In March 1990, the new school started.
It is new because it is very different from other schools in this country.
First of all, it is not accepted by the government,
and among other specialties, it stands on the island for a thorough educational revolution.
We will introduce the Forest School starting from its social and political backgrounds.
Education in Taiwan before 1990
Traditionally, not much attention has been paid to youngsters in Chinese educational thinking. There was Confucius and other great masters; however, none of them were child educators. There were many wise words in teaching, but very few of these words mentioned children.
The consequence is, in this well developed country, parents and teachers are still training—not educating—their children with rods. All kinds of punishment, including of course corporal punishment, are still the major, if not the only, means to satisfy the demands of adults, or to enforce their ideology.
On the other hand, the Taiwan government for the last forty years has been staying in the shadow of the failure in the mainland, which has caused its educational policies to tend to be closed and monopolized. The most extreme example is the policy that all schools in compulsory education have to be public schools, and the teachers have to be graduates from the government run normal schools.
The problem is that there is never enough financial support for the schools so that the minimum number of kids in one class fall below forty, and the officially trained teachers are usually not well prepared in earnest educational concepts. In this situation the paradox is that not even the very specialized educators are allowed to build their own schools.
The founders of the Forest School
A group of scholars gathered in 1987 to form an organization totally unaffiliated with any government organ, which was named “The Humanistic Education Foundation”. This foundation was established to motivate a social enlightenment movement in education that comprises: revealing educational problems, spreading educational ideas, forcing people to think about what education should be, etc….
Today we conduct study groups for parents, we give lectures to school teachers, we publish a magazine called Humanistic Educational Journal, we open a Hot Line for students and parents to complain about their schools, and we ourselves also go into the schools to resolve the complaints and problems. However, this job is extremely difficult because it is not easy for people to reflect upon the process through which they have become what they are; unless there is some evidence to prove that education can be very different from what we have always seen in Taiwan.
The Forest Schools is going to be a demonstration of humanistic education and this demonstration will call upon the people to fight the system.
The philosophy of humanistic education
There are a train of thinkers, starting from Socrates, Rousseau, Kant, Marx, to the modern psychologists Fromm, Rogers, Marslow, Piaget etc., who emphasize the characteristics of human beings that man is not only a highly developed animal, but the precious inner mechanisms of man make man a self-developing creature.
This means, in education, that the educator’s only job is to let the students do their own growing: both physically and mentally, and the directions of their self-growth will be mostly desirable.
One question arises naturally: do or do not the children need any restrictions in their growing? This old question is answered by the great naturalist Rousseau: we do not worry that the kid suffers no restriction, he is restricted by nature.
However, in our time, nature is not so natural after all, so sometimes it is necessary for the educators to supplement nature’s restriction. In other words, there should be no “artificial” restriction given to the children.
For example, to a man the society in which he lives is not aspect of nature. But to students in a school, the little society of their campus odes not come from a natural formation, in fact, it is we, the educators, who put them together. In this situation the educators will have to help the young ones to “build their own society”, and in this process they unveil the truth that social relationships are not a restriction but a need for man.
Besides, there is another important thinking that the humanistic educators have to make: education can not only be thought of rationally; it is an activity among human being, so that affection is also a vital essence: the educated have to feel being
However, there are two ways of loving: to love a pet or to love a human which are parallel to Fromm’s “Two ways of living: having and being”. We believe that the difference lies on the notion of “respect”. The educators should love the children with respect.
Finally, the purpose of humanistic education is realized in students’ true cognition. Children in their growing should increase their cognition in all aspects including knowledge of literature, knowledge of affection, knowledge of truth, knowledge of himself, and especially knowledge of human nature.
The spirit of the Forest School
The school is operated under the interaction between human beings that is teachers and students. There are no rules for teachers, no regulations for students, no punishments in any form from teachers to students. Every problem is solved by discussion.
If two kids have a fight, teachers will wait for them to settle it themselves, usually it will come after a little while. Fro younger kids, when the battle is getting serous, teachers will intervene, separate them first and then conduct a talk. The talk always begins like this: Who wants to talk first? Tell us your feelings.” The talk will continue as long as possible so that the kids can in turn express themselves sufficiently till a final compromise comes up naturally.
Students are free to choose their courses, or to choose not to choose any particular course, but for the four basic items—Chinese, Math, Society, and Nature--teachers will try some persuasion. The persuasion, not to mention, is a discussion again. If one particular course loses its attendants often, teachers will hold a discussion among the students and other teachers to find out why; this usually ends up with a reform of teaching methods.
Besides all these “freelancing” discussions, there are two official meeting each week: one for the students and one for the teachers. The teachers’ meeting is the highest decision making body of the school. The students’ meeting is in fact a practice of group discussion; teachers do not encourage youngsters to make rules for themselves. Even when rules are made in the students’ meeting, penalties are advised to be avoided.
The above descriptions are all at a rational level. However, there is another emotional area. Twice a week, the whole school gathers together to express their admiration, called “admiration time”. In these special times, every teacher describes in detail the good points of each student, expresses admiration to every one in the school, and every one shows love to every one.
