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Educating for our collective liberation

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

If I could redo one thing I have done as a parent, it would be to somehow forcibly implant (without surgery), inside each of my offspring’s brains, this mantra: “Do not jump to conclusions, good or bad, about people or situations, until you have more experience and more information.

As a kid who loved reading, creative writing, and storytelling from the time I was very little, I always wrote out the creative script in my head for the missing part of what I experienced. The next act, if you will, which was performed only within my head. If someone showed me praise, ‘well of course they want the best for me’ and ‘they are kind’. If someone was brusque, insensitive, or outright mean, then ‘they hate me and seek to hurt and disrespect me and all I care about’. I know, not the most nuanced sizing up of others I grant you, but hey, I am from the South.

Ah, if only the world were that cut and dry. Growing up as the youngest in a family that valued being well-spoken and polite, I did not experience open conflict in my family of origin. It was actively hidden from me, and I regret that. I have not learned until later in adulthood that growth in any relationship comes through co-negotiating conflict and challenge. If those skills are not cultivated, loudly celebrated and repeatedly re-calibrated, the relationship cannot grow. It rather becomes a static stone, which someone in the relationship will ultimately wield against the other. Whether the relationship blows up and disintegrates, or continues to limp along dysfunctionally, it is caught in a cycle of stagnation and recrimination that leads to only one outcome; more of the same.

My experience training virtually with approximately 40 San Francisco educators this summer has reminded me of these relatively new personal observations on my part. To be a teacher, requires some selflessness, to be sure, but there are aspects of teaching which are quite selfish.

Passionate teachers seek connection and meaning, and want to help others attain these two things through facilitating their students' educational development and self-liberation.

By helping others learn and grow, we help ourselves to become better humans. So at its core, great teaching has a fundamentally selfish motivation. I also left out that students/seekers are more interesting for teachers than well, normal adults.

My entire adult professional life has been spent in corporations, big ones, smaller ones, startups and even, gasp, tiny, privately-held companies run by family members.... and everything in between. Business is clearly myopic in its prioritization of profit over people. "Greed is good", and other prosaic, not-yet-“cancelled” detritus is hyped everywhere throughout our American culture. But I would ask, if greed is good for certain economic systems, is it really good for the individual people living within the greed fixation, or for the other people in the greater community who are not powerful enough to attend the exclusive greed party?

Does our joy come from thinking we are better, smarter, prettier, more handsome, richer, funnier than others? Or does it come from realizing that we need all of the multi-faceted “levels” of characteristics that a diverse society affords us?

We can wish to be better as individuals without clawing that “better” away from someone else. Teachers, who are passionate about their craft, actually believe this. Thank the blessed god, gods, or non-gods we worship for them, because with their brand of selfishness lies our future societal sanity.

We can teach our children, and ourselves, to absorb and process carefully and analytically, before bluntly reacting, in the hope that more-informed reactions will be those which value what is better for the collective whole.

Informed young people are empowered citizens.

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