Jug and Clay, or Flower?

ANTHONY WEAVER who is senior lecturer in education at Whitelands College, taught for ten years at Burgess Hill School, and after a spell in LCC secondary schools and at a Lycée in France, was head teacher at a school for maladjusted children and then warden of a residential clinic. He is the author of They Steal for Love, and of War Outmoded, and has contributed to several issues of ANARCHY.

JUG AND CLAY, OR FLOWER? The young child's mind may be likened to a jug into which the teacher pours information, as much or as little and of the kind that he thinks fit. This ancient conception regards the mind as a vessel which should be made, by force if necessary, to hold what is ordained by tradition to be the best content for it. Similarly the child's character is regarded as some plastic material separate from the faculties of his mind, to be moulded into shape — by the teacher himself, and by the type of group discipline exerted, according to definite ideas of what is good form. The child is not only moulded into a pattern but comes to feel that conformity is desirable and that divergence from it is idiosyncratic, suspect and subversive.

It is easy to recognise such an educational system in the extreme form of totalitarian politics or religion. Nazi teachers vowed, "Adolf Hitler, we swear that we will train the youth of Germany so that they will grow up in your ideology, for your aims and purposes and in the direction, set by your will. This is pledged to you by the whole German system of education; from the primary school through to the university. Napoleon's attitude to education was much the same, and it is summed up in his observation that "there will be no fixed political state if then is no teaching body with fixed principles." Everyone knows the maxim of the Jesuits that given a child for the first seven years of his life they will so form his mind and character that no later influence will be of fundamental importance.

It is perhaps less recognisable that any State or Church-provided education tends to an authoritarianism that is different only in degree from these extreme examples. The welfare of the state in economic competition with other states requires skilled technicians. So in Britain opportunities are now increasingly provided for anyone with the ability to take G.C.E. or other locally organised examinations.

It is rare to meet teachers of Religious Knowledge who do not feel that they should use their position in school to bring their children to adopt their own beliefs.

The analogy of the flower suggests an upbringing that enables a person to blossom in his own way. The gardener's job is to provide the most appropriate soil and nourishment that he knows of, and to protect the tender plant from extremes of frost and scorching heat. On the one hand we admit that we cannot know all the possibilities of development that children are capable of. Hence we have no wish to cast them into the mould of some chosen image. On the other hand to value is, synonymously, to trust: we need neither inflate nor fear what we fully accept. Every person is not only unique but of intrinsic value.

To strive after Truth "excludes the use of violence", Gandhi asserted, "because man is not capable of knowing the absolute truth, and therefore cannot be competent to punish". As one's opponent must be weaned from error, so education may be regarded as a continual process of ever progressive weaning from contentment with earlier levels of satisfaction — in love, in social relations and in means of expression. The satisfaction of these basic needs, by suitable means and as they arise, should be the concern of parents and educators: instead so many of us worry about future status, about qualifications, about ends.

C. S. Lewis has explained that love is compounded of friendship, affection, eros and charity. The child needs to experience all these phases of love as a two way process between himself and his parents. How many people have been stunted in emotional growth because their parents have been unwilling or unable to receive their love? The first all embracing relationship with mother, however, must eventually come to an end, and will do so best to the extent that it has been fully entered into, exploited and enjoyed. Then weaning will be achieved without anxiety or regret. And it will be eased and accelerated by the acceptance of what are at first regarded as substitutes — play and companionship.

Play as a means of "free expression" may have therapeutic value as a method of catharsis of the emotions. But to become creative it must be based on authentic experience and it must be embodied in significant form. This a man may achieve through works for the transformation of social conditions or of human relationships, as well as through art in drama, dance, design and craft. The task of education is to enable each child to discover the mode of expression that is valid for him — "to discover his own harmony and live by it", said Eric Gill.

The history of civilisation is a memorial to man's continual need to express and assert himself. Woman perhaps has played less part in this because by having a baby she performs an incontestably creative act. Man has to find some other way. Destructiveness, cruelty, aggression, abuse of power can all be seen as the obverse of creativity, due to a mixture of emotional deprivation, in early childhood or in later sex life, and to atrophied means of expression.

Herbert Read, in Education for Peace, seriously discusses the proposition that mankind must be predisposed for peace by the right kind of education. "It is precisely the significance of the process of identification that is our present concern", he writes. "When Freud says that a path leads by way of imitation to empathy* he may or may not have been aware that he was indicating the path of art.

*Read notes that in discussing the various types of poetry, Plato in the "Republic", uses imitation to mean not copying some natural object or other, but the process by which the poet or actor assimilates himself to the person whom he is portraying, and thereby extinguishes his own personality for the time being. This is empathy.

