Community involvement by the SES?

Discussion of the children's schools in the UK.
Goblinboy
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Community involvement by the SES?

Postby Goblinboy » Mon Jul 12, 2004 5:24 am

Thanks for the interesting site Mike. A quick question for list members:

Does the SES get involved in good works beyond its boundaries?

One aspect of the SES, or School of Philosophy {SOP} here in Australia, that I have wondered about for some time is the involvement of the SOP in the community beyond the boundaries of its membership. In the 15 or so years since becoming aware of the SOP, I haven’t observed participation by the SOP in charitable projects or other initiatives that serve others, with the exception of SOP members providing a day’s labour to help build a playground in a public park in my city about ten years ago.

The service ethos that prevailed in the language and actions of the SOP participants I knew seemed internally focussed – there didn’t seem to be a lot of commitment to service for the non-SOP world. Do you know otherwise?

TB

Postby TB » Mon Jul 12, 2004 9:23 am

Goblinboy,
My experience of the SES/SoP in South Africa, is that it does not perform charitable works outside of their walls.
Do you expect them to be provide charitable work to the community outside their members? The work that is done on their premises, maintenance etc, in spite of providing low cost upkeep of premises is done specifically as part of the system to achieve self actualisation. The outcomes are incidental and by definition should not be sought. Doing the work with no attachment and in the present is the way it is taught.

They do not pretend or define themselves as a chartiable organisation like Lions or Rotary.

The meditation practice is held to benefit the larger community, but this, if it does work, is unlikely to get them many votes.

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Re: Community involvement by the SES?

Postby Abel Holzing » Mon Jul 12, 2004 12:07 pm

Goblinboy wrote:Does the SES get involved in good works beyond its boundaries? The service ethos that prevailed in the language and actions of the SOP participants I knew seemed internally focussed ? there didn?t seem to be a lot of commitment to service for the non-SOP world.

View from London:
There is certainly a lot of talk of "serving the community"; for some reason they do not want to do this the way a conventional charity would do it, but - as they might say - by "offering the community what it needs most, in the way it can be provided best". Examples are:
    The day schools' remit is to not only offer places to children of SES members, but to "the community" at large (I read somewhere that now only about 17% of pupils at the Twickenham day school just outside London are children of SES members - in the early pioneering days the number used to be much, much higher).
    The annual Art in Action art & craft fair in Waterperry is also meant to be "a service to the community", and most visitors are members of the general public.
    This year's Art in Essence art exhibition (at the school's Mandeville Place headoffice, starting this week) is also a public event, again understood as a "service to the community".
    People in the school are encouraged to "serve the community in every way they can", by which I think they mean that at home, at their place of work, etc they should be guided by "what is best for the community" rather than "what is best for me".
I am also vaguely aware that the day schools here in London sponsor charitable events organised by external charities, through collections, fun runs, that kind of thing - one I remember had something to do with rebuilding Soweto, another one was for some environmental project, and there have been others (but I don't remember the details).
So I don't think you can say they are inward-looking, but they certainly have their unique way of "serving the outside world", if that is what you want to call it.

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Postby Goblinboy » Tue Jul 13, 2004 12:03 am

Thanks Abel and TB.

As a clarification, I'm still unclear about what the SOP means when it speaks of "service." The website of one Australian SOP school claims that

Today, more than ever, the new generation needs to discover that fulfilment comes with true service
http://www.erasmus.vic.edu.au/virtue.html

The website doesn't go on to describe what the nature of "true service" is, or why the new generation needs to discover it.

I'm asking because friends are planning to send their daughter to a SOP primary school, and I'm trying to gain better insight into the SOP's principles and practices.

My experience of the SOP has been through my relatives' long-term participation in the organisation and a relationship with a member of the school. A lot of the espoused principles seem commendable, yet their practice concerns me at times. The “undiscussability” of the School’s material with outsiders was of similar concern.

For example, I have spent a lot of time around SOP members, and whenever the question of "what is the school about" arose, after citing nebulous responses along the lines of the press advertisements (“the love of wisdom”, etc) they frequently resorted to the response "come along and find out". This struck me as odd, as it seemed to me the SOP offered an amalgam of material readily available elsewhere – a mix of Vedic beliefs and practices, coupled with an Ouspensky / Gurdijieffian system of “work”, interpreted through what appeared to what appeared to be an English, possibly Edwardian worldview. Quite easy to describe and discuss. A lot of the SOP members either didn’t seem to appreciate the sources of their beliefs, or preferred not to articulate them to non-SOP people.
Last edited by Goblinboy on Sun Nov 28, 2010 10:35 pm, edited 2 times in total.