It turns out that the atmosphere in school is getting warmer and warmer, and the students have already started to express their admiration to others gradually. We think it is extraordinary for Chinese people because they do not show their affection easily, and especially do not accept affection with ease.
In one word, the school is going well on both the rational and emotional tracks.
Right now there are 16 members on the staff: 14 teachers, a director, and the principal. Teachers are university graduates in various fields: education, psychology, economics, forestry, botany, literature, history, and mass communication. They went through a three month “growing process” conducted by the Foundation, and then started to work in the school.
We believe all educators need continuous education. The teachers’ study program is mainly self-study, plus attendance at a few lectures per week, and in summer and winter vacation. There is also seminar on humanistic education held each week, which is a combination of theory and reality.
Teachers live together with the students in school five days a week, to teach and to look after the kids. We believe that learning and living cannot be separated, and it proves that we are right: students are making progress in all directions.
We now have 65 students ranging from six to twelve. The age distribution is normal: more in the middle, less in the two ends. Generally speaking, the school is non-graded except for some topics where age differences cause teaching difficulties.
All children have school experience before coming to the Forest School, and the big differences between the Forest School and the original schools usually cause problems when they first come in. New kids find it so liberated here that they try eagerly to do all the bad things which have been forbidden since their earliest memories.
Educators in the Forest School have to show a lot of acceptance and tolerance. We know very clearly that it is necessary to have a “letting go” process through which children can rebuild themselves through their own effort—the first thing they learn is that men do the right thing because they want to
Gradually the new students change. They start to listen to others, they think, they choose, in their little minds the power of rationality grows, and smiles, like a blossoming flower, appear on their faces. In one or two months, children become so happy and nice.
Educators’ love and elicitation are important; however, it is the inner drive of the young ones, and the interaction between them that initiate the transformation. The most significant part is that children help each other in their progress; they talk things over with each other in cases of unacceptable behavior.
In academic studies students perform normally. Because of the variety of teachers’ presentation, some of them have already shown enthusiasm in pursuing knowledge but others still need some time to develop an appetite for learning. We think it natural to wait.
Roughly speaking, there are two kinds of study activities:
A, In-school courses
Academics: Chinese, Mathematics, Society, Nature, Ethics
Art: Music, Drawing, Pottery, Drama, Cooking, Carpentry.
Athletics: Ping-pong, Basketball, Hiking, Baseball
Language: Taiwanese, English (for students in 5th and 6th grades)
B, Out-school courses
Teaching Tour: Museum Planetarium, Specialized exhibitions, Fine arts museum, and all kinds of events (including political demonstrations on the street).
Movie: One movie per week in the Movie library
Ecology: The story of a river (starting from the source of the Tam-shui river to the outlet, they visit one spot a week along the river to investigate the pollution level. This program lasts for the whole semester).
Swimming: In a swimming pool or in the sea, mainly on warmer days.
It should be mentioned that all these courses are related in some way so that students’ cognition will develop as a whole. For example, pollution investigation is connected to chemistry which is part of the nature course; and in carpentry classes children have to do some math.
As we mentioned before, humanistic education has not been recognized by the society yet, there fore our parents bear a lot of social pressure. Relatives, grandparents, friends, and even neighbors have different opinions about the parents’ decision. They think that at the Forest School the child will lose his or her competitive ability in academics which is so necessary for people in a competing society, especially for young people to squeeze into college. Of course, the fact that the school is not officially registered is another important reason.
However, our parents insist that humanistic education is good for the students’ whole life development which includes the ability to face all kids of challenges, not to mention the challenge of entrance examinations into high schools or colleges.
Our parents are brave people. They are not only brave, they are also great: they have done all they can to help the Forest School by joining school activities as volunteers, donating school equipment, spreading education ideas as witnesses, and many other things.
We also have a study group help especially for Forest School parents. Twice a month they sit down with humanistic education parents. Twice a month they sit down with humanistic education theorists to discusses the ideas we are all practicing. There is also PTA meetings every month. Parents spend a lot of their time in the program. We should say that the parents are an integral part of the Forest School.
Right now the greatest difficulty we have to meet is the financial problem apart from government interference. Although there has been a great response and support from the intellectual level of the society; we still need more donations from enterprises.
However, all these difficulties can be conquered by the “humanists”. We believe that in a few years, the Forest School will stand still and firm, be recognized by the government, and the idea of humanistic education will be well known by the general population in Taiwan.
Recently, an integrated project is planned aiming to establish a “Humanistic Education Research Center” around the Forest School. We are going to integrate the resources and experiences accumulated by the Foundation and the Forest school to develop profound teaching methods and to provide teachers in Taiwan with a free space to participate in discussion and in-depth brainstorming. This is what the Forest School will put efforts on in the future and will contribute to the whole society.
This is a beautiful island, there are beautiful people, and beautiful “forests” will definitely grow. We will see all kinds of forest schools built by all kinds of people. That will be the day the liberation in education, and there fore the liberation of man and woman in our land.
Address: 7F, NO. 277, Sec. 3, Roosevelt Rd.,
Taipei, Taiwan, 106
Tel: 002-886-2-23661906 #305