using heart-knowing and head- knowing together
to deepen teacher reflective practice
within a spiritualizing model of pedagogy
Imagination grasps experience ….. as growth of
meaning develops through action.
John Dewey, quoted in Alexander
(1987 p. 261–2)
To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.
William Blake from The Auguries of Innocence lines 1- 4
Contents of Chapter 4
4:1 – Introduction – getting the partners, ‘reason’ and 196
‘the mystical’ to dance.
4:2 – Suggested process in using the MCD (Mandala 206
Contemplation Diagram) with teachers, student
4:3 – Meaning-making as an example of getting the 210
conceptual and the mystical to dance
4:4 – Further reflections on meaning and its 215
making, via ‘reasoning-conceptual and
mystical ‘dialogue’ – utilizing the MCD process.
4:5 – Matters of synergy – the elements, in SunWALK, 227
and the 4Cs, working together
4:6 – Conclusion to Chapter 4 230
D 4:1 – ‘Mandala’ Contemplation Diagram (MCD) 200
D 4:2 – MCD: showing worked example of meaning-making 214
within SunWALK as the topic
4.1 – Introduction getting the partners, ‘reason’ and ‘the mystical’, dancing
‘Engaging Connections’, addresses how a teacher might use the key idea of switching back and forth between ‘heart-knowing’ (‘subjective-creative-mystical’) and ‘head-knowing’ (‘objective-reasoning-scientific’ knowing) as a process to help deepen reflection on teaching.
This is a new application of the same process used with children and adults, in which the learner is given alternative engagement with philosophical enquiry and creative expression, with as many repeated ‘cycles’, as time, learner interest, and professional judgement indicates is appropriate. Here the teacher, it is suggested, uses this head-heart-head-heart switching technique as a way to deepen her/his preparation, management and evaluation of any topic chosen to be taught. Emphasis is given to the contemplative, and creative, counterbalance to ‘objective-reasoning-scientific’ knowing.
As an aid to the reflective process of engaging, and developing, new and deeper connections, a Mandala Contemplation Diagram is suggested, as a useful visual reminder, when dealing with any topic, to:
1. keep one’s ‘Sun’ and values in mind,
2. do this partly through the means of some form of contemplation method,
3. develop key propositions relating to the task at hand,
4. keeping 3 connected to 1, through 2.
The topic of ‘meaning-making’ is used since it is the key idea unifies the other organizing principles, in SunWALK and the 4CS, as a suggested model of spiritualizing pedagogy. First however I address how the evolution of methodology and structure have continued to figure strongly in the writing of the thesis.
Solving evolving problems in methodology and structure
The place of methodology generally, and the SunWALK model as a particular methodology, has emerged more and more strongly as the story of the thesis has developed. Within this long process, nothing has been so testing as finding appropriate ways to structure the model and its presentation. From the autobiographical angle, out of the eleven years I have spent on the process leading to this thesis, it feels as though ten have been taken up in trying to find the most appropriate structures! In addition to my own deficiencies, several factors contributed to this key problem. Partly this has been because I had a hiatus in being connected to a university and partly because the supervision was changed so many times. Partly it was because of difficulties that arise from the subject chosen – it required cutting across, and calling upon, not just more aspects of a field than is usual in a PhD, but cutting across many fields including: Philosophy for Children, the teaching of English, the arts and aesthetics, Baha’i Studies, Religious Studies, Religious Education, Autobiographic and Narrative Studies. I consequently now find myself jettisoning nine tenths of the material I have collected, and twelve out of the planned sixteen chapters. But the main difficulty I see as centring around two issues.
Firstly, from a very early stage, there was my feeling that for a reader to judge the worth of a sub-argument I needed her/him to have a Gestalt of the whole – because it is different to many theses and, necessarily, wide ranging. Major structural, or theoretical, problems often took a year or longer to emerge, and often took a similar period of time to get resolved. Problematic though it was to have five supervisors, most brought a solution or two to particular problems. This ‘need for a gestalt’ problem eventually got solved by including a ‘one sentence’ version, as early as the first two pages of the Introduction. This, and the summary in Chapter 5, makes getting a gestalt easier.
The second, related, major challenge arose from very strong tension between advocacy of the holistic on the one hand and the inevitable linearity of a thesis on the other. This was solved partly by my accepting the inevitable – that the holistic, and even the ineffable, for a thesis, have to be written about in the linearity of writing and concepts.
The tension was also helped through my eventual realization of the spiritual and/or religious centring on the mystical, and that I had to have worked out my ideas on this, with some appropriate voice and content for it to resonate appropriately for me and, I hope, for the reader. Therefore I wrote Chapter 3 and included the personal myth Island, Shoreline Ocean as the mystical co-equivalent of the ‘creative’ pieces, poems and short story. In this way I had another way to allude to experience other than the conceptual.
The Mandala Contemplation Diagram (MCD) as a structural and methodological aid for teacher reflection
The use of the ‘Mandala’ Contemplation Diagram (MCD) also helped to demonstrate that the mystical has been placed at the centre (of this sub-model). The MCD helps deal with how, as part of planning, managing and evaluation the teacher might bring together the propositional (the lineal, and ‘left brain’) and the ‘Sun’ of her/his beliefs and values, and indeed the immanent ‘voice of God’, at the centre of her/his being (see diagram below p. 200).
Although the MCD is only the re-application of an ancient ‘device’ its value lies in a) the externalization of propositional thought sequences, along with the employment of mystical-contemplative-heart-knowing, which includes the intuitive, to b) see the two in graphically presented dynamic relationship.
The MCD also places lineal language into a context of the imagistic, a reversal of the dominant position that it normally has. It invites treating the propositional via contemplation, or deep meditation.1
The relationship and encounter that we can have with the Whole, i.e. mystical experience, gives rise to the view that the ultimate context in which we teach and learn is mystery. This is either mystery in the sense of potential within us that is yet to be manifested, or Mystery in the sense of the unknowableness of the Whole of God’s Creation (and certainly of the Godhead). Both of these, I suggest contribute to the ultimate context in which we teach, and to the sacred nature of education. (Logically it is reasonable to suppose, on past experience, that there is more to know than is known, but the deeper m/Mystery is a matter of faith, accepted from one or more of the Messengers of God, Christ, Muhammad, Baha’u’llah etc.). I would hope that some will see the re-sacralization of education as an essential part of a more general re-sacralization. To stay conscious of mystery both as that which is yet to be made known, and mystery as God, I suggest is essential in any re-sacralization, or in making pedagogy spiritualizing.
This ‘ultimate context’ of m/Mystery, is seen as a conditioning influence that can benefit children, either as an explicit contribution or as an implicit one, through being part of what nurtures a sense of humility, reverence, wonder, or a sense of the sacred – it doesn’t have to be burdened with doctrines. Perhaps it can also be said to help create psycho-spiritual ‘space’ into which the children can grow. As a conditioning awareness it suggests something similar to mindfulness, or awareness of God’s presence, (for theists). For the non-believer, staying aware of the values they hold most dear creates such a context for growth. In an appropriate classroom context I would use the idea of the Mandala Contemplation Diagram (see below) explicitly. As an example, if the learners were using literary practical criticism, or PFC, I would get them to take up a contemplative stance to their own sequences of propositions (see example below), or get them to imagine the effect of a character’s values on her/his thinking. Whether the teacher is a believer, or not, it is not their right to impose their more personal beliefs. Teacher spirituality has the purpose of helping keep the individual whole (along with sexuality, holidays, re-creation etc). If it doesn’t help the teacher to be more just, truth-bearing, beauty-creating and good to be with, along with a sense of infinite wonder, then it isn’t working.
