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Interview with Spiet Himmelsturb

BROADCAST: 1968 | DURATION: 00:51:56

Synopsis

Interviewing Spiet Himmelsturb while Studs was in Denmark [part 2 is missing].

Transcript

Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.

OK

Studs Terkel Saturday morning and raining out, perhaps a person should be asleep, but there are many who are very much awake here. I'm in a place called 228 [Kammermosevek?].

Spiet Himmelsturb That's

Studs Terkel And I'm sitting with a man whose nickname is "Spiet," that's Spiet Himmelsturb, Who's a teacher, perhaps one of the guiding spirits of a little school. The Little School Movement, I'm sure, is a, is a powerful one here in Copenhagen, perhaps in all of Denmark. And where I'm sitting now it's a very delightful place, it's a place no doubt where teachers gather. The complex itself seems to have been an old building, what was this before? We're on the outskirts of Copenhagen now?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, it is built in 1870, and it was a house for rich people who lived in the capital and spent their holidays out here. But now it is a school. And the school was founded after the war by some parents. They had -- When they sent their own children to school they had the only possibility to let them go to schools with twelve hundred or fifteen hundred children, and they didn't like the idea. And then they wanted to make a school for themselves and we have in Denmark a tradition, we have a law which gives people the possibility to make a school of their own and then the government will pay 80 percent of the teachers' salaries and this school, or this law is made for people, of minorities, religious minorities, and the German minority along the border and so on. But it can be used also by people who want to make a school of their own, building on -- do you call it, established on a certain idea of what a school should be.

Studs Terkel Before I ask you about the idea, the kind of idea, of this school, this little school, with your own thoughts as a teacher. Let's talk about this a moment. Parents, any group of parents, can get together, say

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel Or they can find a place, a building, and a school for their children or the community or their friends, choose the teachers

Spiet Himmelsturb Themselves. Yes. And run the school themselves.

Studs Terkel And the government will pay 80 percent of the teachers' salaries.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel So it's a parent, or the parents play a role, then.

Spiet Himmelsturb They do.

Studs Terkel In the running of the school.

Spiet Himmelsturb They choose their own teachers, they choose the headmaster, and they tell us how they want us to run the school. We have a discussion the whole year round about the philosophy and about the means and methods we shall use.

Studs Terkel You, Spiet, this is your nickname, Spiet Himmelsturb.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, it is.

Studs Terkel You are the one of the teachers at school.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, I have been here nearly all the time.

Studs Terkel How long?

Spiet Himmelsturb Eighteen years.

Studs Terkel This school is 18 years?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, it was the first of the little schools and it was founded just after the war by the parents who were disappointed that nothing happened in the pedagogical world and that nothing happened in the community schools. It just went on as it had done before the war, and this disappointment, it led them to fund this, build new schools.

Studs Terkel So this is the first. This one is the first of the little schools.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, and when it was 10 years old, other peoples had come here and had seen us and had heard about us and from that time, during the last 10 years, there has grown up 10 or 12 other little schools and more to be founded.

Studs Terkel In Copenhagen.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel How many children attend this school?

Spiet Himmelsturb One hundred and fourteen and I think most of the little schools have from 80 to 100 children.

Studs Terkel And how many teachers?

Spiet Himmelsturb We are, in all we are 16 teachers, but some of them only come for a few lessons

Studs Terkel But the classroom itself is a small one.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, and we have only 16 children in each class.

Studs Terkel So this is a key then, isn't it? The fact is that each child

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, and we can take care of each child and then they are not so many children that we cannot -- I lack the American words.

Studs Terkel No, they're not that -- personal attention.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, that we can give any individual teaching to these children.

Studs Terkel Now, let's talk about the approach now, and in a moment we can wander about this Saturday morning.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel And the music classes, or classes probably isn't the word.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. Because a great deal of our lessons are used for manual work and work with the arts. And I think besides, the schools shall be a little school, but the other side of our philosophy is that we want to use a lot of time on arts and music.

Studs Terkel And the crafts.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, the crafts and manual work.

Studs Terkel So it's use of the hands, too, as well as the reading.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, and dance.

Studs Terkel Dance. The use of the body. So, let's talk about the approach, the education, the school. Does it follow a particular approach, say A.S. Neill, Summerhill or Montessori? Or, what do you have, a philosophy?

Spiet Himmelsturb Of course, A.S. Neill has been a great, great inspiration for us. We try to give the children as much freedom as it is possible to do in school like this. Of course, we cannot follow Neill's system because the children go home to their parents every day and if you gave them full freedom in school and they had not the same freedom at home that the children would be

Studs Terkel Split personality.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. They would.

Studs Terkel So as a result.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. And we have many talks with the parents and we try to have a communication between parents and school so that the homes of the children and the school are not too different.

Studs Terkel So there is this continuous view, I see a few students wander up and down, I see some of the students going about there. So often the parents then, are in a sense like members of the Board of Education.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, they are.

Studs Terkel The parents are. And Of course you realize in America this is at this moment this is quite a development or, a hope, we don't -- Make parents and minority groups want to take part, play a role, in the molding of their schools.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. I think it would be a good idea, but perhaps not in America. I think you would use it for segregation. I do not know.

