Schools are mirrors of our society.
~ Dr. Bettina Love
Dear Springhouse community,
When I was 19, a mentor said to me, “If you want to know how you are really doing, look at your life.” When I finally had the courage to accept that invitation, I saw that my life mostly mirrored fear – the fear of not being or having enough. My life had become the fruit of fear and insecurity, grasping for anything outside of me to make me feel better and giving my power away or using it unwisely. When things got bad enough, I changed. I chose to trust myself, my mentor and community, and the unknown possibilities that awaited me. As difficult as this choice was, a fearful life (confirmed by most of the societal systems around me) miraculously became less of an option.
A wise friend of mine said to me, “We cannot create in fear.” Fear is that powerful. As a young person, fear clouded my vision, disoriented my heart, and stifled my creativity. One of my favorite writers, J. Ruth Gendler, describes fear well:
Over many years, and much practice, I have learned to look fear in the eye. I don’t give up, and because of that, I have mostly won fear’s respect, though small matters can still get under my skin. My goal is not to rid myself of fear – that is not possible. I have learned how to dance with it, especially since founding a school. A friend with much experience in the school-starting world recently said to me, as fear was starting to take over me, that trying to design education in a life-giving way is the hardest work to be done at this time. He is not the first person to say this to me. I think that is because school, as we practice and define education today, mirrors fear – and fear is powerful. This is not an easy thing to say, particularly when this system is still the dominant and accepted norm.
The way school has been structured for hundreds of years, generally speaking, mirrors a society that fears complexity, norms and standardizes in order to feel secure, and gatekeeps to hold onto power in false ways. I wish I was wrong. I wish schools mirrored something different, but when I look at the history of education and schools, and the symptoms this system now faces, I see the face of fear. This fear has now spread through a globalized system of education that produces the same fruits across the world that it does here in the United States. The way we educate, for the most part, perpetuates the status quo that we are used to. If we are comfortable, or somewhat comfortable, in that status quo, it is likely we will not want it to change or change too much.
Many authors, educators, and scholars write in depth about these symptoms. The information is not hard to find – even students and teachers within the system speak to this, mostly by leaving the system themselves. Some of the obvious symptoms include the popular websites and apps available for cheating to get good grades; the fact that the SAT that has eugenicist roots continues to be a gatekeeper into higher education; the way we still separate subjects and age groups and assess learning in ways that are unnatural and rooted in an archaic and oppressive model of education; and the ways in which we value individual success more than the power of community. Our schools lack vitality, and I think that is the saddest symptom of all.
Something has to change, and it will – most likely when those of us who are able to remain comfortable in this system get really uncomfortable. When those who can make it work in this system start to falter, we might face the seed of fear that gives rise to systems like this, but while we wait, many suffer. In addition to managing the symptoms of a failing system, we need long-term, comprehensive, and life-giving examples of what is possible in education and school. It starts with experimentation and finding new (but ancient) traditions that invite us to build a stronger relationship with the unifying and diversifying power of Life. As obscure as that might sound, and as misunderstood as it is, it is possible. As we continue to experiment at Springhouse, we are starting to realize that school actually means community, and education is how we pass down wisdom that reminds us to take care of Life in all its forms and in all kinds of ways.
Experimentation creates a different mirror for society to look into. What would society be like if it looked into a mirror where it saw all ages of people learning and living together? What if it saw singing, dancing, grieving, and having authentic conversations? What if it saw people connecting and taking care of the Earth as the norm? What if it saw people having the courage to look beneath the surface to see who they are, as people and as nations? What if society looked into the mirror and saw people aligning with the power of Life and Love and respecting their ultimate constraints? What if the mirror showed people practicing ways of being that create the conditions for all to thrive? Thankfully, it will never be a mirror of perfection, but it might be a mirror that shows more Life than destruction.
Springhouse celebrates 10 years this year. This experiment has been a beautiful endeavor – an exercise in overcoming fear, deepening trust, being creative, and discovering the power of Life and community. We just got back from our all-school trip with our high school, where we learned about what being heard actually means and how fear and trust can dance awkwardly together if we let them. This week, we begin our 8-month cultural design program for adults with 10 people joining us from around the world, and we have launched our design network to practice aligning with Life and learning how to serve in more sustainable ways.
On October 7th, we will hold our first ever Wayzgoose Festival – an old tradition that print houses have held to honor the transition from printing by daylight to candlelight. There will be hands-on workshops during the day and a beautiful farm-to-table dinner event in the evening, with music and readings from one of my favorite books, Dreams, written by the South African suffragist, Olive Schreiner. I will even tell the magical story of how that beautiful little book came into my hands when I was a preschool teacher in Colorado in my 20s.
Thank you for holding the vision of what is needed in our world today with us. It can be scary, but one day at a time we carry on gratefully and with dedication.