The model for the New School of Living is drawn from the works of Ralph Borsodi and shares a foundation with the work of Alfred Korzybski, Abraham Maslow and a handful of other innovative thinkers whose work informs the development of human potentialities.
Ralph Borsodi (1888 – 1977) was a New York City financial expert, social critic and back-to-the land godfather with his 1932 book, Flight From the City. He established a number of homesteading communities and developed the idea of a life-long learning institute he first established as the School of Living in New York in 1936. He also founded a university and worked extensively with Gandhian educators in India.
During his long and productive life he wrote four books on education. In these books, written over the course of three decades, he established the principles of his system, heavily critiqued what he called mis-education, defined right-education and proposed a remediation of the American educational system. Borsodi believed that the school should be the center of the community, a product of the community, and serve its needs. He was an advocate of decentralization -- which today we would call localization. An objective of the school is to make the individual and the community economic independent.
The School of Living provides for the needs of each stage of life, from basic education to vocational education to life-long learning through all the fields of knowledge. His Education of the Whole Man highlights his intent to use learning to bring balance to life.
At the root of education is learning to resolve life’s problems. In his final work, Seventeen Problems of Man and Society he classified and outlined the challenges he found universal to all members of the human race. He collected over 8,000 case studies of problems, assembled a vast file of research material and a library of some 2,500 indexed books was collected at a School of Living community in Pennsylvania.
Transition Centre is working to reconstruct the School of Living model in a form appropriate for our current challenges and to support the redevelopment of strong local communities and economies.
Articles about the life and work of Ralph Borsodi can be found at:
The Life of Ralph Borsodi: Unsung American Back- to-the-Land Pioneer and
Ralph Borsodi and The School of Living
The School of Living and the Community
Borsodi’s last book, Seventeen Problems of Man and Society, which summarized the universal problems of living, which has been out of print for 35 years, can now be downloaded here.
A New School of Living is being formed that will function as both a homesteading vocational program and a community learning institute. As a vocational program it will provide the knowledge, skills and support needed to start family homesteads. As a community learning institute it will provide life-long learning to form a well-educated, well-informed citizen capable of critical thinking, expression and leadership. Developing leadership to form new homesteading communities is a top priority.
The School of Living is the center of a community. That community must be formed. It requires acquisition of land, to be put in community trust, tillable land, homes and buildings and the other necessities of a largely self-reliant life.
You can find a description of the New School of Living here.
A number of other writers and topics are germane to the formation of a community learning institute that meets the objectives outlined on this page and the link above. The following are highlighted due to their importance in developing an effective curriculum.
Alfred Korzybski (1879 - 1950) was ranked as one of the most influential writers of his time. Trained in science, mathematics and human neurophysiology, his Science and Sanity is a detailed system for improving our ability to understand and evaluate events as they unfold around us and to formulate effective responses.
Wounded and deeply affected by the horrors of World War I, Korzybski set out to develop “a language of the peace table.” After two years of working with patients at a mental hospital under the tutelage of one of the nations leading psychoanalyst and ten years of research and writing, he developed a general theory of sanity based on our capacity to correctly understanding sensory experience of the world and the innate functions of the human nervous system from sense organs to the cerebral cortex. He was a pioneer in dealing with human beings as a whole system of “organism in an environment” and of analyzing emotional and cognitive functions that produced sound evaluation or, in another word, sanity. Korzybski was one of the first to understand the importance geometric growth, now called the hockey-stick curve, as the driving condition of modern life.
Korzybski developed a comprehensive system that located human beings in their environment and a method for improving our perception of the environment and communication with others. He was one of the first to apply the new science of relativity and quantum physics to the problem of our experience of reality. One of his students, Anatol Rapoport, was a founder of general systems thinking.
Bruce Kodish’s Korzybski: A Biography, provides an excellent background on Korzybski’s life and work.
Systems theory is based on the fundamental reality of the interaction of the parts of complex entities. Unlike analytical approaches, systems theory focuses on how the parts organize themselves into whole systems and how those systems relate to other complex systems. Reductionistic science cuts whole systems into small parts. Systems theory puts them back together. Living systems, including human systems, can only be understood in terms of the organism in the environment. The applications of systems theory run from biology and ecological system (Howard T. Odum) to cybernetics and computer design to management of complex organizations such as in Peter Senge’s organizational learning.
Bucky Fuller, who was also a student of Korzybski’s work, is most famous for his invention of the geodesic dome. He wrote and spoke extensive on the subject of human sustainability starting in the late 1920s. He developed an approach to systems theory called Synergetics, a geometry of thought that facilitates thinking in terms of whole and interdependent systems which he derived from his pursuit of sustainability.