Studs Terkel Well, it's that there's a double, a double strain involved there, is the good and the bad, but the question of participation.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel You're talking about now a parent, community, community participation in the school.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel That's what you're

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. It is a very strong thing here. The parents, the parents and the teachers in to took up a plan that we shall teach our children, and we we we we plan everything on the school, teachers and parents together.

Studs Terkel What, for example? What courses, for example?

Spiet Himmelsturb Oh, how much time shall be spent on the crafts and how much time shall be spent on the three Rs. We talk about that. And for the fifth grade, we say, "This year, we shall do so and so," because in the fifth grade there can be special problems and perhaps it would be a good thing for the next year to use a little more time for the three Rs, and for this class, but perhaps it's it is in another way in another class, so that you have not not only democracy for the whole school, you have democracy working for the other class and the teacher and the parents in this class.

Studs Terkel Now, this is a school; how many grades are there?

Spiet Himmelsturb We have only seven. We should like to continue after the 7th grade, but we are not allowed. The law forbids us to go further than seven years.

Studs Terkel And what happens before high school? Is eight years for high school?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel There's one more year, and in the 8th year, a child goes to a more traditional school, is that it?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, they do. But I think that the traditional school is very good for older children.

Studs Terkel Ah, now we come to it. So now it's a question of the formative years. A.S. Neill has always said that it's the first five years, you know, those early years are the key years, and those are the years you're concerned with here. What are the ages of the children here?

Spiet Himmelsturb They are from seven to

Studs Terkel Fourteen. And when it comes to 14, then you think of the Christian school, pretty much served its purpose.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, we -- The children who leave us, they have a heart, half a year when they come to the new school. You see, there's much more authority and the children, there's not so much freedom as they are accustomed to in this school. But when this half year has gone, they accept the new school and find out what they can get from this new school and they work in the new school and try to get as much out of it as they can. And many of our children have been, well, it is difficult to explain, but they have -- May I ask you a question?

Studs Terkel Sure.

Spiet Himmelsturb When you -- When the pupils in the school form a little community for themselves and make their own government, what do call them?

Studs Terkel Student -- Well, student government, you might say.

Spiet Himmelsturb Student government. Yes. And many of our children from here have made such student govenrment where they have have come. And it's a new movement in Denmark, these student governments, and many of our children have been the foundation of this and have been making this work.

Studs Terkel Of course, the graduates of your school, these children because of the very nature of their education here, have become sort of freer spirits.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, and they they are, are used to in this place to, to make decisions of their own.

Studs Terkel Do they here? Here they are, seven to 14, I was about to ask you, you speak of parents and teachers.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel Now, here

Spiet Himmelsturb -- I've forgotten the

Studs Terkel And the students, too? In what way, can you give an example? Here are very young people.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. We have a meeting in the classroom and talk about what we are going to make for the next month, what we would like to be taught about. And then we have a discussion about that and we -- One child says one thing and another child says another thing, and I tell them what we have books to read about, and then when we have finished this talk, we make a decision and in a democratic way. And then we go on for the next month.

Studs Terkel Can you give an -- Cite a case? In what course, for instance?

Spiet Himmelsturb I can tell you for the moment I'm working with Columbus and his travel to America and we talked about it in the classroom and I suggested that we should make this and the children thought it was a good idea and we started working, but it didn't go so well. And the other day we had a meeting and the children said we do not want to continue this. It is not funny. And we do not think that we learn of it. And then I had to say, "Okay, then let us stop. And tomorrow we have a new meeting and then you have to make proposals for the new period," and now I'm waiting for what shall happen on Monday morning.

Studs Terkel Oh, this is Saturday, and just the other day, your students made a decision.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel That they agreed. They talked about -- They were dissatisfied, something was

Spiet Himmelsturb Something went wrong, and I could see it went wrong, and of course I could myself have said, "Now, we stop this and we go on to a new thing." But I think it is good for the children to have this

Studs Terkel Initiative. Of their own.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. To take this initiative, and also to see that this doesn't work. And when a thing doesn't work, you should not just let time pass by and make nothing, decide this doesn't work, we must make a new thing.

Studs Terkel You know, Spiet [Himmelstrub?], I'm very taken with this event, this incident. Let's dwell on this a little more now. This particular event, here was, you were teaching them, they were learning, of Columbus and the discovery of America. How long, but how long, was this particular part going on, a couple of weeks?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, three weeks.

Studs Terkel Three weeks. In

Spiet Himmelsturb In all. Because we made other things than Columbus. We also learned about ships at that time, and so.

Studs Terkel But something was happening. When, when did you begin to feel that they were discontented, and who's -- Which of the children spoke out? How did this come about?

Spiet Himmelsturb Oh, it's just difficult to say that you have a feeling in the whole class. As a group, they didn't work well and there was a lot of gossip in the class. And so they sat talking instead of printing and writing and nothing

Studs Terkel Attention was wandering. And then that some of the children speak up and say this is wrong?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. And say, "Shouldn't we go on to another thing? This doesn't work." And I think there are so many things about that you can drop some of them and it would not do any harm.

Studs Terkel And so when someone said that, "Shouldn't we go on to other things," then what? Then everybody and you have a meeting.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. We sat down and around and we had a vote to keep the word to, what do you call it, he should say, "Now it is your turn to say something," and one of the boys was the head of

Studs Terkel He was the chairman of

Spiet Himmelsturb The chairman.

