Industrial Education and
 Clinging to Rot

episode 48

Sarah Pottle

created by

Hey everyone. Just me here today with the goal to share a huge thank you, a related story, and an update with some announcements of what’s to come for you all!

First, the thank you: I receive messages on a regular-enough basis to know that this podcast or our work in Grounded Teaching and/or We Are Verbs means something to you as an educator–any type of educator– whether you’re a middle school ELA teacher or a college professor or a yoga teacher– who is recognizing, shoot, by all measures of “what’s working”, it seems like we are realizing that, hey, the old industrial, patriarchal, extractive, colonial way of doing things isn’t actually helping me or my students or society or animals or the earth thrive more. It seems like no matter how hard we try to intellectualize and teach our way into a new future with promise of rigorous academics, it’s missing the mark.

Now, maybe you wouldn’t use the language of industrial or extractive paradigm, and that might be because of that old adage of a fish that doesn’t really know that they are swimming in water. It’s just sort of what is.

But if our current systems aren’t creating a more vibrant, joyful, thriving humans, animals, and planet. What are we here for? Simply increased GDP? It seems like it. And it also seems like we are all becoming more aware that we are sick of it.

You know, we believe that the world of education is an entry point into a better world for a couple of reasons. First, all students go through some sort of schooling. Even if you are unschooling, there is learning that is taking place, and most often, there is some adult there who is at least mildly guiding the process. In the case of school-school, there were almost FIFTY MILLION k-12 students in public schools in 2021. Just public schools. All of those students, including the others who are in private schools and homeschools, are being guided by an adult.

So, if the first reason that we think education is an entry point into a more regenerative future is because it affects almost all kids, then the main touchpoint for those students is the absolutely vital role of educator. And the truth of it is that most educators are boxed in by the current system that prioritizes things like standardization, gains, global competitiveness, and honestly it often feels like no one is really driving the ship.

And I know that some folks might say that it isn’t the role of the education system to teach things that are going to help humans thrive. Its the role of the education system to teach the academics. The other stuff is for home or church or mosque. I have heard that argument time and again. And, sometimes, it does make me pause. But what I keep coming back to is that we live in a world of finite time. And the amount of time that students spend in the classroom doing work in a systematic, standardized way that is taught over and over again, often inefficiently– there is absolutely time to teach kids how to thrive. Not by creating an SEL class period, but by actually re-thinking what school looks like in the traditional settings, and then even in the non-traditional settings of homeschool or outdoor education– for all educators to question what parts of an extractive paradigm has seeped into the way I move through the world, and what parts am I even inadvertently passing on to the students, since my role as an educator comes with a level of responsibility and authority that I need to respect.

Back to the fish not knowing that it’s swimming in water. You might not use the words ‘extractive paradigm” or even patriarchy or colonialism. You might even be wary of using some of these words out of fear, and so you might actually actively not pay attention. This is sort of like the fish swimming in the water, and then one day a giant rogue wave comes and lifts it up to the surface and for a second it felt air, and it was like, wait, What the Frg.

Those moments for some of us come from when we are sitting in a meeting for teachers about new technology and it just sort of seems like, wait, what are we all doing this for? Or it might be in the form of feeling like a cog in a wheel- like you’ll never have time to get caught up and you’re burning out. This might be your glimpse at like, wait, what’s this all for? And then you realize that it’s really, really hard to beat burnout in a system that is not designed to help you thrive.

So, what do you do? Well, we think of our teaching practice in the old system as moonlighting at the intensive care unit in the ICU while the old ed system is hooked up to life support. And we see folks trying to come in with this fix or that– more software systems! Better computers! Buy this SEL curriculum, even! And we see it happening but we know it’s going to die. But we are still there, working, because that is our job right now.

And then, our day job, quote unquote, becomes, while the old industrial education system is dying and spending all its time at the hospital on life supprot, we see the space that is created at the old systems house. And so we start cleaning out those rooms– opening the curtains really big, dusting out the cobwebs, reorganizing the furniture, busting out walls, adding on new rooms. Maybe the house is beyond repair and we decide to start fresh. I’m not exactly know what the future will hold, but the main thing is, we are starting from a place of care and creativity and connectedness.

We may know that the end is coming, but the thing we might be asking as educators is: what is next?

That’s why we named our educator group We Are Verbs. It is so comforting to know that we are verbs. To KNOW it. To Know that we are DESIGNED to be always in process. That we are vibrating, shifting, beings who are, actually, BE- ING. We aren’t static and fixed– that’s a myth. Nothing in this world is static and fixed. We are all literally vibrating even at the subatomic level. Motion. Death and rebirth. At the cell level, one million cells in your body die every second. Every second! That means that since I started talking about cells dying about 6 million cells have died in my body. Billions of cells a day. I’ve heard different stats on this but the one I just looked up by scientific America says that, at that rate, we replace every cell in our body in 80-100 days. Sounds like the same amount of time it’s been cited for a new habit to stick. Maybe that’s because you’re literally an entirely new person, aside from some hair.