A ‘blank version of the MCD, looks like this in Diagram 4:1:
Diagram 4:1 – ‘Mandala’ Contemplation Diagram (MCD)
– a teacher reflection aid (for planning, managing and evaluating), where teachers seek to live their values more fully in their practice, through using heart-knowing, and chosen form of contemplation, to
see more insightfully into any selection of chosen theory or content
Commentary on the use of the Mandala Contemplation Diagram (MCD) and its relationship to the SunWALK model and its underpinning ideas
The MCD is a more refined presentation of an aspect of the teaching style that I have developed with children over the last decade. The switching back and forth between head and heart, left-brain and right-brain, the propositional and the creative-contemplative created a very powerful form of learning, in my experience.
There are two major components in the MCD diagram. Firstly there is the sequence of boxes for conceptual content which I call ‘a sequence of key propositions’ – the number, here is eight, but it could be more or fewer. Most of the time they would be chosen as concepts and propositions that are seen as key to the subject under ‘discussion’. The second is the individual’s chosen view of the mystical, for a believer, and her/his highest-order values if not – i.e. the Sun in the SunWALK model.
The task is to bring whatever is the ‘Sun’ to bear upon consideration of the sequence of propositions. Had I the space I would work this through all of the ten organizing elements within SunWALK and the 4Cs – and some of the permutations between the organizing elements. The elements, and the individual propositions, could each be considered in the light of each other – though the number of permutations would be rather large. Consequently here I have presented one representative example, namely meaning and its making. I will deal with other examples in later work.
The sequences of propositions placed in the MCD diagram’s boxes are determined by whatever the individual is dealing with – e.g. a new course, policy, book chapter, or simply considering some lesson content. As such they are key notions, and choosing or sequencing them will depend on the context. For example the lessons on the CD were an exploration of key ideas to do with ‘story’, and I was doing ‘applied’ PFC, i.e. PFC in service of aims and concerns within the teaching of English. Therefore if I were using the MCD in relation to story the choice of propositions would depend on the age and needs of the class – for example whether the group were children, or teachers. A variation is to involve the class in the research on, and choice of, the sequence of propositions – e.g. starting with, “What is wisdom?” “What are the most important things that people have said about wisdom?” “Can everyone be wise?” etc. The Year 8 class on the CD could certainly handle this kind of work. The propositions could also be determined via a PFC lesson. Other, less elevated or abstract concerns could include the challenges in siting a new airport, which endangered animals should be saved and why, football violence, what art makes a difference, etc. Of course the MCD ‘method’ is simply a ‘tool’ to assist in the general teaching process.
What goes in the boxes within the various sub-model versions of the Mandala Contemplation Diagram would also be consulted over by each school, department and each teacher and class – if the idea is to build up an accumulation of ideas, content and practice. In a sense the MCD process is a more formal way of doing what I think happens when PFC participants are quietly reflective when others are speaking – I felt that some of the children were quite deeply meditative at times. The formal approach however makes us look more closely at the flow from the propositional to the contemplative and vice versa. In doing this in a group one would also be switching back and forth between the group making of meaning and one’s own personal meaning. (Which is possibly why PFC seems to be such a powerful boost to creativity.)
The ideas that go into the sequences of propositions shouldn’t be arbitrary. For example, in my worked example (see below) I would want to argue for the elements that are in the one sentence version of the model. I would want to argue that meaning-making is a defining characteristic of being human, individually and in groups, and should be seen as absolutely vital to how we construe education. But a school’s ongoing development of how it can enrich teachers’ understanding of meaning, and pupils’ experience and command of meaning, will inevitably be unique. If a college or school wants to include, or exclude, Hanfling et al, (1987), on meaning, that’s fine. (All of this could form part of professional development e.g. a school-based MA in Holistic Education Studies). If a group such as a Department, wants to increase experiential work, that’s fine. But deeply meaningful experience is, so I would continue to argue, what transforms the pupil’s or student’s depth of commitment, engagement, and the quality of the work produced. Depth of experience and (positive) meaning-full-ness is the antidote to the diseases of shallowness, superficiality, and alienation. The process then could extend from the classroom into teacher planning, reflection and evaluation, or into a whole-school approach (see also the Dualities instrument in the Appendices) and then into the community.
The process, of which the MCD is a suggested part, is one of mutual feedback between the critical and the creative. (‘Caring’ is both a conditioner of the process, and frequently the subject matter – in texts and contexts.)
Here, in the meaning-making worked example, (see below) the content of the sequences of propositions is the product of many cycles of contemplation-reasoning-creativity-reasoning-contemplation, etc. Children, and adults, will vary greatly as to whether they have considered a topic in the light of a set of values.
The process, of which the MCD is a formalised part, could be used by teachers, or classes, as a way of intensifying the bringing together of ‘heart-knowing’ (‘subjective-creative-mystical’) and ‘head-knowing’ (‘objective-reasoning-scientific’ knowing).2 In this the head ‘feeds’ the heart and vice versa, repeating the cycle as many times as seems appropriate – for example a PFC session, with participants having a blank of the MCD diagram could engender feeling to be expressed via an art form. Conversely a piece of art could provide the starting question for another PFC session. The MCD can be used in class, or privately, or both. When working with children it is better to not be too formulaic, whilst still pushing for intensity of experience – adding yet another stage to the head-heart-head-heart cycle might simply be inappropriate – at the end of a half-term for example, or when tiredness calls for variety.3
The process is a reciprocal one through which we go more deeply into whatever is the subject – it is the personal version of the dialogic, as in Abdu’l-Baha’s (1972 pp.173-176) ‘method’ as described in the ‘Illuminati’ talk (see Appendix K):
In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed.
(‘Abdu’l-Baha (1972) Paris Talks p. 173-1764)
In the hurly-burly of daily teaching the business of ‘contemplative re-working’ might be a few snatched moments, or the drive to, or home from, work but, ideally, teachers should have the opportunity for professional retreats and sabbaticals.
The MCD for ‘believers’ shows the Infinite as within and that is appropriate to the notion of the immanent God. In Baha’i scripture the God immanent is indicated thus:
Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.
(Baha’u’llah (1932/1975) The Hidden Words, p.13)
In contemplation we are turning to God immanent.
Amongst the large number of Baha’i references to the transcendence of God is this:
To every discerning and illuminated heart it is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the Divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery. He is, and hath ever been, veiled in the ancient eternity of His Essence, and will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight of men.
(Baha’u’llah (1949) Gleanings, pp.46-47)
The line around the inner ‘Sun’ circle in the MCD indicates any contemplative process that an individual might adopt to condition the process of inter-relation of her/his beliefs and values, at the centre, and the sequences of propositions with which s/he is dealing. However it can also be thought of as the equivalent of the shoreline in the ISO personal myth, because at the individual’s centre stands, immanently, the infinite God (see ‘Hidden Word’ on previous page).
