(THE FOLLOWING IS TAKEN FROM Sudbury Valley School’s Underlying Ideas page)
Nothing compares to play as an instrument of learning, least of all courses given by a teacher. Although much has been written, in general educational literature as well as in Sudbury Valley publications, on the virtual uselessness of “taking classes” as a mechanism for learning, seldom has the matter been put more succinctly or eloquently than by Kahlil Gibran, in a passage rarely quoted:
“The astronomer may sing to you of his understanding of space, but he cannot give you his understanding. The musician may sing to you of the rhythm which is in all space, but he cannot give you the ear which arrests the rhythm, nor the voice that echoes it. And he who is versed in the science of numbers can tell of the regions of weight and measure, but he cannot conduct you thither. For the vision of one man lends not its wings to another man. And even as each one of you stands alone in God’s knowledge, so must each one of you be alone in his knowledge of God and in his understanding of the earth.**4
Gibran presents us with the following image of the role an outsider can play in helping a person become an effective learner:
“No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge. The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness. If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind5. [italics added]
There is a remarkable commentary on Gibran’s book, consisting of a transcript of a series of talks given by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh to his followers in India in 1987. Rajneesh has some penetrating observations on the passages just quoted6, of which the following is a sampling:
“Kahlil Gibran is not aware of the difference between the two words, the teacher and the master; otherwise he would have said that if you are only professionally a teacher — that means you are a medium of transferring knowledge from one generation to another generation — you don’t have anything of your own to share and to give. But if your truth is awakened in you, and your house is full of light and your being is full of fragrance, you have become a master; you are no longer just a teacher. When you are sharing your own truth, you are a master.
“But that distinction, between the teacher and the master, is Eastern. The West is unaware. The West thinks the teacher and the master are synonymous: they are not. In fact, the more you are full of borrowed teachings, the less is the possibility of your ever becoming a master. That’s why it is very rare to find a knowledgeable man who has depth, whose very gestures speak, whose very silence is a message, whose very presence reaches, just like an arrow, into your being. . .
“Knowledge is that which comes from outside and settles in you, and prevents your wisdom; it becomes a wall, China Wall, around your own wisdom. Wisdom is that which comes from your innermost core. In knowledge you are not sharing anything of your own being.
“Wisdom is the child that has grown in your very being. Knowledge is the adopted child. It has grown in somebody’s womb, but nobody knows who the father is, who the mother is . . . The master does not give you the wisdom — cannot give — but he creates the right milieu of trust in which your wisdom starts flowering, becomes awake. You will be grateful to him — perhaps in the beginning you will think he has given it to you. He has not given anything; he has simply given you confidence. He has taken away many things from you — your fear . . . he creates the atmosphere in which wisdom starts growing on its own accord. **5 [italics added]
“The master simply creates trust in you, “Don’t be afraid,” because you will be going alone. The deeper you will go, the more alone you will find yourself, and more afraid — not one but thousands of fears: Am I going in the right direction? — there are no signposts, there are no milestones, no map can be provided — or am I going in the wrong direction? And who knows whether this road leads anywhere or is just a dead-end street? And the fear: Will I be able to go back if I find that the road is wrong. Will I be able to find my own footsteps to help me to go back?
“The inner world is almost like the sky — birds fly, but they don’t leave footprints. When you go inwards you don’t make any footprints; it is impossible to find the way that you have traveled if you want to come back. You will need tremendous courage, great trust . . .
The above excerpt is an extraordinary depiction of the kind of environment Sudbury Valley provides for its students, and of the challenges and fears they face daily. There is yet another passionate passage which is a graphic depiction of the difference between industrial-age schooling, and the schooling of the new era we have now entered, in which the uniqueness of each individual has an unprecedented opportunity to be expressed within the greater social setting:
“Aloneness is one of the most mysterious experiences. But you are all afraid of being alone, you have become accustomed to being a sheep. I want my people to be all shepherds. That is the real transformation. You are, in fact, shepherd, but society has forced the idea on you that you are just sheep, so you behave like sheep.
“And when parents say that, priests say that, teachers say that, all the scriptures say that … you become surrounded with such pressure. You have just arrived on the earth, you don’t know who you are, and everybody is telling you that you are a sheep; naturally, you live as a sheep your whole life. This is wastage, wastage of millions of people — their joy, their integrity, their individuality. This is real murder. There cannot be any crime which is bigger than this.
“I say unto you: you are born a shepherd. Remember it, and behave like a shepherd. Your old habit, your old conditioning, will again and again interfere. There are a few advantages in being a sheep … the coziness of millions of sheep surrounding you — you are never alone — snuggling with each other. Have you seen sheep when they walk? — with no fear; they know real brotherhood and sisterhood. There is some safety, security, but there is no life. This is not a good bargain — losing life for safety and security. For whom is the safety and security needed? . . . Your real being is that of a lion; it is that of a shepherd.
“Seek aloneness. **6
The above passages express in a different, more emotional, and more poetic idiom many of the key ideas Sudbury Valley has stood for from its inception.
4. Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (Heinemann: London, 1967), p. 67 (section entitled “Speak to us of Teaching”).
6. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, The Messiah: commentaries by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh on Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”, 2 vols. (Cologne: Rebel Publishing House, 1987), excerpts from Vol. 2, pp. 119-134.