Note: This paper uses "her" and "she" to refer to both females and males. I hope that someday we will have an appropriate pronoun to indicate people across sex and/or gender.
Visual artists seek to create objects of art, whether they are paintings, sculptures, or installations, from a wide variety of materials. Poets seek not only to create poems, but also other forms of writing and speaking within the infinite playground that is language. Musicians either create pieces of music or else interpret those which have already been imagined by other musicians, again also from a vast pool of possible sounds. Like other kinds of artists, teachers also seek to create. Educated students may therefore be seen in an abstract way to be the poems, the stories, the melodies, envisioned and nurtured into reality by their teachers. The difference, of course, lies in the fact that students are real live people and are much more actively engaged in the process of becoming than are words or sounds in their own processes of becoming. But the general analogy holds in my mind as one useful to remember, pointing to teaching as an ultimately creative process.
Now: when one sets out to paint a painting, one generally has an idea of what it will look like. Musicians can hear in their heads what they work to produce for the ears of others. By the same token, teachers need to have a sense of what they want to help their students become. In other words, students are people who are in process with or without the presence of teachers. What difference any given teacher makes depends largely upon the vision of that individual teacher: the image of The Educated Person.
The fact is that there are many and varied images of just what an educated person looks like. As a future teacher with strong and deeply-help beliefs, I certainly have my own visions about education, with my own ideas about what differentiates an educated person from one who is not. These ideas are perhaps not in keeping with what even some of the more radical educators are saying these days. However, because this is a personal position paper, I am therefore free to think and write in an ideal fashion about my image of an educated person, and frankly appreciate this opportunity to write honestly about that vision.
I believe that the educated person above all knows in her heart and soul that all of life is connected. She knows this in a physical sense (e.g. she knows that rain flows into creeks flow into rivers flow into oceans); in a humano-relational sense (e.g. if I have sex with this person I am really having sex with all her former lovers); and in a planto-animal sense, including humans in this broad category (e.g. when they cut down trees for yet another subdivision it affects millions of creatures, not least of all the trees themselves). She knows in her gut that just as buzzing her hair will make it impossible for her to wear it in a ponytail, infinite other actions will of necessity create infinite other reactions. She knows that putting poisonous chemicals into the ground will bring poisons up in the plants that grow from it; that forcing certain "welfare" mothers to work menial jobs outside their homes jeopardizes the children of those mothers; and that her swirling waste in the toilet actually does go somewhere, the water always ending up in the belly of another. Finally, she also knows that because it is impossible for her-or for anyone-to ever know for sure all possible reactions to all possible actions, all of us must walk with care.
However, this knowing is not enough. Government and corporate power-holders today often understand these connections quite well but fail to care about them so long as they and theirs profit in the short run. It is therefore crucial that this knowing be accompanied by a sense of, and a love of, the sacred. This, then, is the second "component" of my image of an educated person: she has a spiritual sense that the divine is not apart from us, but rather weaves through us all and is us all. She knows that all of life is imbued with the divine, is the divine; that the divine is not something disattached and separate from us and up in heaven, but woven throughout every single one of its infinite forms. In other words, she has a spirituality, and her spirituality is alive and well and full of reverence, believing that joy in living is the ultimate purpose for living at all-if indeed there must be a purpose at all-and that all forms of life are inherently deserving of this joy. This spirituality does not dictate what religion this allegorical person must subscribe to; but it does in fact dictate ones to which this person cannot. No monotheistic and/or patriarchal religions can ever reconcile with a spiritual sense of interconnectedness and sacredness as woven through all of life. Therefore, they must be discarded entirely. I will not digress into arguments supporting this position in this paper; suffice it to say it is eminently supportable. However, most people today, even the "progressive" ones, will not listen to those arguments.
Which brings us to a third quality of an educated person. She is able to envision the world in a manner different than what surrounds her. She never simply accepts certain ideas, structures, paradigms or practices, but instead subjects them to scrutiny. She wants to ensure before she agrees with them, perpetuates them, and nurtures them ever more fully into being that they meet the requirements as set by the worldview described above. Do these practices or ideas understand and respect that all of life is interconnected? Do they honor and love the sacredness inherent in all of life? If not, then she will not accept them as they are. Perhaps they will be worth altering and reshaping, and in that case she will do so. It may be that they must be discarded altogether. In this case as well she will use her abilities, along with the abilities of others, to forge alternate ways of doing things and of helping the world to change along those lines.
To do so, however, the educated person needs three other qualities. First, she needs to have the ability to revel in her skills and talents, both learned and instinctive. Here, "revel" means honoring these skills and talents, desiring to hone them, and generally loving to work her mind and her heart, her spirit and her body, ever further and more effectively. In other words, the educated person does not have the love of learning-which is after all instinctive in every single form of life, plant, animal or other-drummed out of her. And as a connected person, as one who respects and loves the other life forms which share this living with her, she will revel in the learning of others. Even if that learning runs counter to her worldview, to her spirituality, she will at least gain from it what she can before moving to defeat its conclusions.
