candidates in psychology, counselors, psychologists, priests (one from a foreign country). Whoever wishes to “teach” effectively and whoever wishes to take control of his/her own learning should read Tenenbaum’s record. It is eye-opening that real learning can be accomplished in such an awkward way, while the teacher refuses to take on his traditional role and is willing to take blows.
If one cannot think well, then one cannot read well. This explains why so many well-read people get no wisdom out of their reading. The quantity of books read and the number of degrees attained do not count. It is better to read fewer books well. It is better to be less educated but equipped with a few well-digested fundamental truths verified by experience. A grasp of the natural laws is much more important than “the wordy ignorance that is often called knowledge” (George Eliot: Middlemarch, Lydgate’s moment of vocation), much more important than cunning and so-called worldly wisdom.
Preferably, thinking should precede reading. Only when the questions have been generated and have been boiling in the mind can learning happen. For a person whose brain has never exercised the thinking process on real problems encountered, whose heart cares about nothing and nobody, books can add no value. If a book does not address your own set of puzzles and dilemmas, pains and longings, I say drop it. You can always come back to it when you have thought about the questions it addresses. Then it will speak to you, if it is a great book. You can critique it, absorb the nutrition you need, and obtain the vocabulary to express your thoughts.
I often think about how wise it was of Hermann Hesse to call the contemporary academic enterprise “the Glass Bead Game,” one that is intellectually satisfying but has nothing to do with the creative force. Such endeavor centers on the interpretation, study, research, and the manipulation of the intricate structure of its subjects, yet exists only in the ashes of past great creation. The vigor is wasted on argument instead of advancement, on trivial details instead of significance.
Mortimer Adler, in his bestseller How to Read a Book, proposes four levels of reading: elementary, inspectional, analytical, and the highest: syntopical. I’d like to propose yet another, even higher level: applicational reading. By this I mean that you apply what you are reading to at least one troubling case currently in your life. Thus, you follow the author through his discourse, all the while critically relating the content to your situation, smiling or frowning, nodding or shaking your head, hesitating, questioning, conversing, and debating. If you cannot do this, you should put aside this book, at least for now. Or, if it belongs to the Great Books list, give it a quick once-over at best.
When there is nothing that appeals to a person below the head, no change will happen. In this case, do not read; instead, live. Go out into the world, experience nature and people. Your real university lies there. This is what Gorky calls his university in his autobiography. All learning should be visceral. I disagree with the academics. I disagree with the dispassionate and indifferent.
Acceptance, approval, and admiration are dangerous. Like punishment, reward is a part of our conditioning. It is called positive reinforcement. If you do not get any of it, life is miserable. However, if you get it, you can become attached to it to the point of addiction. This addiction induces fear, because once you have something, you fear its loss. Thus, the admirer controls the admired with admiration. The approving boss controls the subordinate with praise. Friends control you with their good opinion of you. Community controls you with its acceptance. Any slight change on their part, or threat of change, will disturb you consciously or subconsciously. Any loss of these conditions will grieve you dearly. We can be enslaved by love without our knowing. We can become dependent on another’s dependence on us.
We need an immune system here, just as we need some inner immunity to brave the storm of rejection, criticism, even condemnation, and, quite often, the Dead Sea of indifference. It is bad if we succumb to life’s beating. It is equally bad if we succumb to life’s bribery. Regardless of beating or bribery, we must dare to be ourselves; we must dare to do what we are meant to do.
An inner core has to be built; otherwise we are subject to corruption. Our daily reality is overwhelming, and our needs are urgent. The interaction is constant. The pressure is always on.
We are social animals, but we are also meant to grow on our own, quietly, in our own lot. Solitude must precede true society, as Emerson said. A complete self is the precondition for any mature relationship on equal terms between adults.
To build that core, that complete self, is no easy task. Much tribulation and conflict has to be endured before we can attain a solid ethical consciousness. Those innocents who have not fought adversities and resisted temptations are not to be trusted. Those who did not choose their inner calling over external pressure are corrupted. The redemption is harder, as now the core is weaker. They easily slip down the slippery slope from there. Only those who have made the courageous choice can take the next, possibly more severe, or more subtle and better disguised, test. In due time, through many trials, the core of a self is built. The danger of falling for even such a self will always exist. It is an uphill struggle. It is worthwhile, but not easy.
Despite our need for social interaction, our longing to be of great service to society, we must not compromise ourselves too much. Since anything outstanding will likely be misunderstood and beaten down, years of isolation may be necessary before we gain mastery.
Therefore, one seeking an authentic, empowered self has no choice but to learn to live with oneself comfortably. Emotionally, we should be as little externally reliant as possible. We need to reacquaint ourselves with nature, with quiet, with great books and classical music, with productive loneliness. Solitariness is necessary for our wounds to heal, our inner turmoil to settle, our thoughts to grow, our boundaries to expand.
No doubt we should reach out to connect with people from all geographic areas, all walks of life, all ages, all colors, all cultures, and all creeds. However, we should not fill our lives with chatter. Our well-done work should be the currency of exchange in any meaningful interaction. It should be the only permit to enter into the circle of great contributors where you belong. True friendship is based on mutual admiration for each other’s character. The proof of our character is our work. The work done verifies not just the talent, but more importantly, the determination, the endurance, and the conquering of many difficulties and temptations.
Regardless of outcome, the most important measurement of a life’s work is how little you have compromised, how much in you has been brought forth whole and entire, in the original form you have envisioned deep in your heart. This is the secret of great art, great achievement: the refusal to compromise, the stamina to see to the last detail cast in the mold of the mind’s highest dream. This is Stanley Kubric, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet. This is Confucius, Jesus, Sakyamuni, Socrates. The courage to stand by one’s conviction in an otherwise humble spirit is always the sign of greatness and mental maturity.