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Monday, February 13, 2012

Rediscovering the Spirit of Education

Long ago I came to the conclusion that the world was flat. Not the real world of course, but the world that we are taught about in our schools and in the mass media. I intuitively knew that something was missing, and that was the spiritual elements of life and learning. At our deepest level we are not machines, but spiritual beings. 

With this in mind I wrote an article for the Journal of Futures Studies, called “Crisis, Deep Meaning and the Opportunity for Change.” In the article I look at why education has become so despiritualised, and how educators can begin to honour the human spirit in their classes and lectures. I then link this into the current world economic crisis, and argue that the crisis is a great opportunity for us to begin to shift education for the better. Below, I have included the conclusion of that paper. I think you will find it easy to read, as I always try to write in accessible style, even in academic journals. If you want to read the whole paper, including the references, just click here

Here's the article extract. I hope you find it deeply meaningful!


P.S. This current volume of the Journal of Futures Studies features a symposium on responses to the global economic crisis. For some reason my version of Firefox doesn't open it, so you might have to use Explorer to get to the right page.

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Practically speaking
I am not advocating bringing a personal agenda for inculcating a particular religious or philosophical perspective through the classroom door. The process needs to be more considered, more subtle and more respectful than that.

The key is bringing in inner worlds and other ways of knowing into curriculum, and into the classroom. Introducing other ways of knowing into the classroom requires no religious or spiritual jargon. Nor does it necessarily require that students share everything that they experience while exploring the intuitive or being reflective. 

I use visualisation and quiet time for my students. Journal writing can also be a great way to get students to honour the intuitive, without necessarily having the need to bear their soul with the class. Using journals immediately after quiet time is a great way to develop the link between the left and right brains, the conscious and subconscious minds. 

Sharing meaningful anecdotes from personal life is another way of touching a more profound psycho-spiritual level within the students. Ideally, the themes should be something related to the kinds of profound philosophical and spiritual issues I have mentioned in this paper. Whenever the teacher touches upon the profound or something that connects us with the greater thread of human history, life itself or our dreams and aspirations, opportunities to be meaningful open up. Such themes can include the environment, nature, justice, space exploration, the death penalty, free-market economics, personal success, failure, suicide, illness, triumph, defeat, disability, serious challenges, personal danger and so on.

There are other ways to introduce spiritual concepts and experiences into classrooms without getting caught in the crossfire of religious and spiritually-specific terminology. Recent studies into the practice of mindfulness have shown promising results (Reid, 2011; Sawyer 2009). Further, introducing the spiritually playful concept of synchronicity may also be an opening to a general spiritual awareness (Cho, Miller, Hrastar, Sutton & Younes, 2009).

The world is not likely to be transformed into the serenity of a giant Buddhist monastery anytime too soon, and neither is the average teacher’s classroom. I am suggesting small, balanced introductions to inner worlds. This can even be done with senior students. I recently asked a new Form 7 class (18-19 year olds) in Hong Kong if they had ever tried visualisation before. None of them had. Not ever in some 13 years of education! But I didn’t let that stop me! We did a visualisation on something deeply meaningful to Hong Kong students – the public exam!

Finally, educators can’t fake wisdom or deep understanding of life. They have to discern amongst concepts they feel they have mastery or understanding of, and those they do not. Intuition must be employed in the classroom - to know what, when and how “deep” to teach. And that is something subtle. It is a different way of knowing how to teach.

The shifting sands of the twenty-first century
The shape of the world is shifting. The dominance of Anglo/white culture is over. The global economic crisis is not merely about greed or poorly regulated banking systems. It is a crisis of meaning. What does it mean be human in the modern age? 

Contemplation and meaning cannot simply be afterthoughts in the curriculum. They are an essential part of life. Schooling is meant to equip us to live life in a way that is meaningful. We must bring time into the classroom to reflect upon what it is all about. This entails a degree of vulnerability on behalf of the teacher. Is the teacher to admit her own fears and weaknesses, or her pain at loss and suffering? Is she to confess to the things in this world that she does not understand? Her limitations? And what of those profound life experiences which have granted her wisdom and understanding? Is she to remain silent regarding this? Talking about such things requires courage. This is a state of emotional vulnerability which can only be negotiated by an individual with a high degree of psychological and spiritual maturity. In short, wisdom. And wisdom emerges from a deep introspection upon life experience. It emerges from inner worlds. We need to start planning for futures with depth.

Carl Jung died in 1958, lamenting his failure to help people see that the human race has a spiritual essence, and that “religion and philosophy” had become impoverished. More than fifty years later, are we any closer to uncovering that “buried treasure” in the field? If not, how can our societies and education systems be part of the discovery process, rather than part of the perpetuation of the problem?

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