By Ali Valdez
This is not my first time writing about teachers, the quality of teaching and the sacred art that comes with enabling and empowering others through our words, example and interpretation and representation of facts. This week, the educational system was dealt a wildcard. It is unclear what the impact will be when B. DeVos takes her post but we all have our opinions and concerns. I am still scratching my head wondering why she was even nominated but that is a conversation for a more politically minded blog.
What I care about is the evolution of the student and the pedagogy and standards we place on teachers and what role, if any, do I play in it?
I play a role in two ways. One, I am the parent of a ten year old. What sort of educational experience do I want her to have? Two, I am a yoga teacher who runs a Washington state vocational school. What is the quality of education going to be like for teachers on the fringe, folks like me who teach adults in non-traditional settings? What can we do to keep progressive thinking and a high standard in the educational world when we do not fall into a conventional structure?
In my field, Yoga Alliance is a thin veneer of annual fees and minimal quality control. That is not a direction that I wish to place my guidance. But it’s a start. I think I can at least find a way to sit comfortably in what it is I am capable of, less by governance and its implied limitations, but rather from my own passion and skill.
First, I admit I may be the worst mother out there because I am probably the only mother who simply doesn’t give a shit about school, its expectations and its rules. When we recently had a snow day, I read many people on Facebook asking what will the school say and do as if planning revolves around school. Our planning revolves around the needs of our life and sometimes bleep happens. Last week, while I waited in the office to take my daughter to an appointment, another mother was arguing with the front desk about why her daughter is showing one tardy when technically it was for a doctor’s appointment and asked for it to be removed.
I thought to myself, who the fuck cares?
I would just as soon manage my own time and make my own rules. Oftentimes, I refer to school as tax subsidized daycare. And maybe I’m an asshole for it. My preference would be showing my daughter the world, reading when and what she wants, taking topics of interest and intrigue in real time and shaping an experience while the mind is eager. I was granted that level of responsibility and liberty my final year in college and produced some of my best work. I loved participating in the act of choosing, allowing my inner muse to play tour guide through the educational process. Back in fourth grade and again in eighth, I was offered similar opportunities and they are the pivotal points of my education.
Please note, I appreciate the hard work and emotional support and structure her awesome teachers have given her over the years. I cannot think of a harder more dedicated class of workers in American than teachers, school teachers. I suspect many of them would want it different, too. But everything these days are tests, a working vocabulary around words like standardization and common; two things I most dread my daughter becoming. I never imagined I could be so rebellious.
My favorite teacher from school was Dr. John Hoge. My life wouldn’t be the same without him. He initiated the mutiny by insisting I summon the rebel. He teased it out, relentlessly. I am so grateful for his tenacity to work against the system for my benefit.
This is important because I never used to be rebellious until John Hoge made it ok to be so.
And on some level, I know therein lies the fault of public education in America at least as I see it. What I was rebelling against was the person inside of me longing to be free. When I was groomed and molded by the traditional educational models, I systematically had my backbone removed. I was tacitly guided to a place where I wanted to conform and “do good”, to make my teacher proud. Dr. Hoge wanted me to make myself proud; the me that was locked up inside.
I loved him and other teachers. I also have baptism in my church and initiation with my Guru. I love my teachers. Now more than ever I want to honor them because they gave me authentic transference of wisdom (Shakti pat) not just tools to assimilate and confirm. In these scenarios, I am not entangled in the rabble of the rules. I enjoy playing by them.
This is not to say I don’t want my daughter to be respectful of their teachers. But what teachers are asked to teach these days, and the testing and standardization I do not.
It wasn’t until I became a teacher on my own terms, that I saw what wasn’t really a rebellion, but the thirst for a revolution. I want to educate and inspire souls, not just stimulate or shape minds. Perhaps school as we know it isn’t where that is meant to happen.
It is not enough to teach a group of kids mathematic tables (although it is important foundational learning). Children don’t need to punch a clock; my child isn’t going to work in a factory someday. Bells don’t ring at 8am at successful corporations or one’s own business. I feel that children need to learn how to apply reasoning and creativity to solve first small problems, to handle with grace a swath of situations, to cultivate resilience. It would be cliche to say they need yoga, but…
They need to learn to steward and tend to resources, including the quiet calling of their hearts and the whims of their imagination.
Same goes for the yogi, and yoga community. The foundational work must be established. This is for practical reasons of safety and initiation into the mysteries of the body. We all need the tools to awaken consciousness and then commit to doing something constructive with it. Yoga by means of taking forms with our bodies does aid and abet.
But we are also spirits, souls like kernels draped under a dusty shroud of husk.
Yoga cannot be the standard rap education that so many are shilling out today. Something more vital to the moment and more meaningful for our future is at stake. To address today’s challenges, schools need to adapt and rapidly, conventional and non conventional. I would encourage finding ways however possible to empower individual ripening of skills and never neglect the possibility of fostering imagination. Neglecting or shaping this spark and in time they turn to the fabricated fantasy of others.
We call it reality television and we have seen where that is precariously directing our country.
I am not saying everyone needs to go full boat Waldorf and spend hours in a fantasy library shaped like the inside of a magical tree. BTW, I enrolled my child at that school in San Francisco when she was younger and what an incredible Hobbit shire styled learning center it was. I also am not saying learning basics skills like reading and writing are not important. But you can code, learn culinary skills, play football and take tap dancing too. Why cut out the arts or make playing a sport a financial investment?
In yoga, you are not limited to learning some rote sequence, you can and should create your own, weave in themes of interest and be a safe laboratory for innovations starting at the baseline of your body first. I just wish this could happen before adulthood and start sooner when the patterning of conventionality haven’t been yet set into stone.
Consciousness is all expansive; there is plenty of playground to go around.
What I am saying is we all play a role in cultivating the future, our future together. What better way to get things off to a good start then peering through the lens of education. Liberal and conservative agendas aside, as they just two more boxes to stuff our bodies into, I think I will stick with unlimited creativity and structure based on a set of universal governing principles not hindered by culture, socio economic implications and the like.
As a teacher, I want be in the business of moksha, for bodies and spirits alike.
I guess what I really want to say is the world needs more yogis, rebels and dreamers. I just hope the right types of leaders step up wherever they are. No grizzlies need apply.