Sunday, November 24, 2013

André Stern : an infectious enthusiasm

I had the privilege to do a photoshoot with André Stern before one of his talks during his second Quebec tour. André never went to school. He is the son of Arno Stern, an educationalist and research worker, whose work is based on the respect of spontaneous disposition of the human being. André is a musician, composer, guitar maker, author and journalist. He is married and the father of a little boy. He likes to say that he is a 42 year old child.

What struck me the most on Friday night when I met him for the first time was that aura of joy that surrounded him, he emanated a peaceful confidence, a solidity we rarely see in people nowadays, a tangible humanity. I was deeply touched by the stories he shared of walking through Paris with his son, transforming the lives of others through this little person (you can hear some of those anecdotes in French here).
Like many others, when I read his book ...Et je ne suis jamais allé à l'école, I thought he was a particularly gifted child, that his story could hardly be the story of most unschooled kids. I was profoundly wrong. Yes, André was blessed to have parents that believed in following their children's enthusiasm (André remarks that they - just like him - were not against school, but for respecting the spontaneous disposition of the child). André says how trivial this really is. It is not exceptional. He is not exceptional. He has no personal merit (his words). He simply had the chance to grow and evolve in a context that allowed him to fully follow his enthusiasm and his natural disposition, without interference, without intervention, without expectations (André was not homeschooled, but unschooled).

His parents were simply curious to see what would be the natural next step in their children's development and not what pedagogical action they could take to bring them to the next step. Instead of relying on a method or a theory, they simply started from their children. It is a very simple attitude that shelters us from making mistakes

In his search for attachment, the child is ready to let go of his spontaneous disposition at any moment in the name of the preferences of his primary attachment person. And this is a huge responsibility because we can welcome that spontaneous disposition or show our preference that will quickly replace the natural disposition of the child. And this is why André's parents decided not to send him to school in an institution that has expectations and concerns if those expectations are not met.

André also says that his parents did not wake up one morning and saw that all the stars had aligned, that all the conditions had come together and decided not to send their children to school. It is rather the opposite. They decided to not send their children to school, then they invented the circumstances that made that possible.

Here is a 5 min talk on enthusiasm (in French). For the English readers, André talks in details about enthusiasm in a great exclusive interview he did with my friend Edith, here.  

Here is an excerpt of this interview on self-discipline:

Edith: People often wonder how to nurture their child's musical talent. They wonder if unschooling provides enough discipline and rigor to prepare for a professional career in music. What do you think about this?
Andre: I never start from me but always from the child. If parents listen to music, or if they play music, the child is steeped in music, but that does not mean he will play music. I would never try to win the child to one of my preferences. If it starts with him, then it's not necessary to try to nurture the child's interest; it just happens, by enthusiasm.
As for discipline, this question makes me laugh. Learning takes place because of the interest we have for things; self-discipline arises from the pleasure one has from doing these things. We believe, wrongly, that discipline is a framework imposed from the outside, that it requires a system that forces the child to do something, to practice. However, the natural discipline comes from the child, from within. It grows out of pleasure and curiosity.
And another excerpt on confidence:

Edith: Your book is also a call to freedom, and to confidence. You are addressing an adult audience, especially parents, perhaps also teenagers. Do you think parents are lacking confidence in their children?
Andre:This is what characterizes most parents. They believe that if they do not educate their children, they will become illiterate and asocial savages. Yet children are extremely competent. Children are born with the best, the most suitable, and most amazing of learning devices ever invented: play. From then on, there is only room for confidence. Ah! If only you knew how simple things are!
I am talking about extreme competence of the child, the learning capacity of the child, at five years old as well as at eighty-five years old, he has the same capacity of learning. The only thing that defines this enthusiasm is that it leads to competence and then to success. There is nothing more to worry about. I sometimes talk to people who have no qualifications, no diploma, and I tell them that qualifications are not needed but competence is, and that this is the result of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is free, available to everyone.
I am a practical illustration of the weight of confidence. We must tell this story, so that parents see how much we have to trust children.

André asks what would happen if we let a child play all his life without interrupting him? Would he become wild, illiterate, asocial, and all the fears that we have? His story proves that a child that is allowed to play for 42 years does not become any of those things (great interview on that topic here).

You can hear a very interesting talk on why there is no perfect school according to André. We don't need alternative school, we need an alternative to school, Jean-Pierre Lepris.

André is one of the protagonist of the movie Alphabet (only in German for now) by the austrian cineast Erwin Wagenhofer ("We feed the world" et "Let's make money"). He is also the initiator of the Écologie de l'éducation movement.

To quote André, when was the last time that you really got enthusiastic about something?


Joanna said...

c'est drôle... pr répodnre à la question posée à la fin... la dernière fois que j'ai eu de l'emthousiasme? c'était hier... au CA de l'école Imagine (école waldorf de val-david!)...
je me suis proposée au ca et c est très trippant. on a plein de projets magnifiques.

Catherine said...

Mais toi, t'es une boule d'enthousiasme!!

Anonymous said...

C'est aussi une question de personnalité. Certains ont le bonheur plus facile que d'autres.

Anonymous said...

Cet homme est tellement inspirant! Depuis que je le connais, je sur0utilise le mot "enthousiasme"! Hihi, c'est un élan qu'on devrait vivre plusieurs fois par jour, le monde est si enthousiasmant, justement!
Isabelle FR

renee @ FIMBY said...

What a fascinating individual and a great post. Thank you for sharing about this man's life. I feel the exact same way about self-discipline. I just don't understand when people think that unschoolers or self-directed learners can't learn self-discipline. Andre is exactly right. Self-discipline is not imposed it's chosen from within. I'm writing about that right now actually.

Catherine said...

I just read your post, Renee! You and I, we truly have our thoughts in line! He is such an incredible exemple of self-discipline chosen from within. Such a breeze of fresh air in the unschooling movement!

adu said...

oh, these photos are really beautiful. I came across your post while looking for something about Andre in English. I saw this movie Alphabet and I think it changed me..