A few years ago Baan Unrak came to my attention. It’s a place in Thailand on the border with Myanmar where mothers and children fleeing war and poverty can find a home. The founders have built an amazing refuge by all accounts—the name means “The House of Joy”–and its residents are lucky to have found this sanctuary ( link to website.)
But what struck me most recently as I visited their website, was their school, based on something called “neohumanism.” This is a philosophy brought into being by an Indian, Shrii P.R. Sarkar, who espoused a holistic education based on universal love—not just love for all humanity, but really universal love: for animals, plants, and the inanimate world as well. High-minded ideals indeed! But what got my attention was how similar it was to some other educational movements, like the Waldorf Schools, and the Basic School of Ernest Boyer. In fact, no matter what the starting point, it would seem that any good system of education would want the kinds of things that neohumanism aspires to:
ecological and social consciousness
practical and personal skills
knowledge of self and world
joyful learning through the arts.
Moreover, it would be accomplished through an integrated curriculum led by teachers with great personal integrity. The end result would be young people who were able to make their way in the world in a healthy way, with a solid sense of the importance of their connections to the forces of nature we live under, the earth we live on, and the people we live with.
The opposing point of view would be an educational system built on competition, on control and domination. It’s us vs. the universe, so we’d better learn how to contend with it and wrest some personal benefit out of it as best we can, even at the expense of others. This would be a very Ayn Rand kind of position and without a doubt it has its upsides. Some children thrive on competition and can be pushed to do their best in that scenario, but it doesn’t work that way for everyone. Competition means winners and losers, and what do you do about the losers? I suppose the answer would be to allow nature to take its course : let them be content with low self-esteem and a low-paying job–it’s survival of the fittest.
The House of Joy offers something different, and lets hope its message spreads around the globe.