Post 3: Mindful Mentorships
Thursday, August, 30, 12 § 1 Comment
Our world cannot support the West’s consumption-based economic systems, to say nothing about the spiritual emptiness they manufacture. Reconstruction of our economic systems desperately calls for experimentation with models of service delivery, product creation, and consumption that more deeply resonate with evolved human values. In Seth’s August 23rd posting, “Education and the New Economy,“ he suggests an apprenticeship model of learning that would partner with professionals who think about a triple bottom line composed of people, profits, and the environment. I would like to push the conversation a little further, and think about what sort of learning environment is needed to help learners think critically about the strengths and ills of culture and economy.
There is certainly a useful logic behind the primary content of most school curricula. Language and writing allows people to develop a shared skill set for communication. History provides a narrative of the processes leading to our current reality. Math is a fundamental logic system that is useful for quantifying our environment, and science uncovers mechanistic ways that physical systems work.
However, these bodies of knowledge provide an insufficient skill set needed to navigate through life, or become responsible co-inhabitants of living ecosystems. Developing skills of deep social inquiry remain notably absent from the core content of most school curricula. While churches provide a potential forum for intellectual probing into moral questions of right and wrong, good or bad, they too often become houses of unquestioned doctrine, in which the rules of behavior become commandments from a book, rather than reasoned outcome guided by one’s own heart, mind, and experiences. As we mature, we become conditioned by our social environments, and most schools simply teach us the skills needed to uphold the status quo. Rarely do we encounter skill sets and experiences that push us to probe beneath our perceived realities.
Our school systems and economy reward competition, dominance, and consumption, all of which run counter to fundamental long-term well being. In and out of school, most of us buy into the fallacy that our lives will be better if only we have more money, more degrees, or more friends. What if skills of cooperation rather than competition, compassion rather than dominance, and inquiry and experimentation rather than acceptance, were guiding behaviors nurtured in schools?
Though some might argue that topics such as ethics or morality should be left to families and churches, I disagree. Young people must develop better skills to make in-depth critical and personal inquiries into themes such as peace, awareness, and service. Just as climate change, species extinction, and ecosystem collapse are symptoms of a dysfunctional economic system, they are also the canaries in the coal mine of our society’s failure to actively look inward, and question the ethical and moral values of our culture.
What I am suggesting is neither radical nor religious. Like Seth, I believe that mentor-based education provides a great adaptive learning model, allowing young people to quickly gain expertise in an area that meets their individual interests, and engage with both society and the economy. However, mentorships must go beyond just learning competence in a skill and sufficiency in the market. They must be complemented with ongoing debate and investigation regarding how the daily decisions we make, as consumers and producers, impact the rest of our ecosystem. Mentorships must provide opportunity for the naturally inquisitive human mind to come up with alternative ways of running an economy—and even create the space and time for students to implement experiments.
Students could start out in mentorships in their communities, working in a sector that inspires them. They would learn to dissect its operational ethics and environmental sustainability, in addition to learning practical skills. They could then challenge conventional wisdom through experimentation of school-owned or partner businesses, exploring key questions that don’t get asked often enough: How much is enough? What profit margins are tolerable? What makes a living wage? How does a product and service impact other communities and environments? How tightly is the monetary economy driving my quality of life?
Schools would also partner with farms and build on the growing trend of school gardens, allowing learners to experiment with ideas such as subsistence living and gift economies. Group dialogue and quiet contemplation would be critical components, helping develop learners’ abilities to uncover conditioned behavior and gain awareness of cultural values versus human ones.
These ideas need to be further developed. There are a number of schools that implement many aspects of these suggestions, such as experiments in professional mentorships, farming, and mindfulness and critical dialogue. But more learning environments need to be created that will push learners to develop skills of deep critical inquiry while engaged in the real economy, developing the skills and courage to begin to live differently.
Christian Casillas | August 30, 2012