TB

Postby TB » Tue Jul 13, 2004 4:09 am

Hi Goblinboy,

The defined view of 'service' is of 'love made manifest'. In this, whatever one does as long as you do not try and claim the outcome at any level, ego etc, meaning it is done almost in an indifferent way, and done at the same time with attention, one should experience improved outcomes at all levels. The work itself is not the issue it is the attitude with which it is performed.

It is possible that this concept does not mean very much to someone who has not spent signifcant time working through this, and that brings me to your second point.

People within the school are unwilling to discuss their activities, due for the most part, to the fact that people regard philosophy as an intellectual pursuit as opposed to a practical one. I liken it to someone trying to learn how to play a sport from theory only, or explaining cold or color to someone without direct experience. The theory in these examples needs the context of practical application. In my experience with the school, verbal debate over something that is experiental of itself, might actually become misleading. Hence their advice to come and try. Meditation is similar, one tutor described it as like 'eating guavas', meaning the only way to know what it is like is to do it.

Some elite athlete trainers use a similar approach. This is to stay focussed 'in the moment' when in practice, to be very aware of your senses when feet are pounding on the road, or skis cutting the snow. Studies have shown that the more your senses are tuned to the matter at hand the better the outcomes. This might seem a little off the track, however my own experience of doing mundane chores at the school, or even at home, with this attitude, produced good results as well as being energising.

The school is a lifestyle choice, much the same as choosing between active or sedentary lifestyles, organic or synthetic foods, entreprenuer or employee. If you have not been there, discussion about it is not very effective in gaining understanding.

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Postby a different guest » Tue Jul 13, 2004 8:06 am

Goblinboy - i TOO came across these boards being a non-member of the SOP but having family members who are. .

I have checked into the schools they run as best I can over the net - and am not particularly impressed. The teaching methods for the australian primary schools seem quite old fashioned (a lot of rote learning) and the curriculum is very narrow. Being something of a feminist, I find their notions about gender quite abhorant. The girls and boys are taught separately, and they also play different (gendered) sport.

There WAS an aussie poster here called Bella - who although a member seemed to have her feet firmly planted on the ground. Shame the same could not be said about my family members. From what I know they take the whole thing very seriously -
Last edited by a different guest on Fri Feb 18, 2005 12:13 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Goblinboy » Tue Jul 13, 2004 11:29 am

Thanks TB. A couple of reflections on your post:

It is possible that this concept does not mean very much to someone who has not spent signifcant time working through this,


That seems possible, but begs the question why publish material with little meaning to the general public as promotional literature for the school? Particularly as the material appears intended for a general non-SOP audience. It seems likely to breed confusion - as it did in my case. I'm still at a loss to understand why "now, more than ever, the new generation needs to discover that fulfilment comes from true service". Without further information, it implies to this reader a hankering or nostaligia for the values of some former era. It would seem worthwhile taking the effort to articulate the essentials of the concept at least. Be brave – speak from the heart – it’s worth the risk. I admire organisations and individuals with the courage to be plain about what they believe in.

People within the school are unwilling to discuss their activities, due for the most part, to the fact that people regard philosophy as an intellectual pursuit as opposed to a practical one. I liken it to someone trying to learn how to play a sport from theory only, or explaining cold or color to someone without direct experience.


Rather a broad brush generalisation - not sure if it stands up to scrutiny. Surely practical pursuits, however arcane, lend themselves to be discussed, if nothing else because their practical nature makes them observable. To extend your sporting metaphor - I expect to be briefed on the conduct and rules of a game before I play it. Put me on a cricket field with no idea of what’s going means that someone’s going to get hurt.

Moreover, in my experience the study of philosophy is rooted in experience, not abstraction. Any pursuit of truth must involve some experiential component, whether it’s Decartes on the nature of perception or Plato on the existence of God. These guys tried things out to see what worked for them.


The school is a lifestyle choice, , much the same as choosing between active or sedentary lifestyles, organic or synthetic foods, entreprenuer or employee. If you have not been there, discussion about it is not very effective in gaining understanding.


Agree with you, TB. I choose to have an active lifestyle, because I have excellent, freely available evidence that it contributes to my well being. Similarly I have reasonable information about the pros and cons of the foods available to me. But I would not follow a diet that a number of people firmly advocated, if they could not explain the constituants of the diet, how it supposedly benefited me and what alternatives were available. So when it comes to the shool’s claims, I’m still in the dark about “why now, more than ever, the new generation” needs anything, when it’s not supported by some practical examples. Empty nostrums do not merit consideration – otherwise they’re perhaps better classed as beliefs.