God is seen as within, as well as without, so at the centre, even if our perception is clouded with egotism, we are connected with God as ‘Abdu’l-Baha explained to a Doctor Forel: The mind is circumscribed, the soul limitless (Abdu’l-Baha: Tablet to August Forel, Page: 8)5. Anything that is limitless must be of God, not of an imperfect human.
The ‘shoreline’ is the most dynamic ‘place’, situated between the whole and the parts, the Ocean and the garden. In resting there a while we stand to see if we can hear what God is saying. We stand as between to magnets – the Whole and the parts. From the shoreline we return to go and dig a little more our garden on the little island of knowledge that we, with others, inhabit – inspired if our hearing was pure, with some inspiration.
The MCD has provided me with a more formalized means of reflecting upon the conceptual, via a sense of the non-conceptual – this came in the process of developing the thesis, and is seen as a way for ensuring that the spiritual is implicit, and explicit, in the whole of the business of teaching. I will continue use of the process, and of course others can use the same model and processes – for example in teacher education. The model could be used as part of a way of re-professionalizing (and re-sacralizing?) the job of the teacher. Those that are believers can develop a version of ‘beyond the conceptual’ that best expresses for them the dynamics of their Sun – ‘sense of the whole’, heart-knowing or as the tree of contemplation at
http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/tree2.html suggests ‘communion, connection and awareness’. Those that are not believers can develop a form of heart-knowing that they deem most important – through which to explore their chosen sequences of propositions, for teaching their own pupils or students.
The 4Cs, as ‘embodiments’ of the core values of truth, beauty, goodness and justice, and as a dynamic framework, could enable teachers to think clearly about the tasks of teaching and learning. Exploring the contemplative, heart-knowing, and use of the MCD has been a solution for me to the long-running technical challenge of appropriately relating and modelling the conceptual with that which is beyond the conceptual. The MCD removes propositions from a wholly linear form and places them visually in a single ‘image’ so that the eye can go back and forth between propositions, and whatever is the representation of the mystical. A more iconic form of the MCD could have an image of a sun, or perhaps a sun illuminating a path. The MCD process is seen as serving a stage between deep meditation that, in my chosen metaphor, goes back to the ‘white light’, and to ‘pondering on’ something – i.e. contemplation.
The MCD was created to help me in the autobiographical conversion of my experience into a model that represents my values and beliefs. Its use, and exposition, here is seen as a part of an applied autoethnographic approach to help ‘walk the talk’ – to help ‘translate’ from reflection on autobiography of the self, and its spiritualization in education, into steps in a practical approach.
Should the MCD be used with others I now suggest in the next section, a possible sequence of steps.
4.2 – Suggested process in using the MCD with teachers, student teachers, youth workers etc.
The process is seen as valuable in any unit of work that requires planning, reflection or evaluation, any work that can benefit from asking the question, ‘How do I live my values more fully in my practice’? Based on having worked in this way on many occasions with children and with adults I suggest:
1) providing a general introduction and explanation.
2) a) as an individual – considering a passage, or sequence of passages or, b) as a group – conducting a PFC session – for example using this statement from Heschel (1971 p.8):
Citizens of two realms, we must all sustain dual allegiance: we sense the ineffable in one realm; we name and exploit reality in another. Between the two we set up a system of references, but can never fill the gap. They are as far and as close to each other as time & calendar, as violin and melody, as life and what lies beyond the last breath.
plus my Island Shoreline Ocean personal myth. (Or experience might indicate using just the personal myth on its own – or some other combination).
3) set a creative challenge, e.g. on writing the first draft of a personal myth.
4) if there is time do another PFC session using one of the
personal myths written by the students.
5) arrange for as much experiential exploration of
contemplative techniques as possible – ‘breath’ meditation, walking meditation, ‘candle’ meditation, using a mandala meditation, e.g. using a more pictorial form of the MCD (see http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/tree2.html).
6) then ask students to develop statements – anything from a statement that constitutes a model of the mystical, as in my Chapter 3, through to a simple statement that says ‘I would see that upholding justice, truth beauty and goodness is supreme for me’. They could then suggest which contemplative forms they would prefer to use, or they could be shown a simple form. If there is time I ask them to try to work in pairs and fours to see what composite statements are revealed beyond individual efforts.
7) then get them to do a PFC session on one or a composite of their statement/s concerning the non-conceptual/mystical.
8) then, if time permits, get them to produce a creative piece in response to the PFC session – connecting with or re-drafting their initial piece of personal myth.
9) then ask them to work out a ‘sequence of propositions’ on whatever is appropriate – anything from the very broad as in ‘the characteristics of a good teacher’ to the very specific as in ‘explain how you would use the ballad poem, by Charles Causley, about the murder of Charlotte Dymond as a radio play, in order to strengthen and extend 11 to 12 year old, mixed ability students, command of:- narrative, direct and indirect speech, sequence in narrative, transliterative skills etc. etc. I developed and taught this unit for several years – a marvellous poem and topic for Year 7 pupils.
10) then ask the students to use their contemplative approach to modify their mode of awareness in a way that may, as a side effect deepen their understanding of their sequence of propositions, so that
a) the work as they envision it is as far as possible in tune with their ‘values self’ and more importantly, b) what insights the contemplative treatment yields. It is possible that this oscillation between the critical and the creative might serve better those who are asking, “How can I live more fully my values in my practice?” than a more conventional approach.
11) Ideally at this point the students, assuming here adult students, should, if appropriate, go and teach their sequence of propositions. To illustrate this I have produced a sub-model of propositions about ‘story’ that I could have used with my Year 8 class, see the CD, or that I could use with teachers.
12) The students could then make presentations of what, how, why, and when things went well, or the opposite and what insights were yielded – and where they see those insights as coming from, in terms of the process as a whole. In fact my experience is that the critical and the creative when used in this way reach such heights that the two start to ‘overlap’ – the critical becomes creative and the creative enables critical insights, or they meld to some extent. It was in a supposedly criticality lesson, PFC, that the boy offered up his interpretation of the two fishes – ‘one represents bounded imagination and the other unbounded imagination’ (see page 48 and Appendix F, and CD).
13) Final reflections could then be written up about how, when, and where, why, yoking the critical and the creative contributed to progress, or any opposites, in answering particular applications of How do I live my values more fully in my practice?
14) If students, or pupils, had kept journals or had produced other work, a celebration of learning, including an exhibition or performances, could then round off the whole piece of learning.
The most important value of the MCD, therefore is as a means to support the use of a contemplative approach in all stages of teaching and learning – in a way that aids reflection by formalising, ‘externalising’ or objectifying responses. This, of course, assumes that the teacher has the luxury of time sufficient for that. Alternatively it can be used as a means of somewhat quicker evaluation, to ask ‘whether or not week by week I am managing to embody my primary relationship, e.g. the presence of God and His love, and that the values that flow from that relationship, in the teaching, and content and challenges that I’m providing for the learners.’ A copy of the MCD stuck on the teacher’s own board, or fridge at home might prompt a touch of psycho-spiritual balancing, in order to stay grounded and holistic!
