Culture and Education
“So the question then becomes, how do we as educators help young people discover the wisdom within themselves? First we clear away the falsehoods, the seductions, and the cheap satisfactions of the modernist worldview. This step is absolutely vital, and it is what all the holistic alternatives can agree upon………If your goal is to help each student connect with their own inherent wisdom, you need to connect with yours, for that, and no technique or method, is the only reliable gateway to the ultimate Source of what is absolutely real and true and good.” -Ron Miller, from A Response to Crisis of our Time
I was a teacher for many years. While working at a holistic school, I was asked to write an article about the relationship between the teacher and student. One night while trying to dig into this endeavor, a beautiful snow storm raged outside my window. The article’s focus was going to be on the importance of honoring and trusting the natural unfolding of the child. I have seen through my times with children that when trusted and seen in their wholeness, they rise to meet their innate potential, and would give space for wonder, compassion and wholeness to flow. I wanted to share how critical that is in education.
I had come to see that learning has nothing to do with grades nor competition. Learning just is and happens in openness. Learning happens when one is open. When confronted by anxiety or looking for a goal, learning stagnates. We can learn from any situation if we are present without an agenda. Wonder is the springboard for learning. Wonder grows curiosity and questioning that burgeon into an ever growing tree of direct knowledge within oneself.
Intuitively, I knew this was the beginning of something. But what? Relationships, trust, learning, wonder, and potentiality were ripe in my mind. Yet, why isn’t this how we see education? How does the way we educate, which in essence takes away those essential components, impact society? I struggled to figure out how to express eloquently and thoughtfully what was bubbling up within myself. There seemed to be so much more that I needed to share than this article. What started as a trickle, was now becoming rivers of understanding.
While I wrote, the snow continued to fall. Innumerable snowflakes whirled like a swarm of pale butterflies, all coming to settle into a kaleidoscopic bed of white. Watching the flakes flutter down, a flash of insight opened in my mind. Everything connected in that instant, all of my experiences came into a revelation of clarity. In that moment, all washed away but Wholeness, exactly what Emerson was rendering. “And this power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer, and the spectacle, the subject and the object are one.” This illumination, this light filling all consciousness, brought me into a simple yet revolutionary clarity. Everything I had ever read, everything that I had been doing, my work, all of a sudden made total sense.
This clarity I felt within my whole being. We are whole. And yet our culture has taught us to see separation. Look at the structure of our society. Instead of listening in to what has been expounded on for thousands of years which is all is interconnected, that love is what matters, and we are all whole, we have been taught to ignore this. In actuality, we are all one, division is an illusion, duality is simply the drama that we play out unconsciously, and that in the beginning and the end we are complete.
I now saw that the reason we aren’t tapped into this is because we have been conditioned into a cultural ideology that is based on a false premise through the way we are educated. Our culture in subtle and overt ways teaches us that we are separate from each other and nature. Because of this, our culture treats the earth as if it was made just for humans. This narrative assumes that cultural hierarchy is natural. This narrative implies that we need competition to fuel innovation and progress without questioning if this actually has made us more connected or more impoverished. This narrative has led to a domineering agricultural perspective that is totalitarian in its approach. Through pesticides and herbicides and killing off of predators as well as the imprisonment of millions of animals that we place in horrendous conditions for our own insatiable greed for meat, we continue to destroy ecosystems, the soil, rivers and oceans without thinking of the innumerable consequences over time. This approach to agriculture has spawned a continual relentless population growth that fuels an economic travesty that benefits the top 1% of our society while keeping the majority of everyone else consumed by distraction in order to keep the population steeped in ignorance. This narrative has taught us that our wonder and voice doesn’t really matter. Who will really challenge this if one doesn’t really know that one is heavily conditioned into a narrative that creates nothing but sorrow?
Instead of seeing the wonder of the incredible diversity of our rich ecosystems, the web of life that we are participants in, and that we are all connected, we have been taught to feel separated from this truth. Fear, suffering and ignorance is the consequence.