The Human Potential: The ‘60s witnessed a surge, a hunger, for a deeper understanding of the human condition that was manifested in part by the Counterculture and more substantially as the Human Potential Movement. The Human Potential Movement is largely the work of George Leonard, Michael Murphy and the Esalen Institute, and a cohort of humanistic psychologists such as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and Fritz Perls. It involved holistic health, art, gardening, the martial arts, various forms of massage therapy and a variety of other approaches. This movement sought to find personal integrity in an era of change, something we need more than ever today.
Maslow, founder of both humanistic and transpersonal psychology was also a close student of Korzybski. Maslow developed an iconic model of self-actualization and a hierarchy of needs. Both Maslow and Fuller were Korzybski Memorial lecturers.
The Environment: To live, to coexist, with our world, we must clearly understand it and our place in it. From Emerson’s Nature to Thoreau’s Walden to John Muir and John Burroughs, through the militant, rear-guard environmentalism of the late twentieth century to Paul Hawken’sBlessed Unrest and Peter Senge’s The Necessary Revolution and the Transition Towns movement, we have laid the foundation and built the infrastructure for an architecture of a future sustainable existence. Ken Burns’ PBS series The National Parks provides a deep and detailed, artfully presented summary of environmental principles that should be studied closely by those seeking to develop a sustainable society.
The sustainability movement has been called the largest on the planet. It has millions of followers, thousands of organizations and an untold number of projects running from home gardens to rebuilding towns and cities devastated by globalization and economic instability. Transition Centre seeks to bring a greater coherence to this movement and through its educational program provide the resources and leadership training necessary to affect a transformation to what is best defined as self-sufficiency: the capacity to provide for the greater part of a communities needs through its own resources.
Arts and Crafts: To create only that which is useful and/or beautiful is the goal of a movement that more than a century ago started in England and spread to the US. Inspired by John Ruskin and William Morris in England, and exemplified by Elbert Hubbard’s Roycroft and Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Style in America, we have the vision for a return to handcraft, to a reunion of head, heart and hand and thereby the rebirth of American manufacturing on a local scale. Few of us see how things are made. We do not know how the commodities we consume are made or even where they come from. The Arts and Crafts movement provided training, guidelines on style and a considerable literature of both craftwork and social criticism. Part of what defines us as human is our manipulative hands. The restoration of work by hand is a restoration of the human essence.
Frank Lloyd Wright was one of America's premier architects and social critics. He was the creator of a vast art and of organic architect, a new style of building that hugged the earth and used natural materials, Wright’s vision ran from practical, Usonian, homes to a self-sufficient city. Wright’s life is the story of an artistically creative explosion moving through several careers. He also created a largely self-sufficient educational enterprise, the Fellowship, during the Depression 1930s. His remarkable dwellings dot the country and his legacy lives through his homes at Taliesin and Taliesin West, the Fellowship and the library of books by and about him.
Emerson and the Concordians: Emerson and his friends collectively symbolize perhaps the second “shot heard ‘round the world” from Concord. He and Thoreau between them laid the cornerstone of a romantic reaction to the dawn of the industrial revolution and the stifling of the human spirit that came with mechanization. They also helped establish a school that sought to understand human nature through the land upon which we live, from which we draw both nourishment and identity. Concord itself, during its early days, represents an ideal model of the self-sufficient community and an example of a spirit that helped found America. We draw from the Concordians a legacy of a human ideal, of community and of life synchronized to the cycles of nature.
Eric Hoffer and the Commonplace Philosophy: Hoffer worked as a farm laborer and longshoreman while writing a sublime philosophy that, first, criticized mass movements such as that behind Nazism—and today global terrorism— and, second, voiced a strong approval of the common Americans he met in his work and travels up and down the West coast. He left eleven volumes and a series of TV interviews that have inspired uncounted readers. His simple and independent life is a classic of what I call an “urban Thoreau.” He lived a spartan life, worked at manual labor, educated himself to achieve an uncommon eloquence of expression and left a legacy that has the capacity to inspire hard work and critical thought and heartfelt expression.
Clifford D. Simak invented pastoral science fiction. Born and raised in rural Wisconsin he set many of his novels and stories on farms and in villages filled with memorable characters. Simak aired his views of the failures of technological civilization in a series of stories through the course of a long and eventful life. While he considered modern human civilization perhaps a failure of one of nature’s grandest experiments he always believed that a core of insightful men and women, people who lived close to the land and flourished in the life of the small community, who sought to learn the secrets of an authentic life, would, in the end prevail. His pastoral philosophy is being compiled in an upcoming book.
These various works are the ingredients of a New School of Living, one brought to fruition to serve the needs of sustainable communities in the twenty-first century. You are invited to join in this enterprise.