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Reimagining Educational Basics: The Laws of Man and The Laws of The Universe 

Doors to Education at Taliesen West

My youngest daughter, Madigan, graduates from KU in just a few days. Her degree, Early Childhood Special Education, allows her to work in a field that has always captured her passion and interest. I used to joke that she wanted to live in her elementary school forever, but now I understand the more serious truth behind her affinity for that supportive environment. I see how valuable it is, developmentally, when children feel safe enough to express themselves freely. Open communication organically fosters personal growth and self-esteem, even when taken for granted. It is important to Madigan that each child receives the best opportunities for their own success, starting as early as possible. I admire her commitment to what seems more and more like a true calling. Not to mention – she’s really good at it!

Being able to work with kids that don’t have much say in what happens to and for them is a wonderfully creative outlet for her. Whether they are non-verbal, or simply too young to talk, she enjoys finding the small changes that brighten the day for each of the kids she gets to know, professionally and otherwise. While still a child herself, she took on a lot of responsibility for younger kids, becoming a thoughtful caregiver at a very young age. She’s always gravitated toward people who needed help, and she's never shied away from taking on challenges for the benefit of others. Even in high school, some of her most treasured memories came from being a cadet teacher in the Personal Life Skills Program (PDS). 

The first year that they allowed PDS students to earn academic letters based on their performance at the District's annual Job Olympics was a heartwarmer for the record books. As a parent who has watched four kids matriculate through Shawnee Mission South High School, I've attended many different banquets, but this was a magical highlight. Parents, teachers and students cried happy tears together as those cherished school letters were presented to the students who earned them. The pride swelled in each of these kids as they were individually recognized in front of a large audience, and they beamed with internal excitement for days to come. There was noticeable value in their hard-won accomplishments, and celebrating that moment with them is something I will never forget – and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Fact: When we get to pursue the things that interest us with creative passion, we are generally happier, more agreeable people. We feel more free to express ourselves and say what we need, which allows us to hold that space steady for the people around us, too. Absent creative freedom, we might find it hard to say how we feel about things, or worse - we might start feeling like it doesn’t really matter, anyway - and that puts us way off track from the power that comes with using our own voice when it serves us. We all participate in some kind of ‘work’ that ‘supports’ our lives in some way. These are very loose terms, but when that awareness is front and center, our creative mind knows it has an eternal green light. The challenge comes in teaching ourselves to remember that as we face the doubt, insecurity and fear we encounter in our daily lives.

Education, as an institution, appears to be experiencing an identity crisis. With each passing year, there is an explosion of new things to learn and know. How do we decide which of the new things are more important than the old things that are part of the current curriculum (which is already strained)? New history is being created every single day. And what do we make of the challenges that surround truth and fact at this particular stage of our evolution? Limping along our current failing system is hurting everyone, especially the younger kids whose education was probably disrupted by Covid conditions and the resulting plethora of problems. 

History has shown that the slowest learners in the class tend to develop insecurities and beliefs that they aren’t as good as the kids who learn faster, somehow. It’s not the school’s fault - it’s just how we built this system to operate. To be fair, it was developed when a lot of kids weren’t even expected to attend school. K-12 Education did not become federally mandated until 1965, when Lyndon Johnson changed its shape and scope with the hope that all children would receive the same opportunities for learning. Or at least that was the intention.

President Johnson’s administration didn’t accurately account for the ongoing disparity in school districts, neighboring communities, and the tax impacts that would alter the collective growth of what they were trying to do. Which begs us to consider the many private school options available to people who can afford it: certain kids receive a steady supply of resources and support, while others struggle to meet the most basic needs of the schools, and more importantly, the teachers and the students. Within my kids’ school district (which I attended as well) there are a few specific elementary schools that are glaringly better funded than others. The parent organizations of the more affluent communities are able to pay for the extras their students desire, while the less fortunate schools have teachers coming out of pocket for things they require. Did I mention this is within the same school district!?!

Right now, students are all encouraged to clamor for the top spots, even though we all know that no matter how smart we all become, the math will never add up for everyone to rank at the top. This design worked for education in the 1800s, but as we grow our human history, we have less opportunities/need for common knowledge. My daughter was a slow learner. Not because she wasn’t smart, but because she was thorough in her effort to understand things. As a member of the bottom reading group, her self esteem suffered, and she took on a belief that she wasn’t very smart. It was heartbreaking because that metric failed to capture the level of intelligence that she used in her everyday life about everything except for school work. Labeling her reading ability created a personal block that has followed her throughout the rest of her education, even though her grades are proof that she is a great student. Measuring how quickly someone learns to read might be what makes people dislike reading: it stifles their creative voice and expression before they find the confidence to fully explore the terrain.

At Our Raw Material, we take problems like this to the ideal playground and daydream about what could be if we had unlimited resources at our disposal. Education is an established institution that has prioritized things like reading, writing and arithmetic since its inception. I’m not saying those things aren’t important, but at this moment in time, we might be ready for a shift in focus. I know this is a radical concept, but stay with me long enough to entertain this idea or a little bit:

What if Education was re-tooled from the inside out so that we could more easily meet its growing challenges? Instead of reading, writing, and arithmetic, what if we were to focus on: (1) Laws, (2) Conflict Resolution, (3) Self-Expression and (4) Community. What if we began to seek information about what is actually important to people, starting from a very young age? Would they feel more confident standing in their own questions, fears and beliefs? Would people be more apt to learn reading on their own time if someone wasn’t forcing them or measuring their lack of progress in front of the class?

 I obviously don’t have those answers, but I’ve thought a lot about the questions. If we were to study the Laws of Man and The Laws of The Universe, together, we could introduce the concepts of freedom and liberty from a place of truly understanding how they apply in real life situations, and why they rub up against each other so often. Currently, they are mired in the very system that has exploited their meaning as needed, confusing even the most scholarly among us. How can we breathe new life into the words that our forefathers chose hundreds of years ago, and use them to inform how we make choices, what we value, and what we find it necessary to fight about, without becoming outraged at how they’ve been misused.

Modern qualifiers have us identifying the people who truly need the resources of a community with negative-toned attributes like ‘uses people’, ‘attention-seeking’, ‘angry’, ‘difficult’, etc. Not only do these characterizations fail to acknowledge the real problems those people face, they create further division in most cases. You don’t have to look any further than our political landscape in the US, or the Israel-Palestine conflict in the world to see how we have mentally separated ourselves from our undeniable roots. We are all human beings who inhabit the same earth, and we all have different ideas about how to take care of it. That means we have eight billion different takes on why we are here and what we should be doing with the life before us.

Conceptually, this type of education allows everyone the ability to feel what they feel, think what they think, and at the same time allow it to change and grow every day as we gather new information. If we weren’t holding people’s feet to the fire about their limiting beliefs, or expecting them to be in a place that is different from where they are, we would see that we are missing the best part of this human journey - the miracle of our individuality. I have no idea whether my daughter will ever agree with me about this progressive approach to education, but I look forward to carrying on the conversation with her as her education about education gets put to the test. I am very proud to call her an official Teacher, and I know the students that get to work with her will have a creative advantage just because she will always see who they are, individually.

1 Comment

Congratulations to Madigan!

After reading this it reminded me of a LinkedIn post I saw the other day about education in Japan. You and Madigan should watch it and see what conversation ensues.



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