Looking back over this blog since its conception in 2014, a last minute pre-Christmas blog seems to have become something of a tradition. Having said that, even by my own standards, the 23rd is a little late so I expect many of you will come to this in January!
Since the symposium I have felt a little lost about what to write here. The energy of the symposium was amazing but fizzled out quickly as other commitments took me away from thinking about contemplative pedagogy. In addition, a training course for PhD students that I developed based on mindfulness and contemplative pedagogy did not take off – only one student signed up and it was therefore cancelled. This has been the first time since starting this work that I have not felt a natural sense of momentum or forward movement.
However, listening to Yuval Harari talk about education in his book 21 Lessons I was reminded of the value of contemplation, of being trained in matters of attention and knowing our mind. When discussing the value of attention he states ‘when politics or science look too complicated it is tempting to switch to some funny cat videos, celebrity gossip or porn’. He goes on to describe how, as machine learning and biotechnology improve we are likely to become easier to manipulate. Marketing, whether from a company or our government, will become more effective and knowing our hearts and minds progressively more difficult.
The value of contemplative pedagogy with regards to the issues Harari raises is that it emphasises teaching students about attention, the nature of their minds and includes practices which enable students to see their minds at work. Seeing more clearly the working of the mind may support students to proactively mobilise their attention, helping to counteract manipulation. This may support their learning and academic performance but crucially also support the development of critical thought. Rather than just being critical of thoughts and views for their content, the mind itself, the arising of thoughts and the development of views are observed critically. Where do thoughts come from? What emotions or body sensations arise when I have that thought? How do I react in response to it?
Ergas (2015: 210) emphasises that the value of a contemplative turn in education is its potential to create a meta-pedagogical shift that reorientates education from an almost exclusive focus on teaching about the world ‘out there’ to include and value what is ‘in-here’ (our subjective, embodied experience):
When we start examining the moment to moment experience of an actual student and the ways in which his or her own mind deploys attention, the third-person perspective from which we tend to consider “education” begins to feel quite naïve. Dwelling in the latter perspective suggests that society can go about its business and attempt to educate, as if the students’ resource of attention is completely in its hands, and as if the student’s mind does not have its own personal agenda
Ergas (2015: 17) points out that this is not just about giving students tools to help them perform better but helping them to realise that ‘meaning can never exist elsewhere but only in the place where attention rests – in the moment’. Whether this is on the page they are reading, the advert that has just popped up on their laptop or the ‘ping’ signifying that someone has ‘liked’ their tweet. This also applies to educators too of course: what might attending ‘in-here’ reveal to us? and how might that impact what and how we teach?
Where do we go from here?
I think there are three key questions with which we should be primarily occupied in practising and researching contemplative pedagogy:
- How can we provide students and educators with opportunities to attend ‘in-here’ as well as learn about ‘out-there’?
- What are the risks and benefits of doing this?
- How might contemplative pedagogy prepare students and educators for the challenges we face in the 21st Century?
These are deliberately very broad. Fortunately, there is excellent work already being done – I don’t want to suggest that this isn’t the case but far more is needed.
In the past I have written about the need to consider contemplative pedagogy in conjunction with other pedagogical theories and the broader landscape of pedagogy research (critical pedagogy in particular). The more I think about it the more important it is. Listening to Harari has highlighted the need for research on contemplative pedagogy and the skills that we will need as a society in the future. This is partially being addressed in social mindfulness research but this is usually outside of formal education settings. At all levels of education this might include thinking about what are sometimes referred to “21st Century Skills” which include the 4Cs of critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity (for brief intro see Larson and Miller 2011). I am also interested in how a contemplative aspect might work with Bruner’s 5E Lenses (engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration, evaluation) and how this might manifest in different disciplines (see Kivunja 2015).
It may be that is perfectly obvious to you all! However, as someone who feels relatively new to pedagogical theory I am only just starting to realise that I have understood contemplative pedagogy in quite an isolated way. Moving thinking and practice forward needs to be done in relationship to established knowledge and thinking, informed by the needs of our society at this point in history.
I am sure these not quite congruent observations raise more questions than they answer, so do let me have your thoughts and comments.
Wishing you a joyful and peaceful festive season and happy new year.