So, as the old way of education is clinging onto the biggest drugs possible to try to get by on some sort of life support and eek out a few years that aren’t really filled with life support, we are seeing the vacuum that is being created by all the hospital visits and we’re saying, hey. We’re going to fill that space. We’re going to fill that space with life-affirming, healing education that is based on connection, asking better questions, on educators who model healing and being in-process and being human and love and care because we are in the position of educator– whatever that means, maybe it’s a traditional classroom teacher, or an administrator, or a college professor, or a homeschool parent, or a pod teacher, or a day care teacher or an outdoor educator or even just a parent… we are able to recognize that people do look at us for some sort of answer. And not just the answers we give, but the way we live out the answers and the way we communicate the deeper questions are just as important.

And we wont know all the answers, and that’s good, because this world is made up of moving targets and vibrations, and so we need to know ourselves and heal ourselves and remain flexible and adaptive and loving. And prioritize the best questions. And yeah, that might sound nothing like “Common core” and it might not be the next literacy initiative, but I am telling you, this is the path for whatever education needs to morph into in the future. And we are here for it.

But I’ll tell you who isn’t here for it. And it’s not actually really any individual. It’s the system, actually, that sort of has a mind of its own. It’s clinging onto its mode of operation for dear life, but it’s rotting.

We have these beautiful black walnut trees in our yard. They must be almost 200 years old. They are majestic beings. And they also drop hundreds of black walnuts. Black walnuts have a special taste, but they’re a great nut if you’ve got the tools to crack them. Really good in chocolate chip cookies!

Well, I spent the day on Sunday processing the nuts because you don’t just gather the black walnuts and store them somewhere to dry out for later. If you did that, the whole outside hull would rot. Instead, you have to husk away the outside hull. If you’ve never seen black walnuts they look like a tennis ball, with a green outer soft hull, then once you get past that hull or husk, you get the protective shell of the nut. Then, eventually you can crack the shell and you get the nut on the inside.

And so, you have to get the hull off to process them. And this is super time consuming, but we’ve figured out some better ways to do it in recent years. I used to hit them with a hammer but then realized that actually stomping on them with shoes I don’t care about getting stained works really well as a step one to get the big pieces of the hull off, but it’s not clean.

Stomping removes most of the mass of the hulls, but the pieces of the hull cling to the rough nut husk. It’s not like you squish it and it comes off easily. The first year we did this, we thought, well, clean enough, the rest of the pieces of hull will fall off as the nut dries, and we put them in the basement on trays to cure. Well, our nuts were covered in rot and mold. We had to thrwo them all out. Turns out you have to get ALL the husk off, but how? Hand scrub each individual nut? Haha hahaha nah thanks.

The next test is the float test. So, you stick all these partially, mostly dehulled nuts into a bucket of water. Whatever floats to the top you discard it because it means its a bad not. In my case on Sudnay, I lost a ton of nuts, which is a bummer because I’m thinking dang it I harvested all of these, and then I took the time to squish and dehull them, and now I’m simply throwing them out for the squirrels. And it makes you think twice because it’s like, eh, my final nut load is going to be so much less than I thought when I started! Maybe i don’t ACTUALLY have to toss all these floating nuts. Maybe some are just floating for another reason. But then, you realize, no, who wants to take the time to crack and then accidentally eat a bad nut. It has to go. Even if half of them float, oh well, you have less than you thought.

So, the next step is the one we struggled with where we were like, how do we get all the husk off? Turns out, little secret, youtube is great, because we found someone who used one of those drill attachments that stirs up drywall mud and a drill, and so then after getting the majority of the hulls off then nut shell, put the mostly-de-hulled nuts in a bucket of water and just runs the drill to stir them up. They knock and hit against each other, and it actually seems like “oh no, we’re going to crack these nuts” but black walnuts are really tough. You scoop out all the hull pieces that rise to the top, change out the water, run the drill gain. Sometimes repeat 3 times or so until that batch is mostly clean. Not perfectly clean, that’s impossible, but clean enough so that the nut won’t rot. Then it’s time for another batch.

Anyways, this was my task on Sunday. Dehull by squishing, float test, dehull by drill attachment, discard all the gunk and hull pieces that rose to the top, change water, repeat a few times, rinse, dry. For somewhere around 300 nuts. It took me the entire afternoon into the evening. Normally I would have listened to several podcasts or music, but I’ve been going through this thing where I’m trying to hone my listening skills instead of constantly distracting myself with inputs.