Studs Terkel Oh, one of the students was chairman of the meeting.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel And you sit by, you sit by

Spiet Himmelsturb

Studs Terkel Saturday morning and raining out, perhaps a person should be asleep, but there are many who are very much awake here. I'm in a place called 228 [Kammermosevek?]. That's And I'm sitting with a man whose nickname is "Spiet," that's Spiet Himmelsturb, Who's a teacher, perhaps one of the guiding spirits of a little school. The Little School Movement, I'm sure, is a, is a powerful one here in Copenhagen, perhaps in all of Denmark. And where I'm sitting now it's a very delightful place, it's a place no doubt where teachers gather. The complex itself seems to have been an old building, what was this before? We're on the outskirts of Copenhagen now? Yes, it is built in 1870, and it was a house for rich people who lived in the capital and spent their holidays out here. But now it is a school. And the school was founded after the war by some parents. They had -- When they sent their own children to school they had the only possibility to let them go to schools with twelve hundred or fifteen hundred children, and they didn't like the idea. And then they wanted to make a school for themselves and we have in Denmark a tradition, we have a law which gives people the possibility to make a school of their own and then the government will pay 80 percent of the teachers' salaries and this school, or this law is made for people, of minorities, religious minorities, and the German minority along the border and so on. But it can be used also by people who want to make a school of their own, building on -- do you call it, established on a certain idea of what a school should be. Before I ask you about the idea, the kind of idea, of this school, this little school, with your own thoughts as a teacher. Let's talk about this a moment. Parents, any group of parents, can get together, say -- Yes. Or they can find a place, a building, and a school for their children or the community or their friends, choose the teachers -- Themselves. Yes. And run the school themselves. And the government will pay 80 percent of the teachers' salaries. Yes. So it's a parent, or the parents play a role, then. They do. In the running of the school. They choose their own teachers, they choose the headmaster, and they tell us how they want us to run the school. We have a discussion the whole year round about the philosophy and about the means and methods we shall use. You, Spiet, this is your nickname, Spiet Himmelsturb. Yes, it is. You are the one of the teachers at school. Yes, I have been here nearly all the time. How long? Eighteen years. This school is 18 years? Yes, it was the first of the little schools and it was founded just after the war by the parents who were disappointed that nothing happened in the pedagogical world and that nothing happened in the community schools. It just went on as it had done before the war, and this disappointment, it led them to fund this, build new schools. So this is the first. This one is the first of the little schools. Yes, and when it was 10 years old, other peoples had come here and had seen us and had heard about us and from that time, during the last 10 years, there has grown up 10 or 12 other little schools and more to be founded. In Copenhagen. Yes. How many children attend this school? One hundred and fourteen and I think most of the little schools have from 80 to 100 children. And how many teachers? We are, in all we are 16 teachers, but some of them only come for a few lessons a But the classroom itself is a small one. Yes, and we have only 16 children in each class. So this is a key then, isn't it? The fact is that each child -- Yes, and we can take care of each child and then they are not so many children that we cannot -- I lack the American words. No, they're not that -- personal attention. Yes, that we can give any individual teaching to these children. Now, let's talk about the approach now, and in a moment we can wander about this Saturday morning. Yes. And the music classes, or classes probably isn't the word. Yes. Because a great deal of our lessons are used for manual work and work with the arts. And I think besides, the schools shall be a little school, but the other side of our philosophy is that we want to use a lot of time on arts and music. And the crafts. Yes, the crafts and manual work. So it's use of the hands, too, as well as the reading. Yes, and dance. Dance. The use of the body. So, let's talk about the approach, the education, the school. Does it follow a particular approach, say A.S. Neill, Summerhill or Montessori? Or, what do you have, a philosophy? Of course, A.S. Neill has been a great, great inspiration for us. We try to give the children as much freedom as it is possible to do in school like this. Of course, we cannot follow Neill's system because the children go home to their parents every day and if you gave them full freedom in school and they had not the same freedom at home that the children would be -- Split personality. Yes. They would. So as a result. Yes. And we have many talks with the parents and we try to have a communication between parents and school so that the homes of the children and the school are not too different. So there is this continuous view, I see a few students wander up and down, I see some of the students going about there. So often the parents then, are in a sense like members of the Board of Education. Yes, they are. The parents are. And Of course you realize in America this is at this moment this is quite a development or, a hope, we don't -- Make parents and minority groups want to take part, play a role, in the molding of their schools. Yes. I think it would be a good idea, but perhaps not in America. I think you would use it for segregation. I do not know. Well, it's that there's a double, a double strain involved there, is the good and the bad, but the question of participation. Yes. You're talking about now a parent, community, community participation in the school. Yes. That's what you're talking Yes. It is a very strong thing here. The parents, the parents and the teachers in to took up a plan that