Stories of Libertarian education

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Circle in the woods – Italy

Silvia Antonelli

Whilst Trieste votes and tries to imagine itself after the elections, I decide to find and give voices to that desired reality, sometimes small, sometimes big, that has been largely disseminated through the territory and which is based upon modalities of self-sufficiency and shared experiences. In reality I don’t even travel that far: I arrive in Longera, a small village outside of the city.

I find the community of Casalonjer. Here I am welcomed into their garden; and sitting down they tell me about their experience. Together, harmoniously, their words design the idea of a future they have in mind; an ideal future that remains well planted into the reality of their daily lives. It is Anna who speaks first and explains how the group, which now has six people, has changed over the years: “The group has changed throughout the course of time depending on the people that come and stay with us. We define ourselves as an intentional community, to distinguish ourselves, for instance, from student groups that live together. What characterizes us is the presence of specific projects and methodologies that help everyone stay together. In each community it is understood that the crucial bond is developed through relationships. How can we communicate properly? This is a question that risks undermining not only the communities but also all social places where people live together.

The community , other than examining practical and efficient relationships based on sharing, develops and works towards the realization of numerous projects. Their name choice suggests immediately the intentions and the vision that nourish their community: “Our name unites two different languages for several reasons, as the community of Longera is bilingual and also because we have many diverse cultures. The house and family are concepts that we feel the most connected with. Ours is more inclusive compared to the traditional mononuclear family. Our house is a roof under which anybody can gather.”

Other than activities entirely based on of communal living and sharing of knowledge, from 2012 Casalonjer has started the project Circle in the woods, a pioneering activity in Trieste. “A group of us began a couple of years ago a pathway involving children and parents in order to develop and expand libertarian pedagogy. We then reunited to start this project and the first question that we asked ourselves was how were our own experiences in state schools. Through this brainstorming session all of us relived memories and traumas. From these entirely negative school memories we identified a series of common situations and scenarios that we didn’t want our children to ever experience. Arguing over what we didn’t want our children to encounter in state schools, we made a list of the things that we intended to propose in order to develop a libertarian education.”

The improvements and alternatives towards the harmful aspects of the traditional school system has been developed throughout time and has been enriched by the contribution of everyone from our community. In fact, multiple perspectives have structured a critical, precise and reasoned evaluation. This allowed them to shape and plan the specific traits of their project. “The term “public school” should be abolished because, in fact, public schools don’t exist. What exists, instead, are state schools that, as such, constantly pursue their own goals: growing a compliant personality. When children starts school (when they are six years old) in a short amount of time their enthusiasm and joy in regards to the exploration of knowledge is turned off instead of being reactivated. Everything belonging to children’s natural curiosity eventually becomes extinct, hence why learning new things is seen by children as a tedious imposition in state schools.

The essential task of state schools doesn’t aim towards expanding the knowledge of students. Its only goal is to specialize competences in order so that these children can become useful for the capitalist system. This is why children are trained from such a young age to have precise rhythms and timetables in state schools. Someone constantly tells them what to do and what not to do. These are a series of mechanisms and regulations that don’t belong to children and aren’t healthy for their development.

These dynamics emerge already from nurseries and kindergartens through an entire series of intermissions that constitute the natural evolution of the child’s processes and these structures are approved and inserted inside a pre-established scheme. This is also seen through an organizational perspective: when an adult is responsible for only 25 children it is inevitable that assembly line situations will be created. The atmosphere in which we move is legalistic due to our constitution, as within it lies the right of education for children and the obligation of the parents to guarantee this. Therefore, there is no obligation to attend a state school. There is, however, an obligation from the parents or the educative figure to guarantee that the child can learn. The reality that we live in has distorted this principle: the obligations of the adults are now transformed into their rights of delegating their own children to somebody else far away from home for a lot of hours, and the right of the children to grow from their own knowledge freely, following their own predispositions, becomes another obligation: you have to go to school, you have to do homework and then, in the end, you will also be judged on whether you have behaved well or not.”

The first steps in Circle in the woods have been started through this critical analysis. Initially the project, which originated from the exigency to provide children an alternative education route than that found in most state schools, is structured thanks to the commitment of the parents. The Kindergarten is initially itinerant: in summer the children are in parks and in winter the parents provide their own houses.

“From this situation an idea in regards to space was born that we decided to bring and which references the Nordic model of Kindergarten in the woods: the children live and study outside, even in winter; even when it rains. We provide them with instruments to face the diverse climatic conditions – we also have a closed heated place – and nature becomes the teacher. They play and learn through nature, using also several materials for artistic activities. It is a project that functions thanks to the collaboration of families, friends and supporters. All roles are fundamentally different but they work in conjunction harmoniously.”

Currently there are seven children, divided into two age groups. In a couple of years they will enter school age and then, the parents and people from Circle in the Woods, want them to be ready for libertarian school.

This is a structure where adults, children and teenagers collaborate on the same path of exploring of the world and increasing the knowledge of each individual in perfect harmony with the group. The center of the learning process is found through the child, his aptitudes, talents and curiosities. It is a school capable of “growing responsible adults” because this factor can emphasize the focus of the individual. Due to this the decisions from the Circle in the woods are always taken trough assembly dynamics where adults and children discuss together as equals all the difficulties and possibilities that they face. “Adults are an instrument”, specifies Aldo, “useful when children want to expand their curiosity and knowledge on certain topics. The adult is well regarded in this society and is capable of satisfying the requirements and demands of children by creating specific channels.”

They recount the continuous and constructive comparisons with other experiences of libertarian education present in Italy. They explain how spontaneous learning enriches global knowledge, which doesn’t stop in some predetermined notions and instead embraces multiple experiences and contexts. The preparations behind libertarian schools are many and the goal is big: dissolve traditional education schemes that guide the individual, from a young age, to follow strict oppressive paths that go against the attitudes of children. Hence, the process of learning can return to its original intended goal and become a joyous experience that takes into account the different talents and personalities of each subject.

Umanita Nova

Cerchio nel bosco

Translated by Pietro Casati



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