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Sweet Briar College, Founded 1901

 

In today’s environment it’s not uncommon to see our educational systems taken for granted. Everyone is provided with a free K-12 education, but not every student takes advantage of that opportunity. Educators are provided with the opportunity to mold a classroom full of minds, but some fall short of reaching everyone. In higher education professionals have been speculating that an education bubble is about to burst. So with all the doom and gloom news that is out there how do we stay positive and not become isolated in our fight to attain a better-educated society?

For those of us that work in the field of education, we know that social media, professional learning networks and online communities of practice are key to our success. Through these networks we are able to share our successes, struggles and ask others for help. But for those in other professions, how do we share our passion and get others to understand the value of a good education and why we need their support?

This past week, I learned the unfortunate news that Sweet Briar College was closing at the end of this semester (after being opened for 114 years). Sweet Briar is a small, women’s college located outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. It’s where I received my undergraduate degree and first learned about the value of a good education and the power of educators. During my four years I was challenged to think outside the box, think critically and form my own opinions. No longer was I just memorizing information and listening to a lecture, but rather an active participant. This shift in learning forever changed my thoughts on how to reach students and work with colleagues on making a better educational system for the future.

The late Lee Piepho (Professor of English at Sweet Briar for 35 years) once gave a speech to graduates in which he told them to always trust their Sweet Briar Moxey. What is Sweet Briar Moxey? It’s trusting your gut and knowing when you should stand up and fight for what you know is right.

“We must all of us be straightforward and honest in our professional dealings. Sounds pretty simple. But how complicated this can get has been shown us again in recent years: in the business scandals that have swirled around large corporations like Enron, of course, but more insidiously in a wholesale, uncritical pursuit of the almighty dollar that has defined so much of America’s professional life during the late eighties and nineties.

 

What are we to say when, for instance, we know that the earnings of a company we are working for have been misstated? Or when the “Boss” tells us to do something that we know is wrong or even illegal? The job is good; it was hard to get, easy to lose. And perhaps we have the financial well being of a family to think about. Not an easy decision to make. But I want to suggest that to make the bad choice, to go along with something wrong is to violate both aspects of your integrity: your sense of honesty, that is, and your spiritual and mental wholeness.

 

You have to respect and trust to yourself. One version of what this means was presented to me by the English Renaissance poet Edmund Spenser. When faced with the temptations of Mammon, the god of riches, Guyon, Spenser’s exemplar of temperance in his romance epic The Faerie Queene, must always look to and respect himself. At first I thought this was pure selfishness. But it isn’t.

 

What Spenser means it that we need always to listen to the voice that comes from the wholeness of our being, that centers us and tells us to harken onto what is best in ourselves. And in meeting the temptations to place reward over honor I consul you—always trust to your Sweet Briar Moxie!” – Lee Piepho

This past week I have seen women coming together from across the world to fight for the education that made them into the women that they are today (raising over two million dollars in 3 days) and demanding the administration to be more transparent with the school finances. While they are faced with doubters that say “women no longer want to attend a rural college that is thirty minutes away from the nearest Starbucks”, they are trusting their gut and fighting to keep their institution around for current and future generations of women. Alumnae have taken to mainstream and social media (#savesweetbriar and ‪#thinkisforgirls) and are working collaboratively with parents, students, former faculty and staff, friends of alumnae, lawyers and anyone who wants to help in their crusade.

As I read Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach’s blog about leaving a legacy, I began to think not only about the legacy I am leaving behind, but how important it is for us to fight for the improvement and acceptance for all types of education. Whether you are a staunch believer in public, private, home-school or single-sex education we must all have a little Sweet Briar Moxie and remember that as a nation we need to work together to create an educational system that embraces diversity in not only our students but our institutions. So who is ready to fight the good fight and start working together as a community of practitioners and learners?

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Christen Dodd

Christen is the Director of eLearning for Powerful Learning Practice. After earning her MEd. in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Virginia, she began her career as a K-5 Computer Resource Teacher. She enjoyed collaborating with staff and creating technology lessons that engaged students, but caught “the bug” for presenting to educators on a national level. For eleven years, Christen trained educators both face-to-face and virtually with Verizon Thinkfinity. She also served as their Distance Learning Coordinator and Vice President of Professional Development. Christen has enjoyed working with Powerful Learning Practice since 2011 and continuing her work with educators, parents and students alike.
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