A beloved is someone whose wrong even seems right.— Ashfaq Ahmed (Zaviia)
Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.The Dalai Lama (via buddhajourney)
So, transform yourself first…Because you are young and have dreams and want to do something meaningful, that in itself, makes you our future and our hope. Keep expanding your horizon, decolonize your mind, and cross borders.Yuri Kochiyama (via larmoyante)
Scores on standardized tests are correlated with wealth. This is not necessarily a social reconstructionist critique, but it is worth including here because it follows as a logical extension of their social democratic project. Supposing the public agrees to measure students by test scores, economic inequalities must still be diminished. In other words, no matter where one stands in the education reform debate in the United States, everyone should be concerned with wealth inequality. Rury (2013) notes how American education has historically been connected to ameliorating social and economic inequality:
Today, the challenge is one of helping the schools to revisit that historic mission of redressing the social and economic divisions that have become so apparent in recent years. The abiding disenchantment with public education, evident in both the homeschooling movement and the call for vouchers, seems to represent an inward turn on the part of many families and communities away from a sense of responsibility for the rest of society that has resided in the ideals of public education since the time of Horace Mann. If this is the case, it is an unfortunate development, and one that deserves to be met with a vigorous reaffirmation of the role of schooling in fostering a truly democratic society. (pp. 247-248)
Rury (2013) explains that many students in the United States from affluent schools actually score quite high on international assessments. The United States scores on international assessments (such as PISA) are driven lower due to inner-city and poor rural schools which score lower. There are indications that channeling more and better resources into poor schools improves student achievement and results on tests. However, it is important to keep in mind that “students from least affluent backgrounds require greater assistance to achieve the same outcomes as others” (p. 238).
Darder (2012) also insists that addressing economic inequality is not an option, it is a necessity.
If our goal is to eliminate educational failure, we absolutely must create a system of federal funding to states determined by the actual needs of their people and effectively linked to ameliorating poverty, the only approach that has been shown, time and again, to improve academic achievement. In contrast, initiatives like the Common Core standards are market driven and thus more likely to echo existing inequalities than to eliminate them. (para. 2)
Haberman (2012) agrees with Darder and proposes that we need a new story in order to see the solutions that will eliminate underachievement in low-income schools:
The typical explanation of why 15 million children and youth in poverty are not achieving as they should be blames the victims, their families, their ethnicity, and their lack of valuing of and commitment to education. This explanation, however, does not explain why low income students do achieve in the classrooms of effective (star) teachers who comprise approximately 8 % of the teaching force. (p. 121)
Before a debate on methodology, pedagogies, curricular changes or teacher training reform, the United States must tackle the growing divide between the rich and the poor. To have economic inequalities that are nearly as stark now as they were in 1929 (Chaiken, Jen and Dungan, Sebastian & Sebastian Kornbluth, 2013) is not just a threat to our student achievement scores and global economic competitiveness. Much more significantly, it is a threat to the core of what unites us as a nation and as a people, our democratic values.
The Spiritual is Political
By infinitely post-poning the present with preparation for future testing, ignoring the inner lives and realities of students, neglecting human values such as compassion, joy or love, avoiding controversy in the classroom, excluding critical thinking about issues of oppression and injustice from curricula, and being ensnared in the web of the prison-industrial complex and culture of cruelty and punishment –public schools are anything but apolitical, amoral, and aspiritual.
Buddhism may be the best launching point for putting all of the critiques together. Buddhism can induce experiences of conscientização by contrasting the narratives justifying capitalism with the existential realities of life: Does material abundance really lead to a fulfilling life? At what expense to long-term happiness comes short-term gratification? By provoking these thoughts, Buddhism has begun to mount a powerful critique against all consumerist, economic orders. Utopian visions become validated with the crumbling away of capitalism’s uncritically accepted foundations. And thus, the spiritual transforms the political.
Buddhist philosophy has well developed methods for training the mind and cultivating human values. Buddhist monks have a history of social engagement for peace and justice. They also have a record of having deep respect, understanding, sympathy and commonalities for and with other religions, spiritual traditions and modern science and medicine.
