Educator-As-Community-Keeper

This post is a bit of a brain dump as I’m unwinding a cognitive knot. It is the result of my participation in a few book studies, both personally and professionally. The books we read were Braiding Sweetgrass by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer and How We Show Up by Mia Birdsong.

My personal reading of Braiding Sweetgrass led me to some deep reflections and contemplations about my relationships with plants (in addition to animals). Kimmerer’s words really slowed down my experience outdoors and allowed me to focus on small moments.

How We Show Up challenged me on a deep personal level. As an introvert who values my independence and singlehood, I found myself questioning what it means to live alone. The chapter about queering friendships, specifically, got me in the feels.

But it wasn’t until I discussed these books in their respective book study groups that I truly felt transformed by the knowledge gifted in them. I’ll share a few examples of things that we questioned and the new understandings I have come to.

Through a conversation about Braiding Sweetgrass we got to a point where we were talking about gifts, and how when you give a gift you shouldn’t expect a gift in return. One person shared that if they were to give money to someone sitting outdoors, they would do so without strings attached, meaning that they trust the person would spend the money on whatever they need, not expect them to purchase food or clothes or save it. They said that there shouldn’t be an expectation of return within our reciprocal relationships. But as a group, we lingered on that, because is that not part of the point the reciprocal relationships? If we are in two-way relationships, can we not trust that we both give and receive? I felt stumped by this for a second and I didn’t see a way out. But then another person offered a path forward: aren’t we still talking about being individuals rather than being truly interconnected? An systems of interdependence mean that what we give, we do get back. In interconnected systems-thinking, we are constantly giving to each other and ourselves. This also means that survival occurs through unity; all flourishing is mutual. In this way, giving money is act of perpetual, unconditional kindness, but it also questions and resists the ownership and hoarding of money. To give is not necessarily to expect to receive, but it is to know that people around you and before you are looking out for you. If we all take responsibility for our part in a community, we all survive and thrive. So ow does this relate to being an educator? My explanation requires a reflection on my next book study: How We Show Up.

This book is a critique of the racist and heteronormative American Dreamism culture and a reimagining of family, friendship, and community. Early on in the book the author makes a point of how family units are a replication of our toxic individualist culture in North America, whereby we exist separately from our neighbours, and things like relying on friends for childcare is considered a shameful last resort for many people. For middle-and lower-class families, paying for childcare seems to be the dominant idea of “what is best for the child”; yet, this rationale reinforces the idea that early childhood educators know what is best for children and that somehow other adults like family and friends do not. I’ve been trying to challenge this notion because, despite our specialized knowledge and years of experience, we are not more knowledgeable than parents, elders, and generational or cultural wisdom. Our collective vision of parents is to see them as capable and competent; therefore, our role becomes slightly challenged when we shift to viewing our livelihood as interconnected communities rather than supporting toxic individualism. If we don’t have the expertise we think we do, then why are we demanding higher pay? If we are as capable and competent as parents and families, then why should we be asking for better occupational conditions, when this is straying further and further away from the home-life experience. How might we lean into these questions, rather than been threatened? I’ve provided a consideration from the book Illuminating Care to demonstrate this notion:

In our conversation about this book we talked about our differing perspectives on individualism. Myself and another person shared that we experience intimacy as threatening, whereas another felt that they had always had friendships that pushed boundaries of intimacy. We discusses our experiences of living with or feeling connected to family, but then realized that family to us, is something that tends to feel permanent whereas friendships can feel transient. We were sensing agreement that the transientness of friendships came with grief, protectiveness, and a resistance to change. We talked about what it means to move, to leave behind communities, and how some folks can feel quite angry when our good friends move. This is especially relevant given our current life stage, not quite 10 years into our careers when moving can happen frequently. But I recalled something that was getting called upon within me: Mike’s wisdom of how home is created and recreated on our paths throughout life, with new people. It’s not about the structure and it’s not about who is kept in or out of a space. It’s about community, bringing people together with the struggle of food, survival, and hard work. I think he would have liked this book a lot.

So again, what does this mean as an eduator?

To that I would ask, am I not recreating home indefinitely? Am I not embracing the transientness of children temporarily being in my care? Do I not enter into very intimate relationships with families and children, even becoming part of families? Am I not empowered and humbled by this, rather than threatened? Do I not operate within a community hub, bringing families together, supporting children’s young friendships, and fostering dispositions for lifelong learning? Do I not uphold community through my responsiveness to both individual and group needs? Don’t I turn local wisdom and familial cultural practices into sacred, shared experiences for all children to benefit from? Do I not prioritize my relationships above almost all else? Am I not a reciprocal partner, ally, and co-conspirator in children’s lives? Defender of wonder, play, and joy in ways that invite children into relationship with humans and the more-than-human world? Do I not resist toxic individualism almost as a job requirement, whereby I use systems-thinking to understand, extend and support the many interlocking relationships I have entered? Am I not a keeper of this community knowledge, resources, and connections?

I think am and I do. And this is how I am choosing to reframe myself. I’m not just a researcher, co-leaner, play partner, care mentor, and nurturer; I am a community keeper.

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