GLORIA STEINEM

Gloria SteinemTHAT WAS A WONDERFUL and a thoughtful introduction, but what I really am is the opening act for Dave Matthews. See what great trustees you have? They know who Dave Matthews is -- they're laughing. But I'm pleased that this was scheduled to allow you to go to a music performance afterwards because I agree with Emma Goldman that if there's no music and dancing at the revolution, I'm not coming.

Thanks for your generosity of spirit in taking time out of your very busy lives, and thanks to the wisdom of giving Wilma Mankiller the Elizabeth Blackwell Award. I hope you will all be with us tomorrow at 6p.m. in the Field house for the second part of this performance. And thanks especially to the attempt to make a gender balance and a relationship between institutions that is a model of the relationship between males and females.

We find ourselves here tonight, in this room, with something very precious -- about an hour and forty-five minutes together. We are in this room in a unique combination that probably will never happen again in quite the same way. So here's my plan: if all goes well, each of us, me included, will leave here with one new fact, one new feeling of support,one new subversive organizing tactic. And in order to make that happen, and to really use the unique combination of people we have here tonight, I need your help in overcoming this old-fashioned structure of you looking at each others' backs and me looking at you. This is a hierarchical structure, hierarchy is based on patriarchy, patriarchy doesn't work anywhere anymore.

So, during what is usually called the question-and-answer period, I'm counting on you to overthrow, or humanize -- you can pick your verb depending on the state of your patience this evening -- this particular hierarchy by feeling free not just to ask questions, but to give us answers-- we could all use some -- and to stand up and make any organizing announcements you think this group should know about, any upcoming trouble-making meetings. If you'd like to say where the bodies are buried locally, that's great, and if you'd rather not say it yourself, just pass me a note. I'm leaving the day after tomorrow and I'm self-employed, so I'll read anything. I want us generally to really learn from each other and to turn this into what every meeting should be, which is an organizing meeting.

Now, I was asked for a title for this speech. In choosing a title I suppose I have chosen what I wish I knew when I was in college, because it's about education from the inside out. I was very much of the era of education from the outside in, when we were not so much supposed to be ourselves, or to consider our communities, but rather to be turned into proper folks to fill the particular roles that awaited us. Our education often seemed to be valued to the degree that it was not understandable to most people; the more obscure it was, the more valuable it was -- that was the general rule. And it was an era that rendered invisible about ninety percent of the human race, even though I went to a women's college...

I understand there was a rumor here that I came here because I went to Smith College. In the fifties, Smith was not so much a women's collegeas a girls' school. We were being educated to be the wives of executives -- there were really no hints in our curriculum that women had played any role in history. There was one sentence in my text that said women were given the vote. I remember saying this to an audience, and afterwards ayoung woman raised her hand and said, "Well, why didn't you take Women's Studies?" And I thought, how great, you know, we've really come a distance.

My class was entirely white -- there was not one African American or Negro, as we would then have said, woman, girl, as we then said, in my class... A few Asian students from abroad, not from this country. Even I was a little shocked by that, so I went to the dean of admissions to ask what had happened to all of the young women of various races who had been prospective students, and I was told that it was very difficult to educate "Negro girls" because there were not enough educated "Negro men" to go around. An amazing combination of sexism and racism, which, of course, always come together.

It has probably taken me about twenty years to get over my college education. And to realize that there can be, and should be, and is, a different kind of education which honors the unique individual inside each one of you, and which also honors our communities and does so in a kind of balance. I realize that this sounds kind of hifalutin', so I thought I would start out with a stage in life in which we understand this kind of education and its necessity much more, which is when we are infants and little children, or when we, ourselves, are raising infants and little children.

We have the same problem with schools of child-rearing in this country that we have had with schools of education in the past. With child-rearing, it seems to fall into two schools: one is the kind of authoritarian, strict school, based on the idea that children are little animals who have to be tamed, whose spirits have to be broken. This often leads to a very disciplinarian point of view, sometimes religiously enshrined. (As we are beginning to realize now, there are religious roots of child abuse as well.) That was, and still is, out there as a school of child-rearing and of education. Indeed, there is before the Congress as we speak, a parents' rights bill which would restore to schools and to parents the right to physically discipline their children, and would effectively interrupt or weaken the power of the state to protect the individual child. So, you see, this battle is still raging in a wide variety of ways.