Second, she must have certain inter- and intrapersonal skills which can assist her in shaping alternate ways of doing things, alternate paradigms, in concert with others-including those who are not human. She can partially gain these simply by being loved enough by her teachers (if by no one else) to be able to feel comfortable in community; by being taught-directly-skills around conversation, both listening and speaking; by learning appropriate ways to love and respect the life in and of others; by learning to communicate with others who are not human; by learning certain spiritual practices, such as meditation and breathing; by learning about all the ways of knowing, including the emotional ones; and so forth. Again, since there is no one right way to live in harmony with the world-for there are as many ways to do so as there are forms of life-she must have the skills which allow her to truly hear and understand ways of being other than her own. This is crucial to enable her to not only be able to ferret out the harmful ways, but also to recognize and honor those which are healthy and life-affirming.
Finally, she must have a courage and a ferocity in her that impels her to work to create change. She will need courage because most of the humans in this world are locked into destructive paradigms so tightly that she will be labeled irrational at best and dangerously insane at worst. She needs to have the courage of her vision to keep it strong in the face of almost unbelievable opposition-often quite subtle and persuasive-pushing her to alter it. She also needs to have a ferocity in her, an intolerance of the mindless destruction and torment to which much of the world is put at the hands of others, that will keep her going in the face of what surely will be multiple failures, including the fact that most likely things in her lifetime will continue to get worse in many ways.
I have not mentioned as one of my qualities a knowledge of the typical "subjects," such as English, mathematics and so forth, as they are taught in almost all of our schools-even in the "liberal" schools. I intend that my fourth quality of the educated person, the ability to revel in and forever hone her skills and talents, includes all these "subjects" and more. She would have interest in learning ever more effective and beautiful ways to communicate; to dance; to play with numbers; to grow vegetables; to identify creatures in the woods and in the oceans without hurting them; and so on ad infinitum. I do not address these individually in part because I refuse to perpetuate the compartmentalization of knowledge and learning which I believe to be a harmful construct in all of our systems of "education." It is one of so many flaws I see inherent in our public school system.
Therefore, in part two of this paper I will speak to the need to home-school our children-ALL of our children. Not just our "own" children (we always say as if we "own" them-the nuclear family is yet another manifestation of patriarchal paradigms), all by themselves in our own individual homes; but all together, with teachers who are not a part of the flawed system that is our public school system. I do not believe that ultimately successful resistance or revolution can ever come from within any flawed, entrenched system-my beliefs are separatist through and through.
Therefore, I will end with one of the most crucial things of all that I believe an educated person must have: and this is the presence of educated teachers in her life. Today these teachers-Angela Davis, Judy Grahn, Alice Walker, Joy Harjo, Sherman Alexie, Adrienne Rich, Crystos, Howard Zinn, Audre Lorde (her works at least are still alive), Monica Sjoo, Marija Gimbutas (also living today through her written works), Barbara Walker, and many many more-are unfortunately accessible only either at the university level or else through books they have written. We need these teachers face-to-face in the lives of our youth, teaching outside the killing institution that is known as the public school system; both they themselves as well as their teachings as passed through the voices and minds of others. Because without true teaching, true education cannot take place, and those who wish for a true education must seek it for the most part outside the public school system-usually after they have graduated from high school. And unfortunately, I do not believe we have the luxury even of that relatively short amount of time.
To help nurture into being a "truly educated" person-one who is spiritually-tuned, intensely curious, compassionate, creative and visionary-might seem a daunting task. And indeed it is; especially if one works within the system known as The Public Schools, an institution designed and maintained to perpetuate certain values and behaviors in both teachers and students. While many arguments exist-sound arguments-for working within that system to change not only those who keep it going but also those who get "put through" it, I tend toward other arguments which support working for change from outside the system. I will not specifically address such arguments here, as they are beyond the scope (and purpose) of this paper. But suffice it to say that all theories aimed at changing the system we know as public education, even the more radical "multicultural social reconstructionist" theories, are all predicated upon an assumption that some version of mandatory, daily schooling, in a building, with teachers and subjects and book learning, is desirable. I challenge that assertion, and offer the perspective that it is the system itself which must be demolished to be created anew; that all people do not need, and never will need, the particular rigors of "public education," even as it is defined most radically; and that all people, even those we do not consider to be fully human-namely, underage students-should instead have the right to choose from among many different types of schooling as provided by knowledgeable, responsive adult humans.