What hit me profoundly and in the greatest simplicity, what all my life was leading me to seeing was realizing that, as everything is interrelated, all of our issues both past and present begin and end with how we educate. I saw with perfect clarity that all our issues — psychological, societal, economical and environmental, are not only interrelated, but they are all caused by the way our culture sees, relates and shares our cultural vision upon our children.
The traditional educational paradigm creates all the issues that we see raging across the tapestry of the earth. Because of this educational conditioning, we play out the roles we have been taught to participate in within our culture. We react from this conditioning and move unconsciously as actors and actresses in a play we have no idea we are playing in. We are fueled by the myth that humankind is on top of a misperceived hierarchical chain of life. Paradoxically, we also are conditioned to believe that we are deeply flawed. Being taught into this story, we have become like cancer, growing without limits, destroying all that comes across our path of progress.
Because of this ideology, our culture tears down and fragments the individual into conflicting parts rather than bringing out and letting unfold the individual — the undivided wholeness of who we are. We are turned into a separated caricature that will fit into a materialistic hierarchy. Generally speaking, most people, whether through our schooling or from our parents, have been taught to shut out wonder and curiosity. We have been taught that our voice doesn’t matter, to suppress what arises within oneself, and create an artificial isolated self to perpetuate an isolationist structured society.
Our society’s way of educating has actually destroyed learning and perpetuated the thinking patterns that sprout the artificial divisions of the world. One can call the societal roles that we are taught into collectively as the dream state. Collectively one can call this the cultural matrix.. The conditioned self both individually and collectively plays out what we see as our culture. If we are not at all aware, we are asleep, playing in the grand cultural matrix drama of our own creation.
We are taught to escape from feeling and looking at what we perceive to be negative. We are taught to push everything down and escape our growing sorrow through a multitude of addictions. We then try to find some way to fill in the emptiness we have been forced to live with through the addictions of positive thinking, sporting events, gambling, alcohol and drugs, comfort, perfectionism, war, drama, etc. The list goes on and on. Mirroring the self, we are taught collectively not to think about or feel the consequences of our actions.
We teach numbness and perpetuate insensitive seekers who will continuously buy into the materialistic ways of capitalism to try and find some sort of connection or escape to deal with the emptiness inside oneself and collectively.
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Instead of allowing the child to have space to learn and explore, we place them in schools with a prescribed curriculum, with prescribed transitions, plug them all into the same trajectory, and then test them and grade them on the knowledge society thinks they should have.
We force children to compete for an external reward through grading. Grading has nothing to do with learning. Learning happens when we are open and curious and feeling connected. Learning is not about gaining or losing. Learning has nothing to do with comparison. Learning happens when there is no coercion or authority. In fact, our education system destroys learning and makes children anxious of school, compete against each other and come to the conclusion that their interests and voice don’t matter and that authority is what you must follow. “All of us have been trained by education and environment to seek personal gain and security and to fight for ourselves. Though we cover it over with pleasant phrases, we have been educated for various professions within a system which is based on exploitation and acquisitive fear.” Shared Jiddu Krishnamurti.
What happens in the beginning creates what is in the end. Destroying the voice, we destroy the authentic beingness and wonder of a child.
We mold them into playing out a role that is divisive, competitive, and anti-community and anti-ecological. Suffering is the result. War is the result. Sexism, racism, war, violence against animals and environmental destruction are the result. Psychological division and conflict is the result.
The school’s main function seems to be conditioning our youth into a divisive consumer. By using authority and the guise of a preset curriculum while using reward and punishment (grading), we blind children from their inherent power of wonder and wholeness. In doing so, we implant in their minds the illusion of division and teach them to ignore what lies within themselves and thereby keep the vicious cycle of hierarchy and sorrow in perpetual motion.
