‘The Horizon’, Part 2, Chapter 9: about different ways of learning, the education system as a minefield, and biosophy — the wisdom of everyday life
“Biosophy is the ability to turn personal experiences into wisdom.”Veronika Bond
What is biosophy?
Let’s start with this little test:
(a) … an educational and philosophical movement founded by the Austrian engineer and philosopher Frederick Kettner.
(b) … a term coined by Ignaz Paul Vitalis Troxler, the founder of Switzerland.
(c) … a German health-food shop.
(d) … a fancy term for life wisdom.
To pass this test, just choose the right answer.
How does this make you feel?
Irritated, because you’ve never heard of biosophy in your life?
Delighted, because biosophy is one of your favourite topics, but you don’t often meet people who share this interest?
Don’t worry, you cannot fail this test, because all 4 answers are correct!
Here are the explanations:
(a) … an educational and philosophical movement founded by the Austrian engineer and philosopher Frederick Kettner. Kettner was an expert on the ethics of Spinoza and a pioneer in the education of ‘man’s deeper nature’. He founded the Spinoza Institute in America. Later the name was changed, and it is now called Biosophical Institute.
(b) … a term coined by the Swiss philosopher, doctor, and politician Ignaz Paul Vitalis Troxler. In Troxler’s understanding philosophy is the awareness of human nature. To capture this understanding he introduced the word — biosophy.
(c) … a German health-food shop. (In German a health-food shop is called ‘Bioladen’). Several health-food shops in Germany are called Biosophie, possibly because the owner is called Sophie, or the location is in a street called Sophienstraße, or the founder simply liked the name.
(d) … a fancy term for life wisdom. The word biosophy literally means wisdom of life — from Greek bios, meaning life and sofia, meaning wisdom.
In the context of the Solo System biosophy is the ability to turn personal experiences in everyday life into wisdom. Biosophy is one of our most useful life skills.
I suspect that all humans are born with a biosophical talent, yet the development of this talent is surprisingly rare. The development of our biosophical talent is dependent on our approach to learning in general, and our approach to learning is influenced by our early experiences in school.
Some people say, school is the happiest and most carefree time in life. — No it isn’t!
For some children school is the most stressful and traumatic time in their life.
Here are 3 contemporary stories of ‘normal’ school children.
“No one said anything, but several of the girls looked at me. I was the only girl with my face not covered. That’s when he lifted up a black pistol.”Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai was 12 years old when she was shot in the head on her way home from school. Her crime: She was going to school, and the Taliban in rural Pakistan wanted to ban school education for girls.
Moreover, Malala had the audacity to write a ‘diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl’ which had been published by the BBC since 2009.
On the 9th of October 2012 this life came to an abrupt end. In her book I am Malala she writes:
“Look, it’s one of those journalists coming to ask for an interview,’ said Moniba.
“Since I’d started speaking at events with my father to campaign for girls’ education and against those like the Taliban who want to hide us away, journalists often came, even foreigners, though not like this in the road.
“The man was wearing a peaked cap and had a handkerchief over his nose and mouth as if he had flu. He looked like a college student. Then he swung himself onto the tailboard at the back and leaned in right over us.
‘Who is Malala?’ he demanded.
“No one said anything, but several of the girls looked at me. I was the only girl with my face not covered.
“That’s when he lifted up a black pistol. I later learned it was a Colt 45. Some of the girls screamed. Moniba tells me I squeezed her hand.”
Malala survived the brutal attack. She became a campaigner for the right to education for girls all over the world.
In many countries in the world the right to learn and have a formal education — especially for girls and women — is considered a privilege. On the timeline of women’s education in Wikipedia you can see that the right for Western women to receive a formal education equal to men has only been gained less than 200 years ago.
Tilmann Holsten was 9 years old when he refused to go to school. He was suffering under the pressure of having to learn in ways which were incompatible with his nature and intelligence. In the small elementary school in Bavaria he was often bullied and beaten up. The thought of having to go to school made him feel sick.
Tilmann’s mother could do nothing but helplessly watch her happy little boy turn into a stressed out wreck. The doctors who examined him found ‘nothing wrong’ with him. Their diagnosis was: a bit ‘oversensitive’, ‘very intelligent’, and perhaps a little ‘precocious’.
Because teachers, headmaster, and authorities didn’t see any need for a change of school, Tilmann’s parents were put under extreme pressure to force their son to go to school — despite his increasing suffering. They received fines and were threatened with a withdrawal of child custody.
Their crime: They perceived the formal education available at the time as unsuitable for their son. They respected his wishes. They searched for alternatives to restore his wellbeing, and to continue his education.
In Germany children have to go to school by law, and their presence in school is enforced by law if they don’t turn up for a certain time. (These totalitarian German laws for school education were introduced in 1938).