Tenzin Gyatso, H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama, the exiled, spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, spoke in Australia in the Summer of 2013 on the topic of education. We will look at how his expositions reinforce the stances taken by holistic educators:
He suggested that there is often a gap between appearance and reality and the purpose of education is to reduce that gap. Many of our problems arise because we cling to appearances rather than depending on reality. When our minds are clouded by emotions, they are biased and obscured from seeing reality clearly. The purpose of education is to enable us to look the surface of appearances and see the reality beneath. (“Education Matters” 2013, para.6)
The Dalai Lama states the implications of ignoring how our minds and emotions affect our decision-making and thought-processes. “[W]hen our marvelous intelligence is led by powerful negative emotions, it invites disaster. The real source of trouble is in our mind and emotions” (para. 7) Students should learn how to harness their marvelous intelligence to identify propaganda that attempts to cloud judgment with negative emotions. It is no secret that commercial advertisements are calculated to by-pass consumers’ rational judgments in order to trigger impulsive purchases. This kind of propaganda is threatening to a democracy based on informed citizenship. What kind of decision-making will there be in a democratic society where citizens only have partial and biased information to base their decisions off of? A key component of educating for a democracy could include the Buddhist practice of mind training and understanding the onset of powerful, negative emotions (such as greed, lust and envy).
In addition to mind training, the Dalai Lama wishes for schools to encourage “warm-heartedness, concern for others and compassion.” In the United States today, schools are increasingly designed to only train students who can outcompete international economic rivals. This baffling lack of having concern for others could be described as pathological.
Bhikku Bodhi. Bodhi, Theravadan monk and leading Buddhist scholar and expert, believes that Buddhism possesses solutions for many of humanity’s most pressing challenges. He echoes many others when he laments the absence from society of a belief in objective morality and universal justice. In Buddhism, the world is governed by five cosmic laws (those governing inorganic matter, organic matter, consciousness, kamma or moral deeds and their fruits, and spiritual development). Western science only explores the first two laws (and is reluctant to recognize the existence of any other). For Buddhists, the law of kamma is essential understanding and goes a long way towards the development of morality. Bodhi (1994) describes how our society has ignored all that is invisible and non-measurable in the world from the realm of fact. In effect, this denies the possibility of any intrinsic, universal or objective morality, ethics or justice:
The message it conveyed was that the inward dimensions of our existence, with its vast profusion of spiritual and ethical concerns, is mere adventitious superstructure […] All humankind’s ideals and values are relegated to the status of illusions: they are projections of biological drives, sublimated wish-fulfillment. Even ethics, the philosophy of moral conduct, comes to be explained away as a flowery way of expressing personal preferences. Its claim to any objective foundation is untenable, and all ethical judgments become equally valid. (“The historical background” 1994, para. 4)
Bhikku Bodhi is presenting a criticism of a materialist and morally relativist culture that is growing in Western societies since the time of the European Renaissance, but that “which today has become typical of human civilization as a whole”. Bodhi (1994) explains the consequences that logically and naturally result, he argues, in such societies and cultures:
The result is evident in the moral degeneration that proliferates at a frightening rate through every so-called civilized part of the world. In the self-styled Developed World the cities have become urban jungles; the use of liquor and drugs spreads as an easy escape route from anxiety and despair; sexually provocative entertainment takes on more and more degrading forms; the culture of the gun hooks even middle-class youths itching to break the tedium of their lives with murder and mayhem. Most lamentably, the family has lost its crucial function of serving as the training ground where children learn decency and personal responsibility. Instead it has become merely a convenient and fragile arrangement for the personal gratification of its members, who too often seek their gratification at the expense of each other.” (“The secularization of life” 1994, para. 5)
Bodhi is critiquing the loss in human societies of belief in an ethically meaningful universe. According to this Buddhist critique, what is invisible and non-measurable is kamma. Kamma (kammaniyama), or karma, is a cosmic law of the universe that automatically maintains justice. In Buddhism, good and bad effects (in rebirth and life experiences) are generated for each being, by themselves, through individual volition (bodily, spoken and mental action). For Buddhist students it is essential to understand, not just how living and non-living systems work, but how the fruit of one’s actions rebound to affect one later. In studying the Buddhist texts, a student would not be trained for only entering the work force but for living life with compassion and deep insight.
