You are probably wondering what is REAF? Inspired by the subtitle of my book, it stands for Re-imagining Education for Alternative Futures. REAF is my new regular blog feature in which I will share stories, ideas and provocations by creative educators, students and thought leaders that I come across in my work. Very fittingly for this inaugural post, I have chosen excerpts from an interview between Manish Jain, the co-founder of Swaraj University in Rajastan in India and Rob Hopkins, Founder of the Transition Town Movement in the UK, in which they talk about the importance of the imagination for education. Hopkins is also the author of From What Is to What If, a brilliant book that celebrates the power of the imagination for creating alternative futures.
I hope you enjoy this first REAF post. Look out for new ones every Friday or better yet, subscribe to my blog here to never miss a post. And as always, please get in touch with ideas, comments, questions!
Image from Swaraj University newsletter
Our work is to recover wisdom and the imagination
(originally posted on Rob Hopkins' blog. where you can read and listen to the full interview)
What do you think in 2018 is the relationship between our conventional approach to education and the state of health of our imagination?
In my own journey what I found out was that most people think education is a solution going forward for the world, and to deal with the different crises on the planet, and I found that the education system, the current one, is actually part of the problem. Not only is it irrelevant, but it also is actually creating, reproducing, the same sicknesses which are killing the planet.
One of the purposes of that is to destroy people’s imagination. It has played a significant role, I see it all over India, Asia too, to destroy the sources, and one of the sources, at least in India, of imagination, is local language. Local language and culture, which is deeply connected to biodiversity. Education has basically told people here that all of our people who speak local languages are backwards, uncivilised, not modern, and don’t have much to contribute to the world going forward. Only the experts know best.
Part of our work is to recover that wisdom and imagination, and to free ourselves from the TINA (‘There Is No Alternative’) worldview. These go hand in hand actually. Re-connecting to traditional cultures, and reminding people that we actually have much more than we thought we had. So there’s a sense that imagination is connected to a sense of abundance, moving out of the scarcity mind set. The current system is a very big culprit in limiting what people’s imagination has been, and probably filling them with a lot of fear as well.
Do you think that’s deliberate, or an accidental unintended side effect of the demands of the growth based economy?
No, it’s very deliberate. It’s by design. The same people who designed the army system, and the prison system, and the factory system, used the same design for the education system. Even our government says it’s a ‘Ministry of Human Resource Development’. So they are quite blatant about what it’s agenda is.
It sees people as part of this larger model of economic growth. It comes basically from three ways. From stupid consumers, from people who have no regard for their ecological systems and want to mine the hell out of them, and from people who can only find happiness through addiction. That’s a growth economy in India basically, and that’s what education prepares.
My Grandmother never went to school, but was quite a big inspiration to me in terms of her wisdom and imagination and compassion. I learned the difference between knowing and being from her. There’s always this conversation. In India it doesn’t exist as much in the West I think, of people who have not gone to school, or who are so-called illiterates. I would say, “Who is wasting more water? Is it the educated people, or the illiterates? Who is generating more pollution on the planet? Eating more junk food?”
It’s obvious there’s something wrong with the kind of education we’ve been given to fit us into the global economy. What’s so curious is that it works best when you destroy people’s connection to their culture, their community, to their ecosystem. It has, by design, done a very good job of that here, and most places in the world I’ve visited.
Historically India is one of the most imaginative cultures there’s ever been. That’s quite an achievement, to create an education system to dismantle that. Over what sort of time frame has that happened do you think?
The British brought it in in the 1830s, that model of education. The post-British Indian nation state which has expanded that. It’s really 100 years, basically, in which it’s been very active. It’s not fully dismantled.
We have a word actually, ‘Jugaad’, which is a very interesting word you would like to know. It means ‘makeshift’ or ‘improvised’, very similar to the French word ‘bricolage’. Taking whatever you have and creating something more beautiful. So upcycling is an example of jugaad…
For example, in India my Grandmother, and a lot of grandmothers here, know about how to make hundreds of dishes using vegetable peels, so from watermelon peels, to peapod peels, to mango peels. So many different kinds of peels which are thrown out. So easily we could reclaim that technology, we can feed easily another billion people on the planet with those.
You’re involved with this idea of ‘unlearning’, and ‘unschooling’? Could you tell us a little bit about what you mean by that?
They are two interconnected but different things. Unlearning basically starts with the idea that the crisis that’s facing us runs much deeper than simple management shifts or technology fixes, that there’s a deeper question, crisis, story, around how we perceive ourselves in the world.
Many of the assumptions we’re holding – assumptions about what happiness is, or what’s developed, or what’s hygienic, or what’s dirty, so many notions that we have been conditioned with in the industrial monoculture mind set, or even how we see money, for example, or death, or love – so many of these fears we’ve been conditioned with to fit in the industrial mind and keep the current game intact, we actually need to start to deeply re-look at a lot of those fundamental assumptions. Otherwise we risk really reproducing those deeper things just using new and more sophisticated technologies and approaches to do that.
A lot of it is related to decolonising ourselves. We say decolonisation is not just for people in the global south. We think people in the global north have been more colonised by this system than we have actually, they’re trapped by the industrial global economy and the frameworks of separation and artificial scarcity. Unschooling is one mode. We are really talking a lot about self-designed learning modalities in the world, and unschooling is one mode which means that we consciously choose not only not to send our children to school, but also to look at the impacts – how school plays out in not only the school setting, but also how it’s infiltrated into many aspects of our lives and our mind sets – what I call the culture of schooling.
For example, the feeling of competition and comparison all the time. That’s part of the schooled mind, you know, always feeling like you are not good enough. Resistance to diversity. You’re not able to hold diversity or chaos very well. You always need to plan and control everything around you. That’s also part of the schooled mind. So it’s not just what you do with the kids. Unschool is also a lot about what the parents have to re-look at in themselves, and the larger culture-economy within which we are being conditioned and embedded.
The difference between home schooling and unschooling is that we are actually trusting the children and co-creating learning programmes with each other based on their personal needs, and also based on how we try to rebuild a larger connection with community, culture and ecology. A lot of it, at least in India, it’s different to what I’ve seen in the West because there’s a lot of individualised things there, but less sense of community building or commoning. We are trying to also focus on inter-generational learning spaces. I believe you need at least 3 generations exploring things together to generate the conditions for real wisdom and imagination to emerge. We need both together like roots and wings.
To read the remainder of the interview or listen to it and see pictures from Swaraj University, go to Rob's blog.