Regards,

G

TB

Postby TB » Tue Jul 13, 2004 2:17 pm

Hi Goblinboy,

Thanks for your response, I find this sort of debate that you and I are having on these forums very valuable, I hope you are finding my comments as thought provoking as I find your responses. I find it difficult, when expressing myself in words, to convey exactly what I mean, however I shall do my best.

The reason why they offer information to the general public is to see if it strikes a chord with anyone. Their premise is that some people will make a connection with questions they might have about the meaning of life, philosophy sounds cool, meditation gets a better press than it did some decades back in the west, and so on. So they pay their money and they try out. If it clicks they have expanded their membership, if not, they advertise next term.
The rationale (in my opinion) is that if it does not click then those people are either not ready now or never will be. I am aware that this sounds elitist and bad in some way, but set this aside and consider that people have different needs for different stages of life, if we can suspend a value judgements, it means that when I was single, 25 yrs old with no kids, rugby was a sporting choice for me. Now in my forties tai chi makes more sense. If we judge one as better than another without a context we can lose sight of how appropriate each might be for the circumstances.

The comment about the about the new generation needing this now more than before links back to the view held in the school that human society is currently in decline. Applying true service blah blah... will help redress some of the angst this will cause. I am not making a case for this, just stating my understanding of their system.

I agree with your comment that sports needs rules and some theory of techniques applied, however noone that has read every book on soccer will approach the knowledge gained by another who has not only read the rule book but actually plays the game. It was not my intention to imply that practical knowledge and theory are mutually exclusive.

The essence of practical philosophy as taught by the school is based upon using our 5 senses. Train your hearing, touch, taste etc and you increase your odds of seeing reality as it really is. Much philosophy teaching revolves around the history and theory about a meaning to life, hence my analogy with sport. Some sport commentator can rattle off the plays for the past century, without being able to kick a ball. A brilliant, illiterate soccer player might have no idea of the game thoery at all, he is just good at doing it.

I will take logical issue with your choice of diet as an example. In fact you began life on a diet about which you had no information whatsoever. It is most likely you gained a very narrow understanding of right and wrong aspects of that diet as you matured, even variances to how you mixed fat with protien you will find that over time experts argue both sides very convincingly. I would say that the only real evidence I have about what diet does to my body comes from having eaten it. I cannot tell you exactly what constituents there are in dairy products, in spite of quite extensive reading, but I can tell you that it does not work with my body. As for exercise, even judicious practice is harmful for people who suffer from exercise induced anaphylaxis.

Most people in the school hold the 'belief' that perhaps now is a good time to follow the teachings of the school. They do so because they have been told this by the school leaders, not because they have experienced this for themselves. What they have experienced is probably some improvement in their clarity of thought and action and knowledge of themselves and life through the school, and since they were told these things would happen, they buy into other claims. I am not judging this aspect, simply that social groups tend to mask individual views, and 'yes persons' make more stable groups than rebels.

What do I think? I have to admit to thinking the democratic process and freewilled autonomous individuality is all smoke and mirrors. Most things I either know of or think have been passed on by one social mechanism or another, so it is belief all the way for me. Would it be such a bad thing if the younger generation joined the SoP instead of the bookclub, or fad diet 101, or TV addicts annonymous? My jury's still out on this.

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Postby Goblinboy » Wed Jul 14, 2004 12:00 am

Different Guest,

Good to hear from you. I'd scanned your correspondence with Bella concerning your family members? involvement in the SOP before my first post, and was moved by it.

I feel most strongly for your relatives? children. I guess it?s concern for children that?s prompted my exploration of these issues ? as a parent of young children, god parent and having experience with Child Protection work.

From what has been posted on this forum, rigid enforcement of the SOP?s apparent principles concerning child rearing (diet, discipline, emotional distance, structured learning, limited sleep, etc) runs contrary to the best available (and comprehensively researched) advice on the development of children. And if I remember correctly, Shantananda Saraswati apparently advised the SES not to apply the principles to children (wish I could find the source of that).

In the hands of someone like Bella (or how she appears to be), children are probably safe. But in the hands of people without her apparent sense of self knowledge, self esteem and grounded values, children may well be at risk. There are enough horror stories from the UK posted here already.

