M.C. Richards on Reinventing Education

We are discussing the important role Creativity plays in societal transformation, how the Via Creativa plays into the Via Transformativa. One prophet in this regard is MC Richards.

M.C. Richards. (c)Black Mountain College Portraits, from her obituary in Reed Magazine.

As a young woman, upon graduating from the University of California in Berkeley, MC Richards landed a prestigious teaching position at the University of Chicago, but she felt stifled there.

She found the atmosphere defined by

…duplicity, sneers, sarcasm, one-upmanship, ambition, greed, joyless intellectual gluttony, and behind-the-scenes heartbreak.

Students would not allow me to spend time in class on material which did not prepare them for their comprehensive examinations. Talk about tunnel vision, ech. Nobody looked healthy or happy. It was a drag. The pay was good, the status was good, but the work and the life were juiceless and joyless.

How this strikes me as being so similar to current complaints about education today!  Has anything changed in 70 years?

MC offers this observation about education:

Solitary student. Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

They put the student through a battery of punitive examinations, which, if he survived, made him feel superior to others. He then went into the adult world sarcastic and arrogant in turn, with his brain honed to play games to win and to escape traps and to set them for others. His character tended to be concealed and explosive. I didn’t like it.

As a student in college and later graduate school, majoring in English and languages, MC felt something was missing in her education. In studying literature, for example:

Myths were regarded as fictions rather than as true stories of the ordeals of the human soul. We were taught to criticize but not to experience. We stood outside the words. There was silence or disdain about everything that could not be rationally validated. I have had to work hard to correct this miseducation and to learn to enter life from the inside.

“Snow,” a haiku and image by MC Richards. From the Collection of Julia Connor

What did she learn from this “hard work” about the source of words that her education did not tell her? 

I know now that words are not the poetic source. The Source precipitates into language; to love the language and not to experience the source, the poetry of insight, is a sort of weird “touch but don’t feel anything” approach.

I since have developed my ear for the objective realm of the human psyche, personal and collective, and for the truths of spirit, and can stand my ground. I have learned that poetry is a spiritual offering. It is a way of entering into one another’s reality. It is a form of community. When we are children we make poems easily because we offer ourselves so readily.

MC went on to join the experimental Black Mountain College faculty in North Carolina and later my ICCS master’s’ program at Holy Names College and the University of Creation Spirituality in Oakland, where she found an educational model more to her liking.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, 262-264.

Banner Image: “Having New Eyes” Photo by Ravi N Jha on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Do you also recognize poetry as “a spiritual offering? That allows us to “enter into one another’s reality and form community?”  What are the implications of that realization?

Do you also see myths as “true stories of the ordeals of the soul”?  Have you experienced the “disdain” for all that cannot be rationally validated?  Have you, like MC, journeyed to reject this “miseducation” to “enter life from the inside?”  How do you do that?  How does that feel?

Recommended Reading

 While Matthew Fox recognizes that Eckhart has influenced everyone from Julian of Norwich to Eckhart Tolle, Karl Marx to Carl Jung, and Annie Dillard to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.

After 29 successful years of offering an alternative educational model to adults, Matthew Fox here lays out his basic educational philosophy and presents a revolution in education in the process.  “A.W.E.” stands for Ancestral Wisdom Education: balancing the three R’s by honoring the teachings of the Ancestors of all species, and by teaching values through what Fox calls “the 10 C’s.”

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