TEF – Copenhagen, Denmark 2014

Hans Christian Anderson’s bronzed Little Mermaid sits in Copenhagen’s dramatic and historic harbor, looking beautiful and a little sad. The water lapping at her human knees speaks of her lost dream to become an immortal soul, lost to her when her prince mistakenly loves another as the one who saved him rather than the Little Mermaid who had in fact done so. For this she had given her life in the sea and the freedom of her childhood and indeed her own voice, to gain his love and an immortal soul, forever. But as her prince marries, she faces her own death and the failure of all her dreams.  For she had been foretold by the Seawitch who had given her legs to join humans on land in return for the Little Mermaid’s beautiful singing voice, that it was only through his human love, now lost to her, that she could gain an immortal soul.

But her loving sisters, not wanting to lose her, sacrifice their own beautiful hair for a knife from the powerful Seawitch, a knife which the Little Mermaid must use to slay her beloved Prince before she dies and dissolves into seafoam forever.  Facing the moral choice to save herself by slaying him, gazing down on his and his new bride’s sleeping faces, she cannot find it in her heart to harm either and throws the knife into the ocean, following after, certain of her own cessation.

It is here that some argue Hans Christian Anderson meant to end his tale but in service to Victorian mores of that time, he turns it into a morality tale in which the “Daughters of the Air” inform the Little Mermaid, “A mermaid has not an immortal soul, nor can obtain one unless she wins the love of a human being.  On the power of another hangs her eternal destiny. But the daughters of the air, although they do not possess an immortal soul, can, by their good deeds, procure one for themselves.”  Particularly of interest is how they do this, “We fly to warm countries, and cool the sultry air that destroys mankind with the pestilence.  We carry the perfume of the flowers to spread health and restoration.  After we have striven for three hundred years to all the good in our power, we receive an immortal soul and take part in the happiness of mankind.”  Because of her kind and valiant heart and “good deeds” she is told she too can now join the daughters of the air and gain, in 300 years, her immortal soul.  Or, and particularly pertinent to TEF-Copenhagen, Denmark’s meeting in collaboration with TheBeLongingProjects, as one whispers to her, “Unseen we can enter the houses of men, where there are children, and for every day on which we find a good child, who is the joy of his parents and deserves their love, our time of probation is shortened.  The child does not know, when we fly through the room, that we smile with joy at his good conduct, for we can count one year less of our three hundred years.  But when we see a naughty or a wicked child, we shed tears of sorrow, and for every tear a day is added to our time of trial!”*

And thus the still enduring roots of the dangerous moral, social and educational value precepts of the “bad” vs. “good” child.  (You had to know we were going to get to Transformative Education, somehow :-).  And thus the shaming, blaming and labeling or “naming” of the differently intelligent child, or less conformist or obedient child, punished for not going along with the conventions or norms of her “sisters” or others’ social conventions, constricting to her own search of self, heart and soul.

Indeed, this is what TEF-Copenhagen, Denmark took as its fundamental issue, as its partner organization TheBeLongingProjects focuses on just this critical freedom to self-define and self-regulate within a classroom management system that teaches that responsibility to oneself along with, responsibility to all others in a shared working and “playing” learning environment.  Essentially, providing every child “the tools for developing the competences necessary for healthy social interactions, based on the universal functions and self-organizing principles found in Nature.”

This “happy” and natural classroom system, was evident in the primary classrooms involved in this model, that I visited and observed in Mirano, Italy as the children easily took over that classroom management from their teacher, eagerly and enthusiastically performing their designated and rotated roles that include “Tree, Sky, Dolphin, Earth and Possibility(Fire) Kids”. Again, its premises of sustainability, come out of nature itself. As its founder Lynnclaire Dennis, describes the BeLonging Project,

“BeLonging includes in its necessary definition of education in a school system, the concept of fun as functional – as fundamental- and as the very foundation of existence that should include the concept of ‘high play’. Being loved is an invitation to belonging – loving with learning is the key to living wholly and fully.”

The Transformative Education Forum group that met in Copenhagen, Denmark over 3 full days, couldn’t agree more and began looking into bringing this very kind of transformative education model into a local school district to move it and its growing diverse population, to a happier, more inclusive and creative model of student ownership and “belonging”.  The project is currently proceeding apace with school officials and teachers.

Its ultimate hope — that any that look to Denmark’s shores for acceptance and belonging in their love of learning sustainable ways for all to live, love and learn together on their shared planet or in their shared schools — can do so with a shared “morality” of love and acceptance, that allows and celebrates not only all creative and helpful differences, but utilizes them in concert without forfeiting anybody’s immortal souls; or their acceptance and responsibility, even love, to all others.

Even, we assume and hope, including all…little mermaids.

* “The Little Mermaid” (1836), Hans Christian Andersen

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