Place and the Institution

Sarah Rankin


In the year of 1830, Mariano Vallejo made his way North from San Francisco to prevent, by Spanish colonization, further extension of the Russian establishment of Ross. What he found, while pursuing his duties as director of colonization, was a lush and bountiful valley that would become his home, the realization of his dreams, and the place of his humble death in 1890. General Vallejo named the valley, Sonoma, which means Valley of the Moon.

After establishing his home and pueblo with the help of the native people in the area, Vallejo planted crops and kept livestock, eventually expanding his ranch to 60,000 acres, including over one thousand cattle, six hundred horses, and hundreds of acres of wheat crops. He founded the original settlements of both Petaluma and Santa Rosa, California.

The balance in the valley was a delicate one, that of meeting the wishes of his own Spanish colonizers, keeping the peace and finding compromise with the native peoples already here on California soil, and negotiating with the American settlers and officers. It was a balance that few people of this time were capable of finding and a balance that virtually none, besides Vallejo himself were capable of finding in a peaceful and fair manner. Speaking of Vallejo, Zoeth Eldredge (1912), a writer during the time of Vallejo's rise to prosperity, says, "He was untiring in his efforts to settle and develop the Northern frontier and through his wise management and influence with the Indian chiefs the peace of the frontier was rarely broken" (p.348-357).

As with any fair and peaceful leader, the balance is always eventually compromised. Although General Vallejo didn't support Alvarado in his pursuits against Gutierrez, he accepted office under him. Vallejo objected to Sutter's establishment of independent principality over the natives and asked to be relieved of duty. He later broke with Alvarado and the new governor, Micheltorena. As the balance became more skewed in the direction of an unjust government, Vallejo basically cut all ties.

At this point, Vallejo was imprisoned and his land titles were questioned. It was ruled that all of his land and possessions were not legally his. Everything he owned was taken from him.

Always friendly to the immigrants Vallejo exceeded his authority in protecting them, and in this and in openly advocating the cause of the United States, his great influence was always used for the American cause notwithstanding the treatment hie received. One can hardly conceive of a more ungrateful return for the kindness to immigrants and help to Americans than to be seized and confined n a dismal prison by these same immigrants and kept there long after the U.S. authorities had taken possession and the U.S. flag was flying over his prison house. (Eldredge, 1912, p.348-357)

After his eventual release in 1846, Vallejo returned to his rancho in the Sonoma Valley. Here he was met with lawyers and squatters, challenging him to the rights to his only remaining property. In the end, Vallejo was left with only his little home and residence, Lachryma Montis, which translates to Tear of the Mountain.
Vallejo was a member of the constitutional convention and was present in the discussion of the seal of California. Major R.S. Garnett created a design whish was accepted, showing a great bear. Many were angry and protested against a bear being used. General Vallejo said that if the bear was on the seal it should be depicted as under the control of a vaquero with a lasso around its neck.

Depth Psychology is the symbolic study of both the personal and collective unconscious through the use of dream interpretation, active imagination, sandplay, art therapy, and other techniques of "tapping in". While Depth Psychology draws its roots from Jung and core ideas such as the collective unconscious and the archetypes, it, like any other field, is an evolving one and has more recently expanded into the field of sociology and ecology. One new branch is called terrapsychology. "Terrapsychology is the deep study of how the currents of this aliveness, reactivity, interiority, or psychic life of a geographical location and its creatures and features interact with our own" (Chalquist). Terrapsychology draws the necessary connection between self and place in a web of interconnectivity and relationship. Since a school isn't an independent entity, but rather a place within a place I would like to take a closer look at how the events in Vallejo's rise and then fall from power parallel a similar event at the school in which I teach. I will then zoom the lens out a bit and make a connection in the power structure of this elementary school and public schools in America, in general.

Approximately 170 years later and on precisely the same land that General Vallejo toiled and fell, we are met with the same challenges. I am a third grade teacher in Petaluma California at a school called Old Adobe. The school, originally a school for the Mexican farmers' children, is a mile away from the historic landmark called Petaluma Adobe. General Vallejo, with the help of Native American laborers built this adobe in 1834. He named it El Palacio or "the palace". This is how I felt about the elementary school I teach at, when I first started teaching here a year ago.

