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Tomorrow's Children: A Blueprint for Partnership Education in the 21st Century

Tomorrow's Children: A Blueprint for Partnership Education in the 21st Century

by Riane Eisler

In the wake of the tragedy of the shootings in Littleton at Columbine High School and other killings of children by children, there is increasing recognition of the urgent need for a deep systemic reassessment of what we are teaching our children. Based on the multidisciplinary research conducted by Riane Eisler over three decades, Tomorrow’s Children


In the wake of the tragedy of the shootings in Littleton at Columbine High School and other killings of children by children, there is increasing recognition of the urgent need for a deep systemic reassessment of what we are teaching our children. Based on the multidisciplinary research conducted by Riane Eisler over three decades, Tomorrow’s Children presents a new integrated model for education: the partnership model.This model is an outgrowth of the cultural transformation theory developed by Dr. Eisler in her classic work The Chalice and the Blade. In that book, Eisler identifies a continuum of patterns for structuring relations. At one end of the continuum is the partnership model, which embodies equity, environmental sustainability, multiculturalism, and gender-fairness. At the opposite end of the continuum is the dominator model, which has marred much of our civilization. This model emphasizes control, authoritarianism, violence, gender discrimination, and environmental destruction. Eisler also shows that we today stand at a crossroads, where a shift to the partnership end of the continuum is essential for human welfare, and possibly survival. A new kind of education system is required to effectuate this shift.Tomorrow’s Children applies the partnership model to education from kindergarten to twelfth grade and beyond, providing practical guidance for educators, parents, and students. Rather than one more add-on to existing methods and curricula, it provides a systemic approach that offers a more accurate and hopeful picture of what being human means. The curriculum loom and learning tapestry Eisler presents in Tomorrow’s Children integrate three primary components of teaching and learning: what Eisler calls partnership process, partnership structure, and partnership content. The book melds Eisler’s research and the work of many progressive educators into a cohesive and compelling blueprint for the kind of proactive education children need to meet the challenges of the 21st century. As Nel Noddings, a noted professor of education from Stanford University, writes, "the adoption of a partnership model in both schools and the larger society is essential for human life to flourish.”

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In The Chalice and the Blade, Eisler described the evolution of Western society in terms of two competing forms of social organization: the "dominator" model, characterized by authoritarian relationships, war and male domination, and the "partnership" model, characterized by democratic, egalitarian social structures and gender equity. Now she brings her theory of cultural transformation to bear on education and the complex problem of how to prepare children for a "partnership" society, or, how to encourage them to become nonsexist, nonracist, "healthy, caring, competent, self-realized adults." Eisler has done her homework, demonstrating a sophisticated grasp of learning theory, child development, interdisciplinary curricula and the complex social contexts of education. Though many of her suggestions--such as teaching a multicultural curriculum that emphasizes examples of partnership and "asking questions that do not have yes or no `right' answers but, instead, provoke thought"--are familiar, she synthesizes a variety of classroom techniques into a compelling framework for developing lessons that speak to the urgency of the environmental and social challenges facing us in the next century. Inviting readers to think outside conventional boxes of educational reform, this is an ambitious, imaginative and practical guide to a better educational future. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Eisler (The Chalice and the Blade, 1987) introduced the concept of the partnership model, a model of society that embodies equity, environmental protection, multiculturalism, and gender-fairness. Here, she applies the partnership model to modern education, giving readers a picture of how education might function in the 21st century. Eisler 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." Timely, inspirational, and challenging, this book offers a balanced and useful approach to education and the development of humanity. Schoolteachers, educators, administrators, and parents will find the additional resources at the end of this book useful. Recommended for both public and academic libraries.--Samuel T. Huang, Northern Illinois Univ., DeKalb, IL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Eisler, author of and other books focusing on societal transformation, provides a picture of how education can work with the adoption of a partnership model in both schools and society at large. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Reconstructing Education

Basic Building Blocks

When I was little, I loved to play with building blocks. I loved the freedom of, block by block, constructing rooms, houses, towers, and castles—worlds where I could let my imagination roam.

    I would like the reader of this book to also use the ideas in it as building blocks that can imaginatively be put together in a variety of contexts, grade levels, or classes into a new way of structuring education from early childhood onward.

    Each chapter is a building block by itself. Each chapter contains miniature building blocks for bringing the partnership model into different aspects of education.

    I want to begin by briefly outlining the basic differences between what I have called the partnership and dominator models, how I came to see them, and why I so passionately want to bring the partnership model into education.

    The journey of exploration that led to my discovery of the configurations I named the partnership and dominator models is rooted in my childhood. I needed answers to questions many of us have asked: questions about human society and human possibilities.

