A Childhood Memory

What’s all the fuss about a new approach to knowledge? What is Dino really talking about? If you are still wondering, perhaps this vignette might be of help. It is intended to serve as a parable.

I don’t recall how Pasha and I ended up in that meeting of our school’s pupils’ committee. It must have been a mistake; I never really cared about committees and politics. But there we were, sitting in the last row of a classroom full of kids, one representing each class. In front of us, presiding the meeting, was a teacher who knew me or knew of me, because she was a maths teacher, and I had just successfully represented our school in maths competition.

So she decided to honor me by a chore. I was to interview the school’s director, and present a report about self-management in our school at the forthcoming May 1 celebration.

In Tito’s Yugoslavia, where this event took place, self-management was a political innovation par excellence. The means of production, and more generally economic and political power, were not to be controlled by an elite, or a communist state, but by the people themselves. How was this idea implemented in our school?

I interviewed the director, and all I got were the political clichés one could hear in political speeches and on TV. None of it made sense, and I had nothing to report. I was in trouble.

But then I decided to look into that question myself: How did self-management work in our school?

I found out that it didn’t. The members of the pupils’ committee, who were supposed to be the pupils’ representatives, were not elected but selected! They were good kids from good communist families, handpicked to be groomed for the future political elite.

And so I had my story! The last class before May 1 celebration was the gym. I remember sitting in the locker room during the break that followed and jotting down notes. And only minutes later I was presenting my proposal to an astonished audience of teachers, parents and pupils: To have self-management in our school, the pupils’ committee would have to be elected, not selected!

My intervention seemed to have stirred up some controversy, because after the holidays each teacher would begin the lecture in our classroom with a monolog about the pros or cons of my proposal. I never understood why. The whole thing was a trivial, and proven, theorem. And in the end a new committee did get elected.

KF pres_backgr Circles clean 02

Looking back, I can see how much I lacked what is now called “social intelligence”. Nobody expected me to say how to change the system and really have self-management. Certainly not on a May 1 celebration! I was given a carte blanche to join the system. I was to quote the school’s director and put him in the spotlight. And to put the self-management and the pupils’ committee in the spotlight, and be in the spotlight myself. 

But I misread the situation, and missed my chance.

Or did I?

I am remembering this because now, as an academic researcher, I see myself doing something closely similar.

But on a much larger scale.

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