So I had a lot of time to think about so much squishing, so much agitation. So much of nuts knocking together. So much discarding of the pieces that would cause rot. A long process. A slow process. A process that really felt like I just wanted to go dry off my hands and go inside and eat a bowl of soup and maybe find another project. My hands are cold and dyed brown from the water. And my back was starting to ache a little bit from the entire day of nut picking and water hauling and so on and so on.

Since I had some bandwidth to actually try to sink into what I was doing without distracting my brain to perhaps be a more efficient person by hulling nuts while getting in a few audiobooks, I was able to pay attention to what was happening. This is a practice I have been really, really painstakingly trying the past few months.

We’re all on our own spiral of healing, and lately in the past few months, it feels like the intensity of it for me has been dialed up a lot. Just as a quick note to show you what I mean byintensity, sometime I will tell you more about a few weekends ago when I set up a tent in my backyard with nothing but water, a sleeping bag, and a journal and didn’t leave for three days to try to figure somet things out.

The main thing I’ve been figuring out is just how– even when you feel like you’re spiraling on a healing journey, as they say, often it’s not miraculous. Often it’s the slow squishing. The painful death of clinigng onto something that was my identity.

Anyways, I made myself present to this arduous process of processing the nuts because I think somehow I wanted to really feel a long process, not tap out for it. I’ve been trying to do the same thing with dishes and so forth.

And what was happening, as I was processing those nuts was that I saw myself in my own position as, say, the processor, but then I also sort of saw myself in the nut. Spare me the dad jokes, okay? Or I guess let em rip because If you want to call me a nut who lives in a world of magic, I would rather live in that world than a world based straight on logic. So, yes, in my story, I am the nut as well as the human.

So, from my perspective as a nut, it’s like: okay, here comes this force who just starts squishing me and a lot of agitation and a lot of skimming things that I lost in all the agitation so I can detach from the things that I’m clinging onto that could cause me to rot.

And I don’t really want to let go of it, but this force that’s squishing me and stirring things up so I knock against myself and my ideas and other’s ideas and pieces of my identity that made me look like a black walnut are starting to loosen up and even break off.

And, it feels naked to be a nut without a lot of the things that I cling to for my identity, but I guess could rot me. It feels a little vulnerable.

And then I catch a glimpse at the person who is running the drill, the person whose hand is lovingly scooping out the debris, and its me. And the point isn’t being 100% clean. There’s still all sorts of microbes living on me. There’s no such thing as sterile in a living system. But there is rot. And it’s just taking off the stuff that rots.

And I guess it was comforting to think about me helping myself out here. Even with the squishing and the loud running of a drill that’s loosening up parts of you.

So, anyways, if you’re going through a time of squishing or serious agitation and you want to cling to an identity that makes you feel like you.. It’s okay. That makes sense. Everything does it. Even blackwalnuts. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

But, for me anywayas, it was helpful to trust that there’s a force out there, maybe it’s myself or a friend or another force of the universe, who is helping me get rid of some of the patterns and things that can cause rot.

And, while this feels like a really personal application to share on a podcast that sometimes feels more about the educational system, I think there are so many implications here for so many of us– both us as individuals and us as institutions– who are clinging to our identities eventhough if we actually let go of them, we will not rot.

I just gave my own very personal example that Im sure most of us can relate to personally, but if we expand this to our analogy we started this podcast with of the industrial education system dying. Here’s why: it clung to things that could only bring about rot: standardization over human unique being-ness, colonial impositions of knowing better over place-based community wisdom, power over the general people, Intellect over other ways of knowing.

What is exciting is that we ARE a living system. And so, it’s only a matter of time for when those things wil rot. What’s attached to the rot is important. You want to detach from the rot, obviously. And I’m not saying quit your public school teaching job or your role as principle and go be a homeschool pod teacher, though, sure, you could do that. What I’m saying by detaching from the rot is looking at the most subtle ways that those things seep into your learning spaces in ways where you actually do have control over it. Often times, what I am learning more and more, it’s the smallest things that make a different. There are millions of stories of people who had that one teacher in 8th grade that made them believe in themselves. This is exactly what I’m talking about. Maybe you’re forced to teach a curriculum that you disagree with, but your kids will remember How you are being with them, and how you help them to be.

It can be that simple. It can at least certainly START as that simple. This is the starting place. Then, sure, yes, detach yourself from your identity as a teacher-as-a-martyr or teacher-as-a-cog, and see what happens. Detach yourself from old routines that you’ve just always done and you’re not sure why. Allow some agitation to stir things up a bit. Discard whatever floats to the top that doesn’t fit a thriving society.

I wish for all of us that we can embrace some of this squishing and agitation. That we can more easily separate from what’s not serving us anymore. That we don’t have to become something totally different– the walnut is still a walnut at its essence.

I wish that we can take an honest look at the long-term mindset and see half my nuts floating and think, sure I could store away twice as much, but half of them would be rotten. Is that what I want?

