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Dr. Grauer's Column - Kumeyaay Counsel For Our Teachers

This week's column expands on the concept of a giving economy, practiced by the Kumeyaay who lived on the land long before The Grauer School was built. Our students are learning how to model this behavior, helping us build a giving and sustainable campus.

Kumeyaay Counsel for Our Teachers
(Our Giving Economy)

November is Native American Heritage month, so Dr. Grauer will be sharing columns this month about the connection The Grauer School has with native sensibilities and heritage. We can’t be Native Americans, or appropriate practices that are sacred to them, but we can honor them through adopting their universal teachings.

We learned of the giving economy many years ago from the Native Americans. The way I heard it explained, a giving economy was not based upon currency exchange, it was largely based upon our reciprocal relationship with the land we are on, which nobody owned. We hoped we could have one at our school, as a way of using our land, even though I had no idea how we could do it.

Grauer Junior Carson B. '24 trimming and cleaning up branches from shrubs in the Habitat Corridor surrounding the school - November 1, 2022

I remember well the efforts of our first architect, Scott Thomas, how he read my philosophy of architecture emails, which were wordy, some might say rambling, and he went out on our property and roamed. It was beautiful to watch him drink in the surroundings with a knowing smile on his face, embrace the whole of it. But he was only thinking of buildings. Lord knows, the many architects and landscape architects I have worked with have shown enormous creativity and collaboration and have not cared particularly about education, much less the indigenous concept of the giving economy.

We, as early Americans, and to a real extent still, rejected and abused the indigenous, their lands, and their ways of life. We can’t undo all that, but maybe we are coming around some and can become better healers and leaders through what they could teach us about land uses on campus.

This would be an economy not just based upon the currency of dollars demanded but based on what we need to take care of on our land to have a healthy, healing campus. We would treat our land like an indigenous tribe does: a regenerating micro-economy that every individual is responsible for. A complete ecosystem.

At first, at least to me, the thought of the concept of the giving economy on campus only highlighted how far we were from such a campus. I was never sure we could live up to it. It took us years just to effectively ban single-use plastic. There is still much to unlearn. We had no clear idea how to steward our acreage, pretty much never thought about our soil, and had no understanding of what a “tribal” organization might look like. 

Environmental Science teacher Nick Scacco working with Zane B. '27 to break up branches to add to the compost pile in The Grauer School's garden - November 1, 2022

On any campus, what heritage does the land convey? Does it matter? I had never heard a school ask that. Kumeyaay may have hunted, gathered, and farmed on our exact plot of land generations ago. Here is a hint about that: our campus coastal sage is thick, not uneven as it is in most natural settings—it is as though our land was once cleared and tilled and has now grown back.

Why do the Kumeyaay not live here or own this land today, when we believe they once did? I don’t know. They didn’t have deeds. Much of their history is obliterated. And what would we do if the Kumeyaay came to us with some evidence that they owned this land we have poured all our resources into for decades now? I don’t know!

In their day, the Kumeyaay planted trees and fields of grain. We guess they grew squash, beans and corn, “the Native American trinity.” There are of course fish nearby. We know they gathered and grew medicinal herbs and plants, never taking more than was sustainable, so they are still there, and we have labeled some of those behind our school—so we are making a little progress.

Grauer students playing soccer on the school's field adjacent to the Habitat Corridor, filled with native bushes - November 1, 2022

They dined on fresh fruits, berries, pine nuts and acorns. We’ve hired ethnobotanists to walk the campus with us, and they have told us that these bounties tasted nothing like the mass-produced grocery store varieties: they were more complex and richer in flavor. With a little imagination, there is something inspiring about this as an image of independent schooling: 

Tribe-like, place-based, connected to a heritage, and outdoor oriented. 

Beyond the knowledge that they lived off the land around here for thousands of years and that they shared their lands, we had only folkloric ideas about how the Kumeyaay Indians lived. The Kumeyaay Indians appear to have believed in the spirit of all living things. That has been easy to embrace when we see a bobcat or family of quail on campus, not so easy when a rattlesnake slithers onto our deck or a rat gets into the kitchen. On second thought, would parents get panicky about the bobcat?
Once, we were hiking around the campus and came upon a harmless spider, a daddy long legs. A student marched up to it and squashed it with her army boot. I was knocked off guard, hard, but did not want to cause humiliation, the worst thing you can ever do as a teacher. I was just a little stunned, and all I could think of to say was, “That was a living thing.”

Grauer 9th Grade students with the dish they created in the school's teaching kitchen using healthy organic ingredients - November 2, 2022

No child brought up in the suburbs, where we have developed so much land, could be blamed for having more to learn about a giving and sustainable campus. One way or another, we have taught our children to disconnect some of the webs of life that are so connected for us when we are very young. So now the unteaching and the re-connecting is the work we will have to do. 

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Photos for Dr. Grauer's Column

Grauer Junior Carson B. '24 trimming and cleaning up branches from shrubs in the Habitat Corridor surrounding the school - November 1, 2022

Environmental Science teacher Nick Scacco working with Grauer student Zane B. '27 to break up branches to add to the compost pile in The Grauer School's garden - November 1, 2022

Grauer students playing soccer on the school's field adjacent to the Habitat Corridor, filled with native bushes - November 1, 2022

Grauer 9th Grade students with the dish they created in the school's teaching kitchen using healthy organic ingredients - November 2, 2022

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by Dr. Stuart Grauer

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"Grauer’s writing reminds us that Great Teaching, singular, rare, unusual, is something that should be sought after and found. Thank you.”
Richard Dreyfuss, Actor, Oxford scholar, founder of The Dreyfuss Initiative

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Dr. Grauer's Column: Archive of Past Columns

Dr. Grauer's Column - Grauer Forest School

One of the founding principles of The Grauer School is the importance of expeditionary learning, where our students learn important lessons from the natural world. More parents and educators who are now recognizing the value of outdoor education and the essential intelligence it imparts upon our children.

Dr. Grauer's Column - The Wisdom of Acknowledgement

This week's column features guest columnist Trevor Olson, High School Dean at The Grauer School. Trevor shares the wisdom he learned from Jim, a 79-year-old father and grandfather, about the importance of acknowledgment and respect for others.

Dr. Grauer's Column - Where Does Academic Pressure Come From?

The level of stress and anxiety that students feel has reached new heights, which impacts their happiness, purpose, focus, honesty, depression rates, and family dynamics. Where does their stress about academic pressure come from? The answer will surprise you.

Dr. Grauer's Column - Propinquity

Propinquity refers to the physical or psychological proximity between people. The Grauer School's campus layout was intentionally set up to foster close propinquity. Our students interact with each other while walking through the central quad, swirling into small gatherings forming like eddies.

Dr. Grauer's Column - Bill Toone: "On the Wings of the Condor"

Conservationist Bill Toone's new memoir takes readers on wild rides through jungle treks, across canyon-spanning footbridges, and pole barges as he faced dangerous conditions and difficult politics of conservation. Dr. Grauer became friends with Bill Toone through The Grauer School's conservation work.

Dr. Grauer's Column - Artificial Intelligence And Our Future School

The rapidly expanding reach of AI has the potential to reshape many aspects of our lives, including how students create their academic work. Our teachers are grappling with how to know when students submit original work, an issue that will be magnified when AI bots become even more prevalent and their output becomes more difficult to detect.

Dr. Grauer's Column - Top Tier

High school seniors around the country are in the process of submitting college applications, leading to important decisions about which colleges should they apply to for admission. One of the deciding factors can be whether the school is rated in the "top tier". Does attending a top-rated school lead to happiness for every student?