This feeling of bringing the contemplative to the process of being a teacher is seen as vital for the development of pedagogy that is spiritualizing. Given the materialistic and mechanistic nature of contemporary Western education – at least in the UK and US, it is almost impossible for a teacher to function in a way that includes the contemplative – unless it is some form of quick fix stress relief. However this thesis, whilst rooted in the chalk dust of the real and now, is idealistic in presupposing that some time, some where, some schools will be able to develop the principles laid out, in a more unfettered, and supported, way. If this description too seems extreme just look at the story of The Booroobin Sudbury School in Australia – this account came in just the day before I wrote this! (see Appendix H).
Two North Americans, the US Quaker, Parker Palmer (1993) and the Canadian Professor John Miller (1994, 2000) have presented well the contemplative in teaching. Miller has worked with undergraduates and post-graduates using contemplative approaches, and Palmer has opened up the whole idea of teaching as a sacred process. However over the last few years the Centre for Contemplative Mind in Society has supported the development of a wide range of Higher Education courses involving contemplative approaches – (see http://www.contemplativemind.org). The diversity of contemplative approaches can be seen in the ‘tree’ of contemplative practices at:
http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/tree2.html. (see Appendix I)
About the tree, the Centre for Contemplative Mind in Society (ibid.) says:
On the Tree of Contemplative Practices, the root symbolizes the two intentions that are the foundation of all contemplative practices: cultivating awareness and developing a stronger connection to one’s inner wisdom and/or the divine/God. The root encompasses and transcends differences in the religious traditions from which many of the practices originated, and allows room for new practices that are being created in secular contexts.
The branches represent the different groupings of practices. For example, Stillness Practices focus on quieting the mind and body in order to develop stillness and stability. Generative Practices come in many different forms (i.e. prayers, visualizations, chanting) but share the common intent of generating feelings of devotion and compassion.
Each of the branches has a number of leaves, which are the specific practices. Just as on a tree, the leaves may fall to the ground, become compost and nurture the tree, and eventually take the form of leaves on other branches. In the same way, these contemplative practices inform one another and may often be combined. For example, groups may start a meeting with a few minutes of silence and then move into a council circle.
Intention is a key factor. Many activities not included on the Tree (gardening, practicing a musical instrument, taking a bath) could be considered contemplative practice when done with the intent of cultivating awareness and developing a stronger connection to God/Spirit and/or one’s inner wisdom.’ (RPs italics)
The Tree of Contemplative Practices (see Appendix I
http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/tree2.html.) shows seven groupings of no fewer than 40 such practices. Some people of course work exclusively with one practice over a long period of time. Some, like myself, work with several or a combination of such practices. Many of these practices could find acceptable forms for use in schools. There currently are some risks in trying to introduce contemplative practices – potential negativity includes responses such as ‘schools should concentrate on intellectual stuff’, ‘We don’t want funny foreign stuff being taught’, ‘It’s not Christian’, ‘It’s religious!’ etc. Another risk is shallowness. Meditation as simply relaxation is good but not sufficient. Ways need to be found to connect such physical preparation to ideas – hence my emphasis on PFC and on creative work – it all needs to provide connected experience that leads to connections being made! Another issue is how strongly people feel about what is or is not meditation, and what is or is not acceptable in teaching children, as I found out when attending meetings of the Meditation in Education group. One good outcome of the group was the book Meditation in Schools edited by Erricker and Erricker (2001). See also Teaching Meditation to Children by David Fontana and Ingrid Slack (1997).
The only school that I have come across that uses a simple form of connecting to the whole/Whole, to settle to a more contemplative mind, prior to tackling each lesson, is St James school in London –
http://www.stjamesschools.co.uk/jboygirl.html. Having experienced the simple centring that the St James school staff, and the school’s supporters use, I see it as a way to re-connect with the sense of the Whole, and with the here and now. A few moments of quiet centring, and then of bringing of the pupil/student into the here and now, from a sense of the Whole, cannot be a bad thing at the start of lessons – it helps remind us of the contexts – human and divine – in which we are striving to learn and teach. (School assemblies may once have had such an aim – and still do in some denominational schools).
Next I apply the idea of the MCD to one of the organizing principles in the SunWALK model. This achieves two objectives. Firstly to present a worked example and secondly to explore as the ‘subject’ chosen meaning and its making, perhaps the most important single one of the organizing principles in the SunWALK model itself.
4.3 – Meaning-making as an example of getting the conceptual-reasoning and ‘the mystical’ to ‘dance’.
The eight items in the sequences of propositions are representative, and not comprehensive or exhaustive – but they are as ‘key’ as I can muster – an aim I would suggest to anyone else using the idea. Similarly I personally prefer to work the contemplative-mystical wing of the model on a Baha’i-Perennial Philosophy–inter-faith basis, but it could be done by an individual or community that can only accept a more closed set of teachings. For the non-religionist all that is necessary as a minimum is a deep respect for some sort of sense of the ‘whole’ and/or subscription to justice, truth beauty and goodness, etc. – as cardinal, higher-order, values. It is these cardinal values that are seen, along with the Golden Rule, as being the central common ground through which we can ‘grow’ unity, between communities. There is one other cardinal concern: the recognition that whatever we say about God, or Ultimate Reality, is inevitably, finite, imperfect and subjective. Therefore what has been called the ‘make-wrong’ syndrome (the compulsion to de-legitimize all views different to ones own, or the ‘chosen’ group) needs to be mightily resisted, and freedom of conscience and the expression of that conscience upheld (see Abdu’l-Baha, PUP, p.197), in order to provide the preventative, and antidote, to the terrible scourge of fundamentalism – the main message to come out of Vardy’s (2003) excellent book What is Truth: Beyond Postmodernism and Fundamentalism. Other diseases that the model sets itself against are cynicism and what Abbs (see Abbs 2003 p.151) has called ‘monotone irony’ (where the voice of the artist is so often some kind of ‘smart-Alec’ parody).
The ideas therefore that I have drawn into the conceptual are a representative pattern and sequence that I have held to be important, often over a long period of time – but I can see continuing evolution in my own thought – through the dialectic of consultation and philosophical inquiry with others. This process could be part of appropriate democratization of a school, with ways and means for pupils, teachers, governors, parents and members of the wider community to be involved – in respecting differences but also in developing practical underpinning theory, policies and practices based on common-ground arrived at through sympathetic consultation.
The remainder of the chapter consists of an exploration of the first, and most important, of the organizing principles namely ‘meaning-making’. The organizing principles, as set out on the first two pages of Chapter 1, are seen in SunWALK as the preeminent truths for developing education, and all other elements are seen as being secondary to them. They are seen collectively, and individually as a magnet that ‘harmonizes’ the ‘iron filings’ of the fragments, the information, the separate ideas.6 The making of meaning is the chief ‘force’ in the harmonizing of the other principles, and in the inner integrity, and the outer community of people – providing that that meaning is based on such values as being positive, life-enhancing, inclusive, respectful of differences.
I should remind the reader that the physical dimension is seen as vital in SunWALK. By physical I mean that dance, PE, drama and games can enable meaning to be constructed through the physical agency of the body, as well as being constructed intellectually and spiritually. The physical presents another dimension, or form, for the balanced expression of the 4Cs. All major work in a school should have a daily physical-expressive dimension, as well as short fun sessions of energizing exercises.