The second, more secular and supposedly more enlightened school of child-rearing treated children as a blank slate on which you could write anything, on which society could write anything it chose. It was kind ofthe ultimate in the idea that we are entirely social creatures. Actually, if we think about it, either based on our own childhoods or on our raising ofchildren ourselves, we probably know in our hearts that there is a unique person inside every child. Indeed, anyone who has ever met a baby knows that there's already a person in that baby. There's already a very distinct temperament and a distinct rhythm and a distinct pattern of interests that is carried forward within the larger human pattern that we all share.

The third kind of education and child-rearing that we are trying tonurture is one that honors the person who is already in that child, who is a unique result of millennia of environment and heredity that have come together in a way, like this audience, that could never have happened before and could never happen again in quite the same way. The purpose ofeducation becomes the nurturing of that uniqueness in that child, and honoring the fact that, like a seed for a petunia, if you try to turn the petunia into a lilac you will only end up with a very distorted and unhappy and un-self-assured petunia. But if you really support the seed that is there, you will end up with a glorious bloom that is part of the larger garden and the larger field of nature. It seems obvious, and yet it isn't very evident in our child-rearing or in our educational system.

I was lucky enough to have a parent who was a theosophist. I don't know if any of you remember folks like Annie Besant and Madam Blavatsky and all these folks who put together a kind of world philosophy that learned heavily toward Hinduism and Buddhism but was a combination of many different philosophies, and really was about spirituality more than religion. She used to say, in quoting Krishnamurti, who was another theosophist, that children were little strangers who came into our homes and we had the pleasure and the duty to nurture them and love them and look after them, but they did not belong to us.

That is the kind of view for which we search -- not an excess of individualism. Because we also know that the unique feature of human beings is our adaptability. We have survived as a species so much longer than other species because we are so adaptable. But it also means we are incredibly vulnerable to the atmosphere around us, to the community around us -- we are communal creatures. Achieving balance between individuality and community supports that individuality and vice-versa. As the African proverb goes, we are because I am, I am because we are. Slightly later in life, when we try to figure out what education by interestand from the inside out really looks like, it also begins to sound like a generality. So let me tell you the first example I ever saw that made me understand what it was about.

Aside from my own parents, of whose good sense I was unconscious, as we so often are, I went to visit a workshop school in New York composed of children who had gone to a child-care center in a very poor neighborhood run by a very wonderful woman named Dorothy Pitman Hughes who really understood how to nurture children in their individuality. The children had turned out to be so full of energy that they really were quite bored by public school. So Dorothy started a free workshop school. I went there one day and asked, "What does it mean to educate kids from the inside out, by their interest?"

They introduced me to a little boy who was eight years old and who loved trains -- gender stereotypes survive but that's OK, he loved trains -- and they were encouraging him to plan a train trip across the entire United States. By doing so, he was learning math, he was learning geography, he was learning to write and to scribe well, he was going to the library -- at eight years old -- and discovering the information that he needed about where trains stopped, how long they could run, where they were refueled, and so on, and he loved it. He could hardly wait to get to school every day. The engine of interest, the engine of that unique self, is what drives education and what makes us take leaps forward.

Then they introduced me to a little girl who was about eight or nine and whose father was a playwright. Therefore, she had determined that she wanted to be a playwright. So they read the Greek myths in class and she had taken as her task to rewrite every single one of the Greek myths in order to make it more appropriate to her community. She rewrote the myths, turned them into a musical, and was getting her classmates to play all the parts. The day I was there, she had rewritten Aphrodite as AfroDite, and there was a festival going on. She was learning to write, learning to run a project, learning to encourage others to cooperate, taking leaps and bounds forward in her educational scheme. These children were both far ahead of their class level because this was driven by interest.

When we get to higher education, I think it's both simpler and more complicated. We have an idea of what gives us joy, gives us pleasure, what makes us forget about time, what we would do even if we were never paid for it -- what we love. On the other hand, we have great anxieties, even greater anxieties than younger folks, about fitting into society, about getting a job, about making a living, and the pressures to conform and to forget about our unique set of interests are very great. It's a great loss, however, if we are allowed to forsake our individuality and pursue only uniformity. Because we lose that engine and we lose the unique talent that is in each person. It doesn't necessarily have to be talent; it can be a problem, a wound that you, yourself, have experienced and so are drawn to ways to solve that for yourself and for others.