However, the reality is that in this country and at this time, mandatory schooling is here to stay. Moreover, given the sociocultural and political climates in which we live, I believe that continuing to mandate education for all underage people is immensely preferable to just doing away with it-for, as we have seen in other areas of human service, when one approach is taken away, none others are created; or if they are, they are surely not funded. The possibility that full human rights to persons under the age of 18 years will be granted is utterly remote. And even if they were to be granted, the necessary accompanying ethical belief system in which all older humans would know themselves to be responsible for all younger ones is even more remote. Therefore, the liberation of young humans today would de facto be more like the turning-loose of younger folks into an uncaring, hostile world seeking to exploit and manipulate them. So, mandatory schooling it is; but I would suggest that it not proceed in the usual public school way.
This may sound like an argument for charter schools; in fact, it is not. Charter schools are, for the most part, immensely tied into both government and corporate interests. It is also often true-although by no means always so-that charter schools all too often do not meaningfully cross barriers of class. (Issues around race and sex are more often addressed, and often quite effectively). Whether or not charter schools ultimately condemn the entire notion of free accessible public education, as many liberal folks feel, or whether they actually ensure its (much improved) existence, as many conservative folks say, is an argument moot in the context of this paper, as I most definitely do not advocate their promotion. I also have serious reservations about private schools, even "alternative" ones. Of course there are some alternative, private schools that are truly accessible to persons across race, class and sex. However, this is the exception rather than the norm. Moreover, these schools as well are also often tied in to government and/or business concerns.
Finally, I believe unequivocally that parochial schools are to be avoided at all costs when they spring from monotheistic, patriarchal religions. The very notions of power-over, hierarchy, the ownership of women, children and "nature;" the sanctioning of male domination by virtue of a male godhead; the privileging of the rational (white, light, intellect) over the emotional (color, dark, intuition); the very idea that there is ONE TRUE and/or a ONE BEST deity, leading to such ideas as "chosen people" and "master race;" these ideas were first promoted, conceived and force-colonized by patriarchal, monotheistic religions. It is therefore ultimately futile to work for social change in any way, shape or form while resting in the arms of the very oppressive regimes one is attempting to dismantle. And the true education of our youth in a caring, respectful fashion; the true nurturing of their souls as they unfold naturally into spiritually-wholesome, life-loving liberationists; this is social change in its most basic form.
Before I lay out what I would consider to be a school with the potential to nurture students into truly "educated people," I wish to speak for a moment about the various types of separatism in schools. First, I believe separation by sex to be not only acceptable, but also desirable. Countless studies show that such temporary separatism along lines of sex can instill in females of all ages a confidence, self-esteem and sense of personal strength that surpasses what can be accomplished when issues of gender run rampant through the school. And I believe that, when done right, boys can grow into nurturing, compassionate men in the context of all-boys schools, without implicitly learning that girls and women are somehow responsible to guide them there.
Race-based separatism has not been studied to the same extent-or else I am not aware of the existence of such studies-but enough anecdotal evidence exists to make a case for temporary educational separatism along line of race and/or ethnicity as well. (However, I will say that due to my particular political beliefs, I believe it is far more important for girls and women to unite across lines of race and ethnicity than it is for females of different cultural identities to remain segregated from each other and allied only with same-race men. Therefore, I would be quite supportive of an all-girls school mixed-in truth, not in token-along lines of race/ethnicity.) I also believe that class-mixed schools, also mixed in truth, are imperative if we wish to break down class systems. Unfortunately, private "alternative" schools for the most part come with tuitions that make true class-mixed schooling an impossibility.
So. I offer so far an idea of an all-female, class-crossed and race-mixed school. But if not as a "program" within a public school, nor a private alternative school, nor yet a charter school; and if not a traditional parochial school; then how? I propose incorporation as a religious school under the auspices of one of the few nature-based religions which have achieved status as 501(c)(3) organizations. I propose schools operated not unlike other "many-home" schooling options-where the children of many households get together under the umbrella of one loosely-regulated home school-and structured in the eyes of the world as a parochial school. The only difference would be the nature of the guiding "religion." Goddess schools, I would call them. Incorporating as parochial schools would free them from the bulk of regulatory influence; free them from big business; and with a wonderful sense of irony use the first amendment-a condescending gesture from a government so steeped in the paradigms of certain religions that any actual rituals are rather irrelevant, certainly never enforced to protect indigenous or nature-based religions-against the government that created it. (Please note that I say "schools," plural. I intend for there to be such schools located at many places in this country. As vital and encouraging as one-school projects are, I don't believe they have the possibility to have as much impact as necessary to truly alter the balance of power in this world. In short, we all need lots of help.)
