Reflections on a critical contemplative pedagogy at Christmas

At this point each year since 2014 I have puzzled about what to write in a blog before heading off for the Christmas break. This year I thought I’d draw attention to an article that has influenced my thinking on the relationship between critical and contemplative pedagogies.

I think that one of the important areas of work for contemplative pedagogy is around making connections with other pedagogies and learning theories. I think this is particularly important in developing research on the relevance and effect of contemplative pedagogy in teaching and learning.

The connection between critical and contemplative pedagogy probably stands out to me because of my interest in social mindfulness, reflecting the formative learning experiences I have had in connecting with people who are part of that movement. In his article, Kaufman (2017) makes a compelling argument for why these approaches to teaching and learning are usefully different from each other and yet also share things that underpin their complementarity. He explores this through what he calls the five dimensions of critical contemplative pedagogy:

Unfortunately, there is not time to go into each of these here (the reference provided below provides a link to the full paper) but I wanted to explore why he feels critical contemplative pedagogy ‘grounds the political with personal’ as I think this is key.

Kaufman draws out how Friere (2000) was concerned by the potential risk, that those who have been oppressed, on waking up to their situation, then go on to become the next oppressors. He points out that this behaviour is common everyday life. As we move into greater positions of power within our own lives, becoming parents/teachers/managers, do we model the values we had wished to see when we were children/students/staff? Critical pedagogy in isolation can wake students up to the nature of their oppression, which has real value, but contemplative practice facilitates the realisation that:

‘We have the capability to choose to act otherwise. By anchoring ourselves in our own personal practice of contemplation, and by coming to realize our non-dual, interdependent, and impermanent nature, we begin to shed the “it’s-all-about-me” mentality of greed and wanting that underlies the quest for power, control, and domination’ (Kaufman 2017: 14)

In my own experience, particularly working in an academic context, I have noticed how my contemplative practice has helped to erode that sense of desperate clinging to my own success and status and the less than compassionate behaviour that this leads to. I have become much more sensitive about the choices I make and how I treat others, recognising our interdependence. In particular I have noticed how the ethics of my behaviour has become more important to me than trying to create a certain (often self-promoting!) outcome. I am making no big claims here!! I am still dragging plenty of ego around. Just observing changes I have noticed.

Kaufman makes a compelling case, that I agree with, that to create real change it is not enough to be aware of the political context of our experience. We need to experience the personal within the political and this is what contemplative practice can bring:

Once we begin shedding the many layers of this me-mine mindset, we position ourselves to be true social agents of change. Instead of working for change because it may make me feel good or because it may assuage my guilt, we engage in anti-oppressive actions because we know that our fleeting lives are intricately tied up with the lives of all others.’ (Kaufman 2017: 15)

This very much reflects my own experience and from the deep conversations at the Symposium at Emerson this Summer I know I am not alone in this. Amongst the questions this raises for me is how we create research which helps to illuminate these connections in a less anecdotal way. Thinking about the links to critical pedagogy also highlights the importance of moving the conversation about contemplative practice in education away from the therapeutic, individualised model which often dominates research into education and mindfulness, to a social one.

Before signing off I want to wish everyone a joyful and peaceful festive time. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the network this year through blog writing, symposium organising, commenting, emailing and reading. It has been amazing to see this subject and community come to life.

Caroline

Reference

Kaufman, P. 2017. Critical contemplative Pedagogy. Radical Pedagogy 14 (1)

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