IHE: What led you to the path of transformative and humane education?
SC: I think I was born wanting to “change the world.” I have had a strong sense of justice (and injustice) since I was very young. I hated school from about 4th grade on. I think that my experiences deeply impacted the way that I teach and fueled my passion for creating an educational model that respects the uniqueness of each student and encourages them to speak out and follow their dreams. It took me a while to “find my niche” (actually to create my niche) in the education world. It was in the late 1990s that something “clicked” and I saw how to link my educational expertise with my deep concerns about what was happening in the world.
IHE: What made you decide to pursue your goal of creating a just and peaceful world by starting an international distance learning homeschool diploma program?
SC: I worked in the distance learning field for several years prior to starting Global Village, and that experience showed me what an effective model distance learning is for reaching kids in all kinds of places. A big concern at that time (and still very important to us) was providing a safe, supportive learning environment for students who were being harassed and bullied at school because of actual or perceived sexual orientation, religion, etc. If we had decided to open a traditional “brick and mortar” school, the types of students we could support would have been limited to those who either lived here or could afford to move here. Since the need for this kind of education is widespread, we went with the homeschooling model, enabling us to reach students around the world. We have served students all over the U.S., many of them in small conservative towns where the kids and their families were aching for schooling that was in line with their values. We have also worked with kids in many different countries, including Brazil, Bolivia, The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Turkey, The Philippines, South Africa, and Mexico.
IHE: Tell us some of the mechanics for how Global Village School works. How many students, how do you successfully maintain programs for K-8, high school and adults, etc.? Give us an overview of GVS.
SC: Global Village provides curriculum and teacher support for K-12 students around the world. We work in a very creative and flexible way, and our curriculum—while covering all the traditional academic areas—emphasizes peace, justice, diversity, and sustainability. Students can use our regular curriculum, or work with us to create a personalized curriculum for them based on their interests, needs, and learning styles, or a combination of both approaches. Our K-8 “Whole Child, Healthy Planet” curriculum guides are centered on the four core principles of the Earth Charter: (1) Respect and Care for the Community of Life; (2) Ecological Integrity; (3) Social and Economic Justice; and (4) Democracy, Nonviolence, Peace and Diversity. The guides cover all of the core academic subjects in a way that engages students through a sense of enchantment, awe, and wonder through incorporation of art, music, nature, imagination, and story.
Global Village also offers a high school diploma program that incorporates peace, justice, diversity, and sustainability education into the core curriculum. High school offerings include courses such as Planetary Stewardship, Global Spirituality and Activism, Reflections on Peacemaking, Literature of Diversity, International Human Rights, LGBT Literature, and the History of Civil Rights in the US.
Currently we have approximately 50 full-time students. We also have another dozen or so working with us through our partner school program (they attend other schools and we provide support such as transcripts, curriculum, etc.). We are able to successfully maintain programs for all those age levels partly because of a lot of hard work (especially in the early years) but also because the distance learning model allows us to keep our overhead lower than if we had to pay for a large building and employ a large number of full-time staff. We have a great staff -- really talented and dedicated people who are good at what they do, and who excel at accomplishing a lot within a limited budget.
IHE: What are the biggest challenges in running GVS?
SC: Finances and getting the word out are our two biggest challenges (and they are very much intertwined). We are a small non-profit organization. While we have received some generous donations over the years, the majority of our funding comes from tuition fees. These past two years have been very challenging for people; some of our families were not able to return due to economic difficulties. Thankfully, we are still doing well in spite of the economy. We have a big vision—there is much more we would like to do with our curriculum, for example. We want to add more to our K-8 curriculum, and we have ideas for several other high school courses. We would like to see our curriculum used not just by homeschooling families, but by private charter, and public schools as well. That process is beginning (several private and charter schools are using our curriculum now), and we are confident that it will accelerate over time, but we feel we have an important gift to offer the world and we are impatient to see it get “out there” in a bigger way.
