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Education for the Twenty-first Century.

What will the world be like for tomorrow's children?

When I look at my little two-year-old granddaughter's face, bright with wide-eyed curiosity and joyful expectation of love and life, I see wonderful possibilities. But when I look at the challenges she and her generation will inherit, I see that these possibilities will not be realized unless today's and tomorrow's children learn to live in more environmentally conscious, equitable, and peaceful ways.

Today, young people often feel powerless to change the course of their lives, much less the course of the world around them. Many become immersed in the me-firstism and over-materialism that permeates much of our mass culture, futilely seeking meaning and belonging in the latest fad or commercial offering. Some bury their pain and anger in drugs, gangs, and other destructive activities, unconscious and seemingly uncaring of the effect their actions have on themselves and others. A number become violent, under the thrall of hatemongering or religious fanaticism, or simply because our video games, television, ads, and movies make violence seem normal and even fun. And the vast majority--including the young people who expect to get a decent job or go on to college to pursue a professional career--fail to see how what we do with our lives both affects and is affected by our cultural beliefs and social institutions.

There are many factors that contribute to all this. But there is one factor that can play a major role in providing young people with the understanding and skills to both live good lives and create a more sustainable, less violent, more equitable future: education.

For over two centuries, educational reformers such as Johann Pestalozzi, Maria Montessori, John Dewey, and Paolo Freire have called for an education that prepares us for democracy rather than authoritarianism and fosters ethical and caring relations. Building on the work of these and other germinal educational thinkers, I propose an expanded approach to education reform that can help young people meet the unprecedented challenges of a world in which technology can either destroy us or free us to actualize our unique human capacities for creativity and caring.

I call this approach partnership education. It is an education to help children not only navigate through our difficult times but also create a future oriented more to what in my study of cultural education I have identified as a partnership rather than dominator model.

We are all familiar with these two models from our own lives. We know the pain, fear, and tension of relations based on domination and submission, on coercion and accommodation, of jockeying for control, of trying to manipulate and cajole when we are unable to express our real feelings and needs, of the miserable, awkward tug of war for that illusory moment of power rather than powerlessness, of our unfulfilled yearning for caring and mutuality, of all the misery, suffering, and lost lives and potentials that come from these kinds of relations. Most of us also have, at least intermittently, experienced another way of being--one where we feel safe and seen for who we truly are, where our essential humanity and that of others shine through, perhaps only for a little while, lifting our hearts and spirits, enfolding us in a sense that the world can be right after all, that we are valued and valuable.

But the partnership and dominator models not only describe individual relationships, they describe systems of belief and social structures that either nurture and support--or inhibit and undermine--equitable, democratic, nonviolent, and caring relations. Without an understanding of these configurations--and the kind of education that creates and replicates each--we unwittingly reinforce structures and beliefs that maintain the inequitable, undemocratic, violent, and uncaring relations which breed pathologies that afflict and distort the human spirit and are today decimating our natural habitat.

Once we understand the cultural, social, and personal configurations of the partnership and dominator models, we can more effectively develop the educational methods, materials, and institutions that foster a less violent, more equitable, democratic, and sustainable future. We also can more effectively sort out what in existing educational approaches we want to retain and strengthen or leave behind.

During much of recorded Western history prior to the last several hundred years, most institutions, including schools, were designed to support authoritarian, inequitable, rigidly male-dominant, and chronically violent social structures. That is, they were designed to support the core configuration of the dominator model. Although this kind of education was appropriate for autocratic kingdoms, empires, and feudal fiefdoms that were constantly at war, it is not appropriate for a democratic and more peaceful society. Nonetheless, much in the present curricula still reflects this legacy.

Many of our teaching methods also stem from much more authoritarian, inequitable, male-dominated, and violent times. Like childrearing methods based on mottoes such as "spare the rod and spoil the child," these teaching methods were designed to prepare people to accept their place in rigid hierarchies of domination and unquestioningly obey orders from above, whether from their teachers in school, supervisors at work, or rulers in government. These educational methods often model uncaring, even violent behaviors, teaching children that violence and abuse by those who hold power is normal and right. They heavily rely on negative motivations, such as fear, guilt, and shame. They force children to focus primarily on unempathic competition (as is still done by grading on a curve) rather than empathic cooperation (as in team projects). And in significant ways, they suppress inquisitiveness.