What is the karma generated from sitting down during the pledge of allegiance in rebellion against nationalism and jingoism? What is the karma generated from penalizing an entire community for failing to score highly on standardized tests? The Buddhist law of karma measures the degree to which we empathize with, feel compassion for and love others. It is also a measure of how willing we are to allow love to guide our rebellion against systems of oppression and domination. Belief in karma empowers activists to rally the inner strength necessary to speak loudly, make critical interventions in reality and enter uncomfortable spaces in their own and others’ hearts and minds even when it is dangerous or unpopular.
Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich Nhat Hanh entered the public eye in the 1960s when he traveled to the United States from Vietnam to protest the war. When asked why he came, Hanh said that the root cause of the war was here (King 2013). Monk, poet, author and Theravada Buddhist scholar Thich Nhat Hanh (1998) explicates on the importance of teaching children in school how to live peacefully:
Our children learn reading, writing, math, science, and other subjects in school that can help them earn a living. But very few school programs teach young people how to live – how to deal with anger, how to reconcile conflicts, how to breathe, smile, and transform internal formations. There needs to be a revolution in education. We must encourage schools to train our students in the art of living in peace and harmony. It isn’t easy to learn to read, write, or solve math problems, but children manage to do it. Learning how to breathe, smile, and transform anger can also be difficult, but I have seen many young people succeed. If we teach children properly, by the time they are twelve, they will know how to live harmoniously with others. (p. 140)
In Buddhism, samyojana is the word for internal formations (Hanh 1997). An understanding of samyojana (emotions and mental states) could be a component of what Noddings (2013) and the Neohumanists call self-knowledge. Also similar to the critiques made by Buddhist monks and scholars are those made by Jiddu Krishnamurti. Both are identifying the misguided trend in public schooling of overvaluing job training at the expense of ignoring all other aspects of life. This produces a cycle where upon graduation (and prior), young people are ignorant of themselves and perpetuate cycles of conflict and disharmony in their interpersonal relationships with others. According to Bodhi, to resolve the myriad of social ills produced through individual ignorance, greed and delusion, young people must be well practiced in meditation. Through meditation, students would learn awareness and restraint.
To speak of transforming anger is not to dismiss the legitimacy of anger. Instead, we should interpret the Buddhist insistence on responsibly dealing with anger to symbolize the importance of cultivating the seeds of action contained within the emotion itself. Anger is wasted when it fails to lead to transformative, reflective action. A better world will not be won without anger.
Noam Chomsky. Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned linguist, political dissident and remarkably prolific leftist intellectual, offers a critical perspective on education that is of use when compiling a comprehensive critique against mainstream schooling in the United States. He advances an analysis of education that puts it in the context of the American public’s historical fight against corporate elites and for participatory democracy.
Chomsky (2000) says that mainstream public schools are “institutions for indoctrination and for imposing obedience” (p. 16). He writes that schools indoctrinate and socialize students into supporting the power structure which then rewards them (ostensibly with financial and social success). Schools are sites where unwanted information (as deemed by a ruling class) is distorted or suppressed. In addition to the subject matter, students learn behavior and the types of questions they are not suppose to ask. This has also been called the hidden or null curriculum (Anyon 2011). According to Chomsky, schools are designed to support the “interests of the dominant segment of society, those people who have wealth and power” (p. 17).