    These questions had a particular immediacy for me as a refugee child from Nazi Austria. I saw my father brutalized by Gestapo men and dragged away. I also saw my mother stand up to these men, demanding that they let my father go, risking her life, shouting that what they were doing was wrong. And I saw that, miraculously, my father was returned to us, and we were able to escape my native Vienna.

    In my child's mind, I tried to make sense of all this. As time went on, I began to ask questions. Why are people cruel? Why do they hurt and kill one another? If this is really just human nature, as we are often told, why isn't everyone like that? Why are some people caring and peaceful? What pushes us in one direction or the other? And what can we do to affect this?

    My formal research began many years later, after a stint as a social scientist at the Rand Corporation's Systems Development Division, after law school, after marriage and two children, and after the omnivorous consumption of information from a huge range of fields—from sociology, anthropology, history, psychology, and systems science to archeology, mythology, literature, evolutionary studies, and the arts.

A Journey of Discovery

Gradually, as if watching the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle coming together, I began to glimpse patterns, connections. I was by now drawing from a very large database. I was looking at the whole of human history, including prehistory. I was looking at both the so-called public sphere of economics and politics and the private sphere of intimate parent-child and gender relations. I was deliberately including data about both halves of humanity: both women and men.

    What I found is that underneath the many differences in societies throughout human history—differences in geographical locations, time periods, religions, economics, politics, levels of technological development—are two basic possibilities for structuring our relations with one another and our natural environment. There were no terms available for describing this discovery, so I had to coin new ones. Yet I did not want to use terms that were arcane; I wanted terms that would immediately convey some sense of the two contrasting social configurations I was seeing.

    The four core elements of one of these configurations are an authoritarian top-down social and family structure, rigid male-dominance, a high level of fear and built-in violence and abuse (from child and wife beating to chronic warfare), and a system of beliefs, stories, and values that make this kind of structure seem normal and right. Since rankings of domination—man over woman, race over race, religion over religion, nation over nation, man over nature—define this way of structuring relations, I called it the dominator model.

    At the other end of the spectrum were societies orienting to a very different configuration. The four core elements of this configuration are a more democratic and egalitarian family and social structure, gender equity, a low level of institutionalized violence and abuse (as there is no need for fear and force to maintain rigid rankings of domination), and a system of beliefs, stories, and values that supports and validates this kind of structure as normal and right. After much pondering, I chose the term partnership model to describe this template for structuring relations.

    My first book deriving from this research was The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. It traced the cultural evolution of Western societies from prehistory to the present in terms of the underlying tension between these two basic alternatives for organizing how we think and live. It also outlined the new macrohistorical analysis I call cultural transformation theory, which proposes that shifts from one model to the other are possible in times of extreme social and technological disequilibrium; that there is strong evidence of such a shift during our prehistory; and that in our time of massive technological and social dislocation another fundamental shift is possible—to a world orienting more to partnership than domination.

    My findings show that we have the power to create for ourselves the reality we yearn for. Indeed, sensing the partnership possibilities for our lives and our children's future, many of us are today questioning assumptions that were once considered unquestionable. We are rejecting the inevitability of war, injustice, and the course that decimates, pollutes, and destroys our natural habitat in the name of the once-hallowed "conquest of nature." We are learning that the war of the sexes is also not inevitable, that women and men can live and love in partnership. We are searching for a morality and spirituality that no longer direct us to an afterlife for better things or instill in us fear of angry deities, but recognize the divine in that which makes us fully human: our great capacity, to love and to create.

    Because many of us are today searching for paths that can take us and today's and tomorrow's children into a future guided by partnership rather than domination, I was invited to many places to speak about my work. I lectured at universities, wrote for many publications, and was asked to do educational consulting for schools.

    More and more, I began to think of systemic educational change. When I had taught university classes, I had experimented with what I now saw were partnership methods. I had also given a great deal of thought to how the structure of schools does not encourage partnership in their top-down administrative hierarchies, and that many grading methods encourage the formation of dominator mindsets. Most jarring, however, were the conclusions I reached about what the curriculum content, much of the old educational canon, was actually instilling in the minds of students as knowledge and truth.

    I began to think of writing this book. I have been writing it for five years. I write it with a tremendous sense of urgency, because in our time of mounting environmental, economic, and political crises, all the world's children are at risk. At the same time, I see in our children the hope for the future.

Nurturing Children's Humanity

At the core of every child is an intact human. Children have an enormous capacity for love, joy, creativity, and caring. Children have a voracious curiosity, a hunger for understanding and meaning. Children also have an acute inborn sense of fairness and unfairness. Above all, children yearn for love and validation and, given half a chance, are able to give them bountifully in return.

