Friday, January 16, 2015

"Partnership" Classrooms?

Although 2014 was so last year, I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on one of the most powerful books I read over the past twelve months. Wisdom from the Rainforest, by Stuart Schlegel, is an account of the author's time living with the Teduray people. The Teduray people built a society of 'radical' egalitarianism in the remote rainforest of the Philippines. Teduray life was marked by ubiquitous, unceasing cooperation with emphasis on kindness, respect, and peace toward each other and nature. Men and women were held in equal esteem and so-called "feminine" values, such as expressing one's feelings, were commonplace. Violence and anger disrupted the natural order of life and went against the shared norms of generosity and shared interdependence. Competition, with its emphasis on individual promotion and hierarchy, was a foreign concept.

In his own reflection, Shlegel uses the "partnership" and "dominator" models of society to contextualize and emphasize the values of Teduray society. He writes:

The forest Teduray were a "partnership society," in which men and women were viewed as partners in life. Therefore, family and social structure were egalitarian and social relations unranked and peaceful. Decision making was typically participatory. Softer, stereotypically "feminine" virtues were valued, and community well-being was the principal motivation for work and other activities...The dominant American cultural tradition in which I [Schlegel] came of age stands at the other end of the spectrum. In our "dominator society," hierarchy prevails throughout the social order, with males and the harder "masculine" virtues dominate.  Work is to a large extent motivated by perceived scarcity and insecurity. (Schlegel 244)

As teachers, we have a great opportunity to help establish the values and virtues of our classroom. Do we want to setup a "partnership" classroom where students feel invested in the growth and success of the group? Or do we want to set up "dominator" classrooms where students are ranked and filed by academic achievement? Do we foster interdependence or do we use competition as a way to gain control? What messages do we leave our students? If we set up a "dominant" and competitive classroom we incentivize the failure of some students. How can some "get on top" without others being "held below"?

I can tell you what type of classroom I feel is best...but hopefully it is obvious.

For a more detailed post on the book, see Cindy Cruz-Cabrera.
For more information on "partnership" societies, see Riane Eisler and The Center for Partnership Studies.

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