Chomsky critiques schools as intentionally avoiding important truths. Teachers, intellectuals, citizens and students have a moral imperative to speak the truth especially when it unveils the system of propaganda which is sharply opposed to democracy. Schools play an important role in “controlling the public mind” and preventing the population from thinking critically about issues that would jeopardize their faith in accepting the interests of the corporate elite as their own. They also function as mechanisms for fostering obedience at the expense of critical thought. Schools, however, are not the only sites of indoctrination, “[T]he privatized system of propaganda, [….] includes the schools, the media, the agenda-setting press, and intellectual journals […] which essentially controls the educational enterprise” (p. 26).
Chomsky invites intellectuals to put the same effort into understanding the privatized system of propaganda here in the United States as they do in exposing those of dictatorial countries deemed “official enemies” of the United States. He says schools, should they be truly democratic, would offer students “techniques of self-defense” against propaganda of all kinds. Chomsky also endorses Dewey’s philosophy of education and reflects in a Deweyan way when he says, “The best way to discover how a functioning democracy works is to practice it” (p. 28).
Utopia and the damned of the earth
In the United States, the damned of the earth attend schools where they are shamed (assaulted, or murdered) because they violate the unspoken contract all oppressed nonverbally agree to with their oppressors by virtue of their existence. In the greatest (patriarchal, classist and xenophobic) country on earth, every day, millions of students encounter physical and non-physical violence directed towards them because of their sexual orientation, religious beliefs, gender, appearance or demeanor. Others, born into communities evacuated of wealth and opportunity and infiltrated by the “punishing state” (Giroux 2014) of surveillance and police, suffer from the absence of what is known as social mobility. These students are victims of “what amounts to a war on poor minorities” (Giroux 2014) and become the “high school drop-outs, the homeless, those self-medicating with alcohol and street drugs, and people with mental illness” who fill up our prisons and jails (Meiners 2007).
It is highly more spiritual, enriching and meaningful to combine the practice of metta meditation (sending love in every direction) and the everyday practice of deconstructing internal attitudes that give rise to oppressive behaviors, speech and thoughts, with the political life of an engaged, socially thoughtful citizen. Educators can set an example as exemplary citizens by being outspoken when their voice can challenge, what bell hooks calls, the white supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy. They can also be inspirational luminaries and guardians of genuine humanity through the examples they set with their language, attitude, attention and time.
Spirituality and politics are linked in public schools by both being topics of external study, rather than lived, moment-to-moment practices. The deep yearnings of utopia that stir in the hearts of human beings are what will propel the “vast subversive sequal” (Debord 1979, pp.8-9) the radicals of the 1960’s dreamed of. Our utopian dream will be achieved through our willingness and capacity to act with love and anger. The wealthiest nation in the world is realizing that “even material abundance cannot compensate for the absence of passion and autonomy” (Plant 1992, p.15). Our “necrophilic” (Freire 1972, p.77) model of education today is stuck treating students as if they were passionless, emotionless automotons. What we are really saying by having the goal of being the greatest economic power, as Alfie Kohn lucidly points out, is that we want other countries to be worse off than us (Kohn 2011). The “very old ideal of the cosmopolitan”, who affirms her allegiance to the “worldwide community of human beings” (Nussbaum 2002, p.4), rather than to a single flag of a single nation, might be inspiring to us today. We might consider the humanistic values that alternative pedagogues place at the forefront of their curricula to be hints of what stirs within the hearts of those who dream of more than outcompeting. There might be the solution to our existential agony.
Among the key issues educators should confront with deep reflection and humility, is their relationship to and complicity with patriarchal forms of oppression. Two examples from our society are 1) easily-accessible, mainstream, widespread and internet-based pornography and 2) the ascendance of the beauty industry. The phenomenon of mainstreamed pornography can be examined as an insidiously prevalent and appalling form of dehumanization. The beauty industry can be analyzed in terms of class warfare whereby the wealthy instill feelings of existential invalidation among the lower classes. A near-universal acceptance of the beauty standard, as defined by the rich, establishes a social norm whereby wealth is transferred upwards as everybody imitates (through purchase of appearance modifying cosmetic products, surgeries and services) the appearances and lifestyles of the wealthy and the celebrity.
