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Book and Film Reviews, Philosophical Meanderings

Sacred Wounds

In Wounded by School, Kirsten Olson validates the experiences we have all had. Whether that’s the formation of a self-image that we are incapable or stupid, reflecting the narrow and inflexible curriculum of public schools; or the dulling of our senses and joy for learning as we do rote memorization in order to regurgitate on a scan-tron sheet; or being afraid of not being correct and of taking chances; we all know the wounds very well.

Regarding the book, let me say it’s worth reading, I am not going to provide a recap or highlights, but rather discuss where it has led me.

My wound described in my graduate school application as “my passion for learning persists in spite of my formal education,” is what fueled me to become involved in education again. My graduate work at Goddard College has healed many of the fractures I had, and empowers me to bring forth learning through wholeness with others.

Like so many others I developed a distorted self-image based on the factory system schools we employ in our public education system. I was a bright boy, one who loved to laugh and explore. Over the years I got yelled enough times to sit down and to stop laughing that I began to sag in my seat, doodle more, and tune out. I learned my role as a subservient and unquestioning child. My curiosity squelched along with some real talents and passion, I lost a significant part of who I am for a time. Olson describes these long-term effects of schooling as: conventional thinking, intimidation of authority, underestimation of one’s self. (p. 28)

Luckily, I am resilient. I grew and healed and became stronger over the years. I rediscovered parts of myself that had been stuffed into that black sack we carry behind us as Robert Bly describes the shadow. I rediscovered my love of nature, writing, reading, social justice…I reanimated these loves with integrated studies at Goddard, I decided what I wanted to learn and how I wanted to learn it, I met rigorous standards along the way and produced meaningful work—to me and my community.

One of the most impacting essays I read during my graduate studies was Clifford Mayes, “Teacher as Shaman.” He discusses the wounds that teachers carry and must carry in order to perform their roles well. Of importance here is the “wound of vocation.” In depth psychology it is understood that during a person’s life there will be an event that creates a chasm in a person’s sense of self and the world. Something that impacts them so greatly that much of their life following it (if not all of it) is spent reconciling this wound. Just like a physical wound, homeostasis is disrupted and it must undergo a process to return to balance. However the balance is not the same, something has changed a transformation has occurred. This wound is unfortunately too often a negative in today’s world—neglect, abuse, and illness. This wound can also be a beautiful thing—an encounter with nature, a loved one, music, dance, or a speech.

As a caring adult, I am committed to not facilitating the negative and unnecessary wounding that schools have done so well thus far. I am not interested in nor will I create an environment where any student comes to think they are stupid or worthless. I will not create environments where students become afraid to take chances or replace pleasure  found in learning itself with external rewards such as praise, gold stars, or grades. And while the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I have the tools, awareness, and network of peers to ensure that I stay true to this.

What I will do is help students encounter the sacred wounds they are destined to have. Whether this is the encounter of a piece of music that so deeply enters their soul, or a problem of social justice that keeps them awake at night, or the thrill of discovering a problem for which the student believes they can research or invent an answer to.

I will help students to be wounded such that they discover their passions. Perhaps passions beyond what they ever knew they even cared about. I will not condemn a child to completing tasks I do not believe in for some bureaucratic program. I won’t ask them to do it even if it means my salary is on the line.

I will help students discover their wound of vocation, the event or events that forever alters them. The wound that fuels their own drive for learning, and enables them to go out into the world and deep into themselves to bring forth work that “produces something new and that adds unusual value or perspective.” As Olson defines creativity. I agree with David Pink, who Olson quotes as saying “creativity will be at the center of workplace skills—the ability to empathize and create beauty, coherence, and meaning are the attributes that will be most valuable.” (p. 37) How true this is! Imagine if we aimed to create beauty, coherence and meaning! Where does war, greed, and exploitation fit into such strivings?

David Bohm echoes this in his book On Creativity. He states that creativity is an act of originality that discovers oneness and totality in nature. By the very nature of our public education system it is designed to not allow for this, in fact, it down right hates it.

To this end, I also agree with Alvin Toffler quoted as saying that we should shut down the entire education system; “that the system is out of time. It is a system designed to produce industrial workers.” (p. 131)

As Albert Einstein famously said, our problems cannot be solved using the same level of thinking that created them. We must then rise to new levels of thinking, ones with enhanced perspectives of oneness and totality to begin designing an educational system that will serve the planet today and for the 21st century. A system grounded in the wholeness of the planet, one that espouses three new R’s: Restoration, Resilience, and Regeneration. It is these three processes that we as individuals, communities, and ecosystems desperately need. We have degraded the planet and ourselves as far as I care to see us go in this distraction of money-making.

It’s time for us to re-evaluate our values, and align our culture to them. Regardless of religion or personal beliefs, I am confident that every human can describe the same basic values we want in our world. In fact, through the work of the Institute for Humane Education, I know this is true.

The writers on this blog are off to a good start in my biased opinion. And because of my work with them, as well as many others, I am confident we can design a new education system, one that helps students find their true callings and supports them in developing the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in their own vision of their life. One that I trust will not be self-involved but one that will enhance the beauty and resilience of the greater community. This can best be done through holistic and democratic designs as has been discussed in length in other posts on this blog.

