Breaking Bread Philosophy
Why we want to be different!
At any age education should blow your mind and create life-long friendships.
With rising numbers in higher education, undergraduates rarely experience the intense combination of emotional and intellectual engagement that animates the best seminars. More students now combine study with work, and often commuting relatively long distances into their local university, rather going away to experience student life as an intensive departure from ordinary life. And unfortunately things do not necessarily improve at post-graduate level. It is an unspoken truth that Masters programmes are often treated as 'milk cows' - to be run for maximum return and minimum input. The experience of post-graduate students is often alienating with students spending as much time commuting as they do in seminars. With staff contact limited and in many institutions strictly rationed, modern graduate schools are often short on the kind of informal inspiration and personal charisma that engender participation, interaction and engagement.
Learning by doing: conversation, immersion, engagement
The Institute will be organised very differently and draw upon older traditions. For the ancient Greeks a symposium was a drinking party that centred on conversation and debate. They understood that learning cannot be a solitary endeavour. Rather intellectual life is social - a form of communion that begins and ends by breaking bread. Exactly the same intuitive emphasis on collective experience can be found in the monastic tradition that gave rise to the first European universities. The cloisters, high tables, college bars and tribal loyalties that give older institutions their edge, work because the physical structure of the built environment, the temporal structure of the day and the social structure of the community all work in concert to promote a never-ending cacophony of interweaving conversations. In this context lectures provide only the mulch and perhaps a little seed corn to an already riotous kitchen garden. Writing and reading tangle the knot further.
Oxbridge colleges and Harvard are able to ferment this environment by dint of wealth and tradition. But you don't need money or a long tradition to simulate such a learning environment. You just need to understand the underlying ecological principles which are in fact very simple.
1. Small interdependent groups working together on a wide range of activities in which formal study is only one element.
2. Learning surfaces:
- Maximise the number of activities and contexts which provoke conversation and debate.
- Maximise the number of activities in which individuals have the opportunity to step forward and take lead responsibility.
- Maximise the connections between different areas of leisure, formal study and household/community 'chores'.
3. Make best use of time:
- Live, work, study in one place.
- Within the group maximise the cross-over between leisure and formal learning
Breaking Bread at the Institute
With twenty to thirty students, a handful of resident staff, a small number of families and a regular rotation of visiting lecturers - as well as participants on short courses, the Institute will provide a year round symposium in the Greek sense. In addition to the conventional Academic_Programme, all students will be involved with the day to day running of the community. This will involve an enormous array of activities from managing livestock and gardening to hedge-laying, cooking, cleaning and even construction. Given that the stable of linked academic programmes will draw on a series of core modules, all students will share a great deal of reading in common. Combined with cooperation around all of the other activities, there will be a great deal to talk about. This atmosphere of engagement will be enhanced by regular musical events and other artistic activities.
As with any family or community there will be conflicts and the management will have to develop ways to mediate and resolve disputes. At the same time, it is likely that some of these disagreements will go to the heart of the intellectual mission of the institute. For instance, as part of both the bush-craft and the running of the smallholding, the provision of meat is likely to provoke strong emotions. Some students will be vegetarian. Meat-eaters on the other hand may find it difficult to confront the realities of killing animals and preparing meat. In both cases visceral experience will stimulate hearts and minds and engender a real engagement with formal study in areas such as environmental ethics, animal rights and human ecology.
In short, the Institute will provide a 24 hour a-day, seven-day-a week, year-round group learning experience that has no parallel. Students will gain so much more than a Masters degree. Through the Residential_Programme students will absorb a range of skills and experiences that are difficult to accumulate during the chaotic schedule of our everyday life as workers, parents, spouses, partners (e.g. mushroom identification, milking a cow, eco-building & maintenance). The aim is very much to change lives.