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?
Latest posts by Christen Dodd (see all)
- Breaking Hyflex & Remote Learning Visual Barriers - October 15, 2020
- Is Your Lifeboat Secure? - September 26, 2020
- Going Into the Unknown - August 17, 2020
Watch IVORY TOWER (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3263520/) for the failure of contemporary higher education. While it may not apply to Sweet Briar, which I also remember from an era of “general education” and humanities and civilizations studies, it most certainly does apply to places like Cooper Union, under the entrepreneurial leadership of Jamshed Bharucha. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooper_Union_financial_crisis_and_tuition_protests). Change has victims and has victimizers. Typically, with Sweet Briar, women are early targets.
Thank you for your comments and the information on Cooper Union (I wasn’t familiar with their plight). While I am familiar with the movie you mentioned, I haven’t had the opportunity to see it yet (so thank you for the reminder). The value/cost of higher education is something my husband and I talk about frequently (as we have two young children). We often wonder what higher education will look like when they are ready to attend and if the costs of tuition will stabilize before then. While I realize that in today’s economy not all students are reaping the rewards of a traditional four-year college, I don’t have any regrets with the cost of my education (or the loans I paid back).
One of the main issues the alumnae have with the announcement of Sweet Briar’s closing is that it was it came out of left field. No one ever mentioned any financial difficulties, new buildings and housing were created in the past few years, and all communications were nothing other than positive. Had alumnae been aware of any problems from the onset, they would have been more than happy to work together to find a solution. We are hopeful that the new legal team will be able to put a stop to the closure and we can provide the school with a plan that will revitalize the school in both the short and long term. If you are interested in keeping up with the progress of this battle please visit the following URL: http://savingsweetbriar.com
Thanks again for your comments!
I am touched that you have remembered Lee Piepho in this way. He would be so proud of the Sweet Briar alums at this critical time in the College’s history.
Thank you Cheryl! Prof. Piepho was one of a kind and left a lasting impression on so many of us. We appreciate all of the current and past professors that have dedicated their careers to the school and want to make them proud of the women we are today. We also want to see their work (and legacies) continue well into the future. The professors at Sweet Briar are truly one of kind and more than just teachers to all of us. They become part of our family and lifelong inspirations to all of us.