Apparent in Western (and increasingly global) assumptions about how education is delivered, received and presumed, is the ideology of individualism. It is the notion of the individual and its overarching ideology of embedded ontological, ethical and pedagogical ramifications that I explore in this dissertation. For most people, the notion of individualist ‘self’ is for the most part an unquestioned part of the world and daily existence. Not surprisingly, much of contemporary educational theory rests upon the virtue and ideal of individualistic forms of thinking. But what if the common assumptions and practices embedded in individualism contribute to the growing trend of social injustice, alienation and ecological problems of today? This dissertation is a sustained narrative contemplation and inquiry into this vantage point.
To consider the worldview of individualism in education and its insidious and pervasive contribution to social and environmental degradation is to journey into common practices and assumptions behind common pedagogy. The consciousness of individualistic thinking and binarism manifest in school culture as an everyday experience for millions around the globe. Nonetheless, few people step outside of the parameters of the daily aspects of schooling to investigate, reflect, and question the assumptions and political currents behind the common educational enterprise. Schooling as an institution has some marvellous features; however, many are blind to the shadows of a persistent, fragmented and individualistic psyche that this institution casts when it comes to understanding human relations within the scope of a finite planet.
These shadows represent estrangement and alienation to our selves, each other and the natural world. Moreover, pernicious individualistic and instrumental tendencies have increased our capacities to annihilate, pollute and exploit the air, water and soil on a planetary scale. As an alternative, I offer Deep Education founded upon an ontology of a relational universe, relational ethics and accompanying relational pedagogy and practices to support educators in a relational approach to teaching and learning. This relational knowing is presented as an antidote to prevailing mechanistic and individualistic pedagogy, in order to create a flourishing world for all and provide resistance to the mounting ecological problems of today.
Keywords: pedagogical individualism; relational ethics; relational pedagogy
In 1859, Herbert Spencer provoked educators when he posed his famous question ‘What knowledge is of most worth’? (Broudy,1981). This thesis presents a path through which we might one day meet the environmental and social challenges of an unsettled world when it comes to what knowledge is of most worth and the sobering effects of climate change. I attempt to answer Spencer’s question by exploring the question of individualism, alienation, and instrumentalism immersed in contemporary pedagogy. I undertake this sustained query by a narrative inquiry into my life experience as an elementary school counsellor, post-secondary teacher, and mother and wife. Since my earliest childhood memory, I have witnessed an abrupt change when it comes to aspects of globalization, free-market capitalism and the enduring consumerism so ramped in contemporary society. Over time, I have learned from news and other reports that natural spaces and diversity of species around the world are rapidly diminishing. We’re currently undergoing the largest plight of species wipe-outs since the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago. Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate, with species going extinct every day (Chivian & Bernstein, 2008). This could mean that as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species are moving toward extinction within the next 50 years (Chivian & Bernstein, 2004; Thomas, et. al, 2004). Unlike previous extinctions in history that were prompted by asteroids hitting the earth, volcanic eruptions, and natural shifts in climate, the current predicament is nearly exclusively caused by human activity. Because the biosphere is rapidly changing, and because the extinction of one species is likely to promote the extinction of other species interrelated in a multifaceted ecosystem, further extinctions are expected to escalate in the coming decades as complex ecological webs collapse. Diversity of species is at risk from human activities that contribute to loss of habitat, introduction of invasive or unnatural local species, and global warming (Encyclop??dia Britannica, 2009). Globalization has led to the using up of finite resources, and carbon dioxide emissions that, if not limited, will threaten the future of life on the planet (McKibben, 2012). The situation is urgent. And what knowledge is of most worth is an urgent inquiry to educators far and wide in a time of rapid climate change.