we shall teach our children, and we we we we plan everything on the school, teachers and parents together. What, for example? What courses, for example? Oh, how much time shall be spent on the crafts and how much time shall be spent on the three Rs. We talk about that. And for the fifth grade, we say, "This year, we shall do so and so," because in the fifth grade there can be special problems and perhaps it would be a good thing for the next year to use a little more time for the three Rs, and for this class, but perhaps it's it is in another way in another class, so that you have not not only democracy for the whole school, you have democracy working for the other class and the teacher and the parents in this class. Now, this is a school; how many grades are there? We have only seven. We should like to continue after the 7th grade, but we are not allowed. The law forbids us to go further than seven years. And what happens before high school? Is eight years for high school? Yes. There's one more year, and in the 8th year, a child goes to a more traditional school, is that it? Yes, they do. But I think that the traditional school is very good for older children. Ah, now we come to it. So now it's a question of the formative years. A.S. Neill has always said that it's the first five years, you know, those early years are the key years, and those are the years you're concerned with here. What are the ages of the children here? They are from seven to 14 Fourteen. And when it comes to 14, then you think of the Christian school, pretty much served its purpose. Yes, we -- The children who leave us, they have a heart, half a year when they come to the new school. You see, there's much more authority and the children, there's not so much freedom as they are accustomed to in this school. But when this half year has gone, they accept the new school and find out what they can get from this new school and they work in the new school and try to get as much out of it as they can. And many of our children have been, well, it is difficult to explain, but they have -- May I ask you a question? Sure. When you -- When the pupils in the school form a little community for themselves and make their own government, what do call them? Student -- Well, student government, you might say. Student government. Yes. And many of our children from here have made such student govenrment where they have have come. And it's a new movement in Denmark, these student governments, and many of our children have been the foundation of this and have been making this work. Of course, the graduates of your school, these children because of the very nature of their education here, have become sort of freer spirits. Yes, and they they are, are used to in this place to, to make decisions of their own. Do they here? Here they are, seven to 14, I was about to ask you, you speak of parents and teachers. Yes. Now, here -- I've forgotten the -- And the students, too? In what way, can you give an example? Here are very young people. Yes. We have a meeting in the classroom and talk about what we are going to make for the next month, what we would like to be taught about. And then we have a discussion about that and we -- One child says one thing and another child says another thing, and I tell them what we have books to read about, and then when we have finished this talk, we make a decision and in a democratic way. And then we go on for the next month. Can you give an -- Cite a case? In what course, for instance? I can tell you for the moment I'm working with Columbus and his travel to America and we talked about it in the classroom and I suggested that we should make this and the children thought it was a good idea and we started working, but it didn't go so well. And the other day we had a meeting and the children said we do not want to continue this. It is not funny. And we do not think that we learn of it. And then I had to say, "Okay, then let us stop. And tomorrow we have a new meeting and then you have to make proposals for the new period," and now I'm waiting for what shall happen on Monday morning. Oh, this is Saturday, and just the other day, your students made a decision. Yes. That they agreed. They talked about -- They were dissatisfied, something was -- Something went wrong, and I could see it went wrong, and of course I could myself have said, "Now, we stop this and we go on to a new thing." But I think it is good for the children to have this -- Initiative. Of their own. Yes. To take this initiative, and also to see that this doesn't work. And when a thing doesn't work, you should not just let time pass by and make nothing, decide this doesn't work, we must make a new thing. You know, Spiet [Himmelstrub?], I'm very taken with this event, this incident. Let's dwell on this a little more now. This particular event, here was, you were teaching them, they were learning, of Columbus and the discovery of America. How long, but how long, was this particular part going on, a couple of weeks? Yes, three weeks. Three weeks. In all. Because we made other things than Columbus. We also learned about ships at that time, and so. But something was happening. When, when did you begin to feel that they were discontented, and who's -- Which of the children spoke out? How did this come about? Oh, it's just difficult to say that you have a feeling in the whole class. As a group, they didn't work well and there was a lot of gossip in the class. And so they sat talking instead of printing and writing and nothing -- Attention was wandering. And then that some of the children speak up and say this is wrong? Yes. And say, "Shouldn't we go on to another thing? This doesn't work." And I think there are so many things about that you can drop some of them and it would not do any harm. And so when someone said that, "Shouldn't we go on to other things," then what? Then everybody and you have a meeting. Yes. We sat down and around and we had a vote to keep the word to, what do you call it, he should say, "Now it is your turn to say something," and one of the boys was the head of the He was the chairman of the The chairman. Oh, one of the students was chairman of the meeting. Yes. And you sit by, you sit by -- Ten Hmm?