Meaning and meaning-making are chosen for the worked example of the propositional-contemplative because it is central to the model and to the view of what it is to be human. As with my model as a whole, it contains belief assertions that others may or may not share.
Below is the MCD with a sequence of eight propositions. The propositions are important to me, but not sacrosanct, and others could have been chosen. I have sequenced them so that they ‘flow’ reasonably well each into the one following. However there is no completely necessary sequence and it would be an interesting exercise to see how individuals in a group would choose to sequence them, and for what reasons.
Diagram 4:2 – ‘Mandala’ Contemplation Diagram (MCD)
– a teacher reflection aid (planning, managing and evaluating), where teachers seek to live their values more fully in their practice, through using their heart-knowing, and chosen form of contemplation, to
see more insightfully into any selection of chosen theory or content
Diagram 4:2 showing worked example of meaning-making within SunWALK as the topic
Retrospectively I realize that the critical-creative-critical process, or heart-head-heart, or intuitive-propositional-intuitive process, represented in the MCD diagram, was also how, intuitively, the SunWALK model has evolved as a subjective expression, with possible ‘objective’ value. There is a special value in separating out the 3Cs, just as there is a special value in objectifying propositional knowing and our contemplative responses. The special value in the case of the former makes clearer the three voices of engagement. In the case of the latter, the value lies in objectifying the subjective and subjectifying the objective.
4.4 – Further reflections on meaning and its making, via ‘reasoning-conceptual and mystical ‘dialogue’ – utilizing the MCD process.
Methodologically, I first wrote down or found a list of propositions. Then I selected those (eight) that I saw as the key propositions. Some were inspired by those who ‘feed me’ spiritually, Heschel etc., and some were directly coined, contemplatively. The process quickly becomes difficult to trace in terms of the origin of an idea or a feeling – how did it shift back and forth between the propositional and the contemplative? – but it doesn’t matter providing a general deepening is happening The important point is that we do switch back and forth between our Creative and Critical modes, and in education we should make the modes clearer and more conscious, and support the ‘dance’ in as many ways as possible. These include ‘language arts’, fine arts and the physical dimension via dance, drama and movement generally.
Where several teachers are involved, there should be co-operation to provide children with opportunities to ‘read’ or create via as many different approaches as possible, and thereby go deeper into the ‘subject’ and into the self.
The importance lies in deliberately putting your self, or those you teach, back and forth into one the modes of the ‘subjective-creative-mystical’ and the ‘objective-reasoning-scientific’. The third mode of ‘social-others-centred’ is operative, often as issues around how all the participants relate to each other, and, secondly, as content. Each switch can intensify the succeeding step and opens up possibilities for the succeeding step. For the subject matter here, I have prayerfully and contemplatively re-considered the propositions concerning ‘meaning and its making’. Below I give account of that reflection – ‘so far’ – for any closure on such matters is premature! This openness, including openness to where a lesson or dialogue might go, is by definition where true education lies, as opposed to training or indoctrination (see Abbs 1992 p.3).
The first assertion or principle of the one-sentence version of the SunWALK model is that it is in making meaning that we are human, and, following Heschel, it is also in finding the meaning for which we are made (or, in a non-theistic way of putting it, which expresses and harmonises with one’s deepest nature), that we become fully and positively human. For Heschel (1959), meaning is not just constructed, it is ontologically, existentially, and divinely there in the reality of God being in search of (hu)man(ity). For Heschel, it is a matter of allowing God to find us, for us to realize that meaning, that context in which ontologically, existentially, and divinely we are – by virtue of Him. I am compelled to acknowledge this. As to the argument that humans can make dark meaning, as in the case of the Nazis, my argument is that it is only by teaching in the light of the best that has been thought and said, that we can exert the good. Everything in SunWALK is predicated on the teacher and the school taking all opportunities to make the core values clear, and make clear why they are important, and what are the consequences when they no longer prevail.
For myself I have felt that there is nothing to do but bow and weep at the beauty and greatness of Heschel and his divine poetic philosophy, he who in addition to writing divinely also walked divinely – “I felt as though my feet were praying” – he said about walking at Selma in 19957 with Martin Luther King. Consequently it was years before I could consider the idea of critiquing any of his ideas. But eventually I have come to believe an apparent difference or two, as compared to the writings of the great man. For example, my belief is that God wishes to contribute to His fullest reflection of Himself through each individual’s (positive) meaning-making, as well as developing us in the realization of the meaning that ontologically, existentially, and divinely ‘is’ – as revealed in the teachings of the Founders of the Great world religions. In other words, God works through my, and your, subjectivity – as well as through His Revelations. This, apparently, is also part of the teaching of Ibn Arabi for whom diversity points to ‘Him’ as much as does Unity (see Clark 2001). Therefore, I suggest, that we are created to construct meaning, as well as discover it. Discovered truth comes through science, and the revealed truth comes as a matter of Revelation – but not just as the revealed Word of God, from the Holy Messengers, but also via the sincere ordinary mortal in the form of insights from the meditational-poetic-mystical capacities.
Religiously, I see subjectively constructed meaning, as an account of the viewpoints on the journey through which we come up to the realization that there is only God, there is only the Whole – and autobiography pursued sufficiently rigorously whilst adhering to cardinal principles might well take us toward that realization – this is only a final destination if we think it is (in which case it isn’t and we are in serious jeopardy!). This I think is the purpose of Baha’u’llah’s Seven Valleys (1991), and other such ‘Sufi’ pieces. At the very least, ‘ultimate’ realization is served by the uniqueness of realizations at each station on the journey. The way itself is toward the understanding that there is a journey but no final destination that completes everything.
Both the scientific and the revelatory offer up insights into reality. Small realizations lead toward ultimate realization, both via the empirical-reasoning route, or via the heart-knowing route. How happy parents or teachers are when the child paints a bird as well as when s/he says ‘bird’ when pointing at a bird. But the subjective creative-mystical is equally important and needs comparable support. Looking for ‘teaching moments’ is vital here as elsewhere – for both parents as well as teachers, and great sensitivity is needed to ensure that the teaching doesn’t destroy the moment.
Subjective expression in SunWALK, as a pedagogy of spiritualization, is, creative expression. But forms of meaning are held to be valid – both meaning which we construct, and meaning into which we are initiated – because they are ‘two wings’ in being human – as in inspiration-expiration, reason and revelation, head and heart, personal and public. The meaning into which we are initiated is either a matter of the work of predecessors, or if we are theistically religious, the Word of God.
‘Meaning into which we are initiated’ tells us our forebears, have decided is true, and good and beautiful and just. Of course, in relation to such meaning we either accept completely, reject completely, or take up a position somewhere in between.
The subjective creative-mystical innate knowing is, from a Baha’i viewpoint a gift, (see Chapter 3), but it is also important to note that research itself is seen as a blessed, continuous process as indicated in this passage by `Abdu’l-Baha:
All blessings are divine in origin, but none can be compared with this power of intellectual investigation and research, which is an eternal gift producing fruits of unending delight. Man is ever partaking of these fruits. All other blessings are temporary; this is an everlasting possession. (‘Abdu’l-Baha PUP, MARS database, p. 49)
Meaning is the food of the soul. We are what we mean, and what meaning we make: both the meaning we make from our scanning of the here and now, and the meaning we make of past experience as we create in the re-collection of autobiography. To re-collect is to make new connections.