I moved to British Columbia in my early twenties, and here where I live is a place of astounding beauty called Howe Sound. Howe Sound is a bio diverse fiord in Southwestern British Columbia that is home to many species at risk, including roosevelt elk, southern coastal grizzly bear, four species of salmon, rockfish and a recently discovered prehistoric glass sponge reef. This past summer, there has been a resurgence of marine life in Howe Sound with multiple sightings of grey and humpback whales, orcas pods and a large group of about two hundred dolphins. One day while watering plants on my deck, I looked out to the sound of splashing and activity over the water. To my delightful surprise, dozens of dolphins were playfully spinning and jumping high up out of the bay, a short distance before me.
But sadly, the rebounding, picturesque and scenic terrain of Howe Sound is about to be compromised. As I write this thesis now, a phenomenon of environmental assault is taking place. At least five proposals for mega-industrial projects are on the horizon less than ten kilometers from my home to the cost of 2.5 billion dollars: a 190 acre open-pit gravel mine, an LNG facility to transport massive tankers filled with natural gas to Asian markets, a colossal waste incinerator to contend with Vancouver’s mounting garbage problem, and the clear-cutting of many acres of old-growth forest on Gambier Island. I am concerned that this magnitude of human industry will have the propensity to obliterate the delicate ecosystem of Howe Sound. It has been said that BC’s proposed LNG industry, should the plan come to fruition, will more than double the greenhouse gas emissions of the Alberta tar sands (Hughes, 2014). The circumstances here are a prime example of the struggle between non-human life-forms and the pressures of humans as we actively consume non-renewable resources.
While many people are concerned about human interdependence with nature, western society still emphasizes individualism and the survival of the fittest. Although we’re investigating what we need to do, our laws, goals, and aspirations are all still very rooted in the mentality of individualism. The model of capitalism is deeply flawed in that our world is immersed in global competition to compete for marketing resources, expand corporate empires and continue the momentum of unrestrained ‘progress’. Because of these confinements, learning to live and act within the realm of relational and interdependent knowledge is an ongoing challenge.
Over the last several years I have been contemplating how educators ought to contend with environmental challenges when it comes to what is taught and how a child’s experience of schooling is fostered. What are our moral responsibilities as educators when it comes to climate destabilization and ecological injustice? Much of contemporary education has been criticized for embracing entrenched modes of control, binarism, and a modernist industrial worldview so characteristic of popular Cartesian metaphysical perceptions of the world (Sidorkin, 2009, 2002, Merchant, 2005, Bai, 2004, Bordo, 1987). And what if these metaphysical perceptions of separation (me from you, me from nature) and their subsequent human actions are misguided?
To understand how individualism has played a role in metaphysical understandings of the ‘self’, I describe three meanings of the term. Individualism – 1 is referred throughout this document to elaborate the significance of ‘atomistic individualism’. According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2013), ‘atomism evolves from the scientific notion that all matter in the universe is composed of basic indivisible components, or atoms. When placed into the field of sociology, atomism assigns the individual as the basic unit of analysis for all implications of social life.’ (p.x ). In this case, atomistic individualism is a term to describe the sociological understanding that the individual is the basic component of society and hence one’s values, decisions and life choices arise entirely out of the interests and actions of the individual person. Individualism-2 is named ‘pernicious individualism’ and is a plausible title to describe the largely unconscious, lethal and adverse influence of global human consumption. Pernicious individualism, if left to continue unabated, will steer human activity to continue the momentum of climate change, with conceivable catastrophic planetary ecocide. Individualism-3 is used to describe the ‘integrated self’. The integrated individual includes the fostering of a distinct self, but with the understanding that one’s ‘self’ is wholly interdependent and interrelational within the larger matrix of life. Integrated individualism is the educational aim of this thesis, to help foster an understanding of self within relational responsibilities to a planet in need of serious restoration.
In this exploratory thesis, I shall contemplate atomistic and pernicious individualism viewed by a specific aim to see how relational pedagogy may help unleash contemporary education from an entrenched educational model of instrumentalism and mechanism. To this end, I ponder key notions and principles of individualism in contemporary education and the ethical and relational implications inherent in a world of ecological disintegration. In my twenty years as a school counsellor and educator, I have had literally thousands of conversations with children and adults about what matters most in their lives, their private worries and anxieties, and the deep-seated issues that we all face in our daily lives. I hope this thesis will bring to light what I see as a moral pondering, one that may lie dormant in our cultural consciousness, but would do well to be brought forward into general dialogue about common pedagogy and its subtle and unobvious connection to the ecological crisis.
