When spirituality is accompanied by fear

Yara Hannema is 'a child of the Plato School': a school that was founded by parents with spiritual ideals, but was sued years later because of corporal punishment. What went wrong? She made a documentary about that question.

There is a girl in a room. She is ten years old, sings a song in Sanskrit and dances the Indian one abhinaya. Her long orange skirt swings back and forth. Step forward. round. Step back. That girl is Yara Hannema (39), almost thirty years ago. Those images are the beginning of Hannema's documentary The Plato School, about a school founded in Amsterdam in 1983 by parents with spiritual ideals.

The plans were grand: children at this school would grow into 'special people with a high level of consciousness'. Hannema and her classmates learned to meditate, boxing, fencing, singing and subjects such as arithmetic, philosophy – and thus Indian dance and Sanskrit – from an early age. Values ​​such as self-knowledge, spirituality and reflection were of paramount importance. “As if they wanted to make us prodigies,” Hannema says now.

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But it was also the place where corporal punishment was meted out. In the 2002s, the school was discredited nationwide after a former teacher sounded the alarm. 'Disgraceful', was the public opinion. "Babe," many parents said. Those of Hannema didn't believe it at first either. There was a lawsuit, the teachers were fined, the school continued, but the number of applications dropped drastically. In XNUMX, when Hannema was already in secondary school, the Platoschool closed its doors for good. What went wrong?, the documentary maker wonders in De Platoschool, which will be on TV next month.

She started her film plans in 2018, shooting in 2021. She posted messages on social media, delved into archives, dug through her own school supplies – boxes full, her parents kept everything – and spoke to former classmates, teachers and founders of the school. Beforehand she thought: if I speak to as many people as possible, I'll probably come back with a fifty-fifty story. Half of the people will not be a fan of the Plato school and the other half will still be lyrical. But she noticed that most of them mainly suffer from pain.

To feeling

Humiliating, Hannema's former classmates called the corporal punishment. Hannema never got a beating herself, but she did have to watch. “When I think about that, a bad feeling still creeps through my body.” And that while it was the parents of the children, of all things, who came up with the idea of ​​setting up a school. Hannema's parents got to know these parents at the School of Philosophy, where they met to meditate in the eighties. Somewhere in that time the thought arose: can we also teach this to our children? “They were people with the best intentions, who were looking for inner peace and that also granted their children.”

'Our parents were looking for inner peace and granted us that too'

When her father heard about Hannema's film plans, he was like: just do it, child. But her mother was in the beginning not amused. “Of course she does not approve of the beating, but she still supports the vision of the Plato school. She was afraid that my documentary would put that vision in a bad light.”
But that was not Hannema's goal. She wanted to know the story of her school—her childhood—better than the headlines. “What were those ideals? Did it go wrong because they were not the right ideals, or because they were not properly implemented by the teachers?”

Documentary maker Yara Hannema: “Special education is great, but with new schools there is a fairly good chance that it will move towards an extreme form of teaching.” Image: Fred van Diem

That school, it got under her skin, it left an imprint on her soul – yes, she really feels that way. “We were children, so very loyal. There were only a few hundred children at this special school, so we were something special, we got that feeling. I struggled after everything came out, also very much with the fact that the school had a very bad reputation, which I understand, I also experienced it as hard, but I also had nice boyfriends and girlfriends, I have made good contacts and have learned to find peace in meditation. Occasionally I still do it – that's not a bad thing.”

She never blamed her parents either: they too were full of good intentions. “They didn't know about the corporal punishment and how intense the iron discipline was for me as a child, because I didn't tell anything. I thought: it's normal." Hannema is convinced that no teacher meant harm. No teacher woke up in the morning and thought, now I'm going to hurt a child. “I find that perhaps the most interesting: those teachers were in a system. There's something scary about it. How things went so wrong at a school and how everyone went on with it for so long.”

'No one felt the freedom to pursue a different policy, or to say: See you here.'

She did not yet know the word culture of fear, but now she dares to say: that label can be applied retroactively to the Plato School. “A hierarchical system with an authoritarian director. He decided, everyone went along. No one felt the freedom to pursue a different policy, or to say: See you here. Only the former teacher who years later became a kind of whistleblower. Together, the school and its supporters formed a closed community.”

Red flags

Hannema thinks that other schools can learn from her documentary. “As soon as teachers' own intuition no longer matters and children are no longer asked 'How do you actually feel about this?' are those red flags.”
When she reads in the newspapers that a new school is being set up, as the Forum for Democracy wants, for example, she holds her breath. “It can be dangerous: a school based only on ideals. Children should not be an experiment. Special education is great, but at new schools there is a fairly good chance that it will move towards an extreme form of teaching. The most important thing is: children must eventually find a connection with society.”

"I was totally displaced, didn't know how to behave in the normal world, it was too much of a transition"

That went wrong with Hannema. “It was too many subjects, too much homework. While… I just wanted to run around, hop, draw.” By the time Hannema entered secondary school, she was averse to authority. “I was totally displaced, didn't know how to behave in the normal world, it was too much of a transition. Throughout my childhood, attempts have been made to stick a vision of life on me. We were in line, all of us. But who was I really? I had no idea."

She didn't want to study after secondary school, just wanted to 'live life'. Hannema eventually made it to documentary maker without any studies and has her own storytelling agency, but she might have had an easier start if she had done some training. “That problem of authority, that is what I got from the Plato school.”
She is silent for a moment. Then: “And you know what the hard part is? Even now that I say this like this, I think: can I make this? Shouldn't I say somewhere: It was also a good time? Then I feel it again. That loyalty. It is deeper than I always thought.”

'De Platoschool' can be seen on March 9, at 22.30:2 on NPOXNUMX, or via 2doc.nl

Read further? The law 'More space for new schools' should make it easier to found a primary or secondary school that meets the wishes of parents. This year, 34 new schools with government funding can start.

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