Building Humanity Forward

I had a terrible experience in school before I went to college.

Good chance that you did, too, even if you’re one of the people — faculty, staff, or student — who made my experience so terrible. It’s doubly true if you’re one of the faculty, students, or staff who made it liveable and actually helped me learn.

I was subject to an unremarkable system of shaming, a contempt for learning, and arbitrary demands from which it has taken me decades to start to recover. That process has seen me teaching elementary school students in Providence, RI and rural Massachusetts as a volunteer, Yale students as a Lecturer, and Hampshire College and University of Massachusetts students as a Professor with a variety of words before the title.

That recovery began 20 years ago by studying the parallel disciplines of education, neuroscience, art, and history. It continued by teaching in public schools as a volunteer, by living with and near people who aren’t like me, and by retreating, when I needed to, into making art about my experiences and hopes.

Schools as we know them in the US were designed by Horace Mann to be an equalizer for our citizenry; to grant to us all the powers that had been heretofore restricted to those of the right race, color, nation of origin, sexuality, religion, and socioeconomic class.

It is telling that, in his optimism, he applied precisely the same tools to prisons that he did to schools.

But the Protestant Work Ethic —prizing as it does material suffering while retroactively granting ethical honors to those who prosper — does not allow for the Humanism required for us to explore and exceed our limits, to aid each other, to pull each other out of positions of oppression. Horace Mann wanted a humanist vision of education to help form an educated, prosperous polity. It didn’t work, but I want what he wanted.

I’m on a quest to find the best ways I can to teach, to help my fellow humans explore their limits for the benefit of everyone on the planet, starting with those at the crappier end of the socioeconomic spectrum. In many cases, that means forming parallel institutions, dodging around established systems of oppression. In other cases, that means allying with ones that are also seeking my objectives, or at least take actions that support them. It means making compromises and accepting that last year’s teaching process could not have been as good as this one if I’m always trying to get better at it. And, of course, sometimes this year’s teaching is worse than last year’s. That’s a necessary fact of experimentation: not everything works.The key, as in all craft, is to do my best.

In the sidebar, you can see things that I’m teaching right now. You can also see how to support me (using Patreon, currently), my students (by buying the materials we need to learn how to learn about and build our world), and the institutions with whom I’m allied. When you do that, please tell them who you are (if you want) and that you support them through this blog.

This blog points toward a humanist pedagogy. It is here to share experiences with teachers (that’s you), with students (that’s you), and with anyone who wants to build better education for our society (I hope that’s you).

Let’s make humanity stronger, wiser, kinder, braver, and more compassionate!