Bella and your family members seem to represent two distinct behavioural types in the people I have encountered from the SOP (would prefer not to generalise, but time?s short). I found a minor proportion of the SOP members had the gumption to be open to discussing the SOP?s practices, and were able to critically evaluate them, while still valuing and enjoying full participation in the School. They would discriminate between what worked for them and what didn?t ? they appeared to use principles as a guiding compass, rather than rules or recipes. But it isn?t always comfortable for them. Then there were those who appeared to be more immersed in the form, at the expense of its content ? following the rules with as much fidelity as they could muster. These people seemed hungry to follow, to belong, to comply, often at the expense of their relationships and health. And that?s what struck me about so many SOP members ? they seemed to have a longing for affiliation and answers, and the SOP provided them.

I find it difficult to reach conclusions about schools from promotional literature ? schools are complex things and the espoused approach is so often different from the approach in practice, as is the case in so many organisations. I agree that the curriculum seems narrow, the gender issues are concerning and the apparent underlying nostalgia for practices from years ago is questionable. I?m always perplexed by the apparent yearning for the values of former times. A lot of SOP?s practices (and their ideas on what constitutes fine culture) seem to be informed by Victorian or Edwardian norms ? times when for the majority, child abuse and neglect were rife, social inequities were appalling, and education was, at best, mechanical. As the historian Greg Dening puts it, attempts to re-enact the past are inevitably ?the present in funny dress?.

I do hope the situation improves with your relatives.

Regards,

G
Last edited by Goblinboy on Fri Feb 17, 2006 6:26 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby Goblinboy » Wed Jul 14, 2004 2:30 am

Thanks TB. I appreciate the candour.

Liked your example re the illiterate soccer player. I believe that sport and other physical experience offers some useful illustrations of the value of some principles that the SOP endorses, as you have illustrated in previous posts. The stillness of mind required to perform well in any activity seems pretty evident, and not just at an elite level. I can readily identify with what I suspect is the concept of dropping the ego defences to perform well, whether it’s playing sport (emptying the mind at critical moments does wonders, as you may have experienced on the rugby field), performing on stage, speaking in public, drawing, etc.

However, I haven’t needed the SOP to find this – it’s simply the product of experience, practice, study and reflection. I’m not claiming to have any particular talents, but have a preference for questioning myself and others. I haven’t observed this trait in many SOP members.

Most people in the school hold the 'belief' that perhaps now is a good time to follow the teachings of the school. They do so because they have been told this by the school leaders, not because they have experienced this for themselves. What they have experienced is probably some improvement in their clarity of thought and action and knowledge of themselves and life through the school, and since they were told these things would happen, they buy into other claims. I am not judging this aspect, simply that social groups tend to mask individual views, and 'yes persons' make more stable groups than rebels.


This observation resonates with my experience of many SOP members.

I have to admit to thinking the democratic process and freewilled autonomous individuality is all smoke and mirrors. Most things I either know of or think have been passed on by one social mechanism or another, so it is belief all the way for me.


Hmm. This is sounding more like existentialism than SOP! ;-)

Would it be such a bad thing if the younger generation joined the SoP instead of the bookclub, or fad diet 101, or TV addicts annonymous? My jury's still out on this.


I don’t think it matters what they join. A book club can be enlightening or stultifying, nurturing or destroying – as can diets and even the SOP. I suspect if would be a good thing if we taught young people how to learn – how to evaluate evidence, know and respect themselves - they’ll be able to work it out for themselves.

TB

Postby TB » Wed Jul 14, 2004 9:25 am

Hi Goblinboy,

Thanks for your kind words and response. I would like to add my view on your response to 'a Different Guest'. I agree that Bella embodies an enviable approach toward the SoP that provides her some autonomy. There are other people that seem susceptible to getting pushed around and accept things that compromise their mental and emotional integrity. This is common in any social group, and like those other groups, SoP have internal politics around control and status. Even assuming that SoP has access to a source of a 'realised being' - the Shankacharya - most members, however well intentioned, are not infallible nor free of ego, and will jockey for personal freedom of action, usually at the expense of others. A Different Guest is understandably concerned about her relatives' kids and you for your godchild, just as I would be. Whatever path we steer young minds toward we should be full of care, but for which options are there no pitfalls? I think the moral behaviour of SoP and most mainstream religions are preferable to many spiritual alternatives, and certainly peer pressure at the shopping malls. Each of them try to mould followers in their image, so choose an organisation whose fundamental principles are congruent with your own. The person's personality to be sheep or shepherd will take care of the rest. From my own experience in SoP, I can vouch for their noble ideals that I had no issues aspiring to, in spite of other members/leaders who were sure they knew better than I what my family needed. This caused contention and, as my family expanded, limited time resources meant one had to go, so I left. SoP is not for the half hearted, members either throw in their lot and run with the pack, or draw clear lines and prepare to defend them.

