in the Enki Approach
-by Beth Sutton, Developer and Director
Enki Education, Inc.
Enki Education has several unique aspects; among them is our approach to multicultural education. Multicultural education means so many different things to different people that I thought it might help to describe our unusual outlook and approach right from the start.
Probably the most important aspect of our outlook is the belief that all people of all cultures, religions, races, and times have and always have had an indestructible core of wisdom, compassion, and vitality. We see this core as our human birthright - the nature of who we are. To bring this into the children’s direct experience, regardless of what culture they are from, it is critical that they ex-perience this core wisdom in its different manifestations from around the world. Through the multicultural immersion described here, each child experiences many expressions of human wisdom. If we don’t offer this, we implicitly teach the children that wisdom, vitality, and compassion are “things” that one group owns and another doesn’t.
I, myself, grew up in the United Nations Community and attended the United Nations School throughout my childhood. While the UN is far from perfect and there has been much imbalance in the honoring of cultures, among then the American Indian and Native American, the UN has held and worked towards a vision of full equality for all cultures and peoples. The UN School was and is committed to this vision, and through this, gave me an experience of multicultural life that was neither hierarchical, nor based on an “us and them” outlook. That became my compass to develop an approach to education that would bring all peoples into the children’s experience, in a humanity-based model.
How did this lead to a unique model of education that is really different from that found in most schools? Basically, it made clear to me a central flaw in the standard way of approaching “cultural studies.” Most programs study “other cultures,” trying to look at and appreciate “them” and “their differences” – a bit like visiting a cultural Disneyland. We believe this subtly feeds the very “us and them” outlook they are trying to avoid. In Enki Education, until the children are in High School, we don’t actually “study” cultures; we experience them.
Throughout the grades, children are immersed in a given culture for a period of two to four months at a stretch. The children work with the language, the songs, dances, games, crafts, and stories of a given culture and its people on a daily basis, throughout this period. They may hear of the “zangala” (women’s quarters) and the boo-boo (grandfather's robe) of Malidoma Some of Burkino Faso, W. Africa, the "aloo matter" or "Bapu" of Gandhi's India, or learn the entire 12 verses of the Thanksgiving Address in Mohawk with the Iroquois stories of the Peacemaker and Aionwahta. All the while they are singing and dancing from the culture, and making foods and crafts. The sounds and movement and textures of the culture become part of the children's daily experience, and, in turn, it is the richness of their world they are exloring, not others they are viewing or studying.
During each Cultural Unit, all the other studies, from language arts, to math, to science, come out of this cultural mood and, whenever possible, directly out of the stories of the people. So for two or three or fourth months the children are singing the songs, doing the dances, making the crafts of the peoples in question, every single day – not as meeting “other,” but as experiencing life of which they are a part. It is the water they drink, the air they breathe – and songs, dance, and story stay in our bodies and hearts forever.
In this way, rather than standing back to study "them," the children are always studying or experiencing the humanity of which they are a part: the human heart and the human journey in its many expressions. We believe that this is how a real connection is made - whether you have the privilege of making relationships with people of all cultures or not. This lets the children experience themselves reflected in many cultures each year and gives them a chance to make a connection to all major cultural groups by the time they finish eighth grade, when they begin on a more conceptual look at mankind. The children experience the beauty of each culture in its own right, before they tackle the politics of invasion and oppression. When they are old enough to really tackle those issues, it is done with a heart connection to the people they are studying and no one is a “them” who can be enslaved, oppressed, or conquered lightly. I have been repeatedly amazed by the depth and power of the connection that happens this way, and by the profound sense of the “everyman” that the children carry away.
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