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？
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.
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.
The most pressing danger, for this human race and for each individual, is the lack of ability to understand, respect, pursue, and defend liberty.
On the individual level, this deficiency leads to voluntary dehumanization of oneself, to a life that is either mechanical or animalistic, to surrender of freedom and growth, to oppression on others in domestic or public life, to willing or acquiescent cooperation with crimes committed to fellow human beings.
The crimes an individual participates in can be completely lawful, such as killing civilians of another country, manufacturing a drug that research has proven to have detrimental side effects, producing food with legal but harmful ingredients to lower cost and improve flavor, or issuing financial statements in compliance with the letter of accounting standards but meant to deceive the public. These crimes are common practice today, performed by large groups of highly educated and qualified professionals.
Judging from such reality, schools have failed us on humanity, certifying professional bodies have failed us on ethics, laws have failed us on justice. The only protection we have is the few persons who refuse to participate in crime, who choose to act on their understanding of human rights. These are the protectors of liberty, for whom the punishment is severe, without whom mankind would be extinct.
On the largest scale, this deficiency has led to nearly all catastrophes to the human race, including but not limited to genocide, world wars, concentration camps, man-made famine, and epidemics. In each of these incidents, there have been either none or not enough qualified soldiers to defend mankind.
It is owing to those who understood liberty and fought for it that each of us lives to see the sunlight of this day and enjoys the rights we take for granted.
The future, whether it will be an era of hope and freedom or a new age of darkness, depends on the current and future soldiers of liberty.
For humanity as a whole, the problem is: how can we have enough soldiers of liberty to prevent future catastrophes? Unless the majority of the population has been orientated with the fundamentals of liberty, a livable future cannot be guaranteed. Relying on an enlightened few to defend mankind has proven to be risky business. Adolf Hitler knew this. He said: “The great masses of the people in the very bottom of their hearts tend to be corrupted rather than consciously and purposely evil…therefore, in view of the primitive simplicity of their minds, they more easily fall a victim to a big lie than to a little one…” The masses must be enlightened and truly educated in the human sense. The majority must become qualified fighters for liberty. Otherwise, we are not safe.
On the individual level, the question is: how can we enlighten ourselves, so we live our lives free from unjust limitations, aware of and resistant to mental manipulation, propaganda, brainwashing, and indoctrination that surround us every day and everywhere?
Autocratic or democratic, a system—be it a mechanism, hierarchy, organization, war machine, or society—tends to dehumanize, explicitly or implicitly, to different extents. It runs more smoothly on standardized, obedient parts, not on unique individuals with thoughts and edges. But more smoothly to what end?
If we agree that the ultimate end of every honorable human endeavor is the prosperity and freedom for all, then to achieve liberty by any means of depriving liberty cannot be justified as logical. However, the fallacy prevails.
A system dislikes a component that questions the purpose of the establishment. There are vested interests in any system, hence the inertia is strong and personalized. Therefore, such unwelcome components must be punished and silenced, if they cannot be made identical with the “good ones”.
Since punishment and censorship are only after the fact, it is considered much better to preclude the making of troublesome free-thinkers. As proactive methods, mass media and schools are charged with the task of making standardized and obedient citizens. School accomplishes this task by rote learning, by standardized tests, mass media by endless dumb entertainments, by constant feeds of sensational news, by luring insatiable consumers with exaggerated advertising. The underlying, inherent message is: Don’t think.
Culture helps by providing conventional opinions. Religion assists by diverting attention to a future state. Employment implements control by offering or denying livelihood. Government presents patriotism. Community imposes peer pressure.
From birth to death, rewards and punishments—mental, emotional, physical, but mostly material—mold our psyche, induce fear, determine behavior, condition the mind, shrink the soul. As long as you live, you are boxed; a number represents you to the system.
As result, a small life is satisfactory, inhuman conditions are acceptable. Society runs smoothly, fulfilling nothing but the basic mission: reproduction. The advance is only in technology, not in real evolution. In fact, it is quite the opposite: the degeneration in mind and body is alarming.
You have to be very attentive to personal conscience and capable of independent thinking to be able to see through the lies and bullying we receive every day, from TV and radio, from school, from peers, from managers, from government. The Collective means to assimilate you, make you not a human, but a tool. Is resistance futile?
We think not. The time has become too dangerous for pessimism. It is your life as a human that is at stake. Moreover, it is the future of human beings that depends on you.
