Feminist historian Riane Eisler turns from tracking the goddess to teaching the kids.
Thursday, December 9, 1999
Carmel author Riane Eisler broke into the international spotlight 11 years ago with The Chalice and the Blade. This book charted a revisionist interpretation of human history, pitting patriarchal, warlike, "dominator" societies against matriarchal, peaceful, "partnership" societies. Although this new rendering of history was criticized by some historians for its anecdotal documentation, Eisler''s vision of Eden-like utopias offered new hope for the future--all we had to do is shift our current social and political paradigm to reflect a more ancient, cooperative way of living.
If a book was ever in the right place at the right time, this was it. As the ''90s approached, going forward into the past was big: Joseph Campbell''s "Power of Myth" conversations with Bill Moyers were a huge hit on Public Television, men were beating drums with Robert Bly and looking for their primitive selves, and there was a new-found fascination for pagan, goddess-worshipping religions--even when practitioners had to fill in huge gaps of unrecorded historical documentation by inventing rituals and philosophical frameworks. The Chalice and the Blade became an international best-seller and has been translated into 14 languages.
In her next two books, Sacred Pleasure and The Partnership Way: New Tools for Living and Learning, Eisler deepened her analysis, and promulgated ways for men and women to develop a more "partnership" oriented way of living.
With Tomorrow''s Children, Eisler turns her full attention to the educational system. According to Eisler, our current educational techniques are based on "dominator" patterns that not only stifle children''s natural joy in learning but also churn out dysfunctional human beings who are less sensitive to the world and people around them, and more prone to violence. To change the system, Eisler argues, it must be radically restructured and rethought.
In the book, Eisler argues for changes in the teaching process, content and school structure that would present a more balanced and meaningful relationship with the world.
In some ways, Eisler''s arguments for a change in process and content seem tightly linked. As teachers introduce students to a subject''s broader context, students are non-judgmentally allowed to explore what the subject means. The partnership process, writes Eisler, "cultivates less linear, more intuitive, contextualized, and holistic ways of learning... showing children that their voices will be heard, their ideas respected and their emotional needs understood."
Teachers would fuel that more dynamic classroom with content that provides a broader view of learning. Not only would the dates and deaths of wars and kings be important, but so would the cultural and social changes that affected common men and women around the globe. This expanded vision of what''s important would not only provide a more balanced view of history, it would also speak to what it means to be human.
"Memorizing the dates of wars," she says. "What does that tell you? That what''s important is who killed who.
"I''m not saying we should stop teaching that, but I think that young people are entitled to a more hopeful perspective on what being human is all about. There is a human need for love, to give love as well as to receive it; to create instead of destroy; to strive for justice..."
But Eisler''s reconstruction of the educational system doesn''t stop in the classroom. As long as the system attempts to bully children into learning with a top-down dominator model of organization, the results will be disappointing. To complete the restructuring of education, partnership models must be built into the structure of school administration, giving children the opportunity to practice what they''re learning, taking responsibility by participating in the decision-making process, and finding new ways to regulate behavior and learning.
"It''s a way of helping a child do this for intrinsic instead of extrinsic reasons," says Eisler. "Kids get a lot of pleasure from validation, from doing the right thing. Why not focus our education on encouraging kids to do that?"
The book is liberally peppered with boxes and appendices that point educators to additional resources. One appendix includes classroom examples of partnership exercises that have been tried in test classrooms around the country.
While some may quibble that it may be impossible to restructure an educational institution that''s become so entrenched, Eisler takes a longer view.
"So?" she asks. "It''s an ambitious book. The ideas are all intended toward long-range results instead of add-ons and the quick fix. I wrote this book because I think [the system can be changed]. Not tomorrow, mind you, but in the longer range. This isn''t like a television show where everything can be fixed in an hour."
A Blueprint for Partnership Education in the 21st Century
Westview Press (projected publication: February, 2000)
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