Anthony Lambert

Anthony Lambert

Friday, 18 August 2017 13:07

Progressive 40 Years Ago


‘Nearly 40 years after the advent of Chiron we are still calling it a progressive school,’ came a voice on the day of the Forum. ‘What a shame that is.’

If there was a sentiment of the day, that was it. Where are the Chiron schools of today? How difficult it is to find schools for our own sons and daughters – schools which encourage them to ask questions; which treat them with respect, rather than simply demand it; which foster learning as a potentially fun experience and conducts it in an atmosphere without fear?

Where are the schools run with compassion?

How many of us hoped back then, perhaps even believed, that in a few decades the Chiron model of education would become the norm. That we were just the first of the many laying the groundwork for a system that was clearly a better alternative for all concerned – students, teachers, parents and the community; a system that once it was seen working, would obviously be adopted to replace a an antique structure that was clearly out-dated?

The Chiron Manifesto, or founding document of ideals (yes, there is one), exhibits some of the naivety that, perhaps, gave rise to that belief. It is a piece of writing of its time - perhaps a little hippyish, but it is also heartwarming, sincere, accurate (Chiron did follow the ideals it outlined), and revolutionary, particularly if you remember when it was penned.

It reflected the zeitgeist of the times, which was certainly one of change. Nonetheless John, Philip, Rosalind and the many others who conceived, funded and finagled Chiron into existence took a great risk and faced huge obstacles. The established education system may have been out-dated but it was not without power or advocates of its own.

One interesting tangent discussed at the Focus was that, while many teachers often feel frustrated and constrained by the traditional model of education, they are also suspicious, possibly a little afraid, of adopting change that would, in their eyes at least, giving up some degree of their control.

This was something all Chiron teachers had to accept without question – that the responsibility for learning and how it was done – would rest with the student. In 1970 this was mind-blowing stuff. Who knows, perhaps it still is.

Now John is asking if it ‘worked’. And from the many brief but often poignant tales told at the Focus it clearly did. While it sounds a little corny, there was a palpable animation in every voice as we described our Chiron days.

At that crucial times in our lives when everything was bright and new and we all ready to explore, if not academia, then at least some aspect of the joys the world had to offer, our school made it possible. It sounds so simple but it’s the difference between fear and joy, bigotry and openness, elitism and equality, greed and sharing, the mundane and the magical.

It was a time of our lives that should have been special and Chiron ensured it was.

If full bank accounts, awards and titles are your measure of success, our alumni have them in abundance. But I heard no-one talk of Chiron’s direct part in giving them such things (although it clearly did). Instead we talked about how we suddenly realised we were responsible for what we learnt; of how we came to know that there were many facets to learning and maybe even truth (thanks Philip!); that it was fun to ask questions and challenge the accepted orthodoxy. We talked about how we learnt, how we thought and even a little about how we lived.

And we talked about what we believed and - having answered John – we asked the real questions of the day. Where are the Chirons of today? Why aren’t they here? Because we think they need to be.

This was the focus of the… erm, Focus discussion. And it, or an edited version, is up on the blog somewhere. It’s worth having a look at it, if only to experience the certainty that Chiron was right and that its ideals need to be part of the education system again.

What’s also apparent is that Chiron, far from being a footnote in education history, as the system adopted and grew past its ideas, is actually a standout event in a rather disappointing catalogue of everything staying much the same.

While Chiron was not unique it was exceptional and there are actually few people in this country who have undergone a truly progressive education.

As such I think it’s our duty to tell our stories, good and bad, because one day the pendulum will swing again. A later-day John, or Philip, or Rosalind, will appear and, against all the neigh sayers, despite all the obstacles, they will try to start a school like Chiron again.

How great for them to be able to say to some financier, some politician or some bureaucrat, ‘See, it’s been done before. And it didn’t just work. It worked pretty damned good!’

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