There is no cause nobler than this, and no need more urgent.
Therefore we are calling on you, freedom lovers, come here, get the training, face life with an equipped mind, defend liberty on small and large scales wherever you are, enlighten the stupefied, encourage the frightened, promote independent thinking, fight for a future in which life is safe, dignity is respected, and individuality can flourish.
Real learning happens on the subconscious level, causing real changes. This is the paradox: we must verbalize to communicate knowledge, yet real thinking happens in a non-verbal way.
We invented languages, written and spoken, to convey messages, to preserve knowledge. The mastery of a language is considered a valuable skill, and indeed is. A newly learnt language opens up a new world.
Language conveys yet distorts the message. During the transmission, the real power of the original message is lost. For example, at first, the founder of a religion lives his belief with the entirety of his life, the words spoken are from the bottom of his heart. From him to his disciples, the message loses some of its original living power, personality, passion, and depth. Afterwards, the next generation of followers does not even have the luxury of exposure to the master’s silent direct influence, to correct any misinterpretation. On and on the doctrine is diluted and distorted. By the time a belief is institutionalized, doctrine has become dogma, spark has left the ashes.
However we have not found a better way of communicating, and must try again with the only tool we have, again and again, in any creative way we can imagine, in all literatures, in all conferences, in all presentations, in all documents.
Yes, we have also sounds and colors and shapes and touch and movements; therefore we invented music, painting, sculpture, dance, etc. But the majority of human messages are still carried by words.
There are very diluted messages, or pure junk. There are also forms of condensed wisdom. Great books are the latter. Though our interpretation is different from one another, or even from each read, some valuable messages get across. We are therefore nourished and grow in the rich soil cultivated by generations of our ancestors, not the barren environment called daily life we are thrown into. Whether to take this inheritance or not is up to us. There is no obligation.
To be able to live a good life in the full human sense, one’s given default setting is not enough. If it were, education and thought and action would not be necessary. Going with the flow is not an option. To be able to exercise consciousness and rationality and choice, there must be a reflective element in one’s life. A life that does not allow time and energy to think will be a life of ignorance and passive reaction. The command “slow down” has the beginning of wisdom in it. Too bad most lives do not have this element. People do not reflect, therefore they never learn the lessons hidden in life’s pains and frustrations.
One must reflect or remain at the psychical state of a 3-year-old, which is common in adults and even elders. They never mature or blossom in the true human sense. Their beauty is external, if it ever exists, given by nature and gone with youth. They contribute nothing to the human heritage other than their reproduction, which they usually fulfill instinctively and irresponsibly.
The default life is not a good one. We live in a society defective in many ways. Without wakeful individuals, it will not be able to correct itself. Unthinking herds contribute to its evil. If one cannot command him/herself, he or she will have to obey society, which makes one a part of a machine, inconsequential, unimportant, not a human being that is unique and full of its own spirit.
An unexamined life is not worth living. But an examined life may still be unworthy of living. There must also be a creative element, a learning element (which I would like to think is supplemental and subservient to the creative element and without exception comes with it), and a meaningful element, through which an individual’s learning and creative action extend to others, and connect to the whole universe.
These, I think, are the conditions of having a good life. Reflection must come first and life must be examined, once the individual has gained independence from his family of origin in both mentality and financial means. This reflection must also be done continuously, as life more often than not poses unexpected and unwanted lessons to us. Paying attention is the key. Pretending to be dumb will make one truly dumb.
My first encounter with Western culture struck me with its central theme of “fun”. The frequency with which this word is used in common language amazes me. Fun loving and fun seeking seem to comprise the core of this culture’s mentality. Fun is the center, the purpose, the praised achievement, the pride. “It is so much fun” is the highest compliment to the merit of anything. “He/she is so funny” is the highest compliment to a personality. Every effort should be for fun. Everything you do should be fun. Work is frowned upon among adults and early retirement is most people’s dream, much like learning is frowned upon among the young and indulgence is encouraged by their peers.
Fun is more the emphasis of Canadian characteristics than of other western nations. I remember my first public speaking course. When everyone was asked to pick a topic they were passionate about and give a talk on it, the three Canadians by birth each picked a hobby of their own such as kayaking, while I talked about the education of Summerhill, and a black student talked about the darkness of his Africa.
