March 11, 2009

Not Your Average Educational Experience: A Goddard College Moment.

by Sarah Janelle Miller

I’m on my third university now. It isn’t easy being a girl like me in a world like this. Educational institutions are designed to cram a lot of superficial knowledge into your brain and expect you to make something out of it all. You have to go sit in a desk and fulfill ridiculous requirements for an institution- AND you get to pay for it all.

Seems backwards and archaic to me. Wouldn’t you want to learn what drives you to be your best? (Your best. Not their best.) Shouldn’t we be discovering who and what we are, not suppress it?

I just spent ten days in Plainfield, Vermont at Goddard College, completing the “in-residency” portion of my semester. Now I am home, digesting the most brilliant and meaningful educational experience to date. I am proud to announce my student status. Again. This time, though, it’s different. I’m excited about learning. I’m overjoyed to be in school. I’m  happily along for the ride and the process.

There is really no other college like it. There are others that try to do “distance education” or break the mold of traditional institutions, but they pale in comparison. Many of the students now attending Goddard, have tried these other “alternative” colleges, but found them to be lacking.

What makes Goddard unique is not just that you are getting credit for your life’s work and your passions, it’s beyond that. You are discovering corners of your Being that may have been repressed or lost. As we discussed in my Advising group, “we are calling back pieces of our soul that have been lost.” This is quite a process and is as unique as the individuals who attend Goddard.

The rest I’m still honestly trying to grasp. What makes this university so profound? The only word that comes to mind is: freedom.

Almost immediately upon arrival, the license of personal expression and freedom starts. Your adviser keeps reminding you to “accept the process” and to “allow the process to unfold.” It felt like artsy vocabulary at first, but I soon realized that was the whole point. I’m attending an artistic-intellectual university for Geniuses. Geniuses disguised as societal misfits, spiritual and cerebral vagabonds- a veritable creative and inspirational mafia if you will.

I didn’t really know what all this meant at first. (I don’t think any of us really knew what we were getting ourselves into actually.) All I knew was it all sounded good on paper and a close friend assured me it was a great “next step” for my educational completion.

Then I had a very significant meeting with our Program Director, Lucinda Garthwaite. I realized that what I thought I was coming to Goddard for, might not be what I came to Goddard for after all.

Lucinda asked me what I wanted to do this semester. “Well, I think I eventually want to transfer to Health Arts,” I said. “I see all of my Vedic studies fitting into that somehow. My yoga, teaching, Ayurved, Sanskrit…But there’s this art stuff that gets pushed to the side consistently. It doesn’t seem practical and doesn’t make me money, so I don’t ever fully get to explore that part of me.” At that point some tears were welling up.

Lucinda looked at me and said, “well clearly that is what you should be focusing on then!” I realized at that moment that I was being given permission to study my passions, my joys, my Self. That is the true difference between Goddard and other schools.

There are requirements and credits and all the traditional trappings, but they’re loose and flexible. I was actually told to “come to the residency WITHOUT any ideas in mind as to what I wanted to study.” (In other words, come prepared to be unprepared.) The term “process” is used frequently to somehow explain what each of is going through as we progress, change and reflect. We are expected to change our minds. Frequently. And without notice. I was more than surprised to find a whole group of people who demonstrate fickle behavior like my self and yet find a supportive educational institution that condones this, nurtures it and even capitalizes on it as we work it into our path.

During the residency, we were able to see Graduating students present their final work and hear about their processes. We listened to lectures (if we chose to- since very little is forced or required), such as “The Ecology of Love: Polyamorous Paradigms for Sustainable Communities”, and “Math and Art: The Music of the Spheres.” There were breath workshops and movement classes, writing workshops and courses for computer knowledge. Our week culminated on Friday with a Cabaret in the Haybarn Theatre where students performed talents. Eventually we all found our way to the Music Building to collectively and joyfully party our week into completion.

I found the sense of community and acceptance among faculty and peers overwhelming. Even advisers would mingle at the parties, sit with students at meals and stand and chat and smoke outside. A paradigm shift for sure.

New students were  even candidly included in discussions about the economic situation of the University. We were assured that in hard economic times, Goddard was doing just fine. In fact enrollment was consistently up- a trend they expect to see continue. Another way in which Goddard shines is in its stance against corporate funding- Goddard accepts none of it. I guess you can have it all.

Now that I’m home putting together my first packet of work (this one is on the Sitar) I am grateful for this new adventure that I’ve taken on, the new friends I’ve met and the completion in my process that has already started. I have no clue what new doors of my Self will open up over the next few years. That Unknown is extremely exciting.

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