The great research on the impact of violence against children, child abuse, child sexual abuse, and so on, that has leaped forward in the past twenty-five years or so, has come not from the professions by and large. On the contrary, especially in the case of child abuse, the psychological profession was largely devoted to denying the degree to which child abuse existed based on Freud's denial, as we now know, of his own abuse. (Someday, when we list the greatest forces on earth, we should put nuclear energy first and, right underneath it, denial.)

The truth is, we are drawn by our healthy, internal self to that which we need to heal us. The wounded healer does not mean that every healer must be wounded. But it does mean that many healers have been drawn to learn about healing because they themselves have experienced the problem and realize the necessity of the solution, and have realized also that the final stage of healing is using our own experience to help others. It doesn't matter, in the end, whether it is a positive or a negative impulse that you feel toward a particular subject. What matters is that you feel it. It's rather like the political rule that it matters less what is chosen than that we have the power to choose it. The point is giving each other the power to make a choice, more than worrying about the particular choice that is made. As we begin to follow our interests, we find the engine of learning which makes us want to get up in the morning, which makes us want to learn every day. Do we have to learn other things that we enjoy not so much? Yes. But usually we can find a way of learning those things that is unique to us.

I remember when Sheila Tobias, in the seventies, diagnosed math anxiety, an ailment which probably many of us in this room share. It afflicts females disproportionately, but I bet there are a lot of men with math anxiety, too. Sheila realized that a large part of the reason for this was that there was an idea that there was only one way to learn, and there was only one way to do a problem. She realized this because people would describe "coming up against a blank wall." There was also an idea that there was a math mind. She said there's no more a math mind than there is a history mind. There are just minds that learn in different ways at different paces. She once said to me, and it was a revelation to me, "Well, knowing you, I think perhaps you might learn math the best through the lives of great mathematicians." A way that had never been presented to me at all! We need a variety of ways, so that we can find the ones that are most right for us to gain the knowledge we need.

I went to a meeting this weekend in Washington, which some of you may have seen in the press. It was a feminist expo run by the Fund for the Feminist Majority, and it was a three-day meeting of three thousand people. It was an amazing exercise in populist education, because what they were setting out to do was the second part of our message here,which is not only do we need to follow our interests and our needs and our wounds and what is unique to us, but we need to understand the community around us and the forces upon us. So they set out to support affirmative action and to express the reality that it actually has raised standards --not lowered them -- wherever it has been applied.

I always think of it as the Spiro Agnew Rule. Remember Spiro Agnew? Well, we once wrote a piece in Ms. magazine about Spiro Agnew, who was actually quite a nice guy who couldn't figure out how he got to beVice President. After we had written the piece, we printed a little formula. We said, look, here's how we've been selecting our leadership in this country. First we eliminate women of every race, and that's more than half the population. Then we eliminate men of color. Then we eliminate people who haven't been able to purchase a college degree. We ended up with six percent of the population and we hadn't even started on inherited wealth! So it stands to reason, and it has actually been proven, that when you enlarge the pool, you get more excellence. We've been choosing our leadership from a very small pool. [At the Feminist Expo] this was gone into in much more detail. We can, if you want, talk more about affirmative action in general, and specifically its challenge in California, during the discussion time.

The other part of this populist education was talking about the budget. Now, anybody who has math anxiety, as I do, as well as economic anxiety, definitely has budget anxiety. Yet, our anxiety about it is exactly why it has been allowed to go forward in the very questionable form in which it now exists. We treat it as if it were the particular property of the wizard and forget that it's actually the Wizard of Oz. It's just this guy, this uncertain little guy, sitting behind a curtain, really not knowing what the fuck he's doing. And, as we decided at the conference, waiting for mom to save him. The key to the budget is to make it understandable. Remember, the rule of education here is it has to be understandable, and when it isn't understandable, you know you're dealing with an insecure person. (The way I know somebody is really smart is when I understand every word they say.) We set about demystifying the budget by saying, 'Look, the budget is just a system of values. That is what it is, period.'

