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 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.
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.