Canadians are concerned with how much pleasure they can derive from this limited life span. Their dreamy expressions when talking about traveling, camping, skating, rollerblading, skiing, hockey, snow-shoeing, birdwatching, whale-watching, sailing, surfing, rock-climbing, vacations, road trips, a show, a sports game, or an entertaining novel or movie confirm to me a hundred times a day what is considered the highest value in this culture: life enjoyment and personal entertainment. Anything deeper and heavier is not their favorite topic. Their planning revolves around evenings, vacations, retirement. For them, real life lies in fun activities; everything else is the price to pay for these fun activities and considered a necessary evil, such as work and chores. For all the drudgeries they endure at work and in life, they demand immediate pleasures for compensation. When they get such pleasures through whatever ways humans have invented, they consider themselves satisfied.
This inability to look beyond, or rather, the ability to not look beyond, never ceases to amaze me. Even if they don’t read history, they must know what is happening in other parts of the world. And even in Canada there is still much social injustice and absurdity.
The elevators in my apartment building have a monitor in each of them, showing commercials, movie trailers, daily tips, and trivial facts. A repeated tip for cleaning a dog’s tear stain almost drove me crazy. When there are people suffering from starvation or slaughter somewhere else on this tiny planet, it seems to me almost a crime to be concerned with your dog’s tear stain.
The unthinking crowd comprises the masses. They are the back and the bottom of this world: brainless, mindless, indifferent, driven by lower desires. You may try to yell, to kick, but they have not the ear to listen, and the skin is as thick as an elephant’s. You shall despair, if you want to make a difference in this soulless village.
Both media and education are dumbed down for the masses, to get market share. This continual dumbing down results in an even dumber next generation. The vicious circle goes on.
Canada’s short and peaceful history may be the root of this indifferent and self-content attitude. Lack of suffering makes a person and even a nation shallow and unsympathetic. Secondly, the rich natural resources and sparse population may be the reason for the light-heartedness. And finally, the poor and dependent economy contributes to the absence of ambition.
What I see is a nation willingly surrendering itself to mindless pleasures and nothing beyond. It is a nation that cannot produce a leader who can safely direct it to a future of choice. It surrenders its destiny to fate, to any unexpected turn of history. Such a nation consists of individuals who do not look beyond their life span and their immediate environment. Pleasure is both the means and the ends. Don’t talk about anything beyond, or they will hate you and call you preachy. It is a popular understanding that most people prefer to talk about anything but the meaning of life.
There is some merit in this culture. Over the years I have been partially assimilated into it. I have learned to appreciate its good cheer, its love of living. I have adopted its life-enjoying attitude. It is an antidote to the fun-denying, life-denying culture I came from. It is here, in this beautiful landscape, among these friendly people, that for the first time my life has become enjoyable.
However, the deepest part of me will never be assimilated. To divert me from a purposeful life is nearly impossible. After much suffering, I appreciate more yet value less the pleasures in life. They are not the essentials.
Those who never get to know the pleasure of intellectual growth are pitiful. Unfortunately, they are the majority. Most people live a stupefied, stagnant life. Their growth stops at an early age. The rest of their life is left to life’s abuse and authority’s manipulation.
Most people are not blessed with good experience and good company. Who knows what you will be born into? If you are born into a ghetto, then without any conscious self-directed effort by yourself, you will become part of the ghetto. If life treats you harshly and meanly, you will likely be harsh and mean to other people, not only because you are conditioned by hatred, but also because this is the only way you know. The best blessings of life, I think, are positive experiences and good people. Fair competition, recognition of merit and of good work, dedication and enthusiasm, care, vision, nobility, stamina, courage, sacrifice, gratitude, integrity, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness, generosity, honesty, friendship based on mutual admiration for each other’s character … these are the best things you can witness and experience in this life. These are the fertile soil for the blossoming of your soul. There are heaven and hell on this earth. You know which one you are in. Heaven or hell, it is the people around you. So too are you other people’s fateful environment. When you are aware of this fact, I urge you: make a conscious effort, and make a paradise of where you are. Show some devotion, bring out the good in you despite sarcasm, dare to be different, think of yourself as the rock others depend on, lead and serve, care, appreciate, encourage, act, make a difference. The rewards are endless. There is no greater joy than bringing hope and inspiration to the darkness in which you and others are imprisoned.
No matter how bad your environment is, you can rise above it. Heroes are born in all kinds of places. They are made heroes by their own conscious effort. There is no natural hero-making environment on this planet. Society is designed to produce mediocrity, if not failure.