Spiet Himmelsturb Ten year old.

Studs Terkel This ten-year-old boy, you were the teacher, you just sit by as another voice.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. And at the beginning I just listened to find out if this was, if they just wanted to run away from work, or if they were discontent and it was discontent, and then I had to make up for myself let them go on to another thing, but of course the children had to make that decision themselves.

Studs Terkel And so we have in this little school, there's parent participation.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel And there's also student participation.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel And this is young people now, as well as the teacher's own ideas.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. But of course this about Columbus maybe it had gone for six weeks or so. Perhaps the reason is that the teacher's inspiration was not really enough, good enough

Studs Terkel Well, obviously I've heard of Spiet Himmelstrub, is probably a very excellent teacher, I think the audience can judge, too, his approach to teaching. But the important thing here is the students themselves, the young people, not being afraid, not being afraid to speak out.

Spiet Himmelsturb No, of course that that's the main thing, that they have to feel that they are accepted and they can say what they want, but of course, the teacher has the right to answer, and the dialogue can continue.

Studs Terkel And this little school movement, now, which is the first, there are about 10 or so such schools in Copenhagen and around, is this spreading throughout Denmark, as far as you know?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, it is and it is going to -- I think it is not a movement in the countryside, it is only a movement in the towns and in when the law was made, it was a movement in the country because much of the population was divided in two parts of religious reasons and by the of these religions, religious reasons, the law was made. But now the law is used by us for another purpose.

Studs Terkel As we're talking about this this matter, Mr. Himmelstrub, this matter of beginnings originally for rural schools but primarily in the city now, and even though it began because of religious minorities or national minorities. Now that 80 percent of the salaries are now paid by the government, any group of parents or community that would have teachers, I must ask about the parents now. These are middle-class people, primarily?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes they are, in the school. And I think most of them put their children here because they think that the community school and the society doesn't, doesn't make enough out of the school, it doesn't use money enough for the school and is not invested enough in schools, and they want to, they want to just to to use a bigger part of their income on their children's education and to not only the education that will make them clever and able to get up into society but able to live better and

Studs Terkel Be better? You

Spiet Himmelsturb Better mind.

Studs Terkel Better humans, to be fulfilled more as humans rather than to make out, as we say in America, to make it. To make the grade. How important are grades here?

Spiet Himmelsturb We have no grades at all and we have no books to write in about the children. Of course, we we have an opinion of the children, and we talk to the parents of this opinion on the children, and and and we try to help children who had stopped working and things like that, but we never make anything on on paper about it. We never write "is good" or "is bad."

Studs Terkel So there's no question of grading, A-B-C-D or failing.

Spiet Himmelsturb Not at all.

Studs Terkel Or passing.

Spiet Himmelsturb No. No.

Studs Terkel But the parent, you and the parents talk about the progress of the child.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. And we have only one problem about that. And when the children are going to leave us they can come to different parts of the community schools, different degrees. And our problem is to put that child in the part of the school that fits him.

Studs Terkel Well, 'cause this raises the question, isn't it? No grades. Are these seven years credited?

Spiet Himmelsturb I beg your pardon?

Studs Terkel Credit. These seven years, they count as seven years, and when he goes to the eighth grade of a more traditional school, of a public school.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel These seven years count.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, they do.

Studs Terkel They do.

Spiet Himmelsturb They do. And I think that when the children go to a new school they are asked, we are asked, "Can they write? Can they read? And can they make arithmetic?" And nothing else. They are not asked if they can play music on if they can dance or paint or make beautiful things.

Studs Terkel That's what it's about, isn't it?

Spiet Himmelsturb They ask, "What can you?" They do not ask "What are you?"

Studs Terkel Let's talk just a little about this, Spiet. Now we come to the heart of it, don't we? In the new school or the traditional school where they go, it's "Can you add two and two and make four? Can you read A-B-C-D, C-A-T, cat?" When you spell this word, but not are they capable of enjoying living life?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, can you use the words to tell a story of your own?

Studs Terkel How did this come to be? How did you, you yourself, how did you gravitate toward this teaching and toward this approach?

Spiet Himmelsturb Oh, I think I came from the back door. When I finished my teacher education, I came to one of the community schools and I felt that it was awful and I thought of stopping being a teacher and make something else because there's so much authority in the schools and there are so many children that you have to have order and plan and systems and people get away in this system and you cannot find them, and then I had the opportunity to come here and I accepted and I think I didn't know when I came here what I would, but I experimented and tried to find out what is it to be a teacher. What is it to be a pupil and what is a school, and I think I some day I shall find it out. I'm still experimenting and still asking and I think the day you stop asking, you should not be a teacher any more.

Studs Terkel So, the teacher, too, is inquisitive, inquiring and growing and changing.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. He lives in education all day and all the year long and special sort of education.

Studs Terkel You are one of the -- You were the teacher at the very beginning of the school. Are you, I haven't asked you, are you the headmaster here?

Spiet Himmelsturb No, I'm not. I'm just -- I'm the one who has been here for the longest time now.

Studs Terkel What do you -- Just coming back I want to -- This is a very free-flowing conversation, and soon we'll probably hope to see some of the students on this Saturday morning. But, is there a course that you teach, any one or just teach -- You have 16 -- The children have different teachers?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, they have. Because it is good for them to have more than one man. You see, there can be in my class, there can be a child. And perhaps he doesn't like me every day, and it is good when another man comes in the class and then he likes him, and the other teacher perhaps like that child more than I do, and has an eye for his, for his possibilities and his abilities and which I have not.

Studs Terkel So it becomes a personal matter, it becomes something personal between a teacher and student.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, I think, I think you cannot behave in other ways as a teacher. You cannot go in objectively and just teach.

