In Hartland, the small town where Satish Kumar has settled, just to the north of the ancient granite outcropping of Dartmoor, Satish discovered an oft-unrecognised educational crisis. There were two high schools in the area, but each was about a 40-minute commute by bus, twice a day. Now the reason for many people moving to this town was its cherished sense of community, yet the children in the area were being taught to commute away from that community from the age of 10. In the long-term this was obviously not sustainable, as the consequences of this type of educational system is a physical and emotional separation from any community other than the closed system of a school.
One thought led to another, and before long Satish had set up a new school with the help of a few local parents. Yet this in itself was not enough. The school still needed to be different. Satish wanted the children to receive an education that would prepare them for living, and not just for yet another system of higher education. In practice, this meant teaching the children how to grow, how to cook, how to make, how to give; all before introducing the academic curriculum. In essence, Satish wanted these children to learn how to live well. National qualifications were almost an afterthought. What Satish wanted to teach was the art of living.
Surprisingly or not, the students did in fact perform well on their academic papers. But this was still not the point of the school. The children were receiving an education in how to live well, in how to relate and grow. Maybe most importantly, there is nothing formulaic about this school, as it reflects the individualism of each child. This particular focus on the development of how a child interacts with the world is one of the characteristics of what can be termed ‘transformative education’.
So what is transformative education? A focus on relational development is certainly important, but there is so much more to it. What Satish had developed in Hartland was a specific response to a specific ecological challenge, and as such the school was immediately in relationship with its community and environment. It is this sense of placement in a holistic ecology that really creates the environment necessary for transformative education to occur.