That leads to the second challenge: publicity. While we have found that people who do hear about us are delighted to know we exist (I’ve been told by more than one mother that she started crying with relief when she read our website), there are so many more people who could benefit from what we offer who have never heard of us. There are many large corporations in the homeschooling business now (it is big business), and they have huge advertising budgets. We have to be very strategic and clever to maintain visibility in that world. We are fortunate to have a very creative and resourceful marketing team, as well as someone who works wonders with our Internet visibility.
IHE: Share with us one or two of your most memorable successes.
SC: Jesse Aizenstadt, class of 2004, really got “lit up” by Global Village’s Economics class. He went on to the University of San Diego to study political science and traveled in the Middle East, working as a journalist. Jesse lists his current occupation as “Intellectual Insurgent for Peace.” His book, Surfing the Middle East, is slated to be published as one of the first enhanced iPad Zbooks. He also has his own blog: Blogging the Casbah.
Michael Preston, another Global Village graduate, is honing his skills as a spokesman for the Winnemem Wintu Tribe while attending UC Berkeley. Mike co-produced a radio show on tribal issues; he has lobbied the state and federal governments for the protection of sacred sites and has written articles for publications such as Indian Country Today. Until attending GVS, Mike didn’t see the importance of school or getting his high school diploma. While at Global Village School he had his eyes opened to the value of gaining skills now in order to have options later. Mike says that “GVS gave me a platform to stand on and move on with my life and progress; to move forward and upward.”
IHE: What do you see happening in the world that gives you hope for a more just, compassionate, sustainable future?
SC: I see more and more youth that are passionate and articulate—young people that really “get it” that we need to make huge changes in the way that we treat the planet and each other. I am continually inspired by the students I get to work with, who often come to us already deeply concerned about the planet and yearning to make a difference. Many of them are already donating time to progressive causes. We are able to broaden their understanding of global issues and support them in their service learning projects, which encompass a wide range of activities, from conducting diversity trainings for other youth to working on political campaigns, to providing books for people who are incarcerated, doing biological stream assessments, and working for animal rescue organizations.
IHE: What are the biggest challenges in creating a humane world?
SC: I have always felt that lack of appropriate education is one of the biggest challenges, and that is the area where I have placed my emphasis. I truly believe that if, 1) people knew the truth (about the history of the US, the military-industrial complex, the corporate media, the difference between free trade and fair trade, etc.); and 2) they understood that their individual actions have an impact and that “ordinary” people have the capacity to make an extraordinary difference, most people would make different, more positive choices in their lives.
IHE: What advice do you have for aspiring changemakers?
SC: Stay true to yourself and what matters to you. Don’t let people tell you that it can’t be done, or that you shouldn’t care so much. Do the best you can to keep your heart open. Try to find practices that help you stay present, because it’s hard to feel everything—hard to take in all that’s going on around us.
Strive to find a balance in the way you focus your attention by seeking positive stories of people making a difference; don’t just immerse yourself in the “bad” news. My experience is that I am much more effective and healthy if I don’t allow myself to fall into a place of helplessness and outrage. (I know it’s easy to say…) I’m not saying to just look away. That’s what most people do, and it’s a big part of the problem. Joanna Macy talks about the importance of “sustaining the gaze” in spite of what often feels unbearable. She also teaches powerful practices for coping with the feelings this kind of work evokes.
Personally, practices such as yoga and mindfulness meditation have been very helpful. A long-time activist I know who publishes a progressive magazine and has been immersed in the problems of the planet for many years recently became a Laughter Yoga trainer and it has been a very helpful practice for him. Laughter is also a natural component of many Native American ceremonies I’ve attended. These are people dealing with immense hardships every day, and they laugh more than anyone else I know.
So, surround yourself with beauty, with people who inspire you and support you in the pursuit of things you care about. Take time to slow down, spend time in nature, listen deeply to that voice within, and don’t forget to laugh!
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