I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means — except by getting off his back.
Leo Tolstoy in What Then Must We Do?
Tolstoy’s observation exposes the ultimate goal of school curriculum and of the argument that I constantly hear as to why my child needs to be �socialised� in �school�: so that she learns to accept this equestrian social model as natural, even as benign. The hypocrisy of the whole �compassion� and �humanist� rhetoric is blatant: for, in order to really alleviate pain and misery, riders have to get off the backs they are riding and, in a mad fit of sincerity, reappraise their needs, fears, and views of the world. Riders and mules must deschool themselves, unlearn the tactics that drown the conscience and suffocate the freedom of being. To deschool oneself is the only way to learn how to love in the sense of seeking harmony, de-learning how to �love� in the sense of possessing, killing or consuming the �object� of �love�.
Needless to say, people who are interested in deschooling are a tiny minority even among home-schoolers who, for the most part, home-educate their children in order to give their progeny more chances in the �horse-riding� race. Deschooling is considered dangerous and blasphemous, and rightly so, for, imagine if those ridden refused their roles as asses and the riders refused to lie about the virtues of horsemanship. The sadistic equestrian order that glorifies gluttony would cease to exist and people and beasts would have a taste of happiness here on earth!
This is why I found the unSchooling Opression conference such a surprising and inspiring event, particularly that it was in an academic setting, and academia, as we know, is the priesthood preserving order and meaning, mostly acting as the main apologist for the system, even when pretending to criticize it (see the above quote from Tolstoy).
The conference was organised by the Deschooling Society of the University of Ottawa at the beginning of November:
It was free and open to all who were interested in deschooling themselves. For the most part, I have discovered that people neither feel capable nor see the need of learning anything more than what they already �know� and most new information is used to prove some previous point or decision in terms of life direction. The Leo Tolstoys, i.e. those who value each moment where they could learn to see new perspectives with no limits on age, are truly singular. And here we found ourselves surrounded by people from all walks of life who have the courage to revise their knowledge and thus themselves.
We attended �en tribu�, and even if Liouba couldn’t follow everything in English, she felt relaxed and at home to know that these were the people who supported learners of all ages, races, genders, and whatever other constrictions that we call categories. She tried to listen, read her books, worked on her journal, did her ballet stretches, made friends with children and adults and never complained once during the intensive three days that we attended.
The first speaker to launch the conference was David Noble. He talked about how people with power and in position of authority lie.
Of course there was nothing new in this for me. I always knew that people lied: some did it in order to enjoy the ride, others did it in order to evade having to give a piggy-back-ride. If it weren’t for lies, how else could we have billions of people support the rich charlatans, giving their lives and money in exchange for honest crap and sincere poison? How else can politicians claim with a straight face that they represent �people’s� interests, when the people whose interests they protect happen to be themselves and their very close kin, and even then, they fight bitterly among themselves, sometimes to the point of conspiracy and murder. Of course when someone in a position of power over someone else presents the situation as benevolent, the person lies. Those who participate in this because they believe it is inevitable, also lie, including to themselves. Marketing, bureaucracy, politics are mediated, established, argued, and practised ultimately through lies.
David Noble, however, presented a practical, �anthropological� aspect of the mechanisms by which liars and bullies hide under the guise of respectability, rules, grammar, and laws. His speech was addressed at the middle-ass, the intellectual and the academic, summoning the middle-ass to quit playing the game. It is interesting that often people assume that when someone calls people to embrace a humble lifestyle with less things, cede power, renounce privileges, it is taken for granted that it is the poor who are called to accept their miserable lot. The current notion that took me some time to understand in the �West� is that those who have power and money deserve it and that it is criminal to expect them to renounce their social, material, or symbolic capital. What is praised in literature, art, academia, spiritual teachings, is that the poor should practice self abnegation and servitude, renouncing their rights. David Noble called for those in a position of privilege to renounce their symbolic capital, accumulated through outright lying.
The second speaker was John Taylor Gatto, whose speech is available here.
Liouba particularly enjoyed Justin’s workshop because of the practical aspect where everyone was invited to be a clown. Justin gave a brilliant presentation where he connected the philosophical, sociological and practical elements of schooling and the lack of movement and of schooling and the censorship of the
The last workshop we attended was by Naomi L., a courageous young woman who, during her attendance of a Zionist training camp in Israel, had the guts to venture across the frontier of war to understand what was going on. Her presentation consisted of slides, readings from her journal, and what was most important for me an eloquent introspective method in the process of deschooling oneself.
What struck me the most in these workshops and speeches was that true learning stems from compassion and empathy, emotions that include others in one’s experiential space, which ultimately makes it impossible for a person to lie, unless of course one develops a strategy of shutting this knowledge out, a common occurrence in conditions of mainstream schizophrenia.
It was rejuvenating to be among sane people for a change, people who lived according to what they preached.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay for the whole week.
Layla AbdelRahim, Montreal, November 2007
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