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Experiment in Learning

By David Bohm

The Brockwood Park Educational Centre was set up in January, 1969, to inquire into a fundamental question raised by J. Krishnamurti—can the members of a community of staff and students free themselves, as they learn and live together, from their background of destructive conditioning. We can now begin to assess this experiment and see what value its results may have for future work along these lines, not only at Brockwood Park, but also in other educational institutions.

The structure of the centre is fairly informal. All members of the staff—whether academic, gardening, kitchen, office, maintenance—receive the same pay and have the same basic responsibility. The principle is that each of their functions has a corresponding authority, which is necessary to carry out that function. The task of coordinating all the activities of the school is assumed by the principal. However, in this task, as well as in all others, important decisions are in general taken only after a full discussion by the entire staff. In addition, staff and students meet regularly to discuss both practical issues concerned with the running of the place, and deeper questions arising from the fundamental purpose of Brockwood Park.

The school is not run for financial gain, nor is it supported by the state. It depends on fees and donations by those who feel the value of what is being done there. There are, however, a number of scholarships for those who cannot afford the full fees. The students, aged from 14 to 20, come from 16 countries. This international character is important, as it helps those who live at Brockwood Park to learn how to meet people from different backgrounds and to resolve the difficulties arising from this in a spirit of mutual consideration and affection.

The centre is coeducational and residential, and the total number of students varies from 50 to 55. Each student is given as much individual attention as possible. A high staff-student ratio is maintained and a wide variety of courses is offered, from which students can select a programme that suits their interests and needs. Brockwood Park is an examination centre for London University O and A levels, and this helps those students who need qualifications for university entrance or for other purposes.

Although the academic work of the school is regarded as important and is pursued in a serious way, it is not the main point of what is being done at Brockwood Park. The deeper purpose of the centre is to enable students and staff to explore, in every phase of their life together, the implications of all that Krishnamurti has said in his talks and discussions and in his many books.

It is difficult in a short space to describe these teachings. In essence they suggest that mankind has been conditioned to violence, fear and self-deception, and that this conditioning may end only through the art of learning. Such learning is not directed primarily toward the accumulation of knowledge, which is seen only as a by-product. What is essential is an act of total listening, seeing and being aware, not only of outward reality but also of inward reactions—likes and dislikes, hurts, aggressions, pleasures and sorrows—which tend to distort perception and thought.

In this learning, there is no given authority which might offer an illusory sense of security. Everything can and must be questioned, especially the “self,” or the “Ego.” Daily relationships function as a sort of mirror, revealing the totality of the conditioning. In the very act of perceiving this conditioning, one is free of it.

Brockwood Park is a place where Krishnamurti’s teachings are being put to the test. If man and society can change fundamentally in this microcosm, into which students and staff come with all the problems of the world as a whole, it may be possible for such a transformation to take place more broadly, perhaps first in other educational centres, and then later in society at large.

It is not expected that students and staff will be able immediately to understand these teachings, and live what is meant by them. Inevitably, there are many difficulties at the start. Nevertheless, in learning about just these an important first step is made, since the art of learning is the same, regardless of the content that is being learned about.

One of the typical difficulties with students is that, in questioning all authority, they often come to the conclusion that they cannot accept those rules and regulations needed for the orderly functioning of the school. The authority required by staff for doing their work properly tends to be resisted. What has to be made clear is that the kind of authority that is destructive is the one that arbitrarily imposes a certain set of beliefs, or certain ways of thinking and feeling. Such authority interferes with the art of learning, whether it comes from outside or from one’s own likes and dislikes, prejudices, or desires for status and security. On the other hand the authority needed for the orderly functioning of a community, far from being harmful, is actually necessary for true freedom.

Such questions are taken up seriously by each member of the staff, and especially by Krishnamurti, who makes Brockwood Park his home while he is in England several months in each year. There are frequent discussions, both in groups and between individuals, while Krishnamurti talks with the whole school several times a week. In these discussions and talks, which are, as far as possible, in the form of a dialogue, the issues are explored in great depth, and in general, through such exploration, clarity of thought and perception eventually comes about.

Although the staff originally come to Brockwood Park because of Krishnamurti’s teachings, they often encounter difficulties similar to those felt by the students, and these difficulties have to be met in a similar way. For example, in a recent discussion, Krishnamurti indicated that many of the difficulties at Brockwood arise because the people there often do not have proper respect for each other. By respect, he does not here mean fear or regard for status, but that care and attention which is needed to listen to anyone and to learn from them whatever they may have to impart. Without such respect, learning becomes impossible, and the fundamental purpose of the centre tends to be thwarted.

By and large our society conditions people to lack respect, and students who come to Brockwood tend to be affected by this conditioning. At the centre they are encouraged to examine carefully their attitude towards other people, animals and plants, and even objects.

These group discussions are generally connected intimately with all that takes place in the school. The centre functions as a closely associated group of staff and students, endeavouring to act rightly in daily contacts with one another, and to be aware of psychological barriers to such cooperative action.

How well does the centre fulfil its original purpose? It is difficult to evaluate this precisely, but there are many indications that something significant is being accomplished. Most visitors receive an impression of overall harmony and order, which is natural and spontaneous, rather than imposed. Moreover, there is a degree of general respect among the students that is not common elsewhere. For example, there are no instances of violence or of physical destruction. Students who have left Brockwood Park are followed up by correspondence, and through visits to the place, which they feel to be “like a return to one’s own home.” Generally, they look back on their stay at Brockwood as a fruitful one, which made a major change in their lives.

There has been an ever greater intensity of interest and inquiry into the questions raised in Krishnamurti’s teaching on the part of the staff. In general, this results in more harmonious relationships, and in mutual and cooperative action. Inevitably there are ups and downs, rather than a smooth and steady progress toward an ideal state.

The centre aims to extend its work in as many ways as possible, especially toward the inclusion of adults in a variety of educational activities. Conferences and discussions with Krishnamurti have been held. Recently there have been two such conferences for distinguished scientists, in which fundamental issues similar to those discussed here were looked at in great depth. More conferences of this kind are planned, and facilities at the centre may be made available for older students. Some American universities have allowed students to come to Brockwood for an extended period as part of their studies toward a degree. The possibility is being considered of Brockwood taking students to live at the centre and study either in some nearby university or through the Open University.

Krishnamurti has also encouraged the starting of new schools in various countries. There have been two such schools in India for some time, and several more are planned. Schools for younger children are being started in California and British Columbia. Krishnamurti’s teachings are being made available to a wider public through talks and discussions in several countries, as well as through the gatherings held regularly at Brockwood every September. He has also written many books, the latest of which, The Beginnings of Learning, is based on discussions between him and students and staff at Brockwood Park.

Although inquiries from other educational institutions are definitely encouraged, there has been no systematic attempt to contact such institutions or to inform them of what is being done at the centre. At present the work is still in a highly experimental stage and the major interest at Brockwood Park is in putting all available energies into making the experiment work.

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