I strongly agree with your point that in order to embody various virtues, SoP is not mandatory, as long as we are clear on what these are, we stand a chance of helping natural selection. Pardon my soppy soul, I am uplifted by these words from Kahlil Gibran

"Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness; For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable."

P.S. I have had some of my views on this forum referred to as 'post modernist', now 'existentialist', so to keep all parties happy with these labels, I will coin my own to hide behind - starting with 'modernist existentialist poster', which can be shortened to 'modexpo'. I will incorporate all future additions into this name, if all goes well I might get a bunch of followers and show them how to lead full and meaningful lives. Just sign on the dotty lion.

Rachael

Postby Rachael » Thu Jul 15, 2004 11:29 pm

I am interested in the discussion on children. I brought up my family under the influence of the SES ( I was a member for many years) and I feel it was a mixed blessing. On the negative side I deeply regret using corporal punishment and I think I was too strict. I also regret putting the SES before my family. I missed important events in my children's lives to attend SES duties and I look back with sadness now. On the positive side, I think the SES practices gave me a certain stability. I don't have a problem with many of the practices such as living in the present and even the meditation which some people on this forum seem to object to. To me the biggest problem with the SES was the way they would try to take over people's lives and the emotional bullying that went on.

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Postby a different guest » Fri Jul 16, 2004 12:50 am

perhaps WITHOUT the SES taking up so much of your life and the emotional bullying you would not have "needed" something outside yourself to provide "stability". In other words the SES caused the problem you needed the SES for.

So tell me, do they actually encourage corperal punishment? And what sort of organisation takes you away from important events in your children's lives. Not a benelovent one anyways.

TB

Postby TB » Fri Jul 16, 2004 1:11 am

Hi Rachael,

Why do you regret using corporal punishment with your kids and what do you mean by being too strict?

Was the strictness and CP you mentioned, done because of the SES influence over you, and regret comes as it was something you would not otherwise have chosen? Or do you feel that in themselves they are not effective means to produce better adjusted children, or has it reduced you or your standards in some way?

There have been a lot of postings on this site discussing the abuse students suffered in some of the SES initiated schools and the subsequent harm this has caused. You mention emotional bullying and attempts to control and direct members behaviour. However bullying seems pervasive across many or most school systems (at least in the west, I cannot speak for traditional eastern cultures). It also occurs in business, the military, sports clubs, social clubs and so on. Although western systems have moved away from physical evidence of bullying and become more subtle but not necessarily any less, just less obvious. The SES does not have a monopoly on bullying behaviour, but it might do it in a specific way because of its teachings, or being an organisation with high ideals makes it harder to tolerate.

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Postby Goblinboy » Fri Jul 16, 2004 3:44 am

Hi Rachel,

On the negative side I deeply regret using corporal punishment and I think I was too strict. I also regret putting the SES before my family. I missed important events in my children's lives to attend SES duties and I look back with sadness now.


Your post captures the polarised views experienced by many SOP members that I have encountered report - TB's own experiences as described in this thread come to mind.

From my own experience in SoP, I can vouch for their noble ideals that I had no issues aspiring to, in spite of other members/leaders who were sure they knew better than I what my family needed. This caused contention and, as my family expanded, limited time resources meant one had to go, so I left. SoP is not for the half hearted, members either throw in their lot and run with the pack, or draw clear lines and prepare to defend them.


Often it's not the principles that are the problem, it's the practice of the principles.

And yes, Different Guest, I believe that the SOP does advocate corporal punishment. I have first hand experience of observing a small child getting whacked by SOP parents, while her parents told me with evident satisfaction how effective this was in curbing abberant behaviour - behaviour that appeared to stem from the child being chronically sleep deprived, due to the parent's involvement in SOP and their beliefs about how much sleep a child needed.

As a parent , I remain appalled. I couldn't believe that such otherwise sensible people, who obviously loved their child, could get involved in a such a cycle of systemic abuse. I'm also watching a fathers of a young boy caught up in the SOP's activities spending little or no time with his child, and absolving himself of responsibilities towards his boy by saying that it's the woman's role.

While I tend to find some truth in the Khalil Ghibrain quote that TB reminded us of, there's a difference between acknowledging that you don't own your children, and neglect.

I see that the Sydney SOP web site is advertising courses titled "The Art of Parenting". I'd be interested to know more.
Last edited by Goblinboy on Sun Oct 03, 2004 11:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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