Cornelis Boeke (25 September 1884, Alkmaar - 3 July 1966, Abcoude), usually known as Kees Boeke, was a Dutch reformist educator, Quaker missionary and pacifist. He is best known for his popular essay/book Cosmic View (1957) which presents a seminal view of the universe, from the galactic to the microscopic scale, and inspired several films.
Boeke tried to renovate education by letting children in on decisions concerning school. He let decisions be made unanimously. He called this process sociocracy. He designated school as a workshop, teachers as employees and pupils as workers. The goal of this form of education was to teach children a sense of democracy. It was also based on Quaker ideas. He founded one such school in 1926 in Bilthoven, which he led until 1954. The later Dutch Queen Beatrix had to undergo an early education at this school, which she didn't really enjoy, as she later stated.
Kees Boeke grew up in a Mennonite family in Alkmaar. He studied architecture at the Delft University of Technology. As a student, he spent a year in England, where he met the Quakers. He became a Quaker and attended Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, a college in Selly Oak, Birmingham. There, he found inspiration in Bournville, the garden village which the Cadbury family (owners of the chocolate factory) had built for their workers. He met and married Beatrice (Betty) Cadbury. The couple went to Syria in 1912 as Quaker missionaries. In 1914, after the outbreak of World War I, they returned to England. They became active in peace work, the Fellowship of Reconciliation having come into being in 1914 through Henry Hodgkin. In 1915 Boeke traveled to Berlin, where he met Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze, with whom Hodgkin had been working at the outbreak of war. Boeke began to speak publicly in England: "The Germans are our brothers; God did not create man that he might kill; the war will find its quickest end when all soldiers lay down their weapons." He was deported from Britain and returned to the Netherlands. His family followed; there they lived in Bilthoven, near Utrecht. Their home soon became a pacifist centre. Later in the Second World War Boeke took part in the underground Dutch resistance movement against the same Germans, he called brothers before. This was although in line with his ideas of anti-authority and his disapproval of war and prosecution.
After the First World War, Boeke erected a large conference centre in Bilthoven, which he called "Brotherhood House." The first international peace conference took place there between 4 and 11 October 1919. Present at the conference were Leon Revoyne, Mathilde Wrede, Leonard Ragaz, Pierre Ceresole, as well as Hodgkin and Schultze. Boeke and Ceresole became the secretaries of this movement, which initially called itself “Christian International”, later the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. Together with Helene Stöcker, Friedrich August Wolf (?) and Wilfred Wellock, they founded the Service Civil International and in 1921 "Paco" (the Esperanto word for peace), which in 1923 became War Resisters' International (WRI).
Kees and Betty Boeke considered war to be rooted in the entanglement of the state and the capitalist. As Betty was a Cadbury, she received large shares in her family's firm. She transferred this money to various charitable organizations such as the Quaker-Help Organisation in Russia in 1920. Later, she gave the shares to a trust for the workers of the Cadbury factory. For a while, the Boekes abstained from using money, so as to avoid contributing to the state — since public funds are also spent on weapons. They would pay neither postage, tolls, nor taxes — and they never used public transport. As a result, they were imprisoned several times, with one of their seven children being born in prison. On one occasion the Dutch tax authorities auctioned off the estate in order to recover taxes. Queen Wilhelmina was in attendance at the auction, and purchased Kees' favorite violin with her own money, only to return it to him on the spot. Boeke supported his family by working in Utrecht in a building association which he had founded; he did not work as an architect (which was his training), but as a simple worker.
In the late 1920s Boeke increasingly withdrew from international peace movements. Believing he could build a better society through educating children, he started a school, called “De werkplaats” (the workshop). He founded his school when in 1926, as a result of a 1917 constitutional reform, all private schools, including the Montessori school his children attended, started receiving an equal amount of money per child from the state, to which he objected.
His school, which uses Maria Montessori's methods, extended by Boeke's own educational ideas, became nationally known; even the Dutch queen Juliana sent her daughters there. The school has been hugely influential for its creative way of making the students co-responsible for their own curriculum, together with the teachers; many students who failed in regular schools have blossomed at "De werkplaats", but on the other hand many talented children couldn't reach a high level in this school.
Co-responsibility in school did not mean a freewheeling life at "the Werkplaats". Children had to perform tasks such as cleaning the school, gardening to grow vegetables and fruits, and aid with cooking lunch. One could say that Boeke's notion of sociocracy was, in effect, a secular implementation of the Quaker ideals applied to education in such a way that children were treated as adults, and were on a first name basis with their teachers.
Boeke wrote a major book on education. One of his last works was Cosmic View (New York 1957). He died in 1966 in the company of his family.
Boeke's system of sociocracy survives today and was expanded upon in the work of a well-known student of the school, Dr. Gerard Endenburg, who in the 1960s and '70s developed a governance and decision-making methodology by the same name while directing the Endenburg Electrotechniek company.
Boeke's essay/book Cosmic View (1957) presents a seminal view of the universe, from the galactic to the microscopic scale. It inspired several films:
- Cosmic Zoom (1968) produced by the National Film Board of Canada
- Powers of Ten (1968; re-released 1977) by Charles and Ray Eames
- The IMAX film Cosmic Voyage (1996) produced for the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.
Media related to Kees Boeke at Wikimedia Commons
- (Dutch) Official Website of the Werkplaats Kindergemeenschap
- (Dutch) Archief Kees Boeke
- online copy of the book "Cosmic View"
- Cosmic View, the Universe in 40 Jumps (1957, John Day Company)