Henk Oosterling’s lesson: Responsibility starts early

Further reflections by Alina


Next, the University of Applied Sciences, Rotterdam, offered us a lesson to remember. With hints of John Dewey, and a flavour of social pedagogy, Henk Oosterling’s TED talk about a more contemporary battle was simple but powerful. Using the example of London riots, the philosopher stressed the importance of up-bringing, of educating children to avoid violence, and on reshaping educational structure so that children learn to be responsible for their acts. Oosterling’ s answer to the social problems affecting Rotterdam, neighbourhood violence in particular,  was “skills city”.

He criticised how the educational system discourages children from being interested when natural curiosity is embedded in their nature. His concept of “Skills City” very much involved stimulating creativity and promoting craftsmanship in primary and secondary schools, to enable children to find a job and a meaning later in life. His 2008 pilot project, Physical Integrity, started in a primary school and was scientifically monitored. Interestingly, children had to have an experience of violence; they had to acknowledge that everything has been created by someone else and that all we do has an effect on someone else. The idea was to intervene on relationships, in different trajectories. In this respect, children were enabled to practice a martial art, to spend their energy proactively. Children were offered a healthy hot lunch, but also the possibility of growing and cooking their own food, and the understanding that food does not simply come from the shop.

Oosterling discussed an ecological circle: by practising a sport, by learning how to grow and cook their own food, by eating together and by learning philosophy intervention happens on social, physical and mental levels. These activities act not only as a basis for reflection but look at children’s interests on one of those skills. The project encountered barriers, such as parents’ concerns about children practising judo together given their age, sex and other differences. Once the school stopped the discussions and started the judo, there were no complaints, from anyone. The lesson to be learnt here is that by doing things in a transparent way, by enabling people to participate, all problems can be solved. Moreover, the parents who initially were concerned ended up participating and supporting this project themselves.

(sorry about the sound quality!)

The main benefit of “city skills” for children is that doing what they‘re good at and what they care about teaches meaning and responsibility. Also the children were connected to other schools, universities and professionals, working together and establishing relations that otherwise would not be possible. This project about material community showed that the sense of belonging gets stronger when children are taken seriously in what they are doing. They learn skills that become transferable; they develop socially, physically and emotionally, becoming very open. By teaching children skills and giving them the awareness of being part of a circle it allows them to cope with life much better and to belong. This is why, in Oosterling’s view, in terms of responsibility, change starts early.

To me, in a nutshell, Oosterling’s view on children’s education and upbringing, is just a reminder that in everyday life, we need the simple things again- firstly, learning how to be with each other. And, how sweet, to complete his circle, I read somewhere that his motto in life is “Every warrior is a giver”

giving

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