Agency is not to be owned; it is relational | Benjamin Freud, Ph.D. | 13 Min Read

February 2, 2023

No one can tell from which infinitesimal traces things unfold, but it is certain it is not from chance

— philosopher Jean Baudrillard

Ideas are alive, not static or perfect. They never take a definite form because they are like a stream with infinite tributaries. My thinking has changed so much over the years through having conversations, reading, bouncing ideas alone or with others, leaving some things behind, and picking them up later. Then once in a while, you come across something that changes everything. 

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article entitled Our job is to teach ourselves out of a job. I meant to draw a parallel between teaching and parenting: both should provide the care, love, and skills young persons will need to thrive as they cast off in the world with confidence and ability. I wanted to underscore that, as educators, our job is to prepare our students for life after they leave school, understanding that the learning that takes place today is a step toward the rest of life and not an end in itself. Just like a parent who raises a child so that they will be equipped in different ways to handle life’s twists and turns.

Then I spoke with Nora Bateson.

And I realized how misguided I had been. 

Maybe misguided is the wrong word. More like stuck in mechanistic thinking: “If I do a good job to prepare you well, then you will do just fine.” If… then… cause/effect. 

Nora Bateson asked me a simple question. So simple it is incredibly complex and infinitely layered: “How would things be different if you knew your children were never leaving?”

She remarked that in our society we often see separation as a finality, an accomplishment. In other words, we take pride in our children leaving home, doing wonderful things, FaceTiming every week, taking the plane to come over for Christmas, and isn’t it nice to have everyone here? Independence is something to strive for, we don’t want to rely on anyone, and we don’t want our children to rely on us. 

Even when we achieve a smooth and sustained separation, this is nothing but an illusion; there can be no separation. We are entanglements of our past, present, and future, the unfolding rhizomatic stories of our experiences woven with those of every…

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Benjamin Freud, Ph.D.

Benjamin Freud, Ph.D. is the co-founder of Coconut Thinking, an advisory that supports schools and learning organizations to co-create, co-develop, co-stress test, and co-implement ideas that nurture the conditions for emergent learning. Benjamin is also the Head of Upper School at Green School, Bali. He was previously the Whole School Leader of Learning and Teaching at Prem Tinsulanonda International School in Thailand. He was the Academic Coordinator at Misk Schools, one of the most prestigious and high-profile school in the kingdom. In 2018-2019, he was also the Head of Upper Primary and Middle School at Misk. Prior to this, he was Vice-Principal of the Middle School and High School at the Harbour School in Hong Kong. He holds a Ph.D. in History, an MSc in Education, an MBA, an MA in International Relations, and a BA in International Affairs. Benjamin was born and grew up in Paris, France. He moved to the U.S. when he was 15 and spent 11 years there in different cities before living in the U.K., Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and now Bali, Indonesia. He started his career in consulting for Internet start-ups in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s, working with people whose ambitions were no less than to change the world. This experience had a profound effect on Benjamin's outlook on education, innovation, and entrepreneurship.