03 May, 2009


By Riane Eisler

What will the world be like for tomorrow's children? When I look at my little two year-old granddaughter's face, bright with wide-eyed curiosity and joyful expectation of love and life, I see wonderful possibilities. But when I look at the challenges she and her generation will inherit, I see that these possibilities will not be realized unless today's and tomorrow's children learn to live in more environmentally conscious, equitable, and peaceful ways.

Today, young people often feel powerless to change the course of their lives, much less the course of the world around them. Many become immersed in ‘me-firstism’ and ‘over materialism’ that permeates much of our mass culture, futilely seeking meaning and belonging in the latest fad or commercial offering. Some bury their pain and anger in drugs, gangs, and other destructive activities, unconscious and seemingly uncaring of the effect their actions have on themselves and others. A number become violent, under the thrall of hate-mongering or religious fanaticism, or simply because our video games, television, ads, and movies make violence seen normal and even fun. And the vast majority, including the young people who expect to get a decent job or go on to college to pursue a professional career, fail to see how what we do with our lives is both affected by, and affects, our cultural beliefs and social institutions.

There are many factors that contribute to all this. But there is one factor that can play a major role in providing young people with the understandings and skills to both live good lives and create a more sustainable, less violent, more equitable future: education.

For over two centuries, educational reformers such as Johann Pestalozzi, Maria Montessori, John Dewey, and Paolo Freire have called for an education that prepares us for democracy rather than authoritarianism and fosters ethical and caring relations. Building on the work of these and other germinal educational thinkers, Tomorrow's Children proposes an expanded approach to educational reform that can help young people meet the unprecedented challenges of a world in which technology can either destroy us or free us to actualize our unique human capacities for creativity and caring.

I call this approach partnership education. It is an education to help children not only better navigate through our difficult times but also create a future orienting more to what in my study of cultural evolution I have identified as a partnership rather than dominator model.

We are all familiar with these two models from our own lives. We know the pain, fear, and tension of relations based on domination and submission, on coercion and accommodation, of jockeying for control, of trying to manipulate and cajole when we are unable to express our real feelings and needs, of the miserable, awkward tug of war for that illusory moment of power rather than powerlessness, of our unfulfilled yearning for caring and mutuality, of all the misery, suffering, and lost lives and potentials that come from these kinds of relations. Most of us also have, at least intermittently, experienced another way of being, one where we feel safe and seen for who we truly are, where our essential humanity and that of others shines through, perhaps only for a little while, lifting our hearts and spirits, enfolding us in a sense that the world can after all be right, that we are valued and valuable.

But the partnership and dominator models not only describe individual relationships. As I will detail, they describe systems of belief and social structures that either nurture and support — or inhibit and undermine — equitable, democratic, nonviolent, and caring relations. Without an understanding of these configurations – and the kind of education that creates and replicates each – unwittingly we reinforce structures and beliefs that maintain the inequitable, undemocratic, violent, and uncaring relations which breed pathologies that afflict and distort the human spirit and are today decimating our natural habitat.

Once we understand the partnership and dominator cultural, social, and personal configurations, we can more effectively develop the educational methods, materials, and institutions that foster a less violent, more equitable, democratic, and sustainable future. We can also more effectively sort out what in existing educational approaches we want to retain and strengthen or leave behind.

The partnership framework outlined in this book offers the basic design for a new integrated primary and secondary education for the 21st century. This framework draws from my research over three decades, from my own teaching experiences, and from the work of educators at many levels.

Partnership education has three core interconnected components. These are partnership process, partnership structure, and partnership content.
Partnership process is about how we learn and teach. It applies the guiding template of the partnership model to educational methods and techniques. Are each child's intelligences and capabilities treated as unique gifts to be nurtured and developed? Do students have a real stake in their education so that their innate enthusiasm for learning is not dampened? Do teachers act as primarily lesson-dispensers and controllers, or more as mentors and facilitators? Is caring an integral part of teaching and learning? Are young people learning the team work needed for the postindustrial economy or must they continuously compete with each other? Are students offered the opportunity for both self-directed learning and peer teaching? In short, is educating children merely a matter of filling an "empty vessel" or are students and teachers partners in the adventure of learning?

Partnership structure is about where learning and teaching take place: what kind of learning environment we construct if we follow the partnership model. Is the structure of a school, classroom, and/or home school one of top-down authoritarian rankings, or is it a more democratic one? If it were diagramed as an organizational chart, would decisions flow only from the top down and accountability only from the bottom up, or would there be interactive feedback loops? Are management structures flexible, so that leadership is encouraged at all organizational levels? Are there ways of involving parents and other community members? Do students, teachers, and other staff participate in school decision-making and rule-setting? In short, is the learning environment organized in terms of hierarchies of domination ultimately backed up by fear, or is it a combination of horizontal linking and hierarchies of actualization where power is not used to disempower others but rather to empower them?

