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A farewell reflection from Jon Rae

Jon Rae on a bike

This daunting and wondrous century is throwing up fundamental questions about how we want to live, which are being reborn and reframed in our age of heightened awareness and interdependence across humanity and the web of life.

As a species - as one humanity - we are, right now, taking our first steps together as a super organism at a planetary scale. It is an extraordinary event and there are no guide books, and our old institutions are rapidly losing their relevance.

Science alone does not provide the solution but we must turn, as we always have, to our imagination, to our stories and to collaboration. The College is here to partner and explore the new narratives and practices that will guide us as we go so that we can pass to earth’s progeny a collaborative and life-enriching world.

Driven by the modernising forces of science and industry that compelled nature to bow to our demands, the enlightenment ideas that have enveloped the world and propelled us to this moment - our faith in reason, in the scientific method, our unquenchable thirst for knowledge and our unshakable belief in ‘progress’ – are alone insufficient for the great task that lies before us.

Our schools and universities are suffocating for it, seemingly unable to pull back the curtain on our understanding of ‘progress’ and the fears of what it has and will cost without change.

We are creatures of our imagination which is the wellspring of our hope, of our spirit, of art, and of our faith.

Schumacher College exists to pull back that curtain on our approaches to learning: to explore other ways of knowing; to redefine ‘progress’ in cultural context and with nature as our innate partner; to recognise the essential power of imagination and collaboration in bringing about deep social change, and; to prototype the green shoots of a better world with communities in the region and worldwide.

I am leaving the College after seven years and in that time I have guided my actions with listening and comradeship, and by a passion for experimenting in learning that is both rooted in place and practice, and networked worldwide.

In that time the College has played the role its founders first envisaged for it, and helped catalyse the transformation of Dartington so that it is now ready, once again, to step forward as a rousing force in this world that is scenic, intellectually dynamic, celebrating art, music, cuisine, thought, and practical inspiration. Important as this is, isolated plans do not fit the current global situation and stir no-one to higher things and better possibilities.

In just a few years the College has nurtured a growing worldwide network of partnerships and ‘communities of practice’ prototyping change in local context and collaborating together to provide the distributed leadership we need for our times.

My hopes for the College going forward are that it deepens its role as a ‘meeting place’ and catalyst in the region, and as a collaborator worldwide. It is both powerful and subversive to convene diversities of people to think deeply and imaginatively about the world’s problems, and to act together courageously where value is measured according to the sustained well-being of all people and the web of life.

The College can avoid the old-world trap of franchise and cherish instead the power, creativity and equanimity of distributed networks championing whole-person learning-by-doing locally and worldwide. In service to its purpose and values, the College can continue to innovative learning practice, or pedagogy, and inspire cross-disciplinary learning-by-doing that enhances accessibility, agency and collaboration among activists in all fields of peaceful human endeavour to imagine and enact ‘life-enriching progress’.

Above all, I cherish the College’s independently-minded but collaborative learning life: one nourished by the sense of wonder, awe and humbleness we feel as we comprehend our place in the universe; one emboldened by a reverence for nature and our life-giving planet, and; one sharpened by a trickster’s sense of irreverence when confronted by corrupted power, hubris or conceit.

We are creatures of our imagination which is the wellspring of our hope, of our spirit, of art, and of our faith. Civilisation, and its future, is ultimately an act of faith. We can and must do more to support a future in which all life on earth can flourish. I look forward to the role Dartington and the College will play in that flourishing.

Jon has stepped down from his role as head of Schumacher College and is going to be helping Schumacher Worldwide.  He is going to Bhutan in April to explore new opportunities.