Studs Terkel You're pretty good and now it's 10 years since the school was in existence, more little schools are modeled after this, are increasing in number here in Copenhagen. Have you followed any of the children 10 years later? Any of those children now, they now are 24 years old, you know.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, they are. And it is difficult to say what they have had, what they have brought with them from this school because -- I think most of them are happy and they have found a way of living and some of them married and getting children and when we, when I invite them home and have a talk with them they seem to be fine guys and fine girls but perhaps they had been that way if they had gotten into the community school. You cannot [take they

Studs Terkel Now we come to something else, spiet, and that's the big gap. I asked you earlier if the parents are middle-class parents, so can afford, even though 80 percent is paid for, there's still 20 percent that the parents pay. Right?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, they do. And therefore we have no, we have not many children from the working class. I'm -- It's a pity, I should like to work with the children of the working class. But I, and I think that most of our middle-class parents are teachers, and kindergarten teachers, too. And most of them are very interested in politics and social work and so on. And of course that gives our milieu and the atmosphere around the school a sort of one-ness, and

Studs Terkel So has there been, as we, as you know, throughout the world and would seem all societies, there is this gap, this tremendous gap, you know.

Spiet Himmelsturb I think that gap is not very big in Denmark. But of course it is there, and but since education and all, nearly all education in Denmark is free, and since the teacher's education is the same in every parts of the country, there isn't much much difference from the one community school to another, and I think the education in the community and the education in this school does not differ very much except that we use a lot of time on the crafts, which they do not in the community school.

Studs Terkel Could we wander about any further, and you can, we can be talking and commenting as we go along. Now, the room we're seated in now, of this little school, I see some paintings, drawings, by, some of them as the month of November up there.

Spiet Himmelsturb Made of one of the classes, as a, a work they had made that took the whole class.

Studs Terkel The whole class made that.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, a group work.

Studs Terkel Describe that, a variety of trees and colors and November there, in English. What about -- Is language, too, is some of the talk in English, or is it all Danish?

Spiet Himmelsturb No. The three last years we teach English. I do not, but we have an English teacher.

Studs Terkel I thought because it says, the word is November in English up there.

Spiet Himmelsturb It is spelled in the same way in Danish.

Studs Terkel Oh, is it?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, it

Studs Terkel N-O-V-E-M-B, oh, so that could be Danish, too. This is my chauvinism expressing itself.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, they make -- They have made it during a whole year. They have made a painting like that. Every month, August, September, November, December and so on, with a motive according to the time of the year. There are no leaves on the trees.

Studs Terkel There are the animals.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, the deers, the class made a journey to the forest and they saw the deers and when they came home, they made this painting.

Studs Terkel They take trips now and then?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel You say the class made this.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel You mean, as this was done as a collective work?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, it was.

Studs Terkel Everyone contributed something to it. And so we have here, too, in this room where we're sitting now, is also used as a classroom?

Spiet Himmelsturb No, it is not. It is only for the teachers, the teachers' room, and it is used for the lunch every day. I think we do not come here during our breaks. We stay in the class and talk with the children and prepare for the next lesson and so, but this is used for meetings every week. We have a two-hour-long meeting where the children -- Where the

Studs Terkel -- Faculty.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, where the faculty are, the teachers speak together about the children and we tell each other what we are making in the classes and we make plans for the future.

Studs Terkel Around this table here.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel This is a table, seated around a square table, 15 chairs or so.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel And it's just about the faculty here.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel Seated and bulletin board.

Spiet Himmelsturb And perhaps I should say that, we one day it is one of us who is the chairman, then the next day it

Studs Terkel It rotates. The chairmanship rotates.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel So again that's participation, full -- I suppose the word is participation, isn't it?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes,

Studs Terkel Parents, teachers, students.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. And as little authority as we can.

Studs Terkel You lead. Why don't you lead me around?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel We just wander about now, as we leave this room and go to another part of the, another part of the forest, it's a play, it's another part of this delightful place. Oh, before we go, a word about you and a play, you recently wrote a play that will be performed by I believe a little theatre in England, in London. You wrote a play recently, you yourself did.

Spiet Himmelsturb Oh, yes. You see, in Denmark a playwright cannot exist by his writing because there's only four million people it's in Denmark. And you have to have a living besides, and I write, I have some plays be performed and on theatres and on television, too. I wrote a play about Mr. Kennedy and the tragic events in Dallas.

Studs Terkel What's that play called?

Spiet Himmelsturb "Welcome to Dallas, Mr. Kennedy."

Studs Terkel Was it based on -- Was it a drama, you wrote it as a straight drama?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. And with use of document, documents. I do not know what to call that, documentary theater. With [dais?] and film and and we cited a lot from the Warren Report and cited from newspapers in America and things like that.

Studs Terkel Sort of mixed media technique.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel Mixed media.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. And with theme songs, too.

Studs Terkel So, music, film, direct approach to audience.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. It was played on one of the avant-garde theaters in Copenhagen. We have three little theaters with only hundred seats and it's going to be performed on Iceland now, and it comes in book form in England.

Studs Terkel Good luck on it.

Spiet Himmelsturb Thank you.

Studs Terkel Your work there. So you write, you're also a playwright, you do writing on the side as well as teaching.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, I do. I do. And I'm going to have television play about the Labor Party.

Studs Terkel Done on Danish TV.

Spiet Himmelsturb On Danish TV, yes, in a few months.

Studs Terkel Now we wander, now you be Virgil, about to say, to my Dante. This is not purgatory inferno, this is a garden of delights, really. But you lead me through now. As I'm walking down the stairs to other parts of the school, it was [without?] too much trouble, there's a comment you just made about formality/informality in language. Would you mind, even as we're walking, just talking about this?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, you know in Denmark we say that, just as in German, we have it when you talk to a man you know very well, you say, "Du," and if you're on formal terms with him, you say, "Sie," and it's like that in Denmark, too, people you know very well and people in the family, you say "Du" and people you

Studs Terkel I see a friend of mine over there, he goes running around [full 12?].