It is true that there is another path — identification with the leader — the totalitarian path in which there is no empathic relationship with other people but only blind obedience to command. The process by which we are induced to share a common ideal is none other than that indicated by Freud — the creation of an empathic relationship with our fellows by means of imitation of the same patterns — by meeting, as it were, in the common form or quality of the universally valid work of art."

Some degree of empathy is universal in respect of those who are "close" to us: it is from the others that we shut ourselves thoughtlessly and insensitively away, imagination having failed.

The influence of Rousseau's Emile, of such men as Robert Owen, Froebel and Dewey, of the work of kindred societies such as the New Education Fellowship or the Society for Education through Art, have helped to realise Nursery, Infant and Junior schools where children gain a spontaneity and zest for life. The importance of play and creative activities, exemplified in pioneer progressive schools, is more and more accepted in the state system. Even the 1944 Act spoke of providing education appropriate for each child according to his "age, aptitude and ability".

The feature of progressive schools that the state is nowhere near accepting is the doing away with punishment. If this can be done in a community of the most anti-social and unruly delinquents, as demonstrated by Homer Lane1 or Makarenko2 and their followers, it certainly can be done in a school of normally law-abiding pupils. The absence of punishment, whether corporal or otherwise, demands some other basis of discipline. In a word this means responsibility for school affairs, in and out of the classroom, shared between staff and children. There is a variety of degrees, and areas, over which this can be exercised ranging in example from A. S. Neil's Summerhill, Rendcomb as described in J. H. Simpson's Sane Schooling, Kees Boeke's werkplaats at Bilthoven3, or King Alfred, the day school in north London. A school meeting, conducted by the chosen representatives of staff and pupils, rather than prefects, and given real responsibility, will provide a type of training in managing people and understanding their motives which an authoritarian régime precludes.

The essential reason for the state's reluctance to adopt such forms of persuasive discipline is its basis of compulsory attendance. This bedevils most of the plans for a raised school leaving age as envisaged in the Crowther Report4, for instance. The Local Education Authority should provide the facilities, but the individual pupil, acting under advice, should decide what courses he takes and at what age he leaves.

The struggle for play and active methods has been largely won at the Primary level. But the work of Alex Bloom, headmaster at St. George-in-the-East, Stepney, was the exception that proves the rule that the struggle for self-government in secondary schools, and Training Colleges for that matter, has yet to begin. This, it seems to me, is the point in national education at which a philosophy of non-violence, should be made to impinge.

Don't let any reader jump to the conclusion that self-government and creative activities in schools on the widest scale will act as a kind of open sesame to a new way of life. But so far as education is concerned, these will be the most helpful ingredients. Together they could represent a shift in human relationships which if combined with similar advances in co-operative practices in industry and commerce, would amount to a revolutionary change.

We know enough of the springs of human behaviour to be able to say that "a world without war" is a feasible cultural aim for the immediate future. We know that it is in the intimate group of the family that the authoritarian or "democratic" character is laid. A persuasive discipline and new methods of teaching can he consciously adopted so that the children grow up not so lacking in self assertion as to acquiesce in support of a national war, nor needing aggressive outlets in ghoulish deeds in battle.

We know from the now hackneyed study of the Mountain Arapesh tribes that the social group to which a child belongs determines to a large extent his future behaviour and character, and that this particular culture produced a co-operative and peaceful people in contrast to the unco-operative unkind and extremely aggressive Mundugumor tribe.

It is sometimes objected that to try to cultivate non-violent behaviour in children is to submit them to unwarrantable moral pressure. Yet people who make this objection at the same time condemn stealing, for example, or the comparatively recently controversial practice of slavery, without recognising the inconsistence. And the essence of a non-violent philosophy excludes compulsion. A parent or teacher cannot avoid making a choice in determining the type of environment and opportunities he presents to children and upon which the possibilities of their development depend. One of the functions of a teacher should be to organise things that will lead to worthwhile activities. Not to organise is not to make children free but to make them impoverished; they should be at liberty — to accept or not to accept grown-up suggestions. This applies as much to gardening, book learning, to what they shall wear, as to practice in living in a non-violent society.

1. Homer Lane and the Little Commonwealth, E. T. Bazeley. Allen & Unwin, 1948.
2. The Road to Life, A. S. Makarenko. Foreign Language Publishing House, Moscow, 1951.
3. The Werkkplaats Adventure, Wyatt Rawson. London; 1956.
4. 15-18. Report of the Central Advisory Council for Education — England. H.M.S.O., 1959.
5. Male & Female, a study of the sexes in a changing world, Margaret Mead. Gollancz, 1950. See pages 416-421.

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Sep 5 2016 21:26


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