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Schumacher, Gandhi & 21st Century Education

An International Centre for Ecological Studies

Schumacher, Gandhi & 21st Century Education :

An interview with Satish Kumar

Reprinted from LAPIS magazine, 2001

LAPIS : Today we’re going to talk about Schumacher College in Devon, England, which has been a pioneering educational institution, a center for the study of spirituality and ecology in a beautiful old mansion in south-west England. Why did you chose the name Schumacher College ?

SATISH KUMAR : E.F.Schumacher’s book Small is Beautiful, was a great influence on many people’s thinking in England. Everything was giant, big is better, getting bigger and bigger. Leopold Kohr and E.F.Schumacher were the two great figures of the 60s and 70s who promoted the idea of human scale , of decentralised, local economies. Schumacher particularly combined the view of economic spiritual values when he wrote his essay called : “ Buddhist Economics.” Many people asked him, Mr. Schumacher, what does Buddhism have to do with economics ? Schumacher jokingly said that economics without Buddhism is like sex without love. He was perhaps one of the only western economists with the background of Oxford and work with the government and establishment who dared to put those words together — Buddhism and economics.

When we were thinking of beginning a College which would bring the spiritual and ecological dimension together, we thought there’s no one better than Schumacher to honour, and by using his name we can perpetuate his memory. But by no means were we thinking to make him a hero or create a Schumacher cult. Our idea is to use his name as a springboard. We are very much a college of exploration with an open mind and open inquiry, so Schumacher represents that holistic approach, that approach which combines the soil, soul, and society. These are the three very important dimensions.

LAPIS : I know that the College is no normal college in the sense that it is not purely focused on intellectual activities. The participants are also involved in the cooking, maintenance of the house and gardens, and many other areas.

I know the inspiration for this has come from Gandhi’s work, from your own experience living for many years in a Gandhian ashram. Could you tell us about your experience in that world and how it has played into the creation of Schumacher College ?

SARISH KUMAR : Mahatma Gandhi was himself and educationalist, apart from struggling for the independence of India and developing other aspects His ideas was that in life, learning and living should be a seamless continuum Having live in an ashram with my colleagues working to develop Schumacher College’s ideals and models, we thought we should not only create an intellectual forum, but a new model of education. When people come, it is no good if they are talking about how to save the world and how to develop new ideas and new paradigm thinking when somebody else is cooking your meals and cleaning your toilets and changing your sheets. We thought that the work and study were two sides of the same coin.

We said that you need time to study, you need time to work, but you also need time to reflect — so meditation is also a very important part of life at Schumacher College. Every day we begin with a period of meditation so that a contemplative mood can permeate throughout the day of the student. Work, study, meditation — and a sense of community. This is the fourth very important aspect. Because when people come to study there, they are not only coming to hear wonderful lectures from James Hillman, Thomas Moore, Tomas Berry, or Vandana Shiva, but they re also coming to learn from each other and create a community so that they learn how to live together, how to live with different cultures, different backgrounds.

Schumacher College is a very international college; we have had people from 75 different countries. People come from Asia, Africa, Japan, Australia, America, from Europe and from Russia. They talk to each other, they teach each other, they give talks in the evening, their share their own projects from their countries, and they share the philosophy and culture of their countries. We must create at Schumacher a eurocentric worldview. We want to create a worldview that represents world cultures, and therefore brings people from India and Africa, China and Japan, and creates a holistic worldview. And so work, study, meditation, and community — these are the four important aspects. Nevertheless when we say study, it is very rigorous study. It is very much informed by a logical, intellectual and historical aspect of work.

LAPIS : I know you have a very innovative Masters of Science degree programme in Holistic Science that I believe to be the world’s first.

SK: The University of Plymouth has recognised Schumacher College has an important centre of higher education. Any student who studies there can get credit for their short courses. But we also thought there is a place for creating a Masters degree Programme where students can come and stay and study for one whole year. We appointed Professor Brain Goodwin, retired from the Open University, as the professor of Biology and holistic Science. We are studying quantum physics, complexity, Goethean Science, chaos theory, systems thinking, the Gaia hypothesis, morphogenic fields, all of the new developments in science.

LAPIS : Tell us some of the names of the other teachers who participate..

SK: Maturana , Francisco Varela — their work of cognitive biology we have been teaching here, but also these students who are doing Masters Degree Programmes also participate in the science courses. For example, Lynn Margulis and her short course will also be part of the Masters Programme. Fritjof Capra’s course in systems thinking, that is part of the Holistic Science Masters programme. Then Goethean science, taught by Henry Bortoft and Brian Goodman. Then there are people like Thomas Berry and his work on evolution and the universe story. So this way they get a very full picture of new emerging science and the emerging worldview.

LAPIS : Can you describe the actual physical environment ad Schumacher ?

SK: Schumacher College is in Devon which is a very beautiful county in South west England. And this s based on the Dartington Hall Trust Estate, near a very beautiful old market town called Totnes embedded in the rolling landscape of Devon, where Dartmoor is in striking distance. We feel that unless you know nature, unless you are one with nature, you cannot conserve and preserve and protect nature. So, knowledge and love of nature are very important.

We are between Dartmoor and the Atlantic; our students can go to the sea and walk along the coastline. Beautiful farming land, moorland, and seascape surround them. Then, three or four minutes from the College is the River Dart — a lovely flowing river with woodlands around it — so, the students are in a very beautiful setting. The building itself is fourteenth century. James Hillman says that you can feel the ancestors are here in every stone, speaking to you.

And then there is the food : the food is vegetarian, wholesome, organic and delicious. So, it’s a kind of active, intellectual and spiritual place all at the same time.

LAPIS : What do you see for Schumacher College as you look into the

future ?

SK : I would like to see a new development where we can attract business people. Jonathon Porritt, Karl-Henrik Robert, Amory Lovins, Paul Hawken — these are all people who can speak to business. Unless we change the minds and hearts of people involved in the business world, I don’t think the transformation will come about easily. So it is my dream and vision — and eventually, even a Masters Programme in Business Studies. Holistic and Environmental, socially responsible business courses would be one of my dreams for Schumacher College.

LAPIS : I know that the typical student would come for either one or three weeks.

SK : Yes, three weeks is the norm. In the beginning we ran courses lasting five weeks. The we found too many people who wished to come but couldn’t because they could not spare the time — they have family, children and jobs. So, now three weeks is the norm.

We begin the day with a period of meditation at 7.30 am, then, after breakfast, until 9.30am is the work period — people are engaged in cooking, cleaning, and preparing the house. From 10am until 1pm is the study period. From one until three is lunch with a little bit of rest time, and after three pm are tutorials where a small group of people can work with the teacher. Alternatively, they go out for field trips and another small group will be engaged in cooking the evening meal. At 6.30pm we have the evening meal and in the evening from about 8pm we have students presenting their work and philosophy from whichever country they come from, and sharing their projects. So, teachers teach, but students also teach each other. That is a very important aspect of this model of education.

For more information about Schumacher College and its courses, please contact :

The Administrator, Schumacher College,
The Old Postern, Dartington, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 6EA.
Tel : +44 (0)1803 865934 Fax : +44 (0)1803 866899
Email : admin@schumachercollege.org.uk
Website : www.schumachercollege.org.uk