Portuguese version
Versão portuguesa

The proposal of a
Convivial Education

and our
Knowledge & Arts Workshop

Ralf Rickli*

A whole village is needed to educate one child. (AFRICAN PROVERB)

The Portuguese page has undergone some updating; this version still waits for updating.


To say that Brazil's central question is education has become a plain commonplace. While we agree it is, we rather doubt that the school-model of education, as it has been carried on for some centuries now, is at all able to answer this question, even with any quality improvements in the teaching of the different disciplines.

If one takes the bother to study it, Brazil shows up as a centuries long insoluble drama _ and the reasons for that are far beyond people's difficulties with writing or mathematics: they lie in some characteristics of our most basic ways of living together, characteristics which, in spite of all our famous cordial way of being, make us unable to build among us trustworthy relationships _ what is the very cement that turns a bunch of people into a society. The consequences are harsh, for, even though the individual may be source of wonderful ideas, no implementation of ideas, and therefore no historically meaningful solutions or achievements are ever attained but via society.

The school as we know it not only fails to contribute, but works actively against any possible solution: first of all, it is experienced by nearly all students as a closed space with no relationship with the reality of life out there, and with hardly any influence on it. Besides, as far as human relationships are concerned (considering students, teachers, clerks, direction and also parents and the whole community in that) the school is normally a tragic anti-model.

The concepts of what we call "convivial education" have been being developed entirely out of practical experiences outside the traditional school space _ experiences that have sprouted out of a feeling that a true education is as vital to people as food is, and therefore it must not be denied to them. As long as school goes on taking away the time destined to education without educating, we will have the need to find other forms and spaces to celebrate the rites of education.

We make clear, nevertheless, that these ideas do not simply exclude the school, but still cherish the hope to find a way into it in order to help in its total re-shaping, a condition sine qua non to turn the school into a place able to shelter the sacred mistery of a real education.


Any place is a place for education. While we lack a more appropriated space, what we call Knowledge & Arts Workshop takes place in a residential house _ in the living room, kitchen, anywhere _ as well as on the streets, parks, wherever. Sometimes it takes on the shape of sessions with clear time limits, as regular classes, sometimes it spreads itself all along the ordinary daily living _ a living together which is already a search for life aims consistent with the studies' contents.

For this reason the Knowledge & Arts Workshop may be not even noticed at first: much more than a place, it is a process, something in course of happening. (This does not prevent us to be in search of a space where it can happen better: we are! Ask us about!).

What we try to do here is celebrating Convivial Education _ an education by means of living together and for the sake of living together. Some basic lines of this idea are summarized hereafter. We make clear that our specific project focuses on teenagers or youths, but many of its ideas may be useful also for other ages.


An educator is first doing Convivial Education when his/her relationship with the youths is that of a life commitment, not only a professional relationship and much less a mere job. This expresses itself as an involvement _ we would even say, a complicity involvement _ in the youths' lives, with the interests and preoccupations they already bring with them. The intention is not to remain eternally restricted to these interests and preoccupations: the intention is that the widening that education brings about do not become a second life or personality, but be a widening or improvement of the same life the youth has already been leading. That is to say: that education be not one more among the countless forces that already work, in our days, in the direction of crushing the individual's unity!

Besides, educators do not come from above, for helping (let them look at their own personal life and ask: "who am I that I could help?!"). They come to take part in a common challenge.

After some time working, concrete projects sprouting from the youths' own impulse will always come about (e.g., in our case, a theater and a music group, web sites etc). Educators take part, then, in the practical processes of these projects, sharing their own know-how when this is possible, or helping to look for external know-how and resources when this is required. Besides, educators will bring in cultural subsidies or information that help to behold all these practical actions as part of a wider context, giving them a higher meaning, as part of the whole "sea" of the human knowledge, creativeness, of human History at last.