The central issue at stake in this thesis is that a growing trend of individualism, rather than the recognition and acknowledgment of interconnectedness, has taken a stronghold over the endearing pedagogical praxis of educators. I am concerned that such pedagogical individualism is inexorably linked to social inequality, the pursuit of industrial ‘progress,’ and that, if continued unchecked, this pedagogy will facilitate the social injustice and ecological deterioration we continue to witness in the world today. Like a disease growing out of control, the shadows of individualism cast upon our society are culturally reproduced in our schools (Butler & Robson, 2003) and are serving as destructive forces that are threatening the very survival of our planet (Lynn Evans, 2012). I want to show you how pedagogy amplifies pernicious individualism, and what is at stake when we neglect the relational universe to which we are inextricably linked. There is a tension between our accepted educational conventions and our need to open new spaces of pedagogy that respond to the challenges of the world today.
The stories in the following pages may provide rich insights into the difficulties associated with individualism and may also stimulate alternative examples for how ‘deeper education’ can be brought forward: the fostering of conditions that better align pedagogy with the challenges inevitably faced in our contemporary world. Taking helpful pointers from various theorists such as Elaine Riley-Taylor, Charlene Spretnak, Heesoon Bai and Charles Taylor, I offer what I shall refer to as Deep Education. Deep Education is pedagogy that takes into account the following things: relational ontology, ethics, and pedagogy, all of which support and foster an integrated self. The integrated self is a necessary pedagogical aim if education is to take matters of climate change into authentic action.
The thesis is divided into six chapters. Each chapter provides fictional narratives based on my experience as a school counsellor. Through these narratives, I share with my readers the societal, pedagogical, and psychological undercurrents I have observed, working with literally hundreds of students and educators over the course of twenty years. Chapter One gives an overview of what brought me to this work and situates me as a researcher. Chapter Two deals with the historically prominent worldview of Western individualism and individualistic values and implications of those values. Chapter Three deals with the pedagogical individualism so pervasive in western pedagogy and the dangers of such a paradigm as a basis for modern education. Based on my observations, I analyze the state of contemporary schooling through the lens of various theorists and writers, such as Bruce Alexander, Nel Noddings, Barbara Thayer-Bacon, Kenneth Gergen, Rhianne Eisler, Gregory Bateson, Jack Martin, and my doctoral supervisor, Heesoon Bai who have studied the significance of relationship as central to human learning and flourishing. In essence, the thrust of the current work suggests that, given the state of the world, we ought to adopt a pedagogy that promotes integrated, whole individuals within the context of relationship. That is, in our schooling practice, we must assimilate the individual with the eco-relational. However, to note, within the scope of this dissertation, much of the vast and extensive literature on individualism is omitted, with an exception of general historical overview, mostly in an attempt to focus and magnify some important aspects of the intersection between whole individuals and social psychology within an educational context.
Chapter Four explores how egocentric ethics are not only apparent in Western education, but also increasingly practiced around the globe. Using my observations and experience as a school counsellor over the past 18 years. I highlight pertinent themes from individualism, and provide examples of how various commonly held premises behind educational projects are barriers to the necessary scope of transformative ethics. I show that, as it stands, individualistic modes of consciousness make it impossible to contend with the critical, and life-threatening issues facing humanity and the Earth. I propose that we create a self-integrated pedagogy based upon the notion of relational ontology as an ethic founded on the theoretical foundation of holism.
Chapter Five outlines the theoretical groundwork of relational pedagogy and examines what teachers can accomplish on a day-to-day basis within the scope of current school systems. I explain what I call the ‘five critical sensitivities’ and make clear how these activities are essential pedagogical components of integrated schooling. I offer a few case examples from my work as a school counsellor and explain how relational pedagogy differs from individualistic approaches to children and typical school dilemmas. The chapter also provides a discussion of key themes of relational pedagogy and describes some educational activities that will help develop the necessary vision, dispositions, skills, and processes of relational pedagogy.