In schools, children learn to just keep their heads down, and ignore their voice while learning to just survive in the narrow path of the roles we teach them to play out. This is why so many adults are fearful of authority and will not speak out when horrendous things are happening. Subtle or not, when this is coerced into us each and every day, over time, we come to believe and attach ourselves to the ideology of separation and ignorance. Our way of educating teaches us to be busy, to keep our minds occupied, and to never take time to really stop and dig.
This has a grave impact especially because of the conditioned ignorance of the populace who were taught to be quiet and have become apathetic. Martin Luther King Jr. noticed this while trying to bring awareness and change to society. “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
Because of this, most of our society is afraid and closed off from their innate authenticity. Our educational system subverts voice and teaches us to be busy and distract ourselves from being sensitive to oneself and the world. The consequence of this is a blindness to what is in front of us. We are conditioned to become stuck in our minds and think about the future or worry about the past. We are rarely present. Even when we think we are present, we are stuck in our thoughts without knowing it. As Rarchel Carson articulated, “Most of us walk unseeing through the world, unaware of its beauties, its wonders, and the strange and sometimes terrible intensity of the lives that are being lived about us.”
We live in ignorance, stuck in our roles, blind to what is right in front of us. The way in which we have been conditioned to think is what is causing all the issues that plague our planet. We move through life acting out the dreams and sorrows of our past, locked in a prescribed security blanket of beliefs and have no idea of who we truly are or the impact we are having upon all creatures great and small.
Instead of buying into the belief that our issues are separate and need to be looked at in isolation, we can open our eyes and discover the interconnectivity of all these issues that are raging within ourselves. This all begins by the way we are educated. The way in which our educational system molds and conditions us and pushes down our wonder and voice, creates our dysfunctional cultural dreamstate. This cultural matrix that we are taught into establishes the divisive worldview which is not sustainable and blinds us from who we really are.
We have the potential to let go of our conditioned thinking, quiet our minds, and wake up from our cultural dreamstate. We as teachers and adults must release the tiller of control and transform the way we educate and see our children holistically in order to foster wholeness and love rather than separation and fear.
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We don’t need to have power over children. We need to trust and listen and give them the space to be children. If we don’t change, then we will continue to educate in a way that systematically creates a subtle trauma within a child’s soul for it slowly, methodically takes them away from their wonder and sense of wholeness that they are born with. The way we educate deceives children into developing beliefs and values that violates their own integrity and freedom. Sorrow becomes us and is reflected into the world because of the way in which we think and perceive. These cultural beliefs, reflected outward from our minds, are based in division, hierarchy and fear.
Most children are learning to close themselves off to wonder and curiosity as if surgically removed. Over time, their spirits become heavy, draped with so many attachments that they become more like robots than living creatures. Their wildness and playfulness gone, bearing the cross of this culture, a cloud of ignorance blinds them to their true essence. When the door is closed, there is at best a fractured learning, at worst the hell of our own making burning one’s very soul each and every day.
We don’t know how to relinquish control and allow for our students to open up to their sense of wonder, to be in-tune. And so we keep educating in ways that perpetuate ignorance and suffering. It is not unlike Dickens’ great character from A Christmas Carol, Marley, who constructs a great chain built by his own greedy actions, and was weighed down by his own ignorance.
“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?” “I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”
This is what our education system does, weighing our children down, until they lose their true authentic way of being and then continue into their adult years forging tighter and tighter chains. The chains are just getting tighter with more and more locks. And, as we all know, change becomes more and more difficult over time, especially the more mentally enslaved we become.
As adults, we lose sight of following our bliss and instead crave achievement in our jobs, try to make more money, and try and find success in the way our culture prescribes. Yet, we become more and more unhappy with the life we are living. By the time we are in our twenties and thirties, we can barely take time to just be. We discover that to meditate seems almost impossible because we have to be with our own thoughts and that terrifies us. Yet, that points to the fact that we aren’t really living a life of joy as we aren’t comfortable in our own skin. And so we distract ourselves without thinking about the consequences or chains we are placing upon ourselves over time.
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It is very difficult to let go of control and completely trust in oneself and in your students.
