gigaa-zhigaazhigaananig

Graduation at Antioch is always a combination of celebration, ceremony and insouciance. All the trappings are in evidence- caps and gown, Pomp and Circumstance, proud families and giddy grads- but we make the event our own through our customs (DMT grads dancing across the stage, the hand-crafted ceremonial Mace made of local wood) and through the voice we select as the last lesson given to our students- the speaker. This year’s choice, Winona Duke is an “Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg who lives and works on the White Earth Reservation. As program director of Honor the Earth, she works on a national level to advocate, raise public support, and create funding for frontline Native environmental groups. She also works as founding director for the White Earth Land Recovery Project; a reservation based non-profit focused on land, cultural, and environmental issues.

In 1994, she was nominated by Time Magazine as one of America’s fifty most promising leaders under forty years of age. She has been awarded numerous honors, including the Reebok Human Rights Award, the BIHA Community Service Award, the Thomas Merton Award, and the Ann Bancroft Award for Women’s Leadership. In l998, she received Ms. Magazine’s Ms. Woman of the Year Award with the Indigo Girls for her activism on Native environmental issues.”

Pretty heady stuff. Her words conveyed an excellent last message: that we must persevere, that we must renew ourselves through community and relationships, that we can and must make change- but that we can’t do it alone. I was most taken by these words:

“We have a phrase in my language — gigaa-zhigaazhigaananig — we will outlast them.”

It is not unusual for me to hear teachers and administrators talk of outlasting an emerging fad, policy or initiative. Educators have seen the Next Big Thing come (and go) and are a jaded, cynical bunch as a result. Plus, the status quo has a powerful gravitational field. The impetus for change must be more powerful if it is to stick. In my experience, it rarely is.

So things seem hopeless, right? Unless we think of:

Ten years ago when Ted Sizer’s crazy idea that students should be known well planted the seed of the advisory systems that are so prevalent in good schools today.

John Dewey’s 1938 perspective that “learning is about experience,” is now echoed by Charlotte Danielson’s words, “Learning is done by the learner through an active, engaged process of inquiry and reflection…Kids don’t learn because of what we do- they learn because of what they do.”

Structures and systems to support professional conversation, once the stuff of anecdote and alchemy, are now an expectation across the board in schools almost everywhere.

Just these few examples makes me think that maybe we- those of use who seek more democratic, personal, empowering learning experiences for our kids- are the ones doing the outlasting. It’s not happening overnight, but change is happening. So “gigaa-zhigaazhigaananig” my friends. If we stay the course, we will outlast them.

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