I spent my childhood years in rural southern Oregon, the ‘high desert’ part that is small in numbers of people and big in open space. Since finishing high school, I have ventured perpetually eastward – to university, to big cities like New York, and then further east to England and to even bigger cities like London and Birmingham, with periodic research work in big cities like Beirut, Karachi, Delhi and Dhaka. Although I’ve lived away from Oregon since high school, it is still the place I consider myself most deeply connected to, and I understand this deep connection as being foremost about the place, my family and the land.
My work over the past 18 years has been deeply embedded within the educational system, either as a student, a researcher, or as a teacher. During these years, I have, amongst other jobs, taught primary school for 2 years in the South Bronx, worked in an environmental non-profit in NYC as an educator with high school students from around the City to introduce environmental history and eco-political action projects, taught English in Chinatown and pre-school on the upper east side (also NYC), worked for an educational NGO in Karachi, Pakistan, acted as an educational consultant to the UK international development agency, researched sanitation, health and education projects in India and Bangladesh – and finally, most recently, spent 4 years working as a lecturer in the education and international development departments at the University of Bath. During this time, it is safe to say that I have become increasingly disillusioned by the opportunities that educational institutions do and can provide. You might say that I have even become a critical/anti-educationist. But, this does not mean that I am against education. Rather, I am against how education is often institutionally programmed to constrain creativity, critical engagement, community and action – in spite of its continual praise of being crucial for human development. I might better identify myself as someone who values learning outside of the confines of institutional constraint – learning that embraces and inspires deep connection to self and to place.
I passionately agree with the Portuguese scholar, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, who argues that to understand our current societal conditions, we must look to the edges, the margins, from not only those who on a daily basis experience domination and social injustice – but also those who successfully and creatively challenge the mainstream. It is these edges that the majority of us are often the least familiar with – the places outside the lens of the media, places that might inspire hope and renewal in terms of building community – which to me, means building relationships not only with each other (regardless of age and background) but also building relationships with the non-human world (plants, animals) that is all around us, through what a brilliant Blackfoot teacher recently explained, in a deep way that enables us to be truly human.
It is because of my own disillusionment and because of my passion to learn about ‘those places at the edges’ that I am undertaking this year-long journey of learning, of re-learning and of un-learning. And, as I look around and feel the ever-increasing speed at which we seem to be projecting ourselves ever more closely to ecological, social and economic collapse through our consumptive practices, the time for such learning is imperative, not just intellectually, but spiritually.