Again, all this was appropriate for the autocratic monarchies, empires, and feudal fiefdoms that preceded more democratic societies. It was appropriate for industrial assembly lines where workers were forced to be mere cogs in the industrial machine and to strictly follow orders without question. But it is decidedly not appropriate for a democratic society.

Nor is it appropriate for a world facing unprecedented environmental problems. A dominator mindset focused on control gives the illusion that we can arbitrarily control nature, promoting the shortsighted "technology will fix everything and clean up every mess we make" world view that is leading to ever-increasing despoliation of our finite resources, mounting pollution, and the threat of unforeseen and potentially disastrous ecological consequences.

Partnership education also better prepares young people for the new information- and service-oriented postindustrial economy. Here--as organizational development and management consultants emphasize--inquisitiveness and innovativeness, flexibility and creativity, teamwork, and more stereotypically "feminine" nurturant or facilitative management styles get the best results. Whether they reside in women or men, these are all qualities and behaviors appropriate for partnership rather than dominator relations. Indeed, when we talk of stereotypically feminine or masculine traits or behaviors, we are always talking about stereotypes that are our legacy from more dominator-oriented times and not about anything inherent in women or men.

By providing the partnership-dominator continuum as an analytical lens for examining all aspects of life and society, partnership education can help students develop a capacity that is essential in our age of information overload: the capacity to recognize patterns or configurations in what otherwise seems a jumble of disconnected, equally weighted data bits. This in turn can lead to an awareness of how social structures, policies, and laws affect our day-to-day lives, strengthening young people's ability to make sounder personal, economic, and political decisions.

How can we build the foundations for partnership education? How can we bring the joy of learning, of exploring new possibilities, into our classrooms? What are the basic building blocks?

Partnership education has three core interconnected components: partnership process, partnership content, and partnership structure.

Partnership process is about how we learn and teach. It applies the guiding template of the partnership model to educational methods and techniques. Are each child's intelligence and capabilities treated as unique gifts to be nurtured and developed? Do students have a real stake in their education so that their innate enthusiasm for learning is not dampened? Do teachers act primarily as lesson dispensers and controllers or as mentors and facilitators? Is caring an integral part of teaching and learning? Are young people learning the teamwork needed for the postindustrial economy or must they continuously compete with each other? Are students offered the opportunity for both self-directed learning and peer teaching? In short, is educating children merely a matter of filling an "empty vessel" or are students and teachers partners in the adventure of learning?

Partnership content is what we learn and teach. It is the educational curriculum. Does the curriculum not only effectively teach students basic skills such as the "three Rs" of reading, writing, and arithmetic but also model the life skills they need to be competent and caring citizens, workers, parents, and community members? Are we telling young people to be responsible, kind, and nonviolent at the same time that the curriculum celebrates male violence and conveys environmentally unsustainable and socially irresponsible messages? Does it present science in holistic, relevant ways? Does what is taught as important knowledge and truth include--not just as an add-on but as integral to what is learned--both the female and male halves of humanity, as well as children of various races and ethnicities? Does it teach young people the difference between the partnership and dominator models as two basic human possibilities and the feasibility of creating a partnership way of life? Or, both overtly and covertly, is this presented as unrealistic in "the real world"? Does what young people are learning about "human nature" limit or expand human possibilities? In short, what view of ourselves, our world, and our roles and responsibilities in it are children taking away from their schooling?

Partnership structure is about where learning and teaching take place: what kind of learning environment we construct if we follow the partnership model. Is the structure of a school, classroom, or home school one of top-down authoritarian rankings or is it a more democratic one? If it were diagramed as an organizational chart, would decisions flow only from the top down and accountability only from the bottom up or would there be interactive feedback loops? Are management structures flexible so that leadership is encouraged at all educational levels? Are there ways of involving parents and other community members? Do students, teachers, and other staff participate in school decision making and rule setting? In short, is the learning environment organized in terms of hierarchies of domination ultimately backed up by fear, or is it a combination of horizontal linkings and hierarchies of actualization where power is used not to dis-empower others but, rather, to empower them?

