Forest Sangha Newsletter April 1995

Practice as Process; Ajahn Pasanno
Why go to a monastery; Sister Candasiri
Fantasia: The Nature of Perception; Venerable Sunyato
The Dhamma School
Sutta Class: Immorality, Confession & Forgiveness; Venerable Varado
A Matter of Tradition; Ajahn Sucitto

Signs of Change:


The Dhamma School

The Dhamma School opened in Brighton last September, in the ground floor of a house with one teacher and four young pupils.This year, the number of pupils doubled and various adults offered their help with administrative and teaching duties.

The Dhamma School in Brighton has completed its first term with visible joy and progress. The end of term was celebrated with an invitation for parents, governors, and trustees to join the children for an hour of drama, music, dance and tea (we have very small premises that were filled to capacity!) This was not so much a performance as an opportunity to kick off our shoes and join in. That's the way we try to work at the school. The teachers are there not to perform or to preach, but to provide a wholesome environment for the children to explore and develop the skills they realise are valuable. How?

Since we opened in September with four pupils between 4 and 6 years old I have received numerous letters from trainee teachers and students of theology, institutions dealing with children with special learning difficulties, and those trying to plan the 'spiritual, moral, and cultural development' of pupils in state schools. When people ask,"What is Buddhist education?" or "How does it differ from state or alternative independent schools?" I feel I don't have any answer, other than we are in the process of finding out. This open approach is the first difference I detect being based on mindfulness, awareness of responding to the moment, rather than speculation, or defence of a theory conceived in other circumstances. Realising the interconnectedness and interdependence of all things, the way that Buddhist Education grows in the Western world will be a result of a multitude of different influences from teachers, pupils, parents, Dhamma practitioners, U.K. politics, local communities, and financial imperatives. etc. It is not the intention of the Trust or teachers at this time to propose any more than respect for the five precepts, and direct personal experiance of the teachings of the Buddha and other enlightened beings.

Learning is an internal process and requires active participation by the learner not coercion from the teacher.

As well as the need for safety and security, all children have a thirst for new experiences. They appreciate the way that books can expand those experiences beyond the immediate time and place and are keen to learn to read to avail themselves of that facility. All four children who started in September have made very good progress in this area because we have the opportunity in a small class to give them individual attention, and the flexibility to change their classroom activities to take advantage of those moments when their interest is high. We read books that are fun, books that are sad, books about familiar situations and those that fly off into mysterious imaginary worlds. We read together and alone, we listen to an adult and we listen to each other. We visit the library, practise with structured schemes, and make our own books. We have read such things as the Jataka Tales, dealing with the Buddhas previous lives, and Pam Ayres' poetry. We have used reference books on clothes from different parts of the world, and picture dictionaries in French and English. We play lotto, flash card games, and build phonic charts, ... and all that accounts for no more than five percent of our time. Literacy and numeracy are cornerstones of education but there id lots of space left to go swimming, singing, building, and talking to each other.
At the beginning of the day we have some time together to hear how we are all feeling, what has been happening to us, and what we are hoping to do during the coming day. We try to incorporate everyone's wishes, whether for a familiar game, or something new. I, as teacher and guide, put in my own suggestions for activities along with all the others. So far my offerings have been happily taken up by the children. If the activities become dull, uncomfortable or irrelevant I would immediately have to revise my style of lesson because the children would reject them. Learning is an internal process and requires active participation by the learner not coercion from the teacher. The children are beginning to understand that we can't choose to go to our farm plot on Monday if the transport has been arranged for Thursday, and that beautiful letters result from regular practice. I don't need to tell them; they can see it for themselves. Indeed they often ask for structured work.
The child-centered approach of the 1960's, based largely on John Dewey's philosophy (1859-1952) of open-mindedness, pragmatism and dialectic, has fallen from favour in this current political climate. This is because it often lacks the academic rigor and the reflective discipline of classroom practice, but recognition of the needs of the child does not automatically lead to academic incompetence. When those needs are balanced with recognition of the skills the emergent adult will eventually live by, this global family classroom activity becomes an ongoing reflection on the way things are both internally and externally. Writing a regular reflection on the relationship between the Buddha-Dhamma and the actual classroom situations each week is just one way in which we attempt to stay open to the changing trends in educational theory, while remaining grounded in conventional reality. Clearly, parents appreciate the benefits of this approach because our small school is now full to capacity (eight pupils, and seven on the waiting list) and we are already preparing to move to larger premises with room for fifty pupils.

The Dhamma School, 20 Queens Park Rise, Brighton, BN2 2NF. Tel: 01273 684-760