I had an idealized view of this particular school. There are only thirteen teachers and I felt a closeness that I hadn't felt at any other school of which I've been a part. I, like our principal, viewed the teachers and parents here as capable of harmony and balance, but that soon changed. Rather than assert herself as the dictator of decisions and holder of truth, our principal allowed for equal voice from its members. She established a democratic system of interrelationship in which decisions were made collectively. Like Vallejo, she felt that we could work out our differences democratically.

Because of the open structure of power and a lack of acknowledging the shadow aspects of both the institution and their personal lives, the teachers sought to overthrow the principal. In secret, closed-door, "Teacher Association" meetings, they began to compile a list of petty complaints, including faulty eye contact, abruptness, and weak organization skills. As the meetings continued, the list began to grow and the ill feelings gathered strength. Before many of us were aware of what was happening, the ringleaders of this crazy circus brought the list of complaints to the principal with all of the names of the teachers which we had signed, by implication. Like the paperwork that challenged Vallejo's rights to his land, this document sought to remove our principal from power.

Luckily, by this time, she had found a different administrative job on land that hopefully doesn't hold as much bad blood and with teachers who have hopefully dealt more with the shadow. The point is, without our being aware of what happens when we're not looking and our lack of ownership of those things, a monster is created that takes on a life of its own.

What happens when a person struggles to maintain balance in a group with varying perspectives and ideas of truth? What happens when that person makes the conscious decision to continue the conversation rather than assert his power and dictate control? How do the ensuing overthrow and the maintenance of a supreme power ruling over all parallel the public education system, the system of operation in relationships between teachers, and the system of instruction in the classroom? In this paper I will explore the psychology of the institution by first taking a closer look at the institution itself and then at the teachers and students, all the while attempting to draw a connection between the corruption of power in the institution and the downfall of Vallejo. I will end with some suggestions of how to go about healing the fissures.

There's a depth psychology that affects each person in an institution…It's immensely powerful. A university isn't just a place, and a school isn't just a building. It's a collective system with its own systematic unconsciousness which makes each person in the school unconscious in a collective way, and usually about the institution itself. (Hillman, 1983, 34)

So, the first step is to admit that we are collectively unconscious of the place in which we work as independent from our own separate, individual truth systems, but at the same time fed by the collective truths we either consciously or unconsciously manifest. It is necessary to take a closer look at these truths and the structure itself.

The most apparent one is the dichotomous structure of a school. There is the federal vs. the state, the administration vs. the superintendent, the superintendent vs. the principal, the principal vs. the teachers, the upper grade teachers vs. the lower grade teachers, and the teacher vs. the students. While not all of these relationships are volatile, there is a split, an uneven distribution of power. The split continues in the classroom. There is the keeper of the knowledge vs. the seeker of the knowledge, the smart kid vs. the dumb kid, passing vs. failing, and the right answer vs. the wrong answer. Two questions arise: what are the shadow aspects of these values and where do they stem from?

The first obvious consequence of a dichotomous structure is a severing of relationship. It is all based on a separation of me from you, outside from inside. As a teacher, I am no longer a collaborator in the quest for understanding and knowing, but I am the owner of it and you must seek my answers. While this may seem less apparent at an early age, when we still nurture the children within the children, the older students get, the wider the separation.

"An unusual survey, designed by high school students and administered to their peers in five large cities, has found that most urban teenagers are eager to learn, but don't believe that adults at their school s are interested in what they have to say"(Holfve-Sabel). The survey goes into a breakdown of the students' needs and how and where they are and aren't being met. The lack is found in the rigid, objective relationship between teacher and student, in which the student becomes one number out of hundreds, a test-score statistic, and a story of pass-fail. This parallels the standpoint that the American settlers in early California took towards the native peoples and towards the Spanish colonizers. The Americans held the truth in what should happen to the fertile land in California and the "others" fell to the wayside. The shadow aspect of a system that recognizes one as all-powerful is a feeling of powerlessness in the individual. I will go into the greater structure of how this happens later in the paper.

Another shadow aspect of the worshipping of a dichotomous structure is found in the relationship between students. As a student, kids are pitted against one another and there is a competitive structure in the quest for the divine A, while some fall into the fiery pits of the doomed F. This is parallel to the relationship structure that was established between the Spaniards, the Americans, and the native peoples of early California. There was a separation of humanity in which one's ethnicity determined one's right to the land.
And what does this splitting naturally do to the interpsychic structure of the students? They are left swimming in a sea of uncertainty in which their individual truths are unappreciated and cast aside. The only salvation to a sense of self worth and success is found in the gold star. The shadow aspects of worshipping collective truth is a squelching of individual truth and a death of the mysterious in which there is no numinous reality, no expression of beauty.