After a very stressful 2 year battle with the authorities Tilmann Holsten was the first pupil in Germany who won a case of school-refusal. He wasn’t admitted to a social institution, and his parents didn’t have to pay the fines.
Antonin Stern is 6 years old. This means he has reached ‘school-age’, but his parents, André and Pauline, don’t see any reason to send him to school.
Antonin lives in France, where all children have the right to go to school, but there is no law threatening parents with fines and loss of custody if their children prefer to learn in a different way.
Antonin’s grandparents, Michelle and Arno Stern, have worked with many children for decades. They observed that children develop in a unique and individual way, if they are not squeezed into a formal education. Their son André, the father of Antonin, never went to school. He experienced a truly happy and carefree childhood.
André Stern is now an accomplished musician, composer, guitar builder, author, researcher, and sought after public speaker. He gives talks on the topic of education in several languages and calls himself ‘a 45 year old child’.
“For my parents it was clear, that education following a curriculum disrupts the natural curiosity, the natural rhythm of the child.”André Stern
Malala, Tilmann, Antonin, and André share a desire which is common to all humans. We all want to learn.
We are naturally curious to figure things out in which we are interested. In a supportive environment all children can learn whatever they need to learn, discover their gifts, unfold their potential, and grow into strong and healthy adults.
Receiving a formal school education cannot be taken for granted in large parts of the world. Many children and their parents are fighting for this opportunity, and it is denied to many.
At the same time a strange phenomenon is spreading in the so-called developed countries: Children are losing their innate ability to learn in the very institutions that are supposed to ‘help them learn’. School children are being prescribed antidepressants and other medications in frightening numbers — and the tendency is continuously rising.
Instead of ‘giving them an education’ — which is supposed to provide a good start in life — school is giving children huge amounts of pressure and stress, not to mention the dangerous side-effects of prescription drugs.
Going to school and getting a formal degree is no guarantee for having a ‘good life’. Antonin’s father André Stern says, “for my parents it was clear, that education following a curriculum disrupts the natural curiosity, the natural rhythm of the child.”
Many experts are of course aware of this dilemma. The German educational scientist Günther Dohmen has dedicated his adult life to studying the phenomenon of informal learning.
Born in 1926, Günther Dohmen was conscripted towards the end of World War II and became a soldier. He was wounded and ended up in captivity.
In his identity papers ‘medical student’ was stated as his profession, so he was commanded to look after fellow prisoners of war when they were ill. The problem was, he had not yet started his medical training.
The young Günther Dohmen looked after his patients as best as he could. Compassionate listening and placebos were often sufficient to give relief, and more serious cases could be sent to the hospital.
During this time he learned an important biosophical principle: When you are faced with an acute problem — and there are no degree courses or curricula — then you have to somehow gather the knowledge, you need to find the solution.
The experience of being thrown in at the deep end and being left to sink or swim taught him some valuable life lessons. It awakened his interest in informal learning.
After the war Günther Dohmen studied educational science, philosophy, and English literature — he never became a medical student. Later on, his post as a professor for adult education allowed him to experiment with informal ways of learning.
“You have to be able to learn constructively – the whole life long.”Günther Dohmen
There are many differences between formal and informal learning. Both have advantages and disadvantages, of course. Ideally we would develop our skills and talents through a combination of both.
We learn best when we figure things out for ourselves, while having a competent teacher in the background who can help and explain things when the need arises. Unfortunately our current formal education system often doesn’t have the capacity to provide this level of support for the individual student.
2 of the most fatal results of formal education in its current form are:
1 — We develop a resistance against learning anything new.
The process of learning is stored in our memory as an unpleasant event. We remember being restricted, punished, and ridiculed. We might have negative associations with exams, homework and peer pressure. The whole learning experience can be dominated by stress and fear of failure. Not surprisingly, we have no desire to go through the same unpleasant experience again!
2 — We stop trusting ourselves
We stop hearing our inner voices. Having spent our formative years being told what to do and suppressing our own instincts, we no longer know how we feel, or what our Body is trying to tell us, or what we want, or who we are…
In other words, the expressions of our own Consciousness are blocked by ‘fear of getting it wrong’. And because we no longer have access to our own indigenous sources of information, we cannot trust ourselves anymore.
These common ‘side-effects’ of formal education are fatal because human Consciousness needs to learn new things all the time. Subjective experiences need to be assimilated, digested and integrated continuously.
And integration is only possible, when we are able to transform our experiences into authentic personal wisdom. This is as vital for our Consciousness-organism, as food, water, air, and movement are for our physical organism.
Our subjective experiences and their assimilation nourish our Consciousness. They promote our personal evolution towards self-realisation.
If that sounds a little too ‘esoteric’ to you, here is another way of looking at it:
Günther Dohmen observed that the natural curiosity of a child begins to decline in the second grade. Therefore he asked himself whether it is really such a good idea to ‘learn by stocking up knowledge in advance’.
