Anyone who spends time with kids (of any age) can acknowledge how profoundly they understand the concepts surrounding privilege, disparity, social structure, and economics. Sadly, each child knows instinctively if they are at the bottom, middle, or top simply by observing how they are treated. No guess work required. Wealth and professional status equals high regard; poverty and plebeian ranking is on par with contempt, suspicion, and disrespect. It was how our system was originally designed and it is what modern culture fully endorses --- raise those at the top to the heights of opulence and push those on the bottom down to the depths of squalor, all the while, promising that compulsory education is (can be) the great equalizer.
This past week, I read a scholarly article that used Ivan Illich's 1971 book Deschooling Society and the fourth season of HBO's The Wire to discuss Illich's revelations about how the myths invoked by capitalism have compounded the problems of institutionalized education and to introduce his proposed solution of intentional learning communities.
It is hard to believe that I had never heard of Illich before reading this article. His fundamental beliefs about education are, for the most part, spot on with my personal philosophy. After reading this article (and highlighting the majority of it), I immediately ordered his book and look forward to delving more deeply into his ideology.
One of his observations (and remember this was written in 1971) relates directly to the above mentioned stratifying of society. He saw that those who benefited most from education were those that already profited from the entitlements affiliated with social hierarchy. Those that do not come from a privileged background suffered from discrimination because they simply do not fit into societal norms or expectations.
He also saw that assessment through standardized testing creates another means of ranking, not only of students, but teachers, schools, and their communities. Thereby creating larger economic disparity by punishing those who do not reach optimum achievement on the tests.
In reading this article, I understand that Illich believed the system of institutionalized education to be inherently flawed, and, more importantly, rigged against those who were (are) supposed to benefit the most.
Many students and families, right here in the North Country, are stigmatized, pigeonholed, categorized, segregated, intimidated, and encounter institutionally sanctioned discrimination, simply because of their economic and social standing.
Yes, these are strong statements, and, yes, my anthropologically inspired socialistic roots are showing, however, these are my convictions that, I believe, should be an important part of any dialogue about education. I fully understand that, by voicing my opinions, I can not independently or magically change the system and I will not convince most readers that capitalism is, indeed, defective.
I can, however, provide an inspiring place of learning that accepts, supports, and encourages every child to explore how their distinctive and beautiful gifts can best be shared with the world. Our organizational doctrine does not use economic indicators, ethnicity, income, gender, sexual orientation, learning differences, standardized tests, or societal expectations to limit or dictate who we serve.
Everything we work toward is in direct opposition to capitalistic ideals, which understandably creates tension and multiple challenges. The DRC ideology supports egalitarian and socialistic viewpoints, however, by default (paying rent and employees, and, purchasing supplies and equipment), Deep Root Center participates in a free market society which places all its eggs in one cumbersome, top-heavy basket.
We situate DRC at financial risk by joyfully accepting every student, who wants to join us, despite their economic and social tier (currently 90% of our members receive some amount of fee reduction). Our expenses are not going to be diminished (or eliminated) simply because we don't believe in the system that has created the need for them. Covering ones eyes and ears and shouting, “na-na-na-na”, neither sustains an organization's dignity, nor, more importantly, its bank account.
As Catherine Gobron, one of the co-founders of Lighthouse Holyoke (another Liberated Learner organization), is fond of saying, “the challenge is the opportunity.”
This is the moment we look to you, our community, to ask for your ideas on how we can work together on this enigma for all those kids who require our brand of education. I look forward to hearing every single (hair-brained, crazy, out there) scheme, because, as with all brainstorms, every notion guides us to others that eventually leads to the opportunity. Thank you.
This post was inspired by Illich, Education, and the Wire, by Erin Buzuvis. A link to the article can be found at the bottom of this page.
As mentioned, I have purchased a copy of Ivan Illich's book, Deschooling Society. It will be available to borrow as soon as I have taken it in fully.
Thanks to Krista Briggs for donating these origami stars for our August 13th sale.
Saturday, August 13th
Deep Root Center will be participating in the Village-wide garage sale event on August 13th.
We are looking for donations of goods – hand-crafts and used items (in good condition) - that can be sold during the event to raise money for DRC. You can contact the center to set up a time to deliver your contributions.
We will also host an open-house at the same time for folks to learn more about Deep Root Center. We look forward to seeing you.
This is Splash Week! We will be heading to Taylor Park as many times as weather permits. Register today!