In the final section, I offer some strategies for how counsellors and educators at all grade levels can adapt relational approach to the work that they do. In describing this cultivation process, I discuss a number of experiences that have helped me develop relationships with students, schools and communities as a professional counsellor and teacher. These experiences prompted me to study more effective ways to foster the development and well-being of larger numbers of students whose mental health is adversely impacted by the individualistic models entrenched in current school culture. I show throughout this thesis that the overarching cultural social conditioning and mental health of today’s individual is wholly contributing to the mounting environmental concerns of this era. My work with students and concern for the environment has been largely fuelled by a persistent drive to help teachers, administrators and counsellors envision and build a more just, peaceful, and ecologically harmonious society.
A Call for Deep Education
If we don’t change directions, we’ll end up where we’re headed.
~ Chinese Proverb
This thesis summarizes a vision on modern-day education that creates conditions for the viability of a new world community. I refer to it as Deep Education: a holistic, ecologically mindful, and relational form of education that seeks to remedy the constraints in which we find ourselves today. The era in which we live is a fascinating, but critical time to be alive. Fascinating, in that never before in our recorded history has there been this sort of conundrum between human activity and the face-to-face urgency of the life-threatening destiny of our planet. The world we have created is not sustainable, and there is no certainty about the future of life on Earth. For example, according to David Suzuki, (2009) at least five additional Earths are required to accommodate the energy demands of Canada alone. Yet the global climate crisis is progressively unfolding with unexpected acceleration; other catastrophes are soon to follow ‘ particularly as new challenges unfold such as shrinking fresh water supplies, heat waves and prolonged droughts, forest fires, severe weather patterns, diminishing species, contaminated oceans, food shortages, and other effects of pollution (Merchant, 2005). Human male sperm counts worldwide have fallen by half and human breast milk can be more toxic than dairy milk (Spretnak, 2011, p. 61-69). The full effects of the oil that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform may never be fully understood. The radiation leaks from shattered reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan are also alerts to the things that can go amiss in an insatiable global pursuit of cheap energy (Suzuki and Hanington, 2011). But the aftermath around energy use and overconsumption are far more problematic and persistent. Pollution, political instability, volatile markets, and the deterioration of a finite planet are all signals that the human world is living a global nightmare that has been precipitating ethical disorientation. The diminishing carrying capacity of the planet is at risk, and is spread across all peoples, cultures, and countries (Dawson, 2003). Mass hurricanes, such as Katrina and the recent Typhoon in the Philippines are prime examples of the mounting problems of climate change. Earthly citizens are in a game of Russian roulette: no one knows for sure the timing, the place on the planet and the severity of the next catastrophe. As worldwide civilians of an industrial age ‘ regardless of race, gender, position, and wealth ‘ the situation, is that the whole world is choking to death in some form of spectacular global murder. As a result of rising greenhouse gas emissions, climate change is a prominent threat to the future of life on Earth (McKibben, 2010). Related to this issue is the preoccupation with terrorism, nuclear war, and the unfathomable gap between rich and poor (Boff 1997). All communities on the planet will inevitably, if not already, be affected by the effects of climate change by way of economic meltdown, ecosystem interruption, resource decline, depletion of food and fresh water, and other pressures (Laszlo & Combs, 2011).
