The whys of it all

As Faculty Week workshops have left me hungry to learn why I should incorporate more technology into my face-to-face teaching, I thought I’d ask why people incorporate contemplative practices into their teaching, online or face-to-face. And, are your “whys” connected to what you believe higher education can and should do?

Zajonc has suggested that the purpose is for us to become “more fully human,” and I’m eager to learn more about what that means. Other faculty focus on wellness. Some on ethics. Some on the efficacy of these methods– that they simply make the teaching and learning “better” (defined and measured in any number of ways).

I have to say that while I believe in the wellness- benefits of contemplative practices as demonstrated both by research and my own experience, I feel uncomfortable as an English professor purporting to tend to students’ wellness. And relatedly, who am I to decide what makes for ethical behavior?

But then I think about myself as a teacher in light of my personal practice– wouldn’t I want to do all I could to tend to the wellness of everyone around me?  Isn’t every moment an opportunity to cultivate compassion to move toward a more ethically driven culture? Isn’t higher education a place where students explore not only fields of knowledge but ways of using them to better our world?

I feel like I’ve been so scared of having an “agenda” and thrusting it upon students that I’ve lost a sense of meaning, the larger framework for my teaching, or at least, ways of talking about it that don’t make me feel politically incorrect, or like a New Age dingbat, or like a bleeding heart liberal. I can’t tell students how to make the world better, but I can give them every opportunity to reflect upon what “better” means to them and the power of their passions, intentions, and actions to manifest that.

But college these days is simply supposed to get you a job, right? And it doesn’t, so what’s it for…. And we need to change the dialogue around higher education, etc…. And we’re in the ruins of the university system as we know it….

The coming apocalypse has prompted administrators to highlight the crisis in ways that seem strange to me. I’m hearing that we need to train students for jobs that aren’t even created yet, that we have no idea what the world will look like so we have to be creative, that we need to prove our value on a number of fronts and be a nimble institution…. It’s like the conversation starts with how we can best serve students who will enter this quickly-changing world and then it slides into our own fears for survival.

The current plans for our survival– massive numbers of courses moved online, increased silo-ing of departments, hyper-specialization in undergraduate programs, and commodifying assessment initiatives–  do more to cripple students’ senses of creativity, flexibility, and wonder (all of which I would argue are necessary to build a strong economy and an ethical society) than they do to prepare them for an ever-changing mysterious new world.

So, to take it down a notch: Personally, I started to bring contemplative practices into my classes simply to provide students with a place to be alone with their own thoughts, and perhaps without them, for just a bit. I wanted to offer them a sense of silence, a different way to perceive self, other than the performances of facebook, etc. I’ve been so grateful for the past year in which I’ve been able to do some reading, reflecting, and talking with thoughtful and brilliant people so I can start this semester with a little more intentionality to my work-as-practice. I’m still curious about my role in cultivating wellness and ethics, and eager to learn from this community.

I’m likely to return from this upcoming conference even further provoked….

Where are you at?

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2 comments on “The whys of it all

  1. amholba says:

    Well, the semester is already busy and I am looking forward to integrating some of what I have been learning into my courses. I am excited to sit in silence in my classroom, office, and maybe during a few meetings to see where that takes us. I am looking forward to Meditation Mondays as well – I hope others are too. I am still looking for a workshop/retreat that I can attend – one that doesn’t conflict with my schedule – has anyone seen the schedule for spring at the Garrison Institute or somewhere more local?
    I’ve also decided to make room in my schedule, so after December, I currently have no commitments to conferences and conventions so that I can be available to attend new events – keep me posted if you see something!

    I wonder if we should gather together a panel of paper ideas for a conference – to talk about what we are doing here (though it might be early) or some of our newest research ideas – Any thoughts on that?

  2. keeponbreathing says:

    I’ve been contemplating this a lot over the past couple of days here at the conference. What’s coming up as I sit with it right now is: I teach this way because anything else feels inauthentic. I teach this way because I don’t know how to teach someone who I don’t know as a person or who isn’t available for me to see and know. I teach this way because the more I settle inside myself in my practice, the more it becomes less something I do and more something I am. There is something there too, that I can’t quite define. Its as if the sharing of thinking and knowledge is certainly valuable but my students have responded better and reported better ability to apply concepts when we also share an experience, a felt connection of some sort. Maybe as if they have to trust me to listen to anything I say in the first place? :)!

    In response to Annette’s inquiry about paper ideas. I’ve been wondering about others’ interest in engaging in gathering some student reflections on their experiences in courses in which we’re using contemplative approaches.

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