Have we ever thought that if we are looking to control, then lurking underneath that veneer is fear? And if fear is how we see the classroom, then fear will, like a disease, begin to infect the soul of each student.
Think about class sizes. How can one teacher connect with thirty students? How can one teacher understand the strengths and challenges, their dynamics with each other, their worries and fears, their potential in all areas if they are working with such a large group of children? How can we give them an opportunity to understand democracy and freedom if children don’t have a voice in their own learning?
If the day is split into making sure that all students get through all the standards in math, reading, writing, social studies and science, where is there time to listen and pause and not rush? Where is there time for a student to go in their own direction? Where is there time to go in depth and see the connection between all fields of learning?
Because the traditional education in our culture is fragmented, rushed, and hierarchical, we are conditioned to see the world that way. Oppression, ignorance, confusion and violence are the outcomes when we don’t educate holistically. Voice is lost. Community is lost. Depth is lost. Love is lost. Freedom and truth are lost. Self-understanding is lost. Wonder is lost. Democracy is lost. As a result, our Wholeness is lost.
Our education system is where the seeds of ignorance are grown and perpetuated. It is a mirror of our society and of ignorance’s realm. They are one and the same. How can they not be? Yet, this does not need to be the case. See, education is a place that can either perpetuate ignorance, or end it.
Our culture perpetuates this hellish dream that pits ourselves against the world. We see this educational conditioning in the drama that has played out for innumerable years. We have been relentlessly participating in wars upon horrific wars for millennia that seem to be never ending. When I say our culture, I mean what we see now globally. We have a culture that has destroyed almost all indiginous cultures and every ecosystem we come in contact with by way of its spawning growth and fear based ideologies. In the past 500 years, due to the grave impact of brutal colonization and unflinching population growth, we have pushed our domineering, fear based conditioning, anti-nature agricultural practices, and ecological destruction upon all continents across the earth.
For innumerable years, we have had consistent divisiveness and antagonism towards what we perceive as other both individually and collectively. We have unmitigated population growth that is constantly gobbling up more and more land to grow more food without thought of how we can keep going down this road that is extremely unsustainable, violent to other creatures and the environment, and creates more human caused global conflicts. We have governments not for the people but rather they play global games competing for more authority, domination and domestication with more specialized wealth and power. We have people blinded by patriotism who follow without questioning what their allegiances even mean and in so doing are led down a road of violating the goodness of what is truly right. And we have devised and rationalized more and more war against the wilderness, our very home. We have impacted and tried to control every part of our earth.
And if we are not aware of this, if we are not disturbed by this, it simply means that we have become ignorant of what is. This has happened because the roots of our culture are broken, and we are conditioned to believe in its ideology of sorrow. And you can see this in the projection of our culture’s global actions. We continue to tear apart the very fabric of our own and all species’ existence. Our culture is dysfunctional and is perpetuated by all of us.
The momentum of our culture is strong and powerful, full of maladjusted dramas. I discern that to solve these problems, we need to do something subversive. When one sees that all of our issues are woven within the framework of how we are educated, then we understand immediately that we can’t fix any problems unless we change the way we see our children, see learning, and change the way we educate. And of course, that means first we must confront ourselves and our own conditioning.
We need to confront with great courage the cultural story, a myth that instead of waking us up, puts us to sleep in ignorance. As teachers and parents we have a grave responsibility. We must begin to wake up and confront the narrations we have been taught. With awareness, questioning, and having the courage to not fall in line with authority, we can stop moving towards our own destruction, create stories that are inclusive and interconnected, mirroring the life cycles of the earth and live in authentic wholeness.
If we truly love our children, if we truly love the earth, then we must now make a stand. We are not separate, we do not need to keep growing economically, agriculturally, militaristically, or spiritually in order to succeed. The story that we have been taught to believe in is simply not true. We are not separate. Together, we can change the very matrix of the world by changing the way we perceive and think. Freedom must come at the beginning not at the end.