Interview with Sol González, a mother who closely accompanied the process of implementing the prepared environments from the beginning of Casa Sula.
By Esperanza Chacón,
(Translated by: Michaela Bronstein)
Q: What prompted you to look for a different kind of education, one that is different from the conventional?
A. When I met Marcelo – my husband – he warned me that when we have kids, he did not want them to attend a traditional school, because for him, it was a waste of time. I responded by telling him that I was not going to homeschool, or allow the children to just stay at home, because I did not have the patience or the knowledge to do this – perhaps we are conditioned to think that we are not the right ones to assume the responsibility of educating. I also always believed and continue to believe that children thrive and are happy in a social context with other kids. So we had an agreement, between the two of us, to look for something different, something alternative, something where the adults can also feel good; a space for learning and growth.
Q: Why did you want to experiment with alternative education?
A. When I moved to the Eco-villa (the project that Marcelo developed), there were only a few families living there. As I mentioned before, I was not going to homeschool, so I quickly met with the other mothers in the community and said: “we will come up with something, we will build something so that our kids can share in this beautiful and natural space.” We started ‘a little school’ with a lot of love, dedication, and the desire to create something nice. After two years of managing this project with our own resources, we realized that it wasn’t that easy. We could have the will, the love, and the determination, but we did not have the experience in education – and neither did those we collaborated with – in any of the educational possibilities that were out there. In this way we created a combination of Montessori, Waldorf, and the traditional; but we did not have a clear path that gave us security, or a firm grounding. In the end we were reproducing what we knew, because it was the education that we all lived through, but we always had uncertainties; what we were searching for was an alternative to this.
When I met you (Grupo Orion), I remembered that years before, a friend of mine had given me a book by Rebecca Wild, “Liberty and Limits, Love and Respect,” which I recalled immediately when I heard you, and I thought, “ah, it’s them.” This book, written by an educator, narrated a practice that seemed to be something very serious, something that called for deep commitment and research. So for me, it was both of those things: to connect with and learn about the educational proposal, and to get to know the people who had lived it in their own families. In this way, it was no longer just about what you do, but about who you do it with.
These last few years with the challenges of cancer, and the amount of alternative therapies that I am doing, oftentimes for me what carries more weight is the therapist rather than the kind of therapy they are doing, because I relate to this from the point of personal connection, to where the therapist is as a human being who understands. In the same way, for me, what is first and foremost present is who are the people who are behind these new educational approaches. Have they lived it? And then I think about the pedagogy that they are offering; what does it consist of? The merging – the union – of this provides coherence and sustainability to this process, and from this point I had so much respect for you, attributing credibility to you as a group of humans who truly inspire change.
Interviewer: When we first met you, we were surprised by how many questions you had for us. We felt that it wasn’t just because of your curiosity, but it was also brought on by an authentic search within you.
Q: Do you think that after having been an active participant in the creation of Casa Sula, your questions have been answered?
A. I think that at first, I had a lot of uncertainty and doubt. I would listen to you in different conversations and meetings with the families who joined the project, and I would try to imagine what all this would look like. And when I started living it, I always had something within me, something inside that resonated deeply. So I decided to trust and give it a try. When you speak of this feeling, I interpret it as having the feeling; I thought it and I felt it.
I did not have any family members or close friends who had any experience in alternative education. Perhaps the most familiar to me was Waldorf. We didn’t know anything about free education, one that is non-directive or active. Perhaps, that is why the fear was there, because it is something that is in radical opposition to the traditional system. Even though us parents wanted to do it, at first there was a lot of fear of the new and the unknown. That’s why it is so necessary to start the process from a place of trust, so that little by little you can observe and learn, while the surrounding narrative adjusts to the reality, to your context. After some time, I started to not only believe, but to check that this worked. You did give me answers to my questions, within your theoretical explanation, but more than that, I was able to see what you explained in practice.
Currently, my kids are 8 and 10 years old, and what I learn through observation and experience allows me to locate each of their individual processes, and what I see is total coherence between the answers you gave me that first time we met with what I read about in the book I mentioned, and with what I see in my kids every day at home. Therefore, I would say that it is a reality, that it is a familiar process when put into practice. The notion of being involved, closely collaborating in the management of this need has allowed me to better understand how to accompany so that the chosen education occurs in every way.
Q: How do you reflect on the changes of this education system in your family according to your own perception and practice?
A. Something that happened, that to me is very significant, which happened simultaneously with the implementation of the first school that we created and the creation of Casa Sula, was my own process with cancer. I think that any illness that you have to live with leads you to think about life and death, and about what is really and truly important. Because you don’t have a choice, or at the same time, you decide your priorities, and you have to stick to it, you have to do it, because you don’t have time.
Cancer is the most difficult thing I have experienced as a human being. I’ve had moments of intense reflection and emotionality, and in one such reflective moment, I asked myself: “What was my personal education?” I’ve realized more and more that many of the resources and tools that I’ve used for help and to find contentment are not ones that I received from my academic life in school; so, I have to ask myself: “what are the resources and tools that I’m going to utilize in my life to help myself?” In thinking about life and death, you ask yourself: “What is truly of value when you encounter the possibility of death?” Death worries you when you have small kids – as I do. I think that this helped me trust in their own process, trust that they are seeds with potential to live, grow, and mature. It is also clear to me that when they are provided with a prepared environment and their decisions are respected, you will find maturity on all levels. Therefore, it has been super important for Marcelo and I to trust that our children are in a good environment with adults who understand them.
Q: How do you see your children at home? Do you think they are activating their potential?
