ani difranco came into my world when I was a teenager through my now oldest friend whose love of music has long helped to define my own. When ani first started to share herself with the world it was just her and her guitar.
A shaved head.
Callused fingers that were practically their own instrument.
Righteousness that became a record company.
Love, Rage, Sadness, and more Love.
Honesty that (thankfully, humbly) doesn’t always make her look polished and “good.”
At the time, I might have described her more as a raw and brilliant poet who happened to play guitar but she has also, always been an impressive musician. Perhaps I honed in on the poetry because I share a compulsion to write but have never had the privilege of being a musician. Musical and a probably a dancer in the deepest part of my soul, I have never (not yet?) been a musician. (It is also possible I am simply being too narrow in my definition of “musician,” but I will leave that possibility for another day as much as it does kind of fit with the broader energy of this post.)
In any case, I have been moved and changed by ani difranco for about two thirds of my life thus far. I’ve fallen in and out of love with her work many times over the years but certain pieces are – and will likely always – feel like home to me. For example, I cited these lines from her song “i’m no heroine” in almost every paper I ever wrote in my master’s program.
Some guy designed the room I’m standing in
Another built it with his own tools
Who says I like right angles?
These are not my laws
There are not my rules
~ ani difranco i’m no heroine ~
The years I took to study education and schooling at a graduate level seemed to stir up a lifetime of tensions with schooling in particular. And, this snippet of ani lyrics captures how school – at every level – has literally always, at one point or another, made me feel: Like I am lead-boot-in-quick-sand stuck in someone else’s limited and controlling definition of education.
Like a spooked and traumatized horse, school has always – even when I didn’t really understand why – made me want to scream and whinny, rear and buck. And, ani may well have been one of the first humans who ever offered me the right words for the feeling. Thus, I set her words up in juxtaposition with almost every scholar I was asked to read for my master’s coursework.
It’s important to note that I have learned a lot in schooling contexts. I have met amazing people. Books and articles, talks and videos with which I never would have naturally chosen to engage have inspired me in important ways. But, over and around and under all of those experiences were someone else’s laws. Someone else’s rules.
Right angles that felt wrong.
People who abstractly decided for me what I needed to know and then judged by equally abstract standards whether I knew it or not. People who put blinders on me and told me – even when I have always, somehow, known it was false – that my blinder-narrowed vision is “education” when it was just and only “schooling.”
And, I know my bridling does not always serve me.
I know that sometimes you just need to quietly, humbly accept that in order to do or make or grow something, certain things need to happen so certain things needs to be learned.
I know that community doesn’t work if people cannot listen, learn, accept that there is knowledge out there we can only benefit from and that we need other people to help us do just that. This is not, in short, my individualist cry for an every-human-for-themselves approach… It’s a cry for a massive shift in perspective so that we can all work more meaningfully together…
Because another thing I know is that each of us is born with our own tools.
Our own sense of space and how to use it.
I know that there is danger in the conflation of “schooling” with “education” that winds up swallowing our sense of space and all of those more personal tools.
I know the world is routinely impoverished when we let only a rarified few, often protected by the idea of “expertise,” decide for us what it is we should know and by what measures we must prove we know it.
What my endless return to the above lyrics has helped to teach me – through my own love and rage and sadness, my own messy rich work that doesn’t always make me look “good” – is that I actually do have my own definition of education:
In my observation and experience, “education” is everything we do all day every day. The key to who we are, and what the world can and will become, is that we’re either paying attention to that “everything” – taking responsibility for its effects on us, on the broader living world – or we’re not. Education is therefore also entirely contingent on our choices; on the fact that we even know we have a choice. By this definition of “education,” it is also my observation and experience that “schooling” is a well-intentioned, if sadly often damaging, fraction of “education” because it compromises both our ability to recognize that everything we do all day every day is education and because it deeply constrains our ability to choose.
I still want us all to work together and learn from the knowing that lives in each other, in those who have come before us, from the shining brilliance in our children, in our Selves… Just differently than we do.
I’m sure I will write more about all of this because it’s taken me my lifetime to get even this far and I know I have so much more to do…
At least I also now have a better grasp on my tools.
A better sense of space.
And, much more confidence in my ability – my right, my responsibility – to make my own damn rules.