The widespread proliferation, mainstream adoption and corporatization of objectifying, hyper-sexualized representations of the female body (sharing responsibility is the beauty, fashion, exercise, diet, and other industries) is one of the contemporary pillars of patriarchal, gendered oppression. Among its consequences include: 1) the perceived, real and self-fulfilling lack of social mobility for women, for whom self-objectification is an imposed and culturally-validated solution; 2) the objectification of women and girls via the gaze, mind, language and attitude of males; and 3) the self-replication of objectification via the uncritically accepted narrow definitions of beauty by males and females alike for whom self-objectification and other-objectification is socially and culturally becoming. As an example of how to give students a lesson in intellectual self-defense against this dehumanizing way of thinking, educators could provoke and rattle the uncritically accepted narrow definitions of beauty that students have imbibed from their everyday experience with media, family and peers whom are all drowning in a culture of pornographication. This culture of pornographication spreads like an insidious virus beginning with a media blitz that destroys individual self-esteem through constant exposure to ultra unattainable facial and bodily shapes and forms. This is intended to initiate a self-shaming and self-objectifying body image complex. The intended and efficacious consequence is the destruction of individual self-esteem and self-worth that can only be remedied by the consumption of appearance altering products and the purchase of surgeries and commodity-mediated experiences (choreographed aerobic DVDs, celebrity diets, etc).
The individual thus, with no language or conceptual framework to challenge or critically-interpret this corporate attack on their selfhood, replicates the dominant ideology of oppression that led to their own self-objectification and loss of self-esteem. The individual replicates this through their interpersonal relationships, attitudes, behaviors, language, time and spending habits. The individual begins to oppress others, as they have been unknowingly oppressed, by comparing others to the same standards they uncritically compare themselves to. The individual dehumanizes the other through objectification or by, what I call, pornographication (specifically dehumanizing someone by comparing them to a standard of beauty that is, by definition, most unattainable, and highly suggestive, albeit unspoken, of their value in the social (patriarchal-capitalist) order and/or mentally casting them as a will-less pawn in sexual fantasy).
Educators can rattle students perceptions by inviting discussion about true beauty, true love and true happiness. Is true beauty dependent upon one’s conformity to the appearance of models employed by the wealthy? Is true love but a measure of thecongruency of one’s relationship to the picture-perfect, scripted relationships of Hollywood and television? Is true happiness the replication of dehumanization onto others in pursuit of an unattainable beauty and the exclusive commitment of an objectified other? Educators should cherish genuine humanity everywhere it prevails and resist dehumanization in all of its forms. Educators have a responsibility to provoke students into questioning, and correcting them when they replicate sexual dehumanization (i.e. humiliation and degradation of men and women through pornography; the objectification of human beings into vulgar sex objects; etc.).
Study Abroad and Theatre
Study abroad can be used a kind of critical intervention in the daily consciousness of students. Study abroad programs could be critically designed to puncture holes in the certainty and safety of students’ world views. It could be a means of inducing conscientização and provoking new desires to know. Study abroad has the transformative potential, when implemented with the formation of critical-consciousness as a goal, to instigate an inner rebellion. This inner rebellion is in sharp contrast to the uncritically examined experiences of many students for whom study abroad reinforces existing biases and stereotypes. This critical-consciousness spawned inner rebellion is fueled by discontent. “To be discontented with the insatiability of a superficial life of consumption in order to discover meaning in critically intervening in an unjust world” could be one of the secret objectives of study abroad syllabi.
Theatre has been noted by scholars and dissidents on the political Left such as Augusto Boal (1985), Howard Zinn (2010) and Emma Goldman (1914) as having enormous consciousness-raising power. These scholars were also aware of how theatre is more often used as entertainment that masks underlying social structures of domination (if not perpetuating them). Just as dangerous, is theatre that is directed as entertainment and removed from a sociohistorical context but has political themes. It may then have the consequence of inducing apathy or fatalism.