E M Forster’s famous dictum ‘Only connect’, which he placed at the beginning of his novel Howards End (1910/2000), seems to belong to the faculty of reason, so it needs, for me, a corresponding ‘statement of heart reality’ to counterbalance it. I suggest that that might be the ‘realization of connectedness’. The latter corresponds to the second of the two kinds of experience and understanding heart-knowing, as discussed in Chapter 3.
‘Realization of connectedness’, or something like it, is necessary as the affective ‘being-in-relationship’ equivalent to connecting via reason. This is another example of balancing the dualities, such balancing being seen as a key to realizing pedagogy that is spiritualizing (see Dualities Instrument in Appendix A). ‘Balancing’ doesn’t mean the automatic equal weight being given to both terms in a pair – that might bring about homeostasis. The need for movement in either direction along the scale between to two terms is determined by the context, though in general in the Dualities Instrument I see a need for more emphasis from the right-hand poles. Decisions have to be made ‘on the spot’, and they are made out of the consciousness and wisdom of the teacher.
Connections are necessary to turn data, facts or information into meaning. A fact only becomes knowledge when it has meaning, when a pupil can see where it fits in – subjectively and objectively and socially. Whole-person storying helps, including the re-collection, and new connections, created in autobiographical work. Abbs says (1993 p. 3) that we need to return to the long tradition of cultural sources which is what I have tried to do in SunWALK, for example in insisting on maintaining connection with perennial wisdom. But with Abbs I see autobiographical work itself as a source. A person’s history is a source. Abbs says (1993 p. 3):
In the present education debate we stand in need of a return to sources, a return to primary meanings. Pragmatic arguments drawing on facts and figures never enable us to get to questions of meaning, for, as Jean-Paul Sartre said “essences and facts are incommensurables and one who begins his enquiry with facts will never arrive at essence.” A million facts do not constitute a single meaning. RPs underlining
I don’t know what Sartre meant by ‘essences’, but what I mean is the defining spirit of a thing – the foxness of a fox, or the thrushness of a thrush or the hawkness of a hawk, as shown in the animal poetry of Ted Hughes (1995). The essence I am concerned with is not the biochemical or DNA composition of each animal but its living spirit, and actualization of spirit in its behaviour. Robinson (1989 p.4) sees, Ted Hughes as Shepherd of Being, and he draws comparisons between Hughes and the ideas of Martin Heideggar as in:
Language is the precinct (templum), that is, the house of Being….. It is because language is the house of Being, that we reach what is by constantly going through this house…. All beings…., each in its own way, are qua beings in the precinct of language. This is why the return from the realm of objects and their representation into the innermost region of the heart’s space can be accomplished, if anywhere, only in this precinct. (Heidegger (1975) Poetry, Language, Thought, p.132 in Robinson, (1989) p.4)
‘Abdu’l-Baha says the heart is like a box, and language is the key, (Multiple Authors: Lights of Guidance, p.340), but the question arises as to whether unlocking the path (to reality) is true in both, (or all three), ways of knowing? Are all ways of knowing products of the heart? If we take heart to means consciousness then perhaps the answer is yes. But consciousness is more than language, and so is meaning.
From a different viewpoint we could say that language doesn’t just provide meaning word by word, it enables meaning to fill the ‘spaces’ made available by the human spirit’s being moved. The ‘essence’ of which I here speak can only be an approximation, and can never be Essence (as the Godhead), since all that I perceive, inevitably, has some of me in it, some of my subjectivity. The poet, in this case Ted Hughes, tells us some facts, a few, that a zoologist may be interested in, but he is also seeking to capture in his poetic language how he, the person, resonates in front of the hawk, or thrush, or pike. That resonance, well-caught, is what, I suggest, causes reverberations of meaning-making in the reader, down (and up) through the ‘well of memory’, as in Heaney’s Personal Helicon, enabling, in fact, an infinity of possible meaning-makings to extend beyond the limits of each word’s objective meaning.
Contemplating a tree, or one of Ted Hughes’ animal poems, might serve as gateway to an experience of the Whole, but it is not an experience of the Godhead. In reality it is an experience limited by the limits of our, subjective, consciousness. Consequently here I make a point that is the same as I once made in a discussion with Baha’is and a group of Thomist academics. In my view the Absolute is a characteristic of God alone. We do not have Absolutes, but we have absolutes in the sense of truths that are seen as virtually universally applicable – as in e.g. ‘in the social realm social justice is of pre-eminent importance’. The same I believe is true, perhaps even more true, with regard to the matter of essences. Not only do we have no idea as to what is the Essence of God, we actually have no idea as to what is the essence of a hawk, or a thrush – unless we limit it to the kind of knowledge we have in a DNA profile. (If a phenomenon has attributes, it must have an essence?) It is difficult enough to so present the defining characteristics of a hawk or thrush so as to give the sense of the essence of those creatures – as in when we experience them. When it is done we turn not to ornithological lists of facts but to the poet who through metaphor is able to set up a potentially infinite range of resonances that reverberate in us – with an experience that approximates to direct encounter with one of the birds. This sounding of resonances is perhaps not unlike the striking of a Buddhist bowl – it calls us to being, before knowing. The poems point to essence, but they do not and cannot capture essence. And the essence is itself a combination of the poet’s writing subjectively, and our reading of the poem subjectively – as well as the objective ‘bridge’ between. The poet’s craft, includes some elements of empirical-reasoning verisimilitude (a fox is not mistaken for a wolf), but s/he also manages to set up resonances of meaning-making that are virtually unique in the reader – because of her/his personal history. This is an argument for metaphor as the means for limiting the disadvantages of both objective and subjective forms of knowing – an argument presented so successfully by Lakoff and Johnson in their seminal book Metaphors we Live By (1980).
SunWALK seeks to function with free, full, forms of objective knowing and subjective knowing. SunWALK sees the educational process as conversation, dialogue, that permits freedom as widely as possible, but limits that freedom, via laws, for the good of all – be it in a school or in the wider society. Some meaning is a given in an individual’s life story, in the form of the culture into which s/he is initiated: some s/he constructs. Between meaning as 100% given, and meaning as 100% constructed, lies another of the chief determinants of a civilized society – i.e. the freedom to adopt a position, providing, of course, that that does not lead to acts that damage others. (The long tradition of ‘clowns or fools’ in UK culture and politics comes to mind – everything from the fool in King Lear to the late, lamented, ‘Lord’ Sutch.) Facts are only one of the determinants in meaning making, beliefs and values are another – both private and cultural.
