Deconstructing Institutionalized Oppression, Reconstructing Alternatives

Amelia Nebenzahl, Global Thinking Teacher
Wednesday, April 15, 2015

It’s sometimes hard to notice harmful systems in our daily lives, even though they make up the basic fibers of our society. Even when we do notice them these systems can be hard to name, hard to articulate. Or perhaps when we try to talk about them, it feels like no one’s listening. At Woolman we challenge this status quo: we not only analyze systems of oppression, we vocalize how our society treats people of different identities in different ways. We examine the prison industrial complex, food justice, and the continuous prevalence of racism across the country and world. We explore the intersectionality of systems of oppression and realize that in fact our democracy is really an oligarchy and thus there is a direct link between the corporatization of our economy, marginalization of disenfranchised people who are not represented by our governmental system, and the increasingly growing wealth disparity in the United States.

At Woolman we don’t hide from the fact that the world is in crisis and that we are far from true peace, sustainable peace. Instead we embrace the fact that we are at a point of immense opportunity which the radical author and activist Joanna Macy, whose work we read in Peace Studies class, calls The Great Turning. “It is a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization” (http://www.joannamacy.net/thegreatturning.html). We bring a critical eye to the structures and systems that govern our society not just to identify the problems but more importantly to craft alternative solutions. We think about how those who are disenfranchised by the status quo, particularly youth like those who are already leading the movement for a better future, can be agents of change, how we can build economic systems that allow people to jump out of the poverty cycle, food systems that provide everyone access to healthy and affordable nourishment, police and criminal justice systems that aren’t sending the message that young black men don’t deserve to be alive. Our inspiration comes from highly acclaimed authors like Naomi Klein, who enlightens us on how a commitment to green jobs could simultaneously solve our climate crisis and our economic crisis, and also from less known forward thinkers like Jonah Mossberg, whose film Out Here explains the intersection of food justice and queer liberation (http://outheremovie.com/).

We realize that because systems of oppression are so interconnected, systems of liberation are equally linked. We also acknowledge that in order to achieve a truly equitable society we must listen and learn from those who are most affected by oppression. Australian Aboriginal Elder Lilla Watson stated that, “If you are coming to help us, you are wasting your time. If you are coming because you know your liberation is bound up with ours, then let us work together.” Looking deep inside our own identities and experiences, Woolman students learn how to use their privileges and positions in society to build the world that we all need: a world free of oppression and marginalization where all people are empowered and supported to live healthy and free lives.                    

Students brainstorming what empowering education looks like.

     

Taking notes off the whiteboard isn't common in radical education. Instead students' ideas bring notes to the board.

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