All this theoretical or practical information, important as it may be, is still secondary: what is really central is that, in all this acting together, standards of an ethics of living together, both implicit in all actions and made explicit in reflection moments.

This convivial ethics includes, e.g., the respect for the value of one's own word (which expresses itself as commitment); the art of keeping a cordial attitude, respectful towards the dignity of every and any human being, even in the case of irreducible opinion differences; the understanding of the reciprocity element in all relationships (which stems from the ability to feel in the other's place and will necessarily express itself, among other ways, in appreciating and not exploiting the other's work); the economics of communication (that is to say, the due balance between speaking and listening) etc.

Such an ethics propitiates the development of living together to the level of art _ an art we may call Social Art. We point out, however, that we are by no means speaking of mere politeness, an etiquette (little ethics), which is able to lead only to the artificial, not really to the artistic or esthetical level. This latter involves doing things not for the sake of convention or obligation but rather by taste (in all senses of this word, but far more in the sense of "pleasure" than of "good taste"). No "little ethics" but only a "major ethics" has the power to give rise to such an Art.

It is still of fundamental importance to understand that purely "teaching ethics" is totally useless, it simply does not work. First: there is no real acceptance of any values openly or implicitly brought in by the educator unless the above mentioned feeling of complicity has been formerly attained.

Second, the ethics speech will only generate one more dead law, trash cramming the mind, unless it comes "riding" daily life itself, as much in the very moment of an action as in later reflection, as well as interwoven in the different informative contents. (Notice that narratives, both fictional and biographic, are a most efficient vehicle for both kinds of contents, practical and ethical).

Contents are indispensable, therefore _ not only for their own value but also as pretext for interactions in which the ethical experience-reflection "incarnates". However: only when this information gets to be articulated, in one way or in other, with the interests cultivated by the youth since earlier, it is able to generate enthusiasm. And without enthusiasm there is no learning, no creation, no realization, no progress, no Life.


Finally: contrary to what many social programs state, our aim is not simply "integrating the youth in society", for society in its present state simply does not deserve that a youth integrates in it! As well the youth as all other social actors _ that is to say, society as a whole _ should accept to be in a process of transformation and improvement. And, not too surprisingly, exactly those youths that are still little integrated are in a privileged position to become agents of society's transformation and ethical growth.

The reasons for that are many and their analysis would be too much in this paper. It is not too much, however, to mention that, when youths are excluded, it is not because they themselves have chosen to exclude themselves: society was the one who, in some moment (and most probably without noticing it!), has excluded them.

It is exactly in this sense that society most needs to be transformed: in order to stop being an excluding society and to become a society of co-living _ and of ethical co-living _, with all of its parts continuously and gladly celebrating with each other the rites of learning and invention.

(...If, however, a given society does not show to be ready to transform itself in this sense, we are allowed to suspect that it does not really want to integrate those youths, but wants only to neutralize the risk or discomfort it foresees in them. It will be a useless attempt, we have to say: there has never been and there will never be peace unless as the fruit of justice. How would society be respected by children it itself does not respect? There are no palliative measures that can replace the full participation in the human heritage to which these youths have right _ by the most noble and sacred condition of simply being human!).


The Convivial Education idea does not stem substantially from any readings but rather from daily life accompanied by intensive observation and reflection. It is natural and unavoidable, however, that it receive some information from readings or re-find itself in them. So, in spite of our little acquaintance with many of them (and despite their so disparate theoretical grounds!), we recognize meaningful affinities with ideas and proposals by, among others, Jürgen Habermas, Carl Rogers, Ivan Illich, some elements of Rudolf Steiner and (recent discovery) Domenico de Masi.

* Ralf Rickli, founder and general coordinator of Trópis, is a writer and works in education since 1976; presently (1999) is "back to school" studying at the Universidade de São Paulo.

This text is available on paper on our "one-leaf books" series.
If you are interested, write us at
Back to
this page's beginning
Back to the
English pages' index
Trópis' home page