Utopias and education

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Educational Utopias ­ A Philosophy of Intercultural Education


Sejny is a town on the Polish and Lithuanian border and has, like so many villages and towns in this area, a multicultural heritage extending back four hundred years. At the end of the 19th century the town was 78% Jewish. The other 22% consisted of Poles, Lithuanians, Russian "Old Believers", Orthodoz, Evangelicals, Tarters and one Spaniard! Now it is 90% Lithuanian and 10% Polish. The inexplicable cruelty and destruction of such a complex multicultural identity is the story of much of C20th Europe.

In 1990 The Borderland Foundation was set up by a group of artists and intellectuals from Warsaw led by Krzysztof Czyzewski, and twenty years later is a unique, mature and powerfully impressive force both locally and internationally. Everything the organisation does aims to promote an ethos of “borderland” and intercultural dialogue.

The Foundation is presently housed in the old Jewish quarter of Sejny. Indeed the offices, library, research centre, museum and performance spaces presently occupy the Synagogue, Yeshiva and Old Jewish Gymnasium, three neat buildings sitting in a row along the high street. As Bożen Szroeder, teacher and director   from the Foundation said:

"We must live with it forever, not just abandon it. We must always be in the White Synagogue. And we must not shy away from telling the extreme stories associated with it."

I was present at the invitation of the Foundation to participate in two meetings. The first was a meeting of intellectuals and academics from around the world. Entitled "The New Agora Symposium" we spent two days discussing and rehearsing two central concepts and ideas arising from Hermann Hesse´s The Glass Bead Game (and the name given to the second meeting).

"The Pedagogical Province of Bridge Builders" (a concept under construction) was approached from various angles during the symposium. But in many respects the debates returned to a series of concentric and overlapping concepts; the tasks for a pedagogy of the provinces is to teach critical reflection, but to do so in a specific way. As pedagogues we need to use, understand, exercise and analyse the power being continually rehearsed between students and teachers, institutions and society and between cultures. We need to teach and be aware of “technocratic themes” (ie: we must teach accounting and management) but place the emphasis on (in the words of Professor Tadeusz Sławek) “accountability and not accounting”. Our teaching always needs to investigate the way The State recognises and funds education. We need to teach how not to choose the easy way out. And to quote Tadeusz on Henry James, “it is easy (and best avoided) to rejoice in the pretence of prosperity”. In this reflection on the symposium I wish to thanks Tadeusz for his conceptualisation of this work.

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