Of even greater concern is the apparent inability to counter and contend with these forces and the seemingly powerless capacity to offset the momentum of political and economic systems that further precipitate climate destabilization and social injustice (McKibben, 2010; Merchant, 2013). This inability is reinforced as a result of educational programming that favors the fostering of an individual ‘self’, rather than individual ‘selves’ as interrelational and interdependent beings (Martin & McLellan, 2013). To shed light on these aforementioned challenges, in the chapters that follow, I examine the psychological undercurrents and ontological underpinnings associated with individualism and how these worldviews have been deeply permeating modern Western pedagogy. The main message I wish to convey in this thesis is that the ideology of individualism, in its many forms, has shrouded mainstream pedagogy over the last several decades, and that these overarching individualistic and fragmentary belief systems blur the ability of global society to deal with the current social and ecological crisis. Our state of worldwide emergency is a symptom of our fragmentary consciousness, and now we have the opportunity to reexamine how to shift our thinking to value the profound interconnection with the planet that supports us.
From a metaphorical stance, the planet is being consumed to death (Bai and Cohen, 2007). So, you might ask, how did the contemporary world come to such a state? What is or is not apparent in the fabric of common humanness that could inspire us to destroy our own habitat (Shepard, 1982) and the habitat of our more-than-human counterparts? (Abram, 2007). And, how do our current forms and understandings of the purpose of education and accompanying pedagogy help or hinder planetary flourishing and demise? These are the questions I will to grapple with in this thesis.
Through examples drawn from my life experience, I illustrate our quandary of how subtle forces enmeshed in individualism create a worldview of fragmentation and alienation toward one another and the natural world. Taken for granted modes of thinking, such as binarism and Cartesian dualism, have shaped educational and cultural reproduction and prevented educators from altering the momentum of an unsustainable global industrial society (Bordo, 1987). Unaware, many educators continue to funnel students through the mainstream and conventional flow of individualism in limited awareness of the reality that our planet is indeed on the brink of a devastating tipping point of environmental degradation. Deep Education is a major call to educators to intensify awareness of climate change in our schools and commit to the fostering of consciousness that acknowledges the scope, magnitude and urgency of the current situation. My hope is that the current effort will help realign pedagogy to accelerate curative and restorative healing to our global community.
Situating this researcher-writer
Over time, working in schools, I became concerned about the nature and destiny of education. Having had years of highly personal conversations with students, teachers and administrators about their daily stressors and dilemmas, I began asking myself, ‘what is this suffering all about’? Those days I became aware of myself as passive witness, with unexplainable unease. I also wondered about the mounting news reports of daily acts of violence, war, terror, economic meltdown and environmental degradation. ‘Could there be a connection to my day-to-day conversations with others’? I surmised. It seemed, like such a wide stretch at first thought, but I was determined to discover and articulate the association between these seemingly unrelated occurrences. The cause for my suffering was not just the news of global warming, and the observation that the animal voices in the forest trail near my home were becoming strangely quiet. There was also a sense that something was occurring in the shadows right now, under the radar, out of social awareness, but serious and dreadful. In my search for understanding, I began reading the works of professor emeritus and ecophilosopher, Henryk Skolimowski. His publications, The Participatory Mind (1994) and Philosophy for a New Civilization (2005) had a profound impact on my thinking, especially as I contemplated the existing assumptions and status quo behind the educational establishment. After close inspection, I discovered that a scientific worldview of separation has shaped the character of learning in k-12 schools and universities and has had a profound influence on the filters through which we view reality. These filters substantiate an underlying assumption and highly regarded value of students as independent, instrumental and self-sufficient individuals disparate from the relational nature of the universe. In 2007, after working as a counsellor for 13 years, I enrolled in doctoral studies and decided to study curriculum theory and philosophy of education. Through coursework and readings, I learned to apply ideas from philosophy of education, curriculum theory and ecology to my quest to unravel my suspicion. When I was contemplating a thesis topic, I wondered if my experience as a school counsellor and educator is useful to help understand the subtle forces of individualism in education and the challenges associated with climate change. It occurred to me that some observations I made over the years could frame the context of schooling from the viewpoint of a school counsellor. Over time, my understanding of ecology lead me to recognize that relational ontology and hermeneutics might be a good alternative to the cultural reproduction of atomism. As will be shown in the subject matter ahead, relational ontology and the implications for educational practice stand out as one of the most pertinent and practical means of creating a hopeful alternative to the myth of autonomy as set out by the liberal democracy of individualism. (Barbara Thayer-Bacon, 2006). The myth of autonomy beholds the instrumental assumption that rationalism advocates for absolute truth and for its dismissal of a power arrangement in a liberal democracy. I reject the notion that we develop into selves, without the help and impact of others. Instead, I argue for the fostering of consciousness that understands human reality as interrelated within a larger cosmic order. This relatedness, or eco-relatedness, ought to form the fundamental and necessary context for education.