Just as our values, what we need and want, are reflected in our checkbooks every month, so the budget is the statement, really the one statement of values that the nation ever makes. How, then, did we end up in this climate of extreme budget-cutting? I don't have to tell you students about budget-cutting; some of you are probably suffering from it right now. How did we end up giving the Pentagon seven billion dollars more than it asked for in its wildest dreams, supposing the Pentagon has dreams? I wondered about that, didn't you? How did this happen? Well, it happened in a variety of ways, the engine of which is the self-interest of what Eisenhower always called the military- industrial establishment.

Take the case of the B-2 bomber. Nobody wanted the B-2 bomber anymore. The Pentagon didn't ask for it; it wasn't needed. We're in an entirely different world atmosphere now. But the people who make the B-2 bomber had the intelligence to divide up the component parts of the B-2bomber so that they are manufactured in 385 of the 435 Congressional districts. Suddenly it makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? This is not hard to understand. They managed to buffalo congress members into believing that the B-w bomber is in their interest, and in their constituents' interest, for the creation of jobs.

What you and I need to know, in our populist education, in our demystifying of the budget, is that for every billion dollars that goes into the Pentagon, we actually lose ten thousand jobs. If that same money were put into anything else, health, education, welfare, even reconstruction or repair of the infrastructure, which we all know is crumbling, if that same money were put into anything else, it would create at least, at a minimum, ten thousand more jobs. Until you and I understand this, and go to our congressmember -- what's the name of yourcongressmember here? He needs going to. Paxon, right? William Paxon? OK - until we go to him and say, hey, you are costing us jobs. Moreover, you are getting jobs in a biased way because the defense industry is overwhelmingly the place where jobs are needed least. Those jobs go to high-income, white, males, whereas jobs in health, education, andwelfare, employ folks who look a little bit more like this country.

Until you and I indulge in this kind of educational process and really understand what's going on in the budget, we are going to continue to have this problem. Now, in the hotel where this meeting was held, there was a young man who just happened to be there, an intern in the White House, and he was very alarmed that I was leading what he viewed as my gullible, young, female followers into the idea that the military budget should be cut. He had a Cold War argument which was, you know, if you cut the U.S.budget, we're the only ones who stand for peace, then you have to cut everybody else's budget. Now, this argument actually works much less well today, given the events in the Soviet Union. But still, if I hadn't been part of this teach-in and been able to say to him, "If you take all of our enemies in the last twenty-five years, and you take all the countries that could, by any reasonable assessment, become our enemy, and you add up everything they're spending on the military, we, as one country, are spending three times more than all of them together."

We need to indulge in this kind of populist education if we are going to rescue that Wizard of Oz. We also need to look at the budget with some kind of common sense, beyond where dollars are distributed now, and say to ourselves, 'Why is it that there are two things not counted in this budget at all? One is forty percent of the productive work done in this nation, which is the work done at home, mainly, but not only, by women, which has no attributed value whatsoever - totally invisible.' Until we make that visible, we aren't going to be able to plan very well economically.

Part of the reason we are, theoretically, doing better economically -- but actually feeling worse -- is because there are so many people, women especially, with two jobs. We're working at home and we're working outside the home. At home it doesn't count, and outside the home, it gets pay, maybe not equal pay, so we have two jobs. That problem is going to continue as long as one of those jobs is invisible. Until there is an attributed economic value for the productive work done in the home, this problem is going to continue. This is also the source of our coalition with women on welfare. The ultra-right wing is turning welfare mothers into what Communism used to be. They've lost Communism as a bugaboo to unite us, so now it's single welfare mothers. But the basic reason, the more popular reason, is because [welfare mothers] are viewed as not working. In fact, raising children, socializing kids, and taking care of the home, is work -- absolutely crucial work -- and it should have an attributed economic value. Once we give it that, a cause in which women with two jobs and women on welfare have a common interest, then we will begin to be able to plan and assess much more realistically.

The other element that is completely invisible in the budget is the environment. It is absolutely invisible. An oil spill is a boon to the economy -- it makes things really go up -- just like an accident is a boon,or like buying formula for a baby, rather than breast feeding, is a boon. The environment has no value [in the budget] whatsoever. The tree standing out there, giving us oxygen, has no value. But when you cut it down it acquires a value. If we say that this is asset depletion when we cut down a tree, it would make an enormous difference. This is not hard stuff, right? This is simple stuff, but this is also stuff that affects us every day. It's our community interest that balances the internal and unique individual interest, and both have to drive our education.

