The Real Question in Education
by Charles Kouns, Founding Steward
Public education in America today is, for young people enrolled in the system, a journey into an external orientation toward the world. It is designed to prepare young people to navigate successfully within the societal structures they will face upon graduation. It teaches them to move away from their internal, heart-oriented, imaginative, flowing sense of life by placing them in a self-oriented, non-imaginative, fact-based, rigid, externally-focused structure.
This shift is accomplished by taking advantage of their inexperience, and their innocence through the perpetuation of a myth: that in order to succeed in their lives they must be able to master an ever-increasing difficult set of measurable standards.
All of the aspects of learning that encourage an interior life are minimized within this approach. Art, play, creative thinking, meditation, nature, natural curiosity, music, philosophy, spirituality have been phased out for a variety of rationalized reasons. Where they are offered, they are usually labeled as an elective or one small piece of a highly rational pie.
Their inner life relationship to the world means very little in this system. Their mental health is not considered important except when they become problems to the system. The system also tells them that their own spiritual existence is separate from their everyday existence and therefore not welcomed or included in their learning.
The external orientation they meet is to be a preparation for the world they are going to step into. Therefore, the educational system is organized around control, isolation, competition and scarcity. Its authoritarian structure teaches that the external is the supplier of the knowledge and wisdom they need in order to succeed. And to prove this over and over again, they are constantly tested, measured and compared - against each other, as well as to a grinding set of school standards, all to determine how well they are being prepared to succeed within the external system. The standards replace imaginative initiative; grades reflect memorization rather than exploration; curriculum is developed to answer questions rather than to ask them.
During this multi-year process, the childs inner life suffers tremendously. It either dies completely, becomes a hidden thing they are ashamed to express, becomes a rebellious expression of the oppressive system, or is put away while they chase the myth that the external life is the best way to survive (only to awaken many years later empty and bereft of a connection with their own inner heart and desires).
What the child is ultimately taught through the annual, progressive series of repetitive, steps and information is that the inner life cannot win. The rewards within our society for the inner life professions, supports this in such a way that there is little incentive to follow this path as they will be dooming themselves to a rewarding life of subsistence. Service to humanity, teaching our young people, the artistic voice, ministering to souls, etc, are all subjected to this overriding way of life.
Therefore, from a very early age, a young person enrolled in the school system is told repeatedly, and repeatedly, and repeatedly that the external always wins. It is a heart-breaking, spirit destroying process, sometimes with moments of light, love and compassion (that are seen as an abnormality), but as a child takes each step, their education gets progressively more cold, distant, crowded, separated and competitive.
What children are asking for, praying for, dying to tell us is that they want us to create a brand new system that is built for their inner life. A new system that gives the interior world they knew as children ever greater possibilities as they grow older. They are mirroring for us, sometimes in the most tragic of ways, the inner-most desires we carry as adults: to live in a world with greater meaning, connection, possibility, love, support, and a true sense of the interconnectedness of all things.
As we continue to move forward we must ask ourselves, what do we hold sacred? Is it an antiquated educational system that teaches the system is more important than the child and produces a standardized product that is prepared for an external life? Is it a way of living that over the last 150 years has helped put us in the current predicament we find ourselves in?
Or is it our children who deserve a brand new learning system that believes the health of a community, the health of the planet begins with every child having an interior life that is rich and diverse and opens their world to ever greater possibilities, abundance for all, creativity, connection to all things, and meaningfulness?
If we are to choose to hold the latter sacred, then we must ask ourselves, What are we willing to go through individually and collectively to let go of the old system, its myths, its wantings, its tremendous hold over every breath a child takes?
Our children are the answer to this question of the sacred. They are the embodiment of the world we truly long for and the mirror as to how far away we are from it. Would you open the door to your inner child and invite it to live in this world?
Their very presence is calling us, praying to us to listen. They are the key holders. They are the bright flowers we gaze at in delight in the garden. They are the enthusiasts whose glorious embracing of life we adults envy the loss of and write millions of books about how to get back to.
It is time turn the world around. It is time to put our priorities back in order. It is time for us to stand in courage and speak the truth to one another. It is time to retire the old ways and co-create a new system that celebrates all of our children. It is a sacred time. How will we choose to hold it?