by George J Elbaum
1989 marked the end of communism in Poland, and just a few months after the first democratic elections a group of opposition (i.e. non-communist) leaders founded the Bednarska High School as the first independent (i.e. non-governmental) school in post-communist Poland. The stated ideals on which it was based are Democracy, Tolerance, and Cooperation (teachers and students respecting one another, unlike the highly hierarchical system heretofore). Bednarska’s old timers feel that these ideals have been maintained since its founding, so teachers are able to inspire and engage their students.
Per Bednarska’s website, the following makes the school special:
- An individual approach to learning.
- Each grade and each class has an original name which is given by students and their tutors.
- A wide range of foreign language classes (English as well as French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish or Latin).
- ECO TRIPS for students at the beginning and the end of the school year to rural areas/forests, during which students learn how to live an ecologically sustainable life. (They travel by bike or walk, take part in daily activities such as collecting brushwood, cooking their meals, sleeping in tents or barns, and have no internet connection!)
Student statements about Bednarska, as recorded on video I received, are quite reminiscent of the early hippie movement in America: “a community of people with shared ideals”; “a state of mind”; “a group of people who think in a specific way and want to change things”; “a place where I feel free”; “our second home”; “it’s everything to me.” Walking through the school I saw much student art being created and displayed, and sensed a free flowing, free-wheeling atmosphere, thus the reminiscence and hope that things are truly as good and idealistic as proclaimed.
During the Q&A, students questioned my feeling about “Poland nowadays” (i.e. the whole political situation) and the situation in America, which led to a discussion on human nature, which in turn led to one teacher pointing to the famous Stanford prison experiment of 1971. All in all, a very stimulating afternoon.
My visit to Bednarska was organized by teacher Katarzyna Rymsza, and arranged by Violetta Tarnowska.