Education as Part of the Next American Revolution

As I wrote yesterday, the book that we will be discussing at KI today is The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs.  The last part of the book is about education, and how we need a revolution in our educational system, too.  The current public education model hasn’t changed since it was developed to actually train, rather than educate, workers needed to work in factories.  To give people  enough basic skills in reading and math to be able to work in mass assembly plants.  That doesn’t develop critical thinking skills, and has the effect of making workers very passive, because they are used to being told what to do.

The book describes why what is needed is to instead develop critical thinking skills, and ways to do that.  Which is basically to help students be engaged in their everyday living activities, to apply their creativity to everyday tasks, and to building community.

This was one of the main things that attracted me to the Kheprw Institute (KI) community.  I first learned of this community via an Internet advertised environmental event.  When I arrived, it was all about the kids showing us their work related to the environment, including an aquaponics system and making rain barrels.  It was amazing to see how excited and knowledgeable the kids were, and continue to be in the years since I’ve been connected to KI.  I quickly learned that the emphasis is on developing critical thinking skills.  An example of that is the student/intern led community discussions about books like The New Jim Crow.  KI is a model of the revolution needed in education that the book talks about.

I was so fortunate to have received this kind of education myself at Scattergood Friends School and Farm, which is a four year, co-ed, boarding Quaker college preparatory high school on a working farm in Iowa.  This is the main focus of the Quakers of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), which many members have attended, and many taught at.

It has a class size of about 15, so the total student population is about 60 maximum.  The staff size is around 30 or so.  An effort has always been made to have some international students, so we could learn about other cultures and races.

I don’t know if this was the original intention or whether it was mainly an economic necessity, I suspect both, but all of the work done at the school and farm is done by the students and staff.  There is a “crew” system, which students rotate through, so that eventually each student works on each crew.  The crews involve preparing meals, doing dishes, cleaning classroom, baking bread, farm chores, laundry, etc.  We had name tags sown into all of our clothes, since the laundry crew did everybody’s laundry.

Everyone had to attend Quaker meeting for worship, in the meetinghouse on campus, every Sunday morning.

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Academic work included writing a lot of papers, which taught English skills and critical thinking.  Letter grades were not used.  Rather, each teacher would write a several paragraph report evaluating what each student had done for the class.  That eliminated competition between us, and put the focus on working to our own full potential.

There was a lot of emphasis on art.  The art building had pottery wheels and a kiln.  Glassblowing was taught for a time.  Every class put on a play every year.  Some years looms were in use for weaving.

The farm was integrated into the classroom, now even more so than when I was there.  The sophomore class raised pigs, including delivering and caring for the babies.

The Junior class would spend a week among Quakers in a city to learn about urban issues.  Our class went to Minneapolis.

The Senior class would go the New York City to attend sessions at the United Nations, and then to Washington, D.C., to visit our Congressional representatives, and attend a session of the U.S. Supreme Court.

I was a Senior there in 1969-70, at the height of the Vietnam War, and the country in turmoil with the rise of the massive anti-war movement (more about that here).  During the fall of 1969 there were national War Moratorium Days each month to focus on anti-war efforts.   Quakers have always worked for peace and against war.  Many Quaker men went to prison for refusing to participate in the draft and military.  A number of our teachers at Scattergood had been imprisoned, providing examples for us.  One month the students organized a draft conference that was open to the public.  Another month on the Moratorium Day, several of us went into the nearby town of West Branch to talk with people there, to find out what they thought about the war.  I remember being very nervous about that, and then astonished to find that everyone we talked to (these were not Quakers) was also against the war.  A real educational experience.

In October, on the War Moratorium Day, the entire school, students and faculty, marched 12 miles from the school into the local university, carrying peace signs, to participate in the anti war events there, which included occupying the University President’s office, and seeing mannequins floating down the river.  This photo, taken during that march, is one of the first I ever developed, in the darkroom at Scattergood.

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Entire Scattergood Friends School marching 12 miles to Iowa City to protest Vietnam War

 

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