The beginnings of the High School at Aspiration
The high school at Aspiration came into existence, grew and developed in a very interesting way.
September 1984. A small group of approximately ten young Aurovilians (all Tamils who hadn't had a continuous learning experience in the past, and aged between 17 and 21) felt the need of a more consistent training programme in general knowledge.
All were at that time engaged in jobs at different units of Auroville. Most of them worked at Aurelec, a computer research and production unit, one of the most successful businesses in Auroville. Aurelec was willing to spend the necessary money in order to finance the required classes for the young workers.
The boys knew that financing would be no problem and presented their idea to the community. The education group immediately proposed to look for teaching guides and to provide the boys with accommodation facilities and material. A working group was set up consisting of the boys themselves and a number of adults. In a few days time the morning-and-evening classes functioned.
Tamil, Sanskrit, English, mathematics, science and general knowledge were on the schedule. Classes were held from 8 to 10 a.m. And from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Type writing was optional on Sunday morning.
As the students continued to work they felt very soon that studying and working from 8 in the morning till 9 in the evening wasn't easy at all. Most of them were very active in sports, hence their participation in competitions often disturbed the academic activities.
First, Sanskrit was dropped from the schedule. Later the group shrinked to eight. Soon it became clear that in English and mathematics all of the students were at different levels. The idea grew to split up in level-groups, but that never occurred at that stage of the educational experiment.
The learning experience made the students feel that they'd rather switch to a full study programme than continue the heavy work-and-study programme.
At the same time more adolescent Aurovilians expressed that a real school for their age group would be not only welcome, but necessary.
An ad hoc working group started exploring the possible solutions. More adults joined the working group, as the news spread. Soon, enough teaching guides showed up in order to organize a three-level-group high school for more than 30 girls and boys who were interested in the new educational experiment.
A real high school for Auroville! The community of Auroville had mixed feelings about the adventure lying ahead. In the past all attempts to create an educational environment at a high school level had failed. Either the adults had stopped supporting them, or the girls and boys hadn't had energy to sustain the experiment.
The three-level-group idea made it possible, this time, to integrate all girls and boys wanting to participate.
A first planning meeting was held at the end of October 1984. On January 7, 1985, the school functioned.
The three-level-group schedule was conceived in order to offer the greatest possible flexibility to the boys and girls. The could, within the limitations caused by the availability of teaching guides and the organizational difficulties, make up their study schedule 'a la carte', combining basic level for one subject, medium level for another and higher level for again another. It was possible to step over from one level to another at any time, providing that both student and teaching guide could agree on the move.
The first period until May 1985 became highly experimental. Every Saturday morning the last period was reserved for feedback meetings where students and teachers made constructive suggestions. Almost every week things changed. Too much mobility caused the crash of the three-level timetable and a final decision was made to start the next school term with a two-level high school.
Five months of enthusiastic and spontaneous participation of the students proved that the Auroville adolescents really wanted to break with the school-free mentality which had existed among them.
One year after high school had started Hari and Selvaraj were offered a possibility to study during one year in the U.S.A. Their evaluation reports were sent to the high school and proved that the two students functioned quite well compared to their fellow students in the States.
During the second year the high school expanded impressively. The number of teaching guides almost doubled. The two-level timetable evolved slowly into an optional system where the students could make a free choice out of a rich range of proposed courses.
The financial situation of the high school changed radically when the Sri Aurobindo Institute absorbed the bugetary problems.
Lunch was served every noon in the Locomotiv, a building annexed the year before and made accessible during the summer vacation by a group of students and Johnny.
The high school came into existence due to the conviction of a small group of adolescents, but once it was functioning well it became quite difficult to catch the students' interest in order to solve the current organizational problems of the school.
Some adults felt totally unhappy that the principles of free progress were not even matter of discussion among the teachers, while others tried to orient the school in an unquestioned traditional direction, and succeeded in doing so.
A few meetings were held aiming at upgrading the high school in the light of the free progress philosophy.
Unfortunately the traditional current was strong and overarched the meetings. Nothing spectacular happened, except endless unproductive talking, and some inevitable discouragements.
The students seemed to be happy with their high school as it was organized for them by the adults. They did not jump into the forum of debate.
The Sri Aurobindo Institute repeatedly tried to relaunch the free progress debate. But finally an even more traditional attack from a number of parents blocked the dialogue.
Fortunately the side-track discussions didn't affect the functioning of the high school. Teaching guides with different views continued to coexist peacefully and, in a sense, became more respectful of each other.
Johnny individualized his approach as much as possible and continued the work he had started at Fertile. Deepti, a good traditional teacher, fully respected by her students, admitted that she was not experienced enough to start a free progress language class. Jean, teaching maths, tried to reach a level from where the students could prepare themselves for the baccaleureate. Meenakshi courageously continued to stimulate 'her' boys.
Most of the teachers didn't want to question their teacher-centered and subject-matter-oriented approach. The high school remained, during the second year of its existence, quite traditional.
We know, free progress cannot be forced upon either students or teachers. High school proves the reality of it. Free progress will grow and develop only where a group of individuals, students and teaching guides, meet in the conviction that it is the right method allowing progress and growth.
We left Auroville in May 1986. At that time the larger education group, at community level, had almost completely fallen apart. The group at Transition (primary level) was on its way to make considerable progress. The kindergarten at Center Field was developing well. The idea of the Center for Child Development was growing. The Sri Aurobindo Institute planned to organize free progress teaching guide seminars. In all that the high school team remained quite silent … waiting and seeing?
Problem with the high school was that no real effort was ever made to encourage team spirit among the teaching guides. Johnny invited other teachers to participate in the projects he set up for the students, but the response was rather cool. Even the students didn't react enthusiastically. The high school experience proved Auroville that individualism, at a certain stage, hampers group progress rather than stimulating it.
The aim of education, the value of free progress, the need for mastery and perfection, and the psychological process by which one can develop one's personality are some of the most important and difficult things on which students and teaching guides have to reflect deeply in order to take intelligent decisions with regard to their progress.
It seems that (some of) the adults are not in a position to change their own attitudes in that respect, and feel insecure, if not threatened, in circumstances where an effort for change is necessary.