Thursday, February 18, 2010

Draft for Presentation That I Made Today

A lot of the time, I feel like I’m learning to be in the world. I will share some of a current learning process.

Missing component of curriculum, for me, is about context. “What is most pressing for you right now?”

Parallel to: “How are you?” The answer is a preordained, “Fine.”

For me right now? A feeling of no ground, no clarity, lostness, paralysis.

My state is related to some ideas under discussion at this conference: bridges; connecting heart and mind; and learning and education.

For the last few weeks, I could say I’ve been on a bridge. I also call it a learning experience. I also call it really uncomfortable. I haven’t crossed this bridge yet and I suppose I’m, if not enjoying it, paying attention to the view.

Actually it could be more like prolonged digestion.

I had an experience recently that really characterizes my naïveté! I began to understand power relationships in a way I hadn’t been able to absorb before.

It’s a long story but I feel lost because of it right now. I had some naïve belief that, if only I got the chance, showing people a way out of limiting beliefs would be welcomed.

But I learned something humbling about power: power systems are eco-systems. At the same time that I was confused and disappointed about people acting in a close-minded way, I was watching my own little eco-system in which I had the upper hand. My dog, my beloved loyal dog of 11 years, because he wakes my husband (and sometimes me) in the night, has been kicked out of our room. I am fully complicit. In the eco-system of our small household this unfairness and indignity has been carried out to keep those in power saner so we can function. Swampy’s feelings are hurt and he deserves better, but there it is.

Education is run by institutions. Institutions are eco-systems. People who run institutions have to balance the needs and beliefs of a lot of people. They may actually be doing their best.
I happen to think that our institutions are seriously failing us at a crucial time in history. Why? They are not addressing in any focused sense what is most pressing right now: global issues such as climate change; severe economic shifts; pollution; weapons of mass destruction and mass weaponry; poverty; violence; social injustice; entrenched misogyny; etc.

But my long-story experience in which let’s say my useful views were ignored in a less than fully fair way has forced me to look at my own way of understanding and acting within an institution and institutions in general. It has forced me, as well, to realize, whether I like it or not, the institutions we have right now—educational, religious, corporate, medical, media, financial, political, etc.—while I believe they are no longer serving us properly, are sort of all we’ve got.

Why am I so naïve? I left the corporate world at about 30. I couldn’t handle the contradiction of being a journalist at a national news magazine and basically being a lackey. I understood it was “a prestigious job.” But it wasn’t an intellectual decision. At 48, I now know that I feel my way through things. At that time, I just knew I had to get out. Then I spent 10 years trying to make it as an artist and became a teacher at a yogic and holistic studies centre. Then I worked briefly in advertising, which is a whole other story about where creative people can go to sell their souls. Then I started contract teaching at Lethbridge College, the best job I’ve ever had because I am able to share what is important to me: empathy, connection, and community, along with rigorousness, in learning.

I haven’t done well in or by institutions.

Now I’m doing an M Ed at this august one. I call it an arranged marriage—I am doing it for the Master’s degree credential, which I need to teach in this monopolistic system. Anyone who thinks most people are in a university program for the loveliness of their betterment is more naïve than me. Somehow the credential has become mistaken for an education. Curriculum as what is most pressing right now? I don’t come across that much as an idea in the M Ed program (or any educational program) and I find that next to useless for me.

But back to my new understanding of the way institutions work. Finding myself in a position of no longer being able to just say no—I want to continue to work in one, after all—and understanding in a deeper sense this idea of institutions as eco-systems, I now find myself in a position of not knowing how to go forward.

My state resembles paralysis. I feel it on a bodily level that I can’t fully explain. In fact, I have been a complete non-joy to be around; you can ask my husband. This learning experience, which I am still in the middle of, has affected me to my core. I am currently reading a book about post-traumatic stress in an attempt to understand the bodily nature of this learning experience.

My own understanding of many of my own institutional experiences is one of engaging in a toxic or hostile environment. In some ways, this parallels the human condition, the contradiction between having potentially unlimited, loving hearts and the requirement to enjoy and suffer this gift by living in a limited, physical body that leads to a mind with limiting beliefs.

I believe I have something to say about this contradiction as someone who feels it very deeply. I have created a project, the Human Body Project, as way out of some of these limiting beliefs that are holding me, most people, and, in turn, our institutions back. If you are interested, I have a website and will be speaking tomorrow at 8:30 in TH277. I will also appear at the Calgary and Edmonton fringe theatre festivals.

I started this project in a way like an engineer; mothers can be like engineers. I wanted to contribute to solving a complex problem, the problem of my children (all children) growing up in a dysfunctional, unsafe, and unkind world. I believe my project has some profound things to say to make people (including myself) act more kindly and functionally.

I had real convictions of its usefulness. Today, not so much. Engineers understand that they have to work in the world that is. My recent deeper understanding of institutional systems makes me question my approach.

Leaning on Martin Heidegger’s notions of bridges as dwelling places for humans and his critique of instrumentalism and technology in education and society, Ted Aoki invites teachers “…to understand what it means to dwell together humanly…”

(Ted Aoki, from Curriculum in a New Key, 1991/2005, p. 439)
“…any true bridge is more than a merely physical bridge. It is a clearing—a site—into which earth, sky, mortals and divinities are admitted. Indeed, it is a dwelling place for humans who, in their longing to be together, belong together…on this bridge, we are in no hurry to cross over; in fact, such bridges lure us to linger…”

(Ted Aoki, from Curriculum in a New Key, 1991/2005, p. 438)

“Life stories and autobiographical writing locate the writer in a network of contexts, including family, neighbourhood, community, and cosmos.”

(Hasebe-Ludt, Chambers, & Leggo, 2009, p. 205)

“Life stories and autobiographical writing…have the potential to become transformative curriculum inquiry.”

(Hasebe-Ludt, Chambers, & Leggo, 2009, p. 205)

1 comment:

  1. I am very impressed about your work and his impact on the audience. Your presence is like a memory so far, a vanishing lost trail to true humanity. All the emptyness and the paradoxal beauty of life. You touch the essence. I have to know you better before saying more.