The overall Vision of Youth and Elder Learning Laboratory for Ancestral Wisdom Education (YELLAWE) is, bluntly, to supplement the exam-driven definitions of education with a system that is more student-friendly, one that does not define education as an infinite number of exams that please quantitatively driven bureaucrats, but that elicits the joy of learning and the wonder of learning from the students. In YELLAWE we desire to reinvent education from the inner city out. And this means attacking the issues of dropping out and of meaninglessness head on.
It is not only students who find themselves at odds with the No Child Left Behind definition of education but many teachers and parents as well. Learning is meant to be a joy as well as work. Students learn in very different ways—some by exams and papers and texts—but many through their bodies, imaginations, hands and story telling—and given today’s new technologies there are multiple fresh ways to tell stories and the youth are quite at home with these languages. A teacher in Napa commented one day: “I love teaching; I am a great teacher. And I am quitting. And every other good teacher in my district is quitting. We cannot stomach the current definition of education, that of giving countless exams. This is not the reason we became teachers. We are hurting along with so many of our students. We became teachers to bring alive the learning capacities of the kids.”
In addition to exciting the awe and joy of learning, YELLAWE has proven itself useful for solving a very basic issue in today’s educational world: that of dropouts. A recent study found that 1.2 million American youth are dropping out of school annually—that is 7,000 for every school day. Dropping out means as a rule lacking skills to secure a good job. It often means the next step is jail. Currently, about 40% of state prison inmates are high school dropouts. Gangs too are heavily populated by dropouts. In the state of California alone, dropouts cost the state $46.4 billion over their lifetimes. U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has drawn attention to this reality too when he says: “To get this economy back on track, we need to lower our high school dropout rates. These students need an education, and our economy needs these students.”
Methods. How do we lower high school dropout rates? YELLAWE has been a two-year pilot project associated with Oasis Charter high school in downtown Oakland, California. Oasis has drawn heavily for its student enrollment from students who are dropouts or were tending to be such. YELLAWE has worked with 56 of these students. In a recent survey of students in the YELLAWE program, 100% of the YELLAWE students said they wanted to stay in school—and continue taking the YELLAWE course.
The YELLAWE pedagogy is based on the method successfully used in the Creation Spirituality graduate school programs for over twenty years. The aim is to not only teach the students facts and ideas, but to give them a holistic approach to learning that involves body practices that can help them deal with stress in their lives, and creativity. Each aspect of the pedagogy should be seen not as a separate “subject” from the others, as in modern education, but as a different way to integrate the same wisdom. The YELLAWE pedagogy is three-fold, comprising healing arts, wisdom education, and creativity.
Wisdom education begins with the wisdom of the body. The modern educational system is based on a worldview that radically separates the body from the mind. YELLAWE views the mind and the body as part of the same cosmic process. The healing arts practices of YELLAWE begin each session. These practices serve a variety of purposes: they center and calm the students, helping them to concentrate; they integrate the body into the learning process in a positive way; they give the student a practical skill they can take with them. First and foremost is the idea that the body is an expression of the Universe, 13.7 billion years of cosmic wisdom, and it contains a deep wisdom. This is a very different view of the body from what our youth hear on television. Many different practices can be used: for example, meditation, qi gong, and hatha yoga. In each case, the practice is led by a skilled and trained facilitator.
YELLAWE is different from many other programs emphasizing creativity in our insistence on basing the creativity on the wisdom of the elders and ancestors. This phase of the pedagogy addresses the same wisdom as the others, but from a more conceptual viewpoint. The philosophy of the content of YELLAWE can be found in detail in Matthew Fox’s The A.W.E. Project, and is based in the “10 C’s“. Usually, this dimension of the pedagogy comes after the Healing Arts practice.
The integration of this wisdom occurs during the creative expression of the students. During this time, the students must re-learn the material by expressing it from their own, unique perspective. In this way, the students not only learn, but become teachers in their own right. Students will now begin to create their own wisdom as they create works of art.
While the students’ creativity can and will ultimately take over, it is important to have skilled facilitators who also understand the YELLAWE philosophy. Any medium can serve this purpose. In the past we have used African drumming and theater, but a special emphasis has been placed on Hip Hop music and video production. Hip Hop has been a point of emphasis because of the role it plays in the minds of the youth and the power of the images—unfortunately, mostly negative images—it conveys. YELLAWE recognizes the necessity of empowering youth through this creative medium because, ultimately, it is the creative vision of our youth that determine the world they will create for the future.
Usually, creative expression is the final phase of the pedagogy. We tend to emphasize the wisdom teaching more in the beginning of a semester, gradually phasing those lessons out to leave more room for creativity.
For news on Y.E.L..L.A.W.E.’s growth, see Matthew Fox’s 2012 update.
For further information on Y.E.L.L.A.W.E, contact:
Executive Assistant to Matthew Fox