“I know that I am a dreamer, but I know I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us, and some day the world will live as one.” -John Lennon

Olson, Kirsten (2009). Wounded by School: Recapturing the Joy in Learning and Standing Up to Old School Culture. New York: Teacher’s College Press.

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About Adam Burk

Adam aims to serve the greater good; alleviate unnecessary suffering; and create beautiful, sane human communities in concert with the living planet. Recently, he has helped to rebuild local food systems in Maine in large part through school food services, organized the TEDxDirigo conference, and is a digital organizer with the Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA).

Discussion

9 thoughts on “Sacred Wounds

  1. Wow, Adam, I am struck by the fact all of us mention, in some way, the need we have to put passion and justice back into schooling system. It indeed does have to “enhance the beauty and resilience of the greater community” as you say.

    Your story is similar to many I know–it was in returning to school as adults that we were finally able to recapture that inner drive to follow OUR questions. Why can’t we allow kids to do the same?

    You also say, “It’s time for us to re-evaluate our values, and align our culture to them. Regardless of religion or personal beliefs, I am confident that every human can describe the same basic values we want in our world.”

    I, too, am confident of that–and beginning the conversations with OUR students will help them believe it too. Then, perhaps the pervasive stories of today’s schools wounding so many will no longer be the norm.

    Posted by Paula White | April 5, 2010, 7:43 pm
    • Paula, it wasn’t just about returning to school as an adult, it was this particular school-Goddard. I have also attended Boston University, Northeastern University, Community Colleges, and Thomas Edison State College. Those schools perpetuated or originated (depending on how you look at it) the harms done to students. The difference now was that I was paying to be jailed, to be denied individuality.

      My last experience as an undergraduate adult learner in an on-line learning environment damn near killed me. With unexperienced and unresponsive professors as the norm, demanding read and repeat responses, and mandatory boring-as-hell on-line discussions, I finally gave up. I exploited the system for what it had. I finished my two undergraduate degrees through CLEP and DANTE exams. For a hundred bucks a pop and a few hours of my time I took multiple choice tests to prove my “competency” in many subjects. I was awarded the prize I was after-credits, and got a piece of paper with words on it.

      Goddard College helped me heal by being the most supportive and least restrictive educational environment I have ever been in. The process of learning is exalted, there are no grades, narrative assessments are your transcript–both in your own words and your advisers. I have dynamic relationships with my professors and classmates. Unlike the worthless on-line discussions on Blackboard systems, I maintain vital, useful, and inspiring conversations with my classmates.

      At Goddard the reward is not grades or credits (although credits are earned) it is the learning. Pure, unadulterated learning. Learning about things you care about and choose. It’s a beautiful thing.

      Posted by Adam Burk | April 6, 2010, 6:30 am
  2. Adam, I think we should create an site just for this quote:

    “As a caring adult, I am committed to not facilitating the negative and unnecessary wounding that schools have done so well thus far. I am not interested in nor will I create an environment where any student comes to think they are stupid or worthless. I will not create environments where students become afraid to take chances or replace pleasure found in learning itself with external rewards such as praise, gold stars, or grades. And while the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I have the tools, awareness, and network of peers to ensure that I stay true to this.”

    We should invite educators to sign the proclamation virtually, to submit some evidence – a blog post, a video, a lesson plan, a school schedule, a charter proposal – and to form a community embodied by those living these words.

    I think some of us need a commitment or some other permission to stand up for what’s right at school. The system and its expectations and rewards and punishments weigh heavily on us. Your words help slough off some of that weight.

    In taking a first step toward the three R’s of Restoration, Resilience, and Regeneration, which of the wounds described by Olson should classroom teachers address most quickly? Is that even a fair or useful question?

    Thank you,
    C

    Posted by Chad Sansing | April 8, 2010, 7:22 pm
    • Chad,

      I am on board with this idea. We could set up a new site and link to it from here, or perhaps we just add a page to this site dedicated to the proclamation? What do we call this?

      Thanks for the continued rich interaction.

      With hope,
      Adam

      Posted by Adam Burk | April 9, 2010, 11:22 am
  3. Let’s add a page this weekend and invite people to comment, but also keep thinking about creating a dedicated page as we gauge interest. It would be great to outsource some aesthetic work on a stand-alone page to, say, the artist who did the Maine Farm Enterprise School’s illustrations. What do you think?

    How about something simple, like “The Educator’s Oath,” or, “Pledge for Children and Learning?”

    With continued thanks,
    C

    Posted by Chad Sansing | April 9, 2010, 8:31 pm
    • Chad,

      Sounds like a reasonable plan. I can talk to Malia the artist who did Maine Farm Enterprise School’s art work. Do you have any imagery in mind, or should we just let her have at it?

      Both your suggestions for names are good, with preference for “Pledge for Children and Learning.”

      Thank you Chad.

      -Adam

      Posted by Adam Burk | April 9, 2010, 10:26 pm
  4. Cool. I would be thrilled to see what Malia brings to the words -

    I’ll start a “Pledge” page, run it past you, and tweet it before day’s end, unless you’d prefer to begin -

    Best,
    C

    Posted by Chad Sansing | April 10, 2010, 10:02 am
  5. Chad, I started a page, just some cut and paste, please go in and add to it. Let me know when you want me to look at it again. Thanks for keeping the push on.

    Posted by Adam Burk | April 10, 2010, 1:33 pm

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