Today, the 4th of May 2021, marks the fifty-first anniversary of the killing of four college students and the wounding of nine others by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University, an event recorded in the annals of infamy as “The Kent State Massacre.” This event, more than almost any of my life (with the exception of 9-11), has been indelibly burned in my memory since its occurrence. Certainly, this has something to do with it falling on the day after my eighth birthday and the confusion and fear it evoked in my tender psyche at the time. But it also has much to do with my subsequent thirty year career as a teacher and professor. Campus violence is a real thing in my imagination, as is the threat of military power. And when the two are one and the same, they represent the totality of a society’s moral and spiritual degradation.
My Waldorf teaching career ended before the days of “Active Shooter Drills” (which should be called “How to Make Sure Children Get on Antidepressants for Life” drills), but I remember my anxieties after a deranged milk truck driver murdered five students at an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania in October of 2006. I wondered what I would do if the same thing happened in my school. Should I start carrying a concealed weapon? How would I keep my students safe if that happened? I didn’t have an answer. There isn’t one.
I left Waldorf teaching a year later and became a full-time professor at a small (and now defunct) Catholic liberal arts college, though I had been teaching part-time there for about six years already. I continued to worry about these things happening, even at colleges, as that was becoming a regular occurrence in those settings as well. But, even more importantly, I began to consider the political climate and its increasing hostility and polarization, and wondered how the coercive arm of power might be leveraged on college and university populations.
Every semester since I’ve been teaching college, I have at some point in the semester played the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young angry lament “Ohio” for my students and showed them the horrific images of that gruesome moment of shame. I always tell them, “Don’t think it can’t happen again.” I’ve never shown this clip to students without weeping.
Of course, governments now have more subtle methods for engineering the consent of the governed than loaded rifles and tanks, particularly with college students who, by the time they reach the hallowed halls of academe, have been so traumatized and acclimatized to fear of saying the wrong thing, to manipulation and to propaganda that they are no longer able to feel free enough to think or even challenge the status quo. In my long experience in teaching, “critical thinking” is a value more honored in the user end agreement known as the syllabus than in the classroom. And the professoriate is to blame, as alternative ways of thinking are typically discouraged not only in the classroom but even more so in the faculty meeting. College and university faculty, by and large, are a very fearful breed having lived under the threat of punishment for dissenting opinions in both graduate school and the tenure track. These people understand the threat of being canceled. Higher education is dead, as it is no longer either higher or education.
And these things are not only a problem in state schools and universities. Not long after I published The Submerged Reality, which has a section on Rudolf Steiner and his contributions to Sophiology, Waldorf education among them, I started receiving emails from a good number of former Waldorf teachers who had left the profession when they saw a holistic education acquiescing to the educational zeitgeist that promoted all manner of medical interventions into compromising the Being of the Child. This, from an educational system once the refuge of people seeking a holistic, chemical-free alternative for their children. Depends on who’s paying full-tuition, I suppose. Nevertheless: game over.
For these and many other reasons, I have been mulling over the prospect of the return of the hedge school as a way to save the Idea of Education. At our farm at the moment, we are about to embark on a building project (a yurt) that will house such an endeavor in the near future, hopefully offering classes for other renegade homeschool families and courses for those interested in a deeper relationship to Sophiology and even biodynamic farming.
I have dedicated much of my adult life to the idea of an education that would contribute meaning and hope to this project of being human. I know I’m not the only one. But the institutions available to us owe their allegiance to forces other than the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. It’s time we reclaimed our souls. But expect pushback.
I remember about thirty-three or so years ago attending one of the Sunday feasts at the Hare Krishna temple at the Fisher Mansion in downtown Detroit. Before the feast, the Krishnas always had a short service followed by a sermon. The speaker that day was a man by the name of Ravindrasurhu (I hope I spelled that correctly!), whose “real” name was probably “Jeff Smith” or something. He had a shaved head, floppy ears, glasses, and a gregarious and almost goofy manner which made him very endearing. And he was also great storyteller (which means he was a great teacher—you can’t have one without the other). He told a story, most of the details of which I forget, in which he contrasted the devotees of Krishna and the evil powers trying to compromise and pollute them. Though I’m paraphrasing, what he said went something like this:
“The devotees, you know, they were pretty blissed out. They were there with God in the pasture, just into samhadi, dancing, you know. Stuff like that. But then here come the other guys, like Nazis, trying to take the devotees away from Krishna. But it’s impossible! As we like to say, ‘If God gives you a gift, there is no way you can refuse.’ The devotees had the gift, and the Nazis couldn’t take it away—even if they took everyone away.”
That’s how I envision the hedge school—and not just the one we’ll start here.
More to come.
Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Garden.