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One-Room School and Reclaiming Economic Sovereignty

By       Message Cormac Russell       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   3 comments

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By Cormac Russell, John McKnight and Peter Block

What does a one-room schoolhouse in Michigan have to do with Greece, Europe, Democracy and the now floundering economic globalization experiment?

(Image by Cormac Russell, John McKnight and Peter Block)   Details   DMCA

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There is now every possibility that the ECB (largely influenced by Germany) will move to pull Emergency Liquidity Assistance that is currently keeping the banks from going under. Yet, there is every reason to be hopeful that that will not happen this time; for example, Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, has called for debt forgiveness for Greece, warning that not to do so runs the risk of another "lost decade" for the EU. He's comment, though veiled, was clearly directed at the German drive towards austerity.

History is often a useful arbitrator of what's possible; for the many who imagine that debt forgiveness simply is not possible, it's worth remembering what happened sixty-one ago: in 1953 in London an agreement was reached to cancel half of Germany's post-WWII debt. Germany's creditors included Greece, who eagerly participated in the deal to reduce Germany's debt by 50% not just to keep Germany on side to defend against impending Communism, but also because Greece, along with other countries, recognized that repressive debt serves no human or just cause.

Forgiveness was instated swiftly, to prevent Germany falling into crisis, and contained little reference to their part in the War. It was a deal among equals, not based on sanctions and even including a clause that enabled West Germany to pay for debts out of its trade surplus; repayments were limited to 3% of export earnings every year. We have short memories when we are the creditor.

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The Larger Point

Philosopher and social critic Ivan Illich said of economics that it

"assumes scarcity. Therefore, it deals with values and calculations. It cannot seek the good that fits a specific person within a human condition. Where scarcity rules, ethics is reduced to numbers and utility. Further, the person engaged in the manipulation of mathematical formulas loses his ear for ethical nuance; one becomes morally deaf.*

This sheds significant light on why the moral rightness of debt forgiveness is eclipsed by the economic rightness of austerity. The economic model is morally bankrupt. But a new model is springing up phoenix-like from the ashes of austerity. Citizens are organizing bottom up what can be best described as an alternative economy, a gift economy.

Out-of-work professionals and nonprofessionals alike are mobilizing to connect and make productive their local assets. They have cut out the middle-man and are starting where they are and using what they have to re-build their communities. This bottom-up approach is redefining democracy, rejecting representative government centric politics for a populist citizen-centered one. There is a belief now among citizens in the streets of Greece that if they don't rebuild their country no one else will. Their message to the Troika and other global interests is very clear: back off and let us get on with it.

More than 400 citizen-run groups -- health-care clinics, food security coops, "without middlemen" distribution networks for fresh produce, legal aid hubs, education classes have emerged in response to the austerity measures, and the movement has more than doubled in size in the past three years, according to Jon Henly reporting in The Guardian." That's because, says Christos Giovanopoulos of Solidarity for All, which provides logistical and administrative support to the movement, "[P]olitics comes down to individual people's stories. Does this family have enough to eat? Has this child got the right book he needs for school? Are this couple about to be evicted? " It's kind of a whole new model, actually. And it's working."

Meanwhile, Back in Michigan

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It's the same story being played out in Strange, Michigan, where Brenda Hydon teaches 18 students, ages 5 to 12, in a one-room schoolhouse."- There you see one teacher and a teacher aide demonstrating the possibilities of a learning site built on a community rather than a corporate model. If not new, a whole different model. And it's working.

The Strange School has operated in its current building since 1879, but its history and longevity are not the story here. What's important is that the teacher teaches, the older kids teach the younger, and the younger ones learn at their own pace by listening in. What's more, the arts of community are learned by in-school experience, the kids learn to be the productive keepers of a public place and the huge diversion from learning that is competitive sports is distanced.

And what does the Strange School have to do with Greece, Europe, and Democracy? What we have there is no nostalgic look in the rearview mirror, the practice of elementary education as some throwback to the past. Just like Solidarity for All in Greece, the school is an image of what's in store: a future where local citizens rely on one another to cope with the limits of the industrial model for everything, including the classroom.

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Cormac is Managing Director of Nurture Development and a faculty member of the Asset Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University, Chicago. He has trained Communities, Agencies, NGOs and Governments in ABCD and other strengths (more...)

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One-Room School and Reclaiming Economic Sovereignty