Partnership content is what we learn and teach. It is the educational curriculum. Does the curriculum effectively teach students not only basic skills such as the three Rs of reading, writing, and arithmetic but also model the life-skills they need to be competent and caring citizens, workers, parents, and community members? Are we telling young people to be responsible, kind, and nonviolent at the same time that the curriculum content still celebrates male violence and conveys environmentally unsustainable and socially irresponsible messages? Does it present science in holistic, relevant ways? Does what is taught as important knowledge and truth include – not just as an add-on, but as integral to what is learned – both the female and male halves of humanity as well as children of various races and ethnicities? Does it teach young people the difference between the partnership and dominator models as two basic human possibilities and the feasibility of creating a partnership way of life? Or, both overtly and covertly, is this presented as unrealistic in "the real world"? Does what young people are learning about "human nature" limit or expand human possibilities? In short, what kind of view of ourselves, our world, and our roles and responsibilities in it are children taking away from their schooling?

As we will see, teachers all over the world are already working with some of these elements of partnership education. There are good resources for moving toward both partnership process and structure. There are also good supplementary materials for teaching science in more holistic ways, for bringing information about women and various cultures into our schools, and for greater consciousness about social and economic equity and our natural environment.

But still lacking, and urgently needed, is an integrated partnership curriculum that can not only help today's and tomorrow's children build healthy bodies, psyches, families, businesses, governments, and communities but also give them a clearer understanding of our human potential, our place in history, our relationship to nature, and our responsibility to future generations.

What I am interested in is systemic or long-term educational change. Certainly schools need the best new technologies if they are to prepare children for the future. But schools also need to help students look at the environmental, social, and economic challenges young people face in the 21st century from a partnership perspective.
The curriculum proposed in this book will make it possible for young people to more clearly understand our past, present, and the possibilities for our future. It integrates the practical and the theoretical and the sciences and the humanities. It brings science to life by placing it in the larger context of both the history of our planet and our species and our day-to-day lives. Because the social construction of the roles and relations of the female and male halves of humanity is central to either a partnership or dominator social configuration, unlike the traditional male-centered curricula, partnership education is gender-balanced. It integrates the history, needs, problems, and aspirations of both halves of humanity into what is taught as important knowledge and truth. Because in the partnership model difference is not automatically equated with inferiority or superiority, partnership education is multicultural. It offers a pluralistic perspective that includes peoples of all races and a variety of backgrounds, as well as the real life drama of the animals and plants of the Earth we share. Since partnership education offers a systemic approach, environmental education is not an add-on but an integral part of the curriculum.

Through partnership education, young people will learn the dramatic story of our human adventure on this Earth against the backdrop of the need and prospects for a major cultural transformation. They will begin to see school as a place of exploration, a place to share feelings and ideas, an exciting community of educators, students, and parents working together to ensure that each child is recognized and valued, that the human spirit will be nurtured and grow. Above all, partnership education will help young people form visions of what can be and acquire the understandings and skills to make these visions come true.

The materials that follow offer resources for restructuring primary and secondary education that can be immediately put to use by teachers, parents, and students in public schools, in private schools, and in home schooling. These resources are also designed to be useful in universities and colleges, not only in education departments that offer teacher and school counsellor education, but in all departments interested in teaching that more adequately addresses current needs and problems. Tomorrow's Children can further be useful for community-based study and action groups, both those with a direct interest in education, and those interested in personal development and positive social and environmental action.

In sum, although the focus of Tomorrow's Children is on primary and secondary education, it is for all who want to explore new frontiers and become more active co-creators of our future.

I want to close these brief opening remarks with an invitation. I want to invite not only parents, students, primary and secondary school teachers, university professors, and other educators, but also all those working for a better future to become active partners in developing partnership education from the early years on. I want to invite you to use the materials offered in this book in your own teaching and learning as well as to develop replicable materials for others. These can be lesson plans or entire units to be incorporated into existing classes. They can be whole new courses, like those being developed through the Centre for Partnership Studies in collaboration with a number of schools and universities for distribution through the Centre website, bookstores, and other avenues. They can even be curricula for an entire school. The goal is to gradually put together new partnership curricula for kindergarten to 12th grade and beyond.

Some of what I am proposing will create controversy. But without controversy there is no possibility for real change.

If enough of us are committed to personal and collective transformation — if together we keep moving forward, as Marian Wright Edelman wrote, "putting one foot ahead of the other, basking in the beauty of our children, in the chance to serve and engage in a struggle for a purpose higher than ourselves"5 — we will succeed in laying the educational foundations for a safer, more liveable, more loving world for tomorrow's children and generations still to come.