In our formal education system children are ‘stuffed full with knowledge’, which is supposed to serve them throughout adulthood. Imagine being stuffed with food throughout your childhood, until the age of 25 or so, and then having to draw from this supply of food for the rest of your life!
Children are overfed with answers to questions they haven’t yet had a chance to think about, let alone to ask. Could it be that this overfeeding smothers the natural curiosity of the child?
“This is the problem,” says Günther Dohmen. “In adult education we have to revive this (natural curiosity), because they have to become curious again, they have to want to know something.” As adults we have to be hungry again like the child who is ready and eager to discover the world.
And here is another reason why informal learning is becoming increasingly important for our future, if not essential for our survival: Our knowledge is getting out of date extremely quickly. Günther Dohmen points out, “what we have learned in school may no longer be applicable ten years later in our professional life.”
Therefore we have to adapt continuously. We have to know how to learn in order to be able to cope with life in the future. “This means you can no longer learn in advance, and then as an adult merely apply what you have learned. For the new situations there is no ready made knowledge. Such a thing doesn’t exist.”
Informal learning is not only relevant for subjects taught in school — like geometry, geography, and physics. Informal learning — or biosophy — is an extremely useful skill in any situation we don’t yet understand and handle competently, for example when we have difficulties in relationships, or struggle to find our way in life, or when faced with health issues or any other crisis.
Günther Domen says, “you have to be able to learn constructively – throughout life. Because the environment and challenges change too. That’s why I am always in favour of learning in real life situations.”
“The difference between school and life? In school you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”Tom Bodett
The difference between formal and informal learning lies not so much in the content, but above all in the approach to learning. We have lost touch with our natural ways of learning to such a degree that we even try to formalise things related to everyday life.
This is why books and courses that promise to teach us the ‘7 habits of highly successful people’, or the ‘8 secrets of a happy marriage’, or the ‘12 steps to healing yourself’ enjoy such great popularity. This short and sweet format is very tempting.
But they don’t teach us who we are. They don’t bring us closer to ourselves. They cannot really help us get what we really want. They don’t teach us how to create a world in which we are at home.
On our journey through life we meet new learning opportunities and/or challenges all the time. And every time you are presented with two options: the proven method or your own way.
1 — the proven method
You learn new things by following precise instructions of others who have already figured out and understood a certain topic. They have synthesised their knowledge into a teachable formula or strategy, and then offer it as a ‘proven method’.
When choosing this option you are realising what a teacher has already ‘chewed and rehashed’ before, and then spoon-feeds to her or his students. This means the students don’t have to think very much for themselves.
This can have practical advantages, since this option may lead quickly to the desired results — and best of all, you can avoid making mistakes! — or so it seems, …
… until you find yourself looking for a refill. You’ll discover that the dose of ‘commercially processed wisdom’ you received doesn’t have a lasting nutritional value.
2 — your own way
You learn new things by figuring them out for yourself. This option may take a little longer — and you’ll probably fail a few times — but you’ll learn something original, unique, and genuinely new.
The ‘proven method’ is comparable with processed food. It looks good and clean, and it comes in a neat package, but the knowledge contained in it is never as fresh or nutritious as ‘genuine personal wisdom directly from the source’.
By choosing your ‘own way’ you are not only realising something by yourself and in your own way, you are also sponsoring your own self-realisation.
Formal learning is very useful and effective when you want to acquire established knowledge in relation to a specific topic to achieve a predictable result.
Informal learning is indispensable and vital when life throws unexpected challenges at you. What you need to learn seems overwhelming, the issue is unspecific, and the outcome is unknown.
Of course there are also external differences between formal and informal education. The American radio host Tom Bodett once captured it in this quote: “The difference between school and life? In school you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”
Biosophy can be trained only through informal learning in real life situations. During those learning phases we can greatly benefit from the support of a teacher or mentor who is intimately familiar with this type of learning.
Biosophical learning — or finding your own way — may be the only option when you want to learn something new, and when formal training is not available. This means you have to become your own teacher or mentor.
Biosophical learning is an important life skill. In some situations it can even save your life. We have already come across some illustrations of biosophical learning in the fates of the people in Part 1 of this book. Two further great examples are the life stories of two people we’ll meet in the next chapter.
The ability to harvest wisdom in everyday life from your own subjective experience can help you not only to heal your own suffering. This practical form of everyday biosophy also enables you to establish a good and reliable connection with the inner source which provides you with the fuel and resources you need to create the world you want to live in.
© Veronika Bond, 2016
This article is a draft of the ninth chapter of The Horizon, volume 2 of The Solo System.
It is complemented by an e-letter, containing additional background information about the progress of the book and the creative process.
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