Teachers all over the world are already working with some of these elements of partnership education. Good resources are available for moving toward both partnership process and structure. There are also good supplementary materials for teaching science in more holistic ways, for bringing information about women and various cultures into our schools, and for engendering greater consciousness about social and economic equity and our natural environment.

But still lacking and urgently needed is an integrated partnership curriculum that will not only help today's and tomorrow's children build healthy bodies, psyches, families, businesses, governments, and communities but also give them a clearer understanding of our human potential, our place in history, our relationship to nature, and our responsibility to future generations.

What I am interested in is systemic or long-term educational change. Certainly schools need the best new technologies if they are to prepare children for the future. But schools also need to help students look at the environmental, social, and economic challenges they face in the twenty-first century from a partnership perspective.

Such a new curriculum will make it possible for young people to more clearly understand our past, present, and the possibilities for our future. It will integrate the practical and the theoretical and the sciences and the humanities. It will bring science to life by placing it in the larger context of both the history of our planet and our species and our day-to-day lives. Because the social construction of the roles and relations of the female and male halves of humanity is central to either a partnership or dominator social configuration--unlike the traditional male-centered curricula--partnership education is a gender-balanced education. It integrates the history, needs, problems, and aspirations of both halves of humanity into what is taught as important knowledge and truth. Because in the partnership model difference is not automatically equated with inferiority or superiority, partnership education is multicultural. It offers a pluralistic perspective that includes peoples of all races and a variety of backgrounds, as well as the real-life drama of the animals and plants of the Earth we share. Since partnership education offers a systemic approach, environmental education is not an add-on but an integral part of the curriculum.

Through partnership education, young people will learn the dramatic story of our human adventure on Earth against the backdrop of the need and prospects for a major cultural transformation. They will begin to see school as a place of exploration, a place to share feelings and ideas, an exciting community of educators, students, and parents working together to ensure that each child is recognized and valued so that the human spirit will be nurtured and grow. Above all, partnership education will help young people form visions of what can be and acquire the understanding and skills to make these visions come true.

I want to invite not only parents, students, primary- and secondary-school teachers, university professors, and other educators but also all those working for a better future to become active partners in developing partnership education from the early years on. I want to invite you to use partnership thinking in your own teaching and learning, as well as to develop replicable materials for others. These can be lesson plans or entire units to be incorporated into existing classes. They can be whole new courses, like those being developed through the California-based Center for Partnership Studies in collaboration with a number of schools and universities for distribution through the center's website, bookstores, and other avenues. They can even be curricula for an entire school. The goal is to gradually put together new partnership curricula for kindergarten through twelfth grade and beyond.

Some of what I am proposing will create controversy. But without controversy there is no possibility for real change. If enough of us are committed to personal and collective transformation --if together we keep moving forward, as Marian Wright Edelman wrote, "putting one foot ahead of the other, basking in the beauty of our children, in the chance to serve and engage in a struggle for a purpose higher than ourselves"--we will succeed in laying the educational foundation for a safer, more livable, more loving world for tomorrow's children and generations still to come.

The partnership model for education is already being used successfully in elementary and secondary schools such as Rose Valley in Pennsylvania and Nova High School in Washington. If you are interested in partnership education, the Center for Partnership Studies offers:

* Partnership Education Consultants (PEC) for schools and individuals who want materials, training, and procedures to lay the educational foundation for a more peaceful, equitable, and sustainable future. For information contact Del Jones at (520) 298-6542 or

* Continuing Teacher Education Workshops in various U.S. regions in cooperation with the University of Kansas Center for Research and Learning. For information contact Dr. Jim Knight at (785) 864-0623 or

* Master of Art in Education Degree Program with a specialty in partnership education in collaboration with the Institute for Field-Based Teacher Education at the California State University at Monterey Bay. The program offers a distance learning component to enable teachers from all over the world to participate. For information contact Professor Christine Sleeter at (831) 582-3641 or or education/partnership.

Riane Eisler is president of the Center for Partnership Studies in Pacific Grove, California and the 1996 recipient of the American Humanist Association's Humanist Distinguished Service Award. She is the author of the 1987 international bestseller The Chalice and the Blade (Harper and Row) and many other books. This article is adapted from her February 2000 release Tomorrow's Children: A Blueprint for Partnership Education in the Twenty-first Century (Westview Press).
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Author:Eisler, Riane
Publication:The Humanist
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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