Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Transformative / holistic / experiential education

This title is key to some of my basic impulses in educational practices and research. It may lie at the heart of my interests and passion for learning/teaching and research. It’s why I am drawn to and inspired by the work being done by Indigenous education scholars in Canada, alongside studies in women’s spirituality education that nourish my path. This work integrates social justice with attention to social-cultural-spiritual development and healing of the human being, who we are, where we come from, and what do we really need to know and learn. It’s about finding and walking one’s way. “Wayfinding” à la curriculum scholar Cynthia Chambers. Narcisse Blood was one such Indigenous teacher (https://vimeo.com/119367676). Sadly, he was killed in a car accident last week. I give my heartfelt condolences and payers to the family, friends, and colleagues of this wise, funny, serious Blackfoot elder, filmmaker, and educator at Red Crow College, Alberta. 

In the university, there can be that most excellent of lectures, the kind that lifts you in thinking and knowing from the professor’s passion, intelligence and delivery of her subject. Oration from the teacher, like Socrates, and elders such as Narcisse (yes, Narcisse and Socrates!) is an ancient path of learning. I love this kind of study. 

I also love the study that comes from good books and reading. My independent reading, in finding the right books (yes, the ones that drop off the shelf for you), has taught me as much as anything I’ve learned in coursework at school. Reading ‘schools’ me, over and over, all the stories and ideas of others, transforming me in their words. It’s reading itself that leads my study of Cixous. And what reading generates for further writing/research in one’s self-development and education. This can ultimately affect the collective human good. Perhaps this encapsulates a history of my own sense of “study” (in the Bill Pinar sense).

Reading, taking contemplative time with texts, re-generating through generations of the human being, “humanitas.” We pass our-selves backwards and forwards in time and space. Though reading is done in a solitary way, it’s a multi-vocal, multi-textual and bodied space. Giving our focused attention in reading, a cacophony of others and ancestors joins us in the collapse of space and time. Cixous, a reader extraordinaire, writes of this over and over. She reminds us how many voices are joined in every single text. Questioning “authorship” in writing, as a ‘stable’ or singular identity. Who is writing? Who joins us in our writing? A nod to the corpus of many.

Going back to my blog title. I didn’t know this writing would take me to the notion of “reading.” Who is guiding this pen/keyboard? My original idea was to write about how important programs and curricula that integrate the “whole” person are, to my own path of study. An integration in learning of mind/body/emotions/spirit. Where I’ve been able to bring my-self, my own fragmented stories and history, sensing into life as education. It’s also why reading Cixous is so alluring for me. She moves across daily life, dreams, memory, place, the enigma of objects (things), people, dialogue, thought-in-itself, literature, in a multi-sensory, reading experience (sens/sang – sense/blood). I think of her as “dakini” Cixous – instant enlightenment! (dakini à la Vicki Noble)

What I set out to say, is that I think it’s so important that education be centred upon, not only factors of good oration, reading and critical analysis - but inclusive of body, emotions, vital life, and spirit of students and teachers. At least it has been for me. How to be vitally engaged with one’s experience and history, and not just the delivery of information – the ‘curse’ of "instrumentalism" identified in curriculum theory. This delivery needs to be a physiologically attuned birth-giving, genuinely midwifed, if we want to feel a connective, relational sense of study. Scholarship is not much without a self-body that lives, breaths and is enhanced by it, an inspirited self-body. It’s hard for the singular teacher to work holistically or transformatively without a programmatic and philosophical structure to midwife and ‘hold’ their work, without colleagues taking on co-leadership together in new ways. Ways that can respond to the political, ecological, economic, and justice challenges of our times.

I think arts-based and life-writing research go in this direction, in a Canadian education context. These are communities of scholars working with and through “wholeness” of life-forms, in practices of social engagement, justice, daily life, culture revival, in artful ways. It’s why I’m drawn to these forms of research. But in itself, research is not enough. There is so much more to a “whole” curriculum of human-making and being. This is best accomplished in collective communities of scholars /educators /learners, who are able to work together analytically, organically, emotionally - responding and creating as needed in our universities and schools. 

My doctoral topic on Women’s Spirituality education was ahead of me in these concerns. It wasn’t specifically the question I set out to ask, but it's part of what I discovered in my inquiry – the necessity of collective creative effort. Over and over I see how this graduate program was such a unique example. A collective of educators /mentors, devoted to feminist scholarship and social justice, in concert with attending to the birth of students' emergent inquiries, blending transformative and holistic education of self /body /emotions /spirit. Interestingly, it was my independent reading that brought me to this program of study. These women were not anyone taught to me in my undergraduate university coursework.

How to focus on the human being in her/his becoming, an ongoing birth. Who is she? What does she bring? Where did she come from? Where is she now? What does she fear and hope for? What does she yearn for, or want and need to know more about?     

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