Patricia Shaw, visiting teacher and fellow at Schumacher College has been involved with the setting up of Schumacher-like activities in Brazil. In this interview, she asks Juliana Schneider, Msc in Holistic science and co-founder of Escola Schumacher Brasil, about the Certificate in Holistic Science and Economics for Transition, a year-long-programme being offered now for the third time in Brazil and with two places remaining.
The Schumacher Certificate programme is the most intensive learning experience that Escola offers - how did you begin this endeavour and what inspired you to do it?
Offering the Certificate in Brazil became a reality when a small group of Brazilian alumni of Schumacher College worked together to bring to life the first Schumacher Experience Brazil – 5 days of learning and living together in nature. We realized how each of us was taking seriously, in our own way, what we had learnt at Schumacher. Bringing our practices together during that week deepened a sense of wholeness that made us realize that we could go further and offer the Certificate as an intense learning experience of transformation that was inspired and nourished by the 25 years of Schumacher College in Devon and at the same time completely rooted in our country. We were also very inspired by the initiative of alumni in Colombia, who began their own programme from this same inspiration and made it fit to their own local reality and background.
Now that you have run the certificate so successfully for a couple of years you probably have more clarity about what makes it such a valuable learning experience for participants and faculty alike. What have people found makes this course unique?
There are a few aspects that stand out when participants give voice to their experience: the selection of the material and content that is quite unique and extremely rich; the way the learning weaves together through the residential gatherings and the online study; and the quality of the space and presence that forms the group of teachers and organizers and thus the learning/teaching experience. The latter is something that for me makes the course so unique - the fact that we are not bringing content and people together but rather, we are invested in working through relationships that hold truth and trust. To participate in this fabric of relationships has shown to be a meaningful experience that changes both ourselves and the world around us. This is valuable because it does not separate education from the stream of life. It’s not a method in the conventional way, it is not something that can be fabricated; you can’t fake that experience. And when it is there it affects people, it’s a kind of presence. To join a community of relationships (and by this I don’t mean just between people but the place itself where we are and everything between that), to be immersed in this web, it can’t help but to transform our own relationships too – to life, to ourselves, to the planet. Such an experience is beyond taking a course, it’s about belonging, being in touch with something that is so familiar to us and yet so strange, so mysterious.
The course has drawn a lot of applicants in the last couple of years – do you see some patterns in what attracts people to undertake the programme? And what do they discover that they might not have expected?
I think more and more people who look for this programme are attracted by the sense of opening a space in their lives, a space that can be nurtured, sustained and undertaken with others. What I’ve noticed throughout these 2 years of running the Certificate is that these are people who are not looking to learn the latest method or tool, or something that offers them to deepen in a specific area - whether ecology, self-knowledge, spirituality… They are answering to a call of meaning and the fact that this programme does not fragment experience in different areas or collapses this call into one single answer seems to matter a great deal. Of course this call may express itself in many different ways – a disquiet with a current job, relationship, a felling of disconnect, a thirst for further learning… these are all ways in which this experience is met and the programme responds to this aspect of many individual calls in a way that brings coherence to the whole. In this journey, there are of course many unexpected discoveries because of how this learning happens, with small yet powerful invitations that shift our habitual attention from big questions to the simpler details often unseen, unattended. Also, many surprises come for people from the experience of finding themselves in the kitchen creating this amazing meal for example, as well as the other roles they find themselves playing in the learning community. Because there is a range of different experiences, there are many discoveries of things that are not under anyone’s control.
How do you choose the venues where you hold the residential parts of the programme? What are you looking for and why?
This is an interesting question because there is no list of pre-requisites that makes a venue okay or not okay. Of course there are basic aspects such as having the capacity to accommodate groups of around 18 people, a kitchen space where we can cook as a group etc., but more than anything the sense of collaboration that emerges between what we offer and what happens in the place. For instance the Toca Farm, Serrinha Farm, Sitio Gloria, Rincão Gaia and Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza are all very different spaces, but in some way there is a vitality of what they do and their history of looking for a meaningful way of using the land, which weaves together with the experience we are offering. It’s not that we place ‘the course’ in the venues but actually that the spaces themselves influence what happens in that experience, they participate in the becoming of the uniqueness of that experience. So I suppose it’s fair to say we are looking for places where there is not rigidity and there is willingness to genuinely collaborate and allow something to be created from that coming together… to be in touch with the people who work and live in the place and the way they do things and how that contributes as well; it’s all an alive question that we have to be willing to find out together.
What changes have you made to the structure and process of the course and what led you to make these moves?
The real structural change we made was at the very beginning, from the template that was proposed from Schumacher and the team in Colombia, who ran the first Certificate programme. From that, we increased the number of residential gatherings and decreased the number of online interaction. This was something we did to respect and value our particular context in Brazil - a country with many alumni from Schumacher College and who could engage and become teachers, facilitators, chefs… and thus develop our own local faculty. The growing of this local team has worked really well in the two years of running the certificate and has required minimum change. To mention one small change: from the 1st to the 2nd year something I feel we have honed is the written part of the programme – the production of essays and dissertation that the participants are required to write. We have been more interested in exploring together what makes a piece of writing that is not focused in the result but which results itself from the movement of a living inquiry. This has been so enriching because we are all together working with a very practical demand and at the same time asking ourselves how do we respond differently, to write it from the more experiential ways in which we are being engaged throughout the programme. This has meant also more time in small groups and mentoring sessions.
What excites you about running the course in 2017?
Well, just answering these questions have got me really excited to think of starting a new year of this programme. I suppose in a way part of what excites me is continuing this journey with my colleagues - Livia, Mari, Rita, Claudia and Wago, plus the many guest teachers and our hosts. Also when the interviews with the applicants began and they share why they feel they want to do this programme, then a strong sense of purpose arouse for me again as if for the first time, and this reminds me why we must go on offering it, why we are doing this at all…and it’s exciting. The fact that this is not a curriculum that repeats, that every time it makes me ask myself new questions, revisit ideas I thought I Knew, ways of doing things, opening new spaces for different roles within our team, creating new connections, new bonds of trust, new life!