Funding would come in large part from the parents of children who had money. Tuition would be strictly sliding-scale, with percentages of parental income graduated according to amount of money earned in a year's time. Below a certain income level-far above what our government calls the poverty level-tuition would be free. Donations would also be solicited from pagan/goddess gatherings as well as from carefully-selected granting sources (ones which make minimal demands upon recipients of funding). The overall racial/ethnic and class-status population of each of these goddess-schools, from the board which would investigate and recommend overall funding and other strategies to the teachers and students and parents and volunteers, would be required by its mission to mimic those that exist in reality in the state in which each particular school is located. Schools would be sex-segregated; female teachers would teach in both girls and boys schools, and male teachers would teach only in the boy's schools.
I won't go into more structural details-although I will say that I have thought and re-thought and investigated and planned and discussed with others for some time now how such schools might be organized and operated. Instead, let's take a look at what the curriculum might be like. Artificial boundaries between "subjects" would not exist in this school. Rather, over-arching topics would be explored in depth in a variety of ways and from a variety of perspectives, allowing the true holism that exists in this world to be experienced by the students in their learning processes. Students and teachers both would have equal rights-and responsibilities-to propose these topics, which would for the most part be brainstormed and selected at least some time in advance to allow for coherence to be brought to their study. No topics would be off-limits; they would simply be presented differently depending upon the age of the students. However, while no topics would be taboo, some would be required. Some examples would be: visual arts/music/poetry; current events: social change movements; self-empowerment; indigenous and nature-based religious beliefs; and ecology (everything from alternative sources of fuel to ecosystems). Some sort of physical learning would also be required, such as group hikes, running games, dancing, even team sports with their competitive streaks erased.
Cooperative learning would be the organizational foundation of learning in the goddess schools. By this, I do not mean "team" learning with vestiges of competition, but true cooperative learning with no "tests" in the traditional sense. However, students would be encouraged from time to time to engage in independent pursuit of knowledge, as solitude and introspection are also vital abilities to nurture in growing people. For the most part, the type of learning would be tailored to the particular topic and/or perspective from which it is being approached. For example, poetry can be approached by discussing the works of others (cooperative groups), by researching and writing it (individual work), and from a number of other perspectives. Each one requires a different approach to learning; as all are valid, all would be attempted.
Teachers, a la Atwell, would act as facilitators, mentors, helpers to their students. Just because they should never rule their classes does not mean they are not elders whose experience and knowledge are not to be respected. Qualifications to teach would be based upon spiritual and political worldview; acquired knowledge and experience in a variety of topics, including activism; ability to connect and empathize with younger folks; commitment to the vision of the goddess schools; and ability to, well, teach. Teachers would be "hired" by groups of persons who would be involved in the interview, observation, and discussion process and who would be comprised of equal numbers of students, current teachers, board members, parents, and volunteers.
Discipline problems would be handled if at all possible in a humanistic tradition of child-rearing, where "bad behavior" is seen in a context of need; where what is lacking in the life of a student is recognized and validated; and where teachers and others help the student in need to find healthy ways to get those needs met. I say "if at all possible" because just as with any therapeutic model, humanistic approach does not always work, or work fast enough, or is not enough in and of itself. There are plenty of times when modified behavioral or cognitive interventions, or even "tough love" types of help, are both effective and humane, especially when used in times of crisis. (For example, to get a woman and her children away from a batterer to whom she has developed a cycle of addiction, I believe it would be humane for her loved ones to physically keep her from going back to him until she can break herself of her body's chemical dependence upon the particular cycle of violence known as domestic violence. I know this is not necessarily advocated by "pure choice" activists; but I also know that the rush of violence coming to an end in romance and apology can feel a lot like smoking crack. And many folks would think nothing of physically keeping a loved one from crack until she was strong enough to take steps to keep herself away from it. Thanks to Pattrice for this idea.) In any case, whenever alternative interventions seemed necessary, their use would rest upon the decision of a group of people empowered and knowledgeable enough to make such a decision-especially those who had had similar experiences to the student in need.
Beyond curriculum and discipline there are of course many more areas to be considered and planned for, from transportation issues to pay scales to hours of operation. These are most certainly beyond the scope of this paper. However, it is important to note that all decisions would need to be made in consensus-style groups with equal representation of all people involved in the goddess schools. This includes decisions that might seem mundane to some folks-for what is trivial to some (transportation is a good example) is crucial to others.
To close, I would like to say that while I know that such schools are possible and while I believe they would be effective, I also know that they are not the only answer to the question of How To Change The World For The Better. Educated persons emerge from even the most killing of contexts, and "uneducated" persons would most assuredly walk out of the doors of a goddess school. Creating and maintaining a network of goddess schools is simply a piece of my vision of social change, one big way I seek to be a part of the movement of people who say enough of the destructive paradigms of patriarchy and let's get back to living with joy in the wild sacredness of life. I trust that others are seeking their own visions, and that together we will find a way out of here.
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