    In today's world of lightning-speed technological, economic, and social flux, the development of these capacities is more crucial than ever before. Children need to understand and appreciate our natural habitat, our Mother Earth. They need to develop their innate capacity for love and friendship, for caring and caretaking, for creativity, for sensitivity to their own real needs and those of others.

    In a time when the mass media are children's first teachers about the larger world, when children in the United States spend more time watching television than in any other activity, children also need to understand that much of what they see in television shows, films, and video games is counterfeit. They need to understand that violence only begets violence and solves nothing, that obtaining material goods, while necessary for living, is not a worthy end in itself no matter how many commercial messages to the contrary. They need to know that suffering is real, that hurting people has terrible, often life-long, consequences no matter how many cartoons and video games make mayhem and brutality seem normal, exciting, and even funny. They need to learn to distinguish between being hyped up and feeling real joy, between frantic fun and real pleasure, between healthy questioning and indifference or cynicism.

    If today's children are to find faith that is grounded in reality, they need a new vision of human nature and our place in the unfolding drama of life on this Earth. If they are to retain their essential humanity, they need to hold fast to their dreams, rather than give in to the cynicism and me-firstism that is today often considered "cool." They need all this for themselves, but they also need it for their children, lest they raise another generation X, a generation struggling in this uncertain time to find identity and purpose and all too often becoming lost.

    One of the greatest and most urgent challenges facing today's children relates to how they will nurture and educate tomorrow's children. Therein lies the real hope for our world.

    I passionately believe that if we give a substantial number of today's children the nurturance and education that enable them to live and work in the equitable, nonviolent, gender-fair, environmentally conscious, caring, and creative ways that characterize partnership rather than dominator relations, they will be able to make enough changes in beliefs and institutions to support this way of relating in all spheres of life. They will also be able to give their children the nurturance and education that make the difference between realizing, or stunting, our great human potentials.

    Early childhood care and education are critical, as psychologists have long known. But now this information comes to us with lightning-bolt force from neuroscience. When a baby is born, the brain continues to develop and grow. In the process, it produces trillions of synapses or connections between neurons. But then the brain strengthens those connections or synapses that are used, and eliminates those that are seldom or never used. We now know that the emotional and cognitive patterns established through this process are radically different depending on how supportive and nurturing or deprived and abusive the child's human and physical environment is. This environment largely determines such critical matters as whether or not we are venturesome and creative, whether we can work with peers or only take orders from above, and whether or not we are able to resolve conflicts nonviolently—matters of key importance for how we meet life's challenges, as well as for the postindustrial information economy.

    The kind of childcare—material, emotional, and mental—a child receives, particularly during the first three years of life, will lay neural pathways that will largely determine both our mental capacities and our habitual emotional repertoire. Positive childhood caretaking that relies substantially on praise, loving touch, affection, and avoidance of violence or threats releases the chemicals dopamine and serotonin into particular areas of the brain, promoting emotional stability and mental health. (An excellent resource for parents and teachers is Rob Reiner's video I Am Your Child: The First Years Last Forever.)

    By contrast, if children are subjected to negative, uncaring, fear-, shame-, and threat-based treatment or other aversive experiences such as violence or sexual violation, they develop responses appropriate for this kind of dominator environment. They become tyrannical, abusive and aggressive or withdrawn and chronically depressed, defensive, hypervigilant, and numb to their own pain as well as to that of others. Often these children lack the capacity for aggressive impulse control and long-term planning. Neuroscientists have found that regions of the brain's cortex and its limbic system (responsible for emotions, including attachment) are 20 to 30 percent smaller in abused children than in normal children, and that many children exposed to chronic and unpredictable stress suffer deficits in their ability to learn.

    In short, caring and nurturing childcare has a direct influence not only on children's emotional development but also on their mental development, on their capacity to learn both in school and throughout their lives.

    Most parents love their children. But what makes the difference is the expression of that love through loving touch, holding, talking, smiling, singing, and warmly responding to the child's needs and cries by providing comfort, food, warmth, and a sense of safety and self-worth. This kind of childcare can be learned, as can an understanding of the stages of child development, of what babies and children are capable or incapable of comprehending and doing, and of the harm sometimes done to children through "traditional" punishment-based childrearing.

    Hence the pivotal importance of teaching partnership childcare and parenting based on praise, loving touch, rewards, and lack of threat. For optimal results, in addition to parenting classes for adults, the teaching of this kind of parenting and childcare should start early in our schools, as it would in a partnership curriculum. This will ensure that people learn about it while they are still young and more receptive.

    But it is all of education, not only early childhood education and education for parenting, that has to be reexamined and refrained so as to provide children, teenagers, and, later, adults the mental and emotional wherewithal to live good lives and create a good society. If we change our educational system today, we will help tomorrow's children flourish. If we prepare today's children to meet the unprecedented challenges they face, if we help them begin to lay the foundations for a partnership rather than a dominator world, then tomorrow's children will have the potential to create a new era of human evolution.

