Of Colleges and Cohorts (Part 2)

All quotations are taken from the ‘Whole Movement of Life is Learning’ by Krishnamurti.

6th March

“My problem and yours is to cultivate the comprehensive intelligence from which all other things flow.”

It is raining in LA so driving north in the Saturday morning traffic on Ventura 101 requires additional care. On the radio they are talking about the closure of a small bank and the difficulties and heartache that have ensued. They go on to say that so far this year 20 banks have failed in the US. The next item is about the collapse of a large electronics retail chain with the loss of 35,000 jobs. This country is still hurting. The same could be said of the KFA in Ojai, my destination. The crash last year saw the loss of a large slice of their investments and they have had to undergo a big and painful restructuring in order to survive.

None of these changes are apparent in the main street of Ojai, which still appears prosperous and tranquil when I pull in and head for the best coffee shop in town. Who should be sitting at the door as if to usher me in, but Michael Krohnen, former cook to Krishnamurti, author of the ‘Kitchen Chronicles’ and of many a fine meal and satisfying yarn. Michael is the best person to bump into when it comes to catching up on the Ojai news. A few minutes later and we are stopped in the street by Didde,  a Brockwood alumna, whom you have not seen for around 20 years. This town is like coming home but then finding yourself in the wrong country.

Meeting in Ojai on 6th March / Front Row left to right: Frei, Julia, Kate, Kristy, Rowan, Gopal / Standing left to right: Tom, Paul, Jaap, Reuben, Maxi, Clay, Claudia, Freidrich, Willem, Bill
Meeting in Ojai on 6th March / Front Row left to right: Freya, Julia, Kate, Kristy, Rowan, Gopal / Standing left to right: Tom, Paul, Jaap, Reuben, Maxi, Clay, Claudia, Friedrich, Willem, Bill

The Oak Grove School has kindly lent us a room and Kristy has prepared everything with care and an eye for detail. Old friends start wandering in and in no time there are 15 alumni in the room as if emerging from the hills that surround us:

Kristy Lee                                           1997-1999 / 2000-2004

Jaap Sluiter                                        2000-2004

Willem Zwart                                     1998

Gopal Krishnamurthy                    1987-1992 / 1998-2001

Paul Herder

Rowan Frederick                              1995-1997 / 2004-2005

Reuben Weininger                           1971-1974

Claudia Herr                                       1984-1993

Friedrich Grohe                                Emeritus Trustee

Maxi Kogoi                                          1983-1987

Julia Liebisch-Peschl                      2004-2005

Freya Randle Helgesson                2008-2009

Clay Mantley                                      1971-1972

Kate Svodboda-Spanbock            1980 – 1983

Tom Heggestad

This is a group that largely remains connected with Brockwood in a variety of ways, so the questions are more probing. Despite the fact that they all live geographically fairly close to one another they have never met in the manner before and quite a few do not know each other. There is a certain sense of shared appreciation for what Brockwood has meant for them and the unique opportunity to be together, if only briefly.

At the end of the presentation and discussion many chose to stay on and we pack up our things and head for the local Thai restaurant for supper. Partners and friends join to swell the numbers and there is good food and company to savour. Still trying to better understand the mood of the country I ask what is happening to Barak Obama and Reuben replies immediately and flatly, “It is a slow lynching”.

7th March

“I can see this in my mind’s eye as the central factor, for no intelligent person, in the sense we are using that word, would ever want to hurt another intentionally.”

A day off, so I am able to join Friedrich, Claudia and an extended party of alumni and friends for a hike up Sulphur Mountain. I spend a good deal of time walking and talking with Gopal, hearing about his studies and learning how the educational debate is framed in the US. There is polarization between those who think excellence is all important and therefore determining how this is assessed and measuring it becomes the priority and those who think that equality of opportunity is the real issue and priority should be given to making the necessary changes that will ensure this. In the midst of this debate the fact that everyone is a learner with different talents and capacities somehow gets lost and the question of how best to develop and support these is forgotten.

The Pine Cottage Library is the responsibility of Michael and in the afternoon I go there to see him. It is the first time I have been there since Mary Z’s death and the conversion of the building from her home into the library.  The modern rooms of the house that she added to the original cottage still have a striking feeling of openness, light and grace, despite the absence of her beautiful furniture and art. The old original part of the cottage is now open to visitors and Michael takes me on a tour. The room that is most striking is Krishnaji’s former bedroom, now a quiet room with only a few cushions and two chairs in it. There is simplicity and a palpable silence to this room which cannot be attributed to the absence of furniture and the bare walls. How much I am projecting onto it and how much it is impressing on me is hard to tell, but it demands that you sit and do nothing for quite some time.

Supper as a guest of Gopal and Sunsong, with the Oak Grove boarding students at Besant House. Wonderful soup! One of the girls is fascinated to see me placing food on the back of my fork with my knife.  A quaint English mannerism I gather, associated only with the queen and royal posers. Well if you’re not the former….

8th March

“I can also feel in some vague way, not intentionally, that this intelligence is totally impersonal, neither yours nor mine. I can feel its tremendous attraction and its truth.”

A school day, but not before dropping in on the Foundation to see Mark Lee and to hear how things are going – not easy and not always good by all accounts.

At the Oak Grove School I have lunch with Meredy, Head of the school, and Willem, Director of the senior school. They have just completed a taxing year of writing new curriculum, all of which has to be approved by state authorities, and then working with staff to rearticulate the school’s central tenets and approach.  They have done this in part by settling on six ‘arts’ that they want every student to learn: from the Art of Communication to the Art of Caring and Relationship. Once again state authorities will determine whether or not they are succeeding on their own criteria and this raises interesting questions about how some of these are assessed?

A further challenge is that within the context of the US private school system many parents regard themselves as consumers of a product over which they wish to have more control. This leads to numerous demands based on what they think the school should be offering – often completely at variance with one another – and threats to take their ‘business’ elsewhere if they are not listened to. The consumer rules, or tries to change the rules when not happy with them!

I return to the Pepper Tree Retreat, where I have been staying in one of the guestrooms close to the Pine Cottage. It is a lovely place and I could happily stay longer, but this time around it is not possible. A farewell supper with Michael and alumna Annie Chen, who has just arrived in town, and then back to my room to pack my bags, ready for an early start.

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