Before looking at the greater structure of value and standards-based education in the public school system, I want to take a closer look at the teachers. Just as the students become isolated from one another and even isolated from their true selves, teachers are isolated from one another. Although it does happen and should happen more, teachers rarely collaborate with one another to share ideas and materials. This is because of time constraints and the ridiculous workload placed on teachers. I created a survey and e-mailed it to all of my teacher friends. While I didn't get all of them back (understandably because of the overworking of teachers), here are what some of them had to say when asked, "Which of your strengths are under-utilized in the classroom and what keeps you from using these strengths?":

•"I think we rely too much on prescribed assessment tools and not enough on our observations. Our district expects certain types of documentation and doesn't respect teachers' individual skills in assessing student growth."

• "I feel that many of my philosophies of education are under-utilized in my specific teaching environment due to the culture and organization of the school I work at. I feel that meaningful learning is not really evident where I have worked in the past and now."

• "Time is a common reason for what can't be done. How often do we hear 'I have so much to teach and so little time.' Accountability is scary. Feeling disempowered to make curricular decisions in the classroom can be an issue. NCLB demands have influenced public school structures at all levels."

• "I have left the classroom because most districts have a 'test score' mentality and are now dictating approaches to be used. I feel that kids are treated like numbers and teachers are not free to be their most creative selves. The public school is not geared towards meeting and enlivening the individual child. The same applies to its teachers."

• "The public school structure which is more and more driven by standardization rather than individualization has very little room for encouraging students to become independent, self-taught thinkers. Continued pressure to attach success to test scores which only tell us what children don't know and can't do instead of measuring what children do know and can do in the classrooms which foster true success and competence."

The fault is not on the teachers or the principals or the administrators or the children themselves, but on a flawed system. Hillman talks about various scholars examining extreme abuses of power such as that of the Nazi regime and finding surprising results as to what creates such a distortion.

…evil is not what one expects: cruelty, moral perversion, power abuse, terror. These are its instruments or its results. But the deepest evil in the totalitarian system is precisely that which makes it work: programmed, single-minded monotonous efficiency; bureaucratic formalism, the dulling daily service, standard, boring, letter-perfect, generalities, uniform. No thought and no responsiveness. Eichmann. Form without anima becomes formalism, conformism, formalities, formulas, office-forms without luster, without the presence of body, letters without words, corporate bodies without names. All the while beauty is sequestered into the ghetto of beautiful things: museums, the ministry of culture, classical music, the dark room in the parsonage-Aphrodite imprisoned. (Hillman, 1997, p.62)

Hillman's description of the Nazi regime seems dangerously similar to public school system. Unless teachers do something about this gap between what is expected from us at what is essentially a federal level, we are the monsters that eats its young. We are the creator of the right and wrong, the person who determines self-worth in that little growing child, and the severer of relationship between our students, each other, and our own hearts.

Most of us, as teachers, know about this gap. We just choose to do nothing about it. Or, we shift it in a new direction. Like the teachers at my school, rather than own what we know to be our role in a flawed system, we shift it to the principal and wash our hands clean of the blood. If we own it, then it's up to us to create change. We recognize the soul-lessness of the system, but we remain subjugated to it to avoid admitting this monster is mine.

What then do we do about it? How do we begin to create change? Jung would tell us to hold the tension of the opposites: the opposites of what is expected and what we can do everyday in the classroom. An alchemist would tell us to blend these two things together and form a conjunctio in which the elements mix together to form prima materia, that which animates all life. I tell myself that I must invite Aphrodite into the classroom. I must allow for times of free exploration and play. I must bring back an appreciation for individual truth through whatever means. I must allow for mystery and for the numinous to live again. If the bear is indeed the symbol of introspection and individual truth, then in following Vallejo's suggestion that it should have a lasso around its neck, I am the vaquero who holds it.


Hillman, J. (1981). The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World. Connecticut: Spring Publications.

Chalquist, C. (2006) Terrapsychology: Rengaging the Soul of Place. Spring Journal Books (in press).

Hofve-Sabel, M. (n.d.). Attitudes Towards School, Teacher, and Classmates at Classroom and Individual Levels: An Application of Two-Level Confirmatory Factor Analysis. Retrieved May 2, 2006, from

Eldredge, Z. (n.d). General Mariano G. Vallejo (1808-1890). Retrieved May 2, 2006, from

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