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, and people you do not know very well and people with whom you are on formal terms, you say "De." And in this school, all the parents and the teachers and the children say "Du," like in the family.

Studs Terkel So it's the familiar approach, in other words, the formality is gone, the wall of the "Sir, I beg your pardon", that "Sir" part disappears.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. You never hear that in our school.

Studs Terkel Even toward the headmaster, too?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, of course.

Studs Terkel We just left the headmaster upstairs, a very gentle-appearing man, but so that breakdown occurs, the, there is no line,

Spiet Himmelsturb No, we just like to have a tone in the school and a way of speaking that you have in the family.

Studs Terkel As you and I, just that moment, as you and I are on the staircase here, the door is open, as we were talking about this very point, some kids were running in and out, genially, easily, openly, and I thought the way they were doing it, they know you and I, they sensed you and I talking here, it didn't matter too much, they weren't interrupting us and we weren't interrupting them. I mean, in another school it might be, "Shh, quiet."

Spiet Himmelsturb Of course, I say "Quiet" too, sometimes.

Studs Terkel You have to holler, too, at times, don't you?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, because when when we are working in a class and others come in and perhaps have a break and we have not a break, then we say, "Out," and we want to work. Of course, it's

Studs Terkel -- [Unintelligible] differentiation between freedom and license. Freedom is if the child wants to go to school, okay, if he doesn't, no. License is blowing a trumpet at two o'clock in the morning and waking up.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, yes, I agree with you on that.

Studs Terkel Here's our friend walking back up the stairs here. Where now, into what room are we going?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, we are going in one of the rooms where the children are knitting and weaving and making things from -- We have a loom.

Studs Terkel How are ya? I noticed one thing, that even as we're talking now, we're not bothering them at all. They're continuing with their work.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, they do.

Studs Terkel This is knitting. In this class, you have

Female teacher [Danish].

Spiet Himmelsturb [Danish]. Perhaps you had better start making not much noise now.

Studs Terkel Oh. That's okay. I notice one thing in this class you have boys as well as girls.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, perhaps you can ask these too. I think they should be able to answer in

Studs Terkel All right. Why don't you? How are you? She said no.

Spiet Himmelsturb Perhaps you can ask. [Danish, converses

Studs Terkel Which

Spiet Himmelsturb No, it is not a handkerchief, she is knitting something to put on her head.

Studs Terkel Oh, yeah, a band.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel A headband. You're doing that?

Spiet Himmelsturb And some of them are knitting pictures.

Studs Terkel Knitting, or you can knit whatever you want here, is that it?

Spiet Himmelsturb Oh, not whatever you want, the teacher sometimes has to say to a child "I think you should not make that because it is a bit of a great work. I think you do not realize it is very hard to make that. I propose you should make a little thing first," and sometimes you say, "Do not make this little thing, you have abilities and you are able to make things bigger than that. Do that." Wouldn't you?

Studs Terkel Suggestions made.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel Weaving, this is weaving here, different weaving going on here, too, there are all sorts of, not only headbands, but bags are made, and knitted.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, and they are weaving neckties and things like that.

Studs Terkel But in any class you have boys as well as girls, too.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. Don't

Studs Terkel Don't you?

Spiet Himmelsturb I think so. There are very few boys in here now, but

Studs Terkel But there is no line.

Spiet Himmelsturb No, there is not. Sometimes there are very many boys in here, too.

Studs Terkel Each one -- Each one of these people here are girls, each one is working on her own, her own project, but there's a relaxing. Here again, it doesn't seem like a chore, It is not something forced.

Spiet Himmelsturb No, it is not, and sometimes, of course, a teacher has to interrupt. It happens that the [unintelligible] is so long-splinched and nothing is made.

Studs Terkel I know her. Christine, right? I know you. I know you, don't I? How are you? you gotta say, you don't have to do anything if you don't wanna, but how long you been going

Christine to Seven

Studs Terkel Hmm?

Christine [Danish].

Studs Terkel Since when?

Spiet Himmelsturb Seven years.

Studs Terkel Seven years. So she's seven year -- How long

Spiet Himmelsturb She is going to leave us. Summer.

Studs Terkel Oh, wait. She's going to go to the traditional schools.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, she is.

Studs Terkel Madame, Madame Lindhardt. Let's see. Now we're out in the open, it's raining, we're crossing the hallway here, we're going, you're going where now, to the?

Spiet Himmelsturb We're going to see a music lesson.

Studs Terkel Okay. Here I see. And even at the design of the school is interesting, very informal in the making. This was once, you say, possibly the summer home of some wealthy people.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, once, and after that, it was a place where you put -- Punish children.

Studs Terkel Oh, really?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, it was.

Studs Terkel This was a school for delinquent children.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel But a reformatory.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, it was.

Studs Terkel This was.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. And then they had built its more comfortable buildings and then we bought this for our school.

Studs Terkel We're

Spiet Himmelsturb [Danish].

