YELLAWE and Reinventing Education, Continued

The Dalai Lama has observed that “education is in crisis the world over.”  He is correct.  Education is essential for the survival of our species but there are many ways of educating as indigenous peoples teach us.  It is a sign of our times that education, so married to modern forms, needs a reboot. 

A YELLAWE student’s short documentary about chaos
and creativity and expressing it through a graffiti piece.

Much of my adult career has been devoted to that project and in Monday’s and today’s DM I am telling the story about translating the unique right brain/left brain pedagogy we developed for adult students in graduate programs in spirituality for inner city public school teenagers in our YELLAWE program in Oakland.

One of our students, a junior in high school, wanted to learn graffiti so he took one of the “Ten C’s” namely “Chaos” and filmed himself creating a large canvas rendition of the word “Chaos” in graffiti style.  

Chaos in nature: fallen leaves. Photo by Andrew Hill on Flickr

It is rare to see graffiti happening since most of it happens under a viaduct at midnight some place—this might be a very rare film indeed on the birth of graffiti.  Notice that all the hours he spent painting the graffiti he was meditating on “Chaos.”  

We had taught the kids how today’s science about chaos theory lays out how integral chaos is to nature and its processes.  In fact, one of the founders of chaos theory, mathematician Ralph Abraham (author of Chaos, Gaia, Eros), was generous enough to travel up from the University of Santa Cruz to spend a day with the students describing chaos theory to them.

Chaos, Gaia, Eros by Ralph Abraham

In fact, these kids have PhD’s in chaos—their home lives and the streets they live on are often chaotic. 

Several of the students were gay and they chose to make a film as a team interviewing strangers in the street about their feelings toward being gay: “We’re gay and black, what do you say to that?”  The film was quite lively.

At the end of the semester about 150 adults gathered to hear the kids’ stories and witness their films.  Following the films was a Q&A and I was deeply proud of the maturity of the kids in answering the questions posed by the audience—they grew so much in the process of the semester!  One man who I invited to attend the evening event came up to me afterwards and said: “I am so moved I cannot talk.  I will call you in forty-eight hours.” 

In the spirit of YELLAWE: The Chicago Wisdom Project carries on the principles and practices of the YELLAWE program.

I too was deeply moved. 

If anyone were to ask me “What is the first lesson I have learned from the Yellawe project?” it is this: How much beauty these kids carry around inside of them; but how few outlets they are given by school to express that beauty. 

See Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, pp. 351-362.
See Matthew Fox, The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human.

Banner Image: “Chaos Without, Peace Within.” Photo by Oaktown Art, from

Queries for Contemplation

Do you too learn beauty from working with young people or parenting them?

Is creativity upheld as a value in your experiences of education?

Do you agree with the Dalai Lama that “education is in crisis the world over”?  Do you feel that where you live and work and parent or grandparent the youth?

Recommended Reading

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.

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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