The Partnership and Dominator Possibilities

Our biological repertoire offers many possibilities: violence and nonviolence, indifference and empathy, caring and cruelty, creativity and destructiveness. Which of these possibilities we actualize largely depends on social contexts and cues—on what we experience and what we learn to believe is normal, necessary, or appropriate.

    Through partnership education, young people can experience partnership relations with their teachers and their peers. They can find in their teachers what Alice Miller called "helping witnesses" when in need. They can learn to have greater self-awareness and greater awareness of others and our natural habitat. They can be encouraged to ask questions about the narratives they are taught, to seek meaning and purpose in life, and to make healthy and informed life choices.

    At the core of partnership education is learning, both intellectually and experientially, that the partnership and dominator models are two underlying alternatives for human relations. Relations based on fear, violence, and domination are a possibility. However, what distinguishes us as a species is not our cruelty and violence but our enormous capacity for caring and creativity. Constructing relations and institutions that more closely approximate the partnership model helps us actualize these capacities.

    Partnership education helps students look beyond conventional social categories, such as capitalism versus communism, right versus left, religious versus secular, and even industrial versus preindustrial or postindustrial. They can instead begin to focus on relationships—and on the underlying question of what kinds of beliefs and social structures support or inhibit relations of violence or nonviolence, democracy or authoritarianism, justice or injustice, caring or cruelty, environmental sustainability or collapse (see Figure 1.1).

    Through partnership education, young people can learn to use what I have called the partnership-dominator continuum as an analytical lens to look at our present and past (see Figure 1.2). They will see that the degree to which a society, organization, or family orients to one or the other of these alternatives profoundly affects our lives, for better or for worse. They will be better able to decide what in our culture and society we want to leave behind and what we need to strengthen. And they will understand that, even though no society will be a utopia where there is never any violence or injustice, these do not have to be idealized or built into the social and cultural fabric.

    Obviously there has already been considerable movement toward the partnership model. If there had not been, we could not be discussing fundamental educational changes today without risking severe consequences, even death—as was the case for such free thought and speech not so long ago during the European Middle Ages, and is still the case in some world regions today. However, powerful dominator elements remain in our society. And some of these dominator elements are reflected in, and perpetuated by, our education.

    Although we do not usually think of education in this way, what has been passed from generation to generation as knowledge and truth derives from earlier times. This is important, since otherwise we would, as the expression goes, constantly have to reinvent the wheel, and much that is valuable would be lost. But it also poses problems.

    To begin with, during much of recorded Western history prior to the last several hundred years, most institutions, including schools, were designed to support authoritarian, inequitable, rigidly male-dominant, and chronically violent social structures. That is, they were designed to support the core configuration of the dominator model. Although this kind of education was appropriate for autocratic kingdoms, empires, and feudal fiefdoms that were constantly at war, it is not appropriate for a democratic and more peaceful society. Nonetheless, much in the present curricula still reflects this legacy.

    Many of our teaching methods also stem from much more authoritarian, inequitable, male-dominated, and violent times. Like childrearing methods based on mottoes such as "spare the rod and spoil the child," these teaching methods were designed to prepare people to accept their place in rigid hierarchies of domination and unquestioningly obey orders from above, whether from their teachers in school, supervisors at work, or rulers in government. These educational methods often model uncaring, even violent, behaviors, teaching children that violence and abuse by those who hold power is normal and right. They heavily rely on negative motivations, such as fear, guilt, and shame. They force children to focus primarily on unempathic competition (as is still done by grading on the curve) rather than empathic cooperation (as in team projects). And in significant ways, they suppress inquisitiveness.

    Again, all this was appropriate for the autocratic monarchies, empires, and feudal fiefdoms that preceded more democratic societies. It was appropriate for industrial assembly lines structured to conform to the dominator model, where workers were forced to be mere cogs in the industrial machine and to strictly follow orders without question. But it is decidedly not appropriate for a democratic society.


Excerpted from Tomorrow's Children by Riane Eisler. Copyright © 2000 by Riane Eisler. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Riane Eisler is best known as the author of the international bestseller The Chalice and the Blade (Harper & Row, 1987). Her other works include Sacred Pleasure (HarperCollins, 1995), The Partnership Way (Holistic Education Press, 1998), and most recently her fictionalized memoir of growing up in Havana, Cuba, as a refugee from the Nazis, The Gate (iuniverse.com). Dr. Eisler is president of the Center for Partnership Studies, keynotes conferences around the world, and lives with her husband in the Monterey Peninsula.

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