A. Without a doubt, I think they are. I see it all the time, both in Noah and Ilan, in their way of being active –they give me confidence and trust in an education that is for and by life. What calls my attention the most is how they have developed an immense capacity to make decisions, to put forward their projects, to do practical and every-day things. For example, the other day, they wanted to make meat on the grill but their dad was not there, so I turned it on and realized that there was not much gas left. I did not like changing the gas, so Noah told me that there is very little left, and in two seconds it ran out. He had never changed the gas, but he did it in the most efficient way. This capacity to resolve practical things, to manage whatever comes their way, from a place of stability, security, and calm.
Perhaps my kids don’t have the same academic training of other kids their age who are in the traditional education system, but they have an enormous capacity to be creative, to resolve conflict, to be active in their projects, and especially to help at home (an aspect that is slowly disappearing with the excessive use of technology).
One day, they decided to build a tree house. It was interesting observing how they got their materials with their neighbors, how they hauled tree trunks, wood, etc. They gathered many things to have the house of their dreams. This is also present when they go to soccer: they are organized, punctual, and responsible. Same goes for the way they take care of the garden…these are small examples of how they participate in their familiar environment.
Q. What role does pressure play in the family and in the general social context around learning?
A. All of society is under some kind of pressure regarding what they think they have to learn, it’s not just in my family or those close to us. Sometimes we doubt children’s abilities, when they don’t accomplish certain things in the time frame that is determined by schools. We trust our kids, because we see how active they are, always doing projects and helping out at home. Each time, as a mother, and for their father too, we go learning together that everything that our kids do is an opportunity to know more, because the experience always stays with you.
Q. How do you experience your bond with your children?
A. I am eternally grateful to Grupo Orion and Casa Sula, because we have been able to see that it is possible to change something traditional to something more alternative. As a mother I’ve felt more connected to my kids, because it’s necessary to have some kind of continuity and fluidity between the space of Casa Sula and our home, our family. It’s very important for us to align ourselves closely with the same intention as Sula, mutually complementary, and I’ve learned a lot from this process. In the Semillero 1 where the younger kids are, I learned from Margarita (co-founder of Casa Sula) about establishing limits with clarity and presence, to understand that a child accepts this when done with empathy. I’ve learned so many things with you. I also observed how to be with the kids and tend to them with respect. We all learned to enjoy the company of our children.
Q: Do you think it was worthwhile to go down a path that was not so well known?
A. I am so grateful for the possibility that life gave me to make Casa Sula. Many people who hear me talk about Sula say “it’s not for everyone,” and maybe they are right, but I believe that as a family it is necessary and crucial to find an alternative to the traditional path. If the family believes in the chosen educational proposal, it creates the space to truly understand the children’s process with much more fluidity and clarity. I feel that when there is no trust, there is no collaboration in the children’s process.
The parent’s fear is rooted in each of their personal histories, and in my opinion it is what limits or prevents a sincere process of accompaniment, and instead becomes an interference because they bring with them expectations, pressure, and control. For me, it’s been very important to do my own personal work to allow me to trust myself and my children. Many times what I hear in regards to this fear is that it centers on whether or not their children are receiving the best, so that in the future they have the most opportunities. And I also believe that we are in a crucial evolutionary moment for the planet, with many changes happening. One example is how many professions are constantly replaced by technology, so we are going through a very profound revolution. My intuition tells me that: the personal development of each child, their connection with themselves, the capacity to allow themselves to feel whatever they are feeling, the method of managing their emotions, the ability and power to relate to others, the attention to social conflicts, making decisions to create projects and complete them from start to finish, and the development of their autonomy: all these are the tools that allow them to continue on their own path, and to confront any changes that come their way, on any level and at every stage of their lives.
Something that affects me on a profoundly deep level is when I see families in the Ecovilla who do not believe in an alternative education, or ones who regardless of their doubts send their children to Sula. I can’t help but feel sad, to know that they are missing out on something that has tremendous potential. So I ask myself, if these projects remain small, if they are exclusive, or if they are limited to certain populations…. it is my wish for this to grow and be available to more people, especially when I see so much suffering in the world. So I feel that an educational proposal that supports the human being and helps expand the potential deserves to be expanded. The world could be something different, if as children we are able to activate all our capacities, capacities that would become our tools from which to live. On the other hand, the families also participated in practical things to comply with the proposal, to ensure the well being of everyone. My family collaborated voluntarily in the coordination of food services for all those who were participating in the project.
Q. How was the process of implementing the food service at Casa Sula?
A. When you start a small project, you have to combine everyone’s energy to make it successful. I always found it important to participate, for parents to participate so that this succeeds and that it becomes a reality. From the beginning, with our small school, and then with Casa Sula, it became a priority to ensure that we had food for everyone, which meant we had to secure an appropriate space for this, and with someone with a nice energy, since the one making the food adds into it their own energy.
Managing this service was necessary from the beginning, so some of the mothers volunteered to collaborate and help in this, dividing up the tasks amongst ourselves: choosing a healthy, delicious, and nutritious menu, make a budget, stock the kitchen (a task that happened gradually), find the right people for this job. In other words, we had to create and implement something that was aligned with the overall educational proposal of Sula – to create adequate spaces. Even just the kitchen on its own requires this organization. In this way, maintaining a coherence between food in each family and the social space is a form of respecting preferences, beliefs, and desires, without imposition; this is what was required through all the trials until we found a system for providing this important service.
Similarly, we realized there was a need to create a washing station for kitchenware, especially for the older children, something which not only contributed to cleanliness, but was also in itself a tool for growth, as each child assumed responsibility for what they were using.
We achieved it! We now depend on a food service of great quality, which in itself is an important aspect of supporting the overall environment.