"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Holistic education, biodiversity and ecotourism

One of the joys of holidays away from the daily routine is the chance it gives me to read beyond my usual genres. Especially I love the opportunity to browse the second hand books so often left on the bookshelves of hostelries by travellers who have passed that way before me. It's like a lucky dip! Their choices and preferences open up new worlds for me. And yet there is so often an enormous sense of serendipity as well.
It always amazes me how often I find titles that provide me with new inspiration, or open up new lines of enquiry within my current project, broaden the scope of my research. It can be very exciting!
I've been in La Gomera, where to be honest a little part of my heart resides. Here is paradise on earth, one of the Canary Islands where time hasn't exactly stood still, but where the powers that be are determined to preserve the ancient traditions and wonderful biodiversity of the natural environment by ensuring that future development is sustainable - to this end ecotourism is encouraged, but high rise hotels and nightclubs you will never find. That is its charm. People flock here for the stunning scenery, the walking and the bird watching, and the rather special laurel rainforest (laurisilva) of the Garajonay National Park, a Unesco World heritage site since 1986.
But I digress.
From one of those said lucky dip bookshelves I picked up a book with a rather under-whelming grey cover. But it was the title that caught my eye: La Coume Across the Years: A School that Discovered how to Live. Authors Y Grangeon and C Haller, 1993, English text J W Stubbs 1997. La Coume in Catalan, the back cover informed me, means a blind alley, having no exit at the upper end, like a combe or coomb in English. And La Coume in the book is situated in the Pyrenees - Orientales in France. An unlikely book to pick up in one of the Spanish Canary Islands, at a holiday venue. Intrigued, I opened the book to read on. The book is charmingly illustrated with many line drawings from pupils themselves, and it soon became apparent that the "blind alley" was certainly not the best of metaphors for the institution described in the book. Pitt Kruger was a political refugee from Nazi Germany. With his wife Yves Kruger this amazing German couple together found themselves in 1933 in a decrepit farmhouse high up in the valley above Mosset in this beautiful part of France near the Spanish border. The property had been provided for them through the Quaker movement and under the direction of the Krugers it quickly established itself as an educational community providing accommodation for young people, "a centre offering friendship, solidarity and a welcome" whether as a refuge for more German political refugees, a Youth Hostel, a Country Centre for Education, a school, an International Reception Centre…but always with the same aim in mind; to help children and young people develop harmoniously in all areas of life, not only physically, intellectually and artistically, but also in the moral, spiritual and social spheres.
The Krugers brought their education background and experience, their sharp intellects and their energy and conviction face to face with the harsh realities of everyday survival tactics and built a rather special community based always on co-operation rather than competition, an ethos of shared and individual responsibilities, and an appeal to spiritual rather than material values. In this respect they were way ahead of their time, true visionaries long before our very recent realization that our materialist way of life is not serving us so well. Their geographical isolation and lack or funds enforced the need for thriftiness and avoidance of waste, but this became a virtue out of necessity and a fundamental part of the ethos which continues at the Centre to this day.
Towards the end of the 1970s, with the Krugers aging, it was recognized that the Centre was nearing the end of an era and would have to reinvent itself. There was increasingly a tension with the "life of modern times, surging and turbulent, with unrest in the inner city, invasion by the media, excessive consumerism, and a conspicuous sagging in the sense of responsibility among parents…(and the)…seductiveness of a civilization of comfort and convenience." How could La Coume hold its own, its "pastoral" holistic way of life, against this tide of change?
But it has reinvented itself, and under the guidance and support of the Kruger Foundation established in 1972, it continues to this day as a centre where those values established by the initial vision of the Krugers live on. 

And I do wonder as I read this wonderful account of such a visionary community, and the values that it espouses, whether La Gomera will be able to hold its own and its ambitions against the " seductiveness of a civilization of comfort and convenience" as a generation grows up and wants to leave the island for the material world just 25 or so kilometres away across the sea in Tenerife. Because the two Canary Islands could be in different worlds, the contrasts are so great. Long may La Gomera preserve its own world unravaged by the societal ills that are all too apparent not so very far away. As long as it manages to do that, some part of my own heart will continue to beat there.


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