Or don’t have the long-term mindset to think: i don’t take the time to really process and clean them, I’d have more time on my sunday afternoon, but they’d all rot. Is that what i want?

And maybe we ask ourselves: Would it be better to just go to a store and buy a bag of walnuts from california and call it a day? Maybe. It’s a question worth asking because it brings up your purpose and values, and that’s always an interesting conversation.

Specifically, our group We are verbs is about applying the principles and themes of living systems to heal ourselves, our relationship to self as an educator, and to make possible change for all of our learners taking more and more belly flops out of the water of modern western culture we’re all swimming in, taking in the fresh air, and opening up a new way for our students to learn to be in this world. You can now join the group for free.

We are verbs supports any educator– maybe you;re an administrator, a classroom teacher, an outdoor educator, a professor, a yoga teacher, a homeschool teacher– because we recognize that all of us have the task of facilitating learning, and the natural authority and responsibility that comes with that authority. And we think it’s helpful to bring us all under one roof.

We’ve taken the last few months to make some important changes to We Are Verbs. As I mentioned, we’ve redone our business model so that you can access we are verbs for free to receive monthly mini-casts for your specific role for the monthly theme. What does that mean, okay: If you like this podcast, it’s a little like that. So, this month is october and we’re talking about place-based education in october since we are verbs has monthly themes to help us connect to a more regenerative future. So this month is place-based ed, and lets’ say you’re an administrator, well I recorded a mini-cast that shares what place-based education might mean for you as you think abou it this month. There’s a transcript there, too. It’s a way to dig into the monthly theme for free and in a more specific to your role way than on the podcast. But beyond administrators, I also write minicasts for classroom teachers, outdoor educators, homeschool teacher/parents, ed consultants and coaches, and other educators. They’re all fairly different, so you can listen to yours but also listen to other ones as well. Or read the transcripts. That’s free.

AND, now, for free,you also receive access to our new blog and access to The Breathing Room, which is a space where Jess shares audio recordings of the monthly theme-based breathwork to keep you connected to yourself during a time where a lot of things feel like they are in upheaval. The breathwork is specifically tailored for people who are in a sort of educator position, and I think you’ll enjoy them. For fun, there’s also a monthly playlist that I think is pretty cool. You can join for FREE, link in the show notes.

So, how is free a business model at all? Well, we’re relying on sliding scales and donations for those who find the work helpful. If you want to join different tiers you can do that starting at $5 a month for a 30+ page monthly workbook and a 90-minute workshop that digs into the theme, as I said this month it’s place. THen the community and meaning making tiers expand from there where we read a new book each season in a book club, this fall we’re reading all about fungi in Entangled Life, and our community also offers skillshare workshops, which are really beautiful.

We are trusting that if we are verbs is worthwhile and truly supportive, that this is going to be a way to support all sorts of people while sustaining the project. And we are sticking by our own values, creating learning opportunities and resources that we are immensely proud of that are created from a place of love and creative expansion, and we believe that will resonate with the right people.

And, if you want to join a higher tier but you are not experiencing financial ease right now, we do not want to paywall people out of participating. Simply shoot us an email for a scholarship code. We won’t ask any questions.

So! Join we are verbs. The link is in the show notes. Share it with your friends! There’s nothing to lose at the always free level. This month is all about being place-based, we just had our core workshop on Tuesday – the recording is now up– and next month, ooh, I am so excited about next month’s topic: Next month in November is about failure and feedback. There’s a lot to look forward to, so get yourself in there! Click the show notes link right now.

I want to say thank you to everyone who has been on the show lately to help illuminate this point of a need for a new system: Ian Sanderson, Tyler Bastian, Ruth Ann Smalley, Jen and Molly from PB Cle, David Bidler from Physiology first, as well as the folks in our We Are Verbs community who have shared their skills lately: Ruth Smalley about energy medicine, Brenda Friberg about nonviolent communication, and Jess Boeke about place-based vocabulary.

Next two weeks we’ll be back with two new interviews I am excited to share, and then we’ll actually start into a new series similar to the one I did on patterns in the springtime. There’s a lot to look forward to here! Thank you for being here with us.

If you liked this podcast, spread it around, help it grow! Share it with a colleague or a friend or a parent. We appreciate you so much. If you’re experiencing financial ease and want to support the podcast – join We Are Verbs at a sliding scale! You can also make a one time or recurring donation on our website, link in show notes. And, really, we appreciate your spreading the word, posting on social, writing a review– that stuff matters so much as much as I don’t loves saying it, it really does.

Happy rest of your october, everyone! May you release the patterns and little pieces of you that might rot, either gently or with a little agitation, and may you feel all the lighter for it.

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Above are some of the scenes from the squishing and agitating I did this past weekend to remove the hull -- the part that would rot-- from the husk.

There are so many lessons to learn, all around us. <3

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