For me one of the most important questions to pose to our schools is this: Where is imagination in your curriculum?  Where is imagination honored?

A YELLAWE student’s documentary about her
connection to boxing and martial arts, not only as
exercise but as meditative practice

During one class of our YELLAWE program an 18-year-old African American senior turned to me and said: “This is the first time in four years of high school that anyone has asked me to express myself creatively.”   That to me is the ultimate judgment on a failing school system.  But it also hints at the missing medicine.

What I call the “A.W.E. Project” alerts us to begin education with Awe since that is how the heart and mind are awakened and it is the beginning of wisdom and not just knowledge.  The acronym also stands for Ancestral Wisdom Education

Stargazing. Photo by Photo by Raghu Nandan on Unsplash

Our ancestors, no matter what modern mythology preaching “progress” insists on telling us, were not stupid.  They were survivors and they knew a lot about what it takes for community to flourish and for young people to learn. 

Our ancestors understood within the context of a cosmology.  Thus we are invited to move from an anthropocentric meaning of “ancestors” to include our more-than-human ancestors including Planet Earth, supernovas and galaxies and the fireball that birthed us all 13.8 billion years ago. 

Ancestral Wisdom Education puts things in a scientific context of the new universe story which is something a post-modern mind seeks. 

The Suquamish Canoe Family, a group of elders, adults, and youth from the Port Madison Indian Reservation, Kitsap County, WA, performing traditional songs and dances inspired by the teachings of the elders and participation in traditional ceremonies. Photo by Americans4Arts on Flickr.

“YELLAWE” stands for “Youth and Elder Learning Laboratory for Ancestral Wisdom Education.”  Notice wisdom—not just knowledge.  Our ancestors sought wisdom and not just knowledge.  We need wisdom schools and not mere knowledge factories. 

Yell Awe” is also about Yelling Awe; Shouting Awe; Putting Awe First as in Rabbi Heschel’s teaching that “awe is the beginning of wisdom.”

What I learned from our pilot project called YELLAWE over several years is this: The primary reason kids drop out of school is because they are bored.  They are bored because western education rarely inspires the young to express what is deepest within them. 

A YELLAWE student’s documentary about turf
dancing and its history and significance in hip-hop culture.

Educere” after all means to “lead out.”  It does not mean “to stuff things inside.”  There is wisdom in all humanity but it needs to be invited out. 

As Meister Eckhart put it: “The truth does not come from outside in but from inside out and passes through an inner form.” 

This is one more instance where “art as meditation” offers so much of depth to us all.  The accrediting bodies of our educational institutions need to be alerted to the Educational Emergency that is happening in our schools—and the medicine for it.

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: In the spirit of YELLAWE: “Music Retreat” Photo from the Chicago Wisdom Project.

Queries for Contemplation

Be with Eckhart’s teaching that “truth does not come from outside in but from inside out.”  Is that your experience also?  What follows from that?

Are you also busy “Shouting Awe” to yourself and your community?  How many ways are there to do that?  Do you agree that “awe is the beginning of wisdom”?  What are the implications of that?  How can Awe (which the mystics call the Via Positiva) be more central to your life and spiritual practice?

Meditate on Imagination.  What is its role in your learning processes past and present?  And your children’s?

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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