Friday, October 29, 2021

The Right Words

Few things are more satisfying to hear as a writer than “You said something I have always felt, but couldn’t find the words for.” I have gratefully received that comment many times and equally gratefully expressed that to other writers.


But there is also a variation. “You are saying exactly what I have said, but in different words that both affirm my viewpoint, expand it  and reinforce it.” I am feeling that a lot in this book Sacred Instructions by Sherri Mitchell and particularly with these choice quotes about education: 


“Instead of teaching respect for the rich biodiversity that ensures a healthy balance, our present colonial education system teaches homogeneity. It teachers students to seek the right answer according to social norms, rather than instilling critical thinking skills that would lead them to right action. It teaches allegiance and obedience to our existing structures, without allowing our young people to consider if those structures actually serve the fundamental needs of life.  It teaches us to seek ways to continue taking, without any commitment toward reciprocity and leaves us dependent on the trappings of our addicted society. … It is a system that impedes the individual’s ability to be helpful, by tying them up in rules that ensure their obedience rather than promoting their humanity. …


We need to take responsibility for instructing the children in the ways of compassion, kindness and generosity toward others. We need to ensure that every child has a solid sense of belonging and kinship, developed through close contact and meaningful engagement with loving adults.”


Ms. Mitchell is speaking as a member of the Penobscot Nation, representing an indigenous culture that has lived, sustained and passed down these values of belonging and kinship, compassion, kindness and generosity toward others. I am a polygot mixture of Russian-Jew-Unitarian-Buddhist-jazz-playing- grandfather- of-two-mixed-race-children- middle-class-American from New Jersey brought up on “Leave It to Beaver,”  Tarzan, cowboys and Indians movies who took a sharp left turn away from Wall Street, joined the late 60’s hippy movement and worked 45 years in a progressive school hoping to “be the change we wished to see in the world.” That last paragraph above could have been our Mission Statement and certainly describes eloquently just about everything I hoped to accomplish as a teacher.


It’s a great pleasure to find the right words to frame our actions and decisions.  Now all we have to do is live them.  

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