Studs Terkel [piano music] One of the students, I would take at about 10 or so, is about 10 or nine or 10, is playing what seems to be a sort of version of "St. Louis Blues," is a bit of jazz is playing there.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel The teacher, Mr. Christiansen. So it is, sometimes you teach jazz, Mr. Christiansen. So, you teach jazz, too, jazz music.

Mr. Christiansen Yes, of course there is improvising in jazz.

Studs Terkel Improvising in jazz. Improvising now. These are two of his students. You do a lot of improvising, you like the idea of improvising.

Mr. Christiansen Yes, I'm using the jazz for the children don't improvise, like in old classical music there, too, improvise as only in the romantic music they never do it.

Studs Terkel And therefore in this music class, you use a lot of jazz because of the

Mr. Christiansen Process improvising.

Studs Terkel The flexibility.

Spiet Himmelsturb We are now in the classroom used by our little children and they have made something about Indians, and they have made Indian clothes themselves, clothes.

Studs Terkel This is a classroom now for the seven and eight-year-olds.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel And now this is, this is filled with all sorts of work.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. These are hand puppet fields, they are hand puppets made of papier mache. What do you call that?

Studs Terkel Yeah, papier mache. These hand puppets look like "Kukla, Fran & Ollie," this is a Chicago television program, very familiar in America. And one of them looks like Ollie Dragon. This was made by the children themselves. And a couple of blouses of Indians because they're studying about Indians.

Spiet Himmelsturb And three of our classes are starting Indians now, and they communicate so that the elder children come down here and tell the younger children about the Indians and what they have learned in their classrooms. And the little children here, they have made it an engine dance. And a little Indian play for the older children about this.

Studs Terkel So, some of the older children, the older children who have had these courses, come down and tell the younger children, too, so they teach, too.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, they do. I do not know how much they learn, but they are put in a situation where the children communicate, and they just not have war between the classes, but real quick communication and and they feel that they belong to each other.

Studs Terkel Of course, this is exactly the opposite of traditional schools and colleges, we hear of "hazing," you know what hazing is, in which the

Spiet Himmelsturb We have the, we have the hazing problem here. Sometimes a class and another class can haze, and of course we have to interrupt as teachers, and find out how can we get it to work, how can we fight

Studs Terkel I was thinking about, you know, the hazing which upperclassmen abuse, you know, younger people, you know, and you were describing a scene here, of exactly the opposite, of the older children are helping the younger children. But you still have, but being children being human, you still have this sort

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, of course, and they act before they think, and things happen.

Studs Terkel You notice up here, too, up here, too, is a pattern, September you have, there's November, and what is this sign, there's a little puppet stage here, what does it say? "[Danish]"?

Spiet Himmelsturb That is to say, a sort of paper you get when you are just married and there has been a marriage between two of the dolls, and now the marriage paper is put on the wall, and it is written at the bottom of the

Studs Terkel As we're talking -- What were you saying? As we're talking, in the background is the improvisation going on. Mr. Christiansen's approach is a very informal one, obviously, in teaching music.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, and I think talking about music, we also [were?] works with things that the children are interested in. They are interested in jazz and beat music and blues, and there's where you begin when you play the piano. The little children we begin with the drums and [literally?] simple instruments.

Studs Terkel You and I -- There's jazz, and blues, and beat music used as well as classical music.

Spiet Himmelsturb There's not very much classical music here, but some of our students which have had jazz and rhythmical music here have gone on and some of them are playing classical music. They have had an interest in music and that's what you can start with.

Studs Terkel As you and I are talking, I'm glancing the back and watching three of the students around Mr. Christiansen, and this "Du" attitude is here, rather than 'Sie,' the "Du" attitude, you know, the informality, you notice the very easy, casual way one of the seven, eight year old kids sitting here, just talking to Mr. Christiansen who is sitting by, and it's not that awe or fear, you know, it's not that "attention must be paid," not the "must."

Spiet Himmelsturb I think that you should not have fear in a school. If there's fear between a pupil and a teacher, then you have nothing to build upon. Of course, a teacher can just as well as all people, become, he can become sad and angry, but then the teacher should show the child that he is angry and the reason why he is, and, but you have to go through this angry, angry-ness

Studs Terkel On this point, on this point, Spiet, you do get angry at times, don't

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, I do. And I get disappointed and I get sad. And it is just human feelings.

Studs Terkel And the students know it.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, I do, and of course, I, sometimes I say, "Excuse me. I wasn't, I was angry, that reason that it was wrong of me," but sometimes it's the child who comes and say, "You should not be angry anymore. I understand why you are angry, and let's go on now."

Studs Terkel Who, the child says that to you?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel Really?

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes, and with the whole class, can do that.

Studs Terkel In other words, this has happened, in which they have understood why you are angry and that you may have been justified.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes.

Studs Terkel And they tell you this.

Spiet Himmelsturb Yes. I was very angry yesterday because one of the big pupils was beating one of our small pupils in a way which I couldn't see had any reason and the situation had no sense at all. And I was angry with him, and he understood that when we had sat down and calmed the situation down, and after that we had a little discussion and I think he understood that I was angry because it's no solution to beat it and that I was angry because he did so, and I was not angry because I did not like him, but my my my feeling came from a disappointment that he acted in that way instead of making a better solution of that problem.

Studs Terkel We leave the music room now. Thank you.