Wednesday Wisdom: Education

My husband and I just had a conversation about education. Coincidentally, I just spent the past three days driving my daughter back to Spokane, WA where she attends Gonzaga University. Besides the terrible snow on the interstate which caused me to spend one extra night in a hotel, education has been on my mind lately and also a large theme in our family life.

I have a Master in Education and a B.A. in French. For the past five years, I have taken many online writing classes, and as often as possible, local memoir writing classes. Right now, I’m taking an online writing class through Hedgebrook, a women’s writing retreat on Whidbey Island, Washington. The focus of the class is writing with vulnerability which requires shaking off every inhibition or negative portrayals, especially of the self. Of course, we aren’t supposed to say unkind things about others, but writing employs different rules. As long as the narrator is the most honest person on the page about her own shortcomings, she can say whatever truth she needs to dissect. Memoir is an investigative form that requires tough introspection. It is not a genre that most would find easy.

The world of education has changed. Growing up, my mother travelled three hours to Missoula for six weeks at a time, leaving on Sunday evenings and driving home on Friday nights, to attend summer school for her Education certification. It was not easy. Childcare was pushed to the back burner, and during those weekdays while our father was working, my older sister, thirteen at the time, was in charge.

There was a week when my father couldn’t come home from work. I don’t remember the details, except that it turned into a Lord of the Flies situation. My two sisters and I were left to fend for ourselves for the week. The message I received internally was that nobody cared about me. I was eleven years old. My older sister was violent. The story I held onto from that week was that I didn’t deserve to feel safe because my parents didn’t deem me important enough to protect. My brain, seeped into the emotional context, created its own meaning, one I carried for decades before dissecting it into pieces. In those pieces, I found struggles: family struggle, financial struggle, empathy struggle, parenting inadequacy, a mother who needed an education to support the family, sibling cruelty, bad choices, childhood fear, desperation. We were a family who learned through and lived by bad examples of support. In fact, we had none.

Supporting education is an important topic for me. Mothers, especially, need access to online learning opportunities to avoid having to choose between childcare or education. In Montana, a newish program has developed for Native Americans living on the Blackfeet reservation in Browning, a very rural area. There, adults working as school support staff can attend four years of online classes through the University of Montana, the same university where my mother travelled (here in Missoula), and earn their elementary certification to teach without having to leave town. As a daughter who experienced firsthand the lack of such services, I applaud the effort and emphasis toward family-friendly and culturally sensitive education.

There is a huge link between trauma healing and education. Where the link is broken, one remains stuck in trauma, passing it onto the next generation. The link remains broken through more than missed educational opportunities, but also through ideology, denial, stoicism, superiority mindset, racism, religious prejudice. In other words, the ideologies that fear hides behind, often the beliefs a child learns in the home. Where the link to education is strong and impactful, one can emerge from trauma as an empathic being, helping others on the journey. Through writing classes, I have crossed the threshold of fearing my own sense of worthlessness to cultivating curiosity about its meaning. It no longer holds weight in reality, but in the message that it was only a truth I ascribed to during a time of fear.

Let me know what you think. I’m curious how others have transformed their lives. Has education had a strong influence you? Good or bad? Let me know.