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Opinion & Essays - Apr, 1993 Issue #21 

PROCESS EDUCATION
by: Steve Cawdrey
Thompson Falls, Montana
406-827-4301

(Steve Cawdrey was founder and director of Spring Creek Community School in western Montana for several years before taking a sabbatical to re-evaluate working with children. This essay is the second of a series Steve is writing regarding what he has learned and concluded.)

Last summer I met with other educators from both America and Germany. We had several common interests: we had concerns that education systems are addictive organizations; we perceive education today as evolved from an existing mechanistic and scientific paradigm; and we were willing to discover a different way of teaching and participating in education. The very act of meeting and openly sharing our feelings, stories, and experiences was a recognition we are in a process of the new paradigm.

I have been sitting with what I wanted to share in this article for some time. Since last summer I have been reading, writing, reflecting and asking for help from people about what a process educational system would look like. I had someone say to me the other day to write what I knew today--it doesn't have to be perfect! Here is some of what I know to be true today.

I am a strong proponent of 12-step recovery. These programs are everywhere free and effective. The basis is spiritual, there are no "experts," the support of the fellowship and the wisdom of the group provides an invaluable resource for any person or family in crisis. I mention the 12-step program here because I believe that the foundation of any Process Education involves both recovery and transformation. As Anne Wilson Schaef says, "You can't have recovery without transformation and there is no transformation without recovery."

What about transformation? For me this means shifting to a new paradigm. A paradigm is the model or construct of how we perceive the world. It is like a set of filters through which we understand and respond to our reality. We resist new paradigms and a shift or transformation requires new learning, commitment, risk taking and effort. For me the work had been dealing with my fear of letting go of the old and familiar.

The paradigm on which education and therapy is based is the modern scientific approach. This way of operating views humans as machines, relies completely on the illusion of control, reduces complex and difficult choices to simplistic parts devoid of interconnectedness, uses cause and effect linkage to label and fix behaviors, extols linear and rational thought as godlike, avoids feelings and deep processes and turns respect for the sacred into a fad. And, we wonder about the mess we are in? To shift to another model and worldview is critically important.

Aren't Special Purpose Schools and Programs already operating from a different paradigm? Don't these programs focus on honesty, feelings, recovery, reverence for the Earth, etc.? Surely these programs must be process education?

When I started Spring Creek fourteen years ago, the ideals and vision were holistic, based on feelings, openness, and sharing. We sought participation and equality. I believe that deep in my gut there was genuine yearning for transformation. At Spring Creek, we certainly were saying and doing things very differently than traditional education. What I know today is that the content changed and the processes stayed the same! The organizational aspects and the people starting and operating Spring Creek hadn't both recovered and transformed. And as we grew, the underlying addictive process progressed.

There seems a certain seductiveness in New Age, holistic therapeutic approaches. We know intuitively that the existing paradigm isn't working and we use words and values of transformation to move in a new direction. We fail to have a basis of recovery from addictive processes. Over time at Spring Creek the progressiveness of the disease manifested in the loss of moral integrity, abusive and manipulative behavior by and to the staff and dishonesty by and to the students and families.

So, today I see a process educational model having a foundation based on recovery, operating from a paradigm of participation, respect, honesty, a natural unfolding of process, spiritually based, a safe environment, and an open system. There would be support for staff, students and parents to honor where they are and facilitate and support each person's effort to grow and change.

What would be the first steps toward the design and implementation for a program out of this different paradigm? Well, tune in for the next article. I am very open to responses and sharing from other people about ideas for process education or any comments.

Copyright 1993, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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