Theatre is already present in many public schools and could be implemented in a way that illuminates and strives to make sense out of social issues that students encounter on a daily basis. Among the issues that student-run productions could take on as themes include: economic inequality, institutional racism, media’s influence on the public mind, militarism and war, or the recent Edward Snowden leaks revealing the National Security Agency’s (NSA) indiscriminate war on electronic privacy and its collaborations with the Air Force and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in carrying out illegal drone assassinations overseas.
Educators and students should also use comedy in theater wisely. Humor, when directed by oppressed peoples at one another, can be just as hostile as an insult. Humor, when directed at illegitimate authority, can be incredibly subversive.
Justification of Topic: Profiling The Half-Awake Zombie Classroom
Allow us to begin by stepping into a random public high school on a typical day. We may pass through a metal detector or be patted down by police on our way in. We may also be wearing an identification card so that it is visible on the outside of our body. Students gossip as they pass by one another, constantly surveilled by the black domes attached to the ceilings in the narrow hallways. Depending on where we are in the country and our own gender, sexual orientation, race, religious beliefs, appearance, demeanor and history of past traumas, we are trembling with various degrees of hesitation, fear and internalized shame.
A bell rings. Students scramble past one another darting to their classrooms. A student with glasses is bumped into and drops her books. Another student is sick in the bathroom. Another student is nervous and panicking, already wondering where he’s going to sit at lunch and fumbles trying to turn his lock in the proper combination. No matter how innocent they may be, in the era of what Alfie Kohn (2011) calls BGUTI (Better Get Used To It), they are all disciplined.
Enter class. The teacher prescribes a seating chart. She has had some of these students before and knows to separate those who like to socialize while they’re working. This teacher always marks up students papers with nearly illegible red marginalia. Students know they won’t learn anything anyway so they skip to the end to see their grade and then throw the assignments away that same day in the garbage can at the front of the class.
During class, students space out, day dream, pass notes, listen to music through devices hidden in pockets and headphones obscured beneath their hair and otherwise pay as little attention as possible as often as possible. They know so long as the homework is take home they can cheat, look the answers up online, or do it together with their friends. Or they can fabricate answers by sprinkling in plenty of polysyllabic vocab words and using obscurantist, vague writing in a last minute coping strategy known as bullshitting.
The night prior (or the morning of) the test, students glaze their eyes over the chapter(s) of the textbook they didn’t read, trying to absorb as much information as quickly as possible (nourished by a diet of caffeine and Aderol). This is derisively referred to as cramming and is discouraged by every teacher every student has ever had (despite the negative attention it receives, cramming and procrastination as studying techniques, anecdotally boast unparalleled levels of success, even at the university level). Ironically, it is excellent preparation for the kind of high-stakes testing environment these student find themselves in (on reading and writing assessments students are given an allotted period of time to read a story and answer questions, or to write an answer to a prompt with no prior preparation to come up with ideas).
Following a test, where students regurgitate the information contained within the textbook, they go back to their everyday lives and promptly force the just-memorized material from their short term memory. Only when something marginally interesting (a rare occasion) is discussed in class do students’ eyes light up, their hearts sing and they jump with both feet into the unknown territory called learning. Ordinarily, a student’s favorite parts of school are those times administrators and professional policy setters are, incidentally, first to cut: arts, physical education, recess, lunch and other civic/humanities areas. It is not hard to see why many students dread school. For many, school feels like a war between students and teachers. They don’t feel respected, appreciated or good enough. Schools often destroy students self-esteem and exacerbate atmospheres where existing social stratifications grow even larger and new ones come into being.
It is with compassion for and in solidarity with the struggling, depressed, suicidal, manic, self-medicating, angry, lonely, lost, confused, hurt, damaged, discouraged, traumatized, afraid, hapless, self-harming, misunderstood, bullied, abandoned, abused, neglected, exploited, stepped on, picked on, beat up and broken that I write this paper. It with humility, empathy and hope that I present suggestions and summarize the criticisms of others.