The transformation of facts into meaning is a transformation into richer relatedness – the essence of even a modest creature is never fully captured, and certainly not Absolutely expressed. It is 38 years since I first read the animal poems written by Hughes and they still reverberate for me with closeness to the experience of the real thing, but I do not mistake either the poet’s creations, or the effects in me that they engender, for the true, full essence of the creatures. If essence however is meaning, in the sense that metaphor, in the hands of a great poet such as Hughes, or Seamus Heaney, provides almost infinite possibilities for meaning-making, then I can applaud Abbs’ use of the statement that ‘a million facts do not constitute a single meaning’. But increase in meaning then is not just an increase in signification, it is also an increase in connectedness, increase in the richness of the objects, embeddedness in contexts of reference and these come from the poet’s subjectivity, elements of objectivity plus the reader’s subjectivity. Poetry is the supreme form of writing to lead children into understanding and use of objectivity and the subjectivity. Poetry provides texts of the highest order. Texts of course are experienced in contexts, some of which teachers have some control over (they can take children to see the vaulted heights of a cathedral or to hear a muezzin’s call at a mosque, as opposed to some lesser desk-bound experience), but they can never fully allow for the uniqueness of each child’s personal history, as one of the factors in the meaning that is being made.
A text of course is also a piece taken from, sometimes ripped from, a context – but ideally is one that, of itself, is a meaningful whole. Meaning is derived from texts, but not only texts. The contexts in which a text is experienced, or that the teacher and pupil have access to, in common, also contribute – for example, the experiences they have had together in the past, and a common belief system e.g. growing up in a denominational school, such as an RC school. The meaning that is derived depends on more than text and contexts. It is in part generated by the ‘spectacles’, that each learner wears: a person’s beliefs, values, dispositions and memories. My own view is: from experience come beliefs, from beliefs come values, from values come dispositions8, from dispositions comes behaviour – from the lot come the way we model reality and possibility, and live our lives.
The making of meaning then is shaped by the ‘external’ texts & contexts, and ‘internally’ by beliefs and values.
Texts come to signify, or include, signs. By signs I mean things that stand for other things and which are more, or less, universal, or conversely private, in the meaning they hold and communicate. Private meaning might be restricted to a small group.9 That process of decoding, that which we call reading, is what transforms potential meaning into manifest meaning – ‘I am going to read you a story – and I’m sure its one that you will enjoy’ is a promise of meaning to be made, but not a wholly fixed meaning, and the better, or more mythic, the story the more deeply it can stir reverberations of meaning within the individual and her/his belief, values, dispositions and memories. Signification starts as potential meaning – as in a book that sits before us, a work of art ‘un-read’, but waiting to be read. The signs are laid down by the author, but are yet to do their work in the consciousness of the reader – the very subject that 8G so effectively discusses on the CD. Meaning is signification embraced – the work has flowed in to us, and vice versa.
We take in meaning through ‘cultural osmosis’ as well as consciously or unconsciously constructing meaning, belief, values, dispositions and memories. Abbs (1974 p 4) supports Kierkegaard’s ‘truth is subjectivity’, but mainly as a rebuttal to ‘Pure Objectivity’ that evolved after the Enlightenment. Abbs points out that the etymology of ‘experience’ lies in the act of trying. In other words, he opposes the view in the empirical tradition that sees experience as passive. The tabula is not rasa, but a topography, or series of filters – in the form, so I would argue, of belief, values, dispositions and memories. Meaning is transformed as well as simply taken in, in the act of communication – except in very high degrees of abstraction as in mathematics. Ingestion involves transformation. Even from our early days there is a degree of choice in meaning making – it is not just a passive receiving.
Another dimension is that the development of meaning and meaning making possibilities is concomitant with increase in richness of relationships. Artefacts to the initiated ‘sing’ with meaning, to those whose consciousness is not raised they might serve for the crudest, utilitarian purpose for such an object – artefacts used as door-stops, and masterpieces dumped unvalued in attics come to mind. Always I am made conscious of the indispensability of bringing together both heart and head, creativity and criticality, as facilitated by the MCD. We can perceive relationship via reason, but some relationships emerge, mystically, like a photographic image as the developer works on the photographic paper. The process of intuitive ‘revelation’ is continuous, providing we keep open that way of knowing – mythos, heart-knowing, poetic knowing.
There is selectivity even at the stage of perception, as well as when we process in some way what we have taken in. Memory is notoriously subjective. The whole process of effective ‘reading’ of reality, or some person or thing to which we are paying attention, I term whole-person literacy. By this term I refer not just to the need to ‘permit’ affectivity and belief, values, dispositions and memories in perception, ‘processing’, memory and expression of written messages, but also the need to have pupils be literate in film, photography and the visual arts generally – interpreted using skills parallel to those used with reading and writing. We can also add the metaphorical in literature and in religious writings if we are to extend literacy into a notion of the whole-person, and if we are to successfully ‘read’ our own culture, and the other cultures to which we have access. All elements in SunWALK and the 4Cs are seen as vital for achieving holistic literacy. Education then is seen as development in the ability to decode and encode meaning in more and more challenging texts and contexts – such reading being, inevitably, an admixture of the meaning into which we have entered through cultural initiation, along with the meaning that we have constructed, consciously and even unconsciously.
Meaning, in the sense of significance in the scheme of things, part a matter of initiation and part a matter of construing, can itself be thought of as spirit that eventually finds form, and it finds form derived from an admixture of the subjective, belief, values, dispositions and memories, and the objective, in the shape of cultural embodiment. These two, the subjective and the objective, can be thought of as ‘cellars of the self’ and ‘courtyards of the world’. This wonderful metaphor is part of a piece written by Seamus Heaney (in Robson, 1971 p.101), reflecting on the process of encoding spirit into meanings, and meanings into spirit:
I began to write poetry in 1963, craft-ridden, but compulsively attracted to those guardians of technique like the water-diviner and the untutored musician, (wo)men whose wrists and fingers receive and uncode energies into meanings. To learn their ease and grace in the half-way station between the cellars of self and the courtyards of the world around them has been and will be my study so long as I continue to write. (RP’s italics)
The ‘courtyards of the world’ can be thought of as cultural depositories, contexts of potential meaning, and texts of potential meaning, waiting for any of us to decode and re-express in some new way. Within the person, where the cellars of self and the courtyards come together, is where subjectivity and objectivity come together. But the most useful idea of all is that the process of teaching and learning, as well as poetry creation or water-divining, is a matter of receiving and un-coding meanings. This `well describes the reading of texts and contexts, including the text of self and personal history, as well as the-world-at-large, and that the opposite, the encoding, or even re-encoding, of energies gathered, is the counter-balancing concern of expressive work.
Being and becoming human, positively, is, over and above the demands of the contingent world, a matter of decoding and encoding meaning. In SunWALK this meaning-making is seen as being made in the light of the core values that the school and teacher uphold – including the potential for negative meaning-making. To be enabled to skilfully decode and encode meanings is to live richly in culture, to live in civilization.10 The task of the teacher consists of enabling these two reciprocal processes. The first is to provide maximum access to, and consciousness about, the best of that which is ‘public’, in the sciences as well as the humanities and arts. The second is to enable development in a range of capabilities or ‘sub-literacies’ – within those sciences and arts. This is what I take Oakeshott to be saying, when he says that in his view of liberal learning culture is not:
a miscellany of beliefs, perceptions, ideas, sentiments, engagements etc. but may be recognized as a variety of distinct languages of understanding, and its inducements are invitations to become acquainted with those languages, to learn to discriminate between them, and to recognize them not merely as diverse modes of understanding the world but as the most substantial expressions we have of human self-identity.