There are two minotaurs at the heart of the maze of the budget. One is the census, which decides what is visible, and the other is the National System of Accounts, which decides what is valuable. We can change thosethings, and we can change them in a populist way, given this information. There's a homemaker in Canada who has set about organizing an enormous protest against the census because it doesn't count her work. She is risking jail and fines and so on, getting homemakers all across Canada to do the same. There are even more such women, in Third World and agricultural countries, where women are growing most of the food thattheir families eat but are also called homemakers, women who don't work. This kind of demystification of the forces around us is truly education from the inside out.

I also believe we would do well just to read the newspaper every day and talk about it in our classes. Do you do that -- in any class, just readsome part of the newspaper every day and try to figure out what on earth is going on? I'm sure a lot of you, unlike me, are on the Internet. I'm about to be on the Internet. [Reading from newspaper text]: "In a move that appeared to surprise many House and Senate members who voted for the legislation [this is the temporary budget measure], Rep. Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, a Republican and long-time abortion opponent, successfully added an amendment that would extend, into the electronic age, the 123 year-old legal prohibition, the Comstock Act of 1873..." This forbade talking about contraception, abortion, and so on. Hyde has now extended this into the electronic age, making these kinds of subjects forbidden on the Internet, in on-line services. Did you know that? It's amazing whatwe can find out about the forces of evil and what we can do about it. We can do something about it.

Doing something about it is what I would like to address before we get into our organizing meeting. It takes all kinds of forms. Voting is not the most we can do. There's a lot of other stuff we can, and should, do,but voting is the least we can do. The problem is that we have be eneducated out of voting. We have allowed ourselves to believe that our votes don't count. Thus, only thirty-nine percent of the eligible electorate in this country -- thirty-nine percent -- voted in the last election. It's the ultra-right wing groups that vote eighty or ninety or more percent of their membership. That's why we find ourselves with an 1873 Comstock law.

It doesn't take much. Only two or three hundred people per precinct could take back Congress. I am not talking about Republicans and Democrats here. I'm talking about authoritarians versus the forces of democracy. Because it goes much deeper. I always think about Leigh Grant, the actress, who said to me once that she'd been married to one Marxist and one Fascist and neither one took the garbage out. I think the forces we are talking about go much deeper. Most of the folks who are the problem in the Republican party, the right wingers -- and there are somein the Democratic party, too -- were not Republicans before. They were Democrats.

The problem is that this authoritarian, anti-equality, hierarchy-loving group has taken over one of our two major parties. That's a first in history, I believe -- historians here can tell me if that's true or not. And we are voting at the lowest percentage in history, too. These two things have combined to really put us into big trouble. We shouldn't feel too guilty about not voting, though, because somehow the minute you feel guilty you're stunned into inactivity. A lot of the reason we don't vote is because it's more difficult to vote in this democracy than in any other democracy in the world, much more difficult. In Canada, two paid employees of the government go to every household to see if you're registered. Can you imagine? If we just made it a little easier... Look what happened in Oregon -- we got a huge voter turnout because we allowed people to vote by mail.

It's up to us to use our education to take control of our lives as individuals and as a community. I hope that in this place where you can also learn vertical history by learning about the great nations and cultures that lived on this land long before Columbus ever arrived -- especially, in this case, the Iroquois Confederacy, who were a source of our Constitutional government -- that you will come tomorrow and hear more revelations from Wilma [Mankiller] of the history they didn't teach us.

If we think about our unique interests, if we think about our communities and the ways in which the immediate and the national and international communities impinge on us in a very practical way, if we think about the richness and the heritage that is beneath our feet, literally, and learn about that, learn what it has to bring to us in the present, then we will really have accomplished two amazing things: we will be educated, and we will be utterly and completely ourselves.

If our education tells us anything, it should be that we have power. We have power as individuals, we have power collectively. Even the most hard-nosed physicist now admits that the flap of a butterfly's wing here can change the weather hundreds of miles away. Each one of us can change the weather and collectively, just us, in this unique room, we make one hell of a butterfly. Thank you.

Copyright Gloria Steinem 1996

 

INFORMATION

"Education From the Inside Out" by Gloria Steinem

Presentation of the Elizabeth Blackwell Award to Wilma Mankiller

February 9, 1996

 

 

Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.