(RPs italics) (Oakeshott A Place of Learning in Lipman 1993 p.333)
From the languages within the overall ‘conversation’ that is education, we gain inspiration to be creative. Work in the creative mode facilitates both encoding and decoding.
The teacher in SunWALK is seen as a midwife for the abilities within the 4Cs, someone who caringly enables the pupil or student to decode, in criticality, or encode, in creativity, richer and richer meanings or meaning making. This function is seen as the primary task of the teacher – at least from the perspective of one who wants the technical taught within the context of being and becoming fully and positively human. All the elements in SunWALK and the 4Cs processes are seen as vital if meaning-making capability is to be provided for the whole person in spiritualizing pedagogy.
From time to time I have wondered whether in some of the areas discussed in this work there is a ‘geddit’ factor – someone either does ‘geddit’ (get it) or they don’t. Those who operate still on the idea that education is solely a matter of instilling information, and demanding its accurate regurgitation, Freire’s ‘banking’ or transmission model and developing only specific technical skills – perhaps simply don’t ‘geddit’. This is more than a matter of style because it is to see being human in mechanistic terms. I discovered that I was not the first to take this view. Jarrett (1991 p.8) also wondered:
….suppose we think of Dewey’s emphasis upon the importance of gaining skills in communication, which he justifies as a means (instrument) toward the end (intrinsic value) of “a widening and deepening of conscious life … a realization of meanings.” If one should say, “What, in turn, is the good, the value of that?” there is no answer – surely no satisfying answer. Which is to say that unless one understands that that is a value in and for itself, nothing more can be said or understood. (RP’s underlining)
For Jarrett it is simply a matter of either valuing such education for its own sake, or not doing so. But I think that there is even a good utilitarian reason for recasting education in this way and that is simply this – if we don’t learn to teach the technical within the context of being fully and positively human, we will destroy ourselves, at the very least we will multiply the untold sufferings that plague our fellow humans. That is the message of most of the great world religions, because being created in the image of God is a potential, not a given. We are challenged ethically with the task of being and becoming fully and positively human, and of becoming more fully our true selves. In this our core responsibility is friendship – to serve each of our family and friends in their struggles in being and becoming. Assuming of course that we ‘geddit’ enough to make a start, which seems to be a matter of luck, Divine grace and/or hard work!
4.5 Matters of synergy – the elements, in SunWALK and the 4Cs, working together
SunWALK, has the goal of the ‘effortless’ (integrated) acting in the world for the good of others, and self. The 4Cs – the corresponding processes – when they work together are a synergy of contributions that bear upon the act of teaching and the act of learning. The ‘Story’ lessons were an event characterized by synergy, or flow, in the sense that they were, at least for me, revelatory and produced insights and responses way beyond what I could have hoped for.
The relationships in SunWALK, between elements and elements, or elements and processes, are many and varied and teasing all of these out in any full way must be the work of myself or others, in future years, and is beyond the scope of this thesis. However I want to mention sufficient of the relationships to make clear some of the dynamics that contribute to such a synergy, or to ‘flow’, as Csikszentmilhalyi (1996) discusses in his book Creativity – Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, when it occurs.
At the most basic level the model is an energy model: spirit is seen as energy, movement. The energy is channelled and interrupted, by things, and realizations – e.g. the physical exploration of the world by a growing baby, and its realization of separation from its mother. Such interruptions can also be called interventions. Taken as a whole those interventions shape the flow of spirit, as the hands of the potter shape the clay.
The learner experiences the effects of various kinds of flow, including dialogue, and the interventions by parents or teacher, and responds in, more or less, skilled ways. Experience is, more or less, internalized. I have suggested that the voices of the 3Cs, (at least in the West), are the trifurcation of the spirit developed via its interactions with the ‘world’. Different forms of response, the voices of others, are what cause the internalization that results in the 3Cs. The 3Cs work together since we can, more or less, direct ourselves to engage in a mode. The synergy of modes is vital for engagements to be holistic. One reason is that many important matters, moral education for example, are not complete without input at each of the three modes – along with the fourth C, the interpersonal level – see Hersh, Miller & Fielding, (1980), in their Models of Moral Education.
The ‘Sun’ is both the exterior source/s of spiritual, and therefore moral, nourishments, and the internalization of such sources, as sensibilities and conscience.11 The spiritual and moral need acting out in the world but the vision has to be strong enough to provide a higher level of satisfaction than lower level selfish acts. Wisdom is both the goal and sometimes the content, and even the means, for dealing with issues. Certainly I felt, in teaching in a RC middle school, that I was, with the children, in the presence of wisdom. My struggle was to ensure that I didn’t dumb down the wisdom that was there, and better still enable current, or future, development of that wisdom.
Love according to Abdu’l-Baha is a matter of attraction (SAB p.27). I felt great love for (most) of the children I taught, and still do, and I believe that in a generalized way they reciprocated that strong feeling. Although the children were individuals, the love I felt was generalized – it was a matter of attraction, in the task that was common to them and to me; their learning. For me it was, in them, a yearning to do and become more. It was how to nourish, not impede, the yearning to grow, that was flowing through them.
Will is closely related to motivation. The answer to ‘can’t do’ is ‘can do’ – in other words the teacher needs to find ways for children to be successful. As soon as the teacher, and better still the school as a whole, starts talking about success in caring and creativity, and in practical matters, and service to others, the sooner the range of possible success is widened, and those who are labelled as failures, or who label themselves as failures, can start to feel pride in their achievements.
Knowledge is seen as ‘justified true belief’, but in SunWALK and the 4Cs. The interpersonal dimension of whole-person knowing is especially vital if we accept Wittgenstein’s view that ‘Knowledge is in the end based on acknowledgement.’ (1969, no. 378).
If knowledge is ultimately a matter of acknowledgement then so is truth – objectivity does not guarantee truth, especially in moral and creative knowing – in fact it can be wholly inappropriate – hence the term scientism. A statement by Parker Palmer (1993 p.85) ties the relationships, and dynamics, that lie below the magic of synergy and flow, and holism, into a model such as SunWALK:
We can enter into the relationship called truth only in our wholeness, not with our minds alone. Indeed, our feelings may be more vital to truth than our minds, since our minds strive to analyze and divide things while our feelings reach for relatedness.
Here Palmer, points simply to the rootedness of authentic truth in the heart, as well as the mind – perhaps he also would accept the notion of ‘heart-mind’.
4.6 Conclusion to Chapter 4
In chapter 4 I have explored an example of ‘engaging connections’ between the reasoning voice and the mystical, as the sense of oneness, and heart-knowing – in relation to the central concern of meaning and its making, as the pivotal point in being human, in SunWALK. The example put propositional knowing statements, concerning meaning, into ‘dialogue’ with the Sun as the heart, including its internalized teachings. This was done as a suggested approach for teacher reflectivity, in helping make pedagogy spiritualizing, and helping in the task of living out values in practice. In so doing I have suggested a re-use of the ancient ‘icon’ of the mandala, as an aid to using the contemplative in dialogue between the head and the heart.
I turn now in the final chapter to, a whole-model summary and diagram, and to presenting some suggestions for further work.