Allow me to situate myself: In the following pages, I describe my work as a school counsellor, the roles I have assumed, and the observations I have made in my midst. I situate myself in this work as a 47-year-old Caucasian woman, wife, and mother of two boys, aged 14 and 17, with the good fortune of a doctoral-level education. To vividly illustrate my experiences while maintaining anonymity, I have written up an assortment of completely fictional stories drawn from my 20 years of experience as a school counsellor within the K-8 public school system, my seven years of work as a post-secondary educator, and from my personal life. The stories are derived from my own personal and professional vantage point. I offer the observations from a school counsellor’s perspective, as I have witnessed many of the nuances and subtleties of public school. My positioning as a school counselor has afforded me insights from teaching in multiple classrooms, working with a wide-range of age groups, conversing and problem-solving with scores of parents and administrators. This life experience was accumulated through work at more than seventeen elementary schools, several secondary schools and three universities. I am eager to share insights harvested from living a life in schools: in classrooms, in hallways, in schoolyards, and countless meetings about and for children.
Many of the stories reveal my own conflicting pedagogical, ontological, and theoretical incongruence. Having been trained as a counsellor, I recognize the critical importance of the relational aspects of psychotherapy. Yet, in many instances, the school lives of many children were shaped without attention to this critical aspect of learning. Children are their relationships. When relationships with adults and other children are strained, if not ruptured and violated, there is a fair amount of suffering that students endure. Most often, such students are those who are already at great risk for school drop-out, ‘behavioural challenges,’ and learning difficulties.
Many of the stories were challenging to write, since I was not immune to the unjust and challenging predicaments that surface on a daily basis in schools. Over time, I found myself grieving; something was amiss in the gestalt of schooling. We have institutionalized the pushing and prioritizing of curriculum over relationship. We accept the detriments associated with individualism: power-driven binaries, fierce competition, student-centered grading, and an overall sense that schooling contributes, in a subtle and insidious fashion, to a globalizing trend of detachment and alienation toward ourselves, one another, and the natural world.
When I began my career as an educator, I was keen, like the majority of teachers, to make a positive difference in the lives of children whose paths I crossed. I envisioned schools as an experiential setting from which to understand and contemplate schooling, its purposes and a broader range of human possibilities. However, over time, I learned that schools are not only places of both widespread optimism, but also intense alienation.
Ontology of Individualism and the School Experience
Investigations of interpersonal communication have often ignored the premise of ontology (ways of being and inter being) and ontological matters within interpersonal interactions (Powell, 2006). Ontology is vital to human communication and is primary to understanding the interpersonal communicative dynamics transpiring between two or more communicating agents. Being, non-being, alienation, anxiety, are common-ground salient issues that humankind confronts. These issues not only are ontologically significant to humankind but also are ontologically significant to interpersonal communication and color how we examine interpersonal communication, talk about interpersonal communication, and theorize about interpersonal communication, ultimately affecting the inter(intra)personal communicative process. My central concern here is to advance the ontological significance of alienation (non-being) and the role it plays with students seeking interpersonal relations with the ‘Other.’ The ‘Other’ described herein, depicts other people and the natural world.
In schools, a student’s creative energies can not only be released but also be inhibited. Take for example, relational implications from the following story of Ward. In this next section I will begin to lay out the framework for pedagogical individualism by providing a typical story drawn from my experience in schools. I will begin with an overview of the story of Ward as a ‘relational’ example of what takes place daily in everyday interactions with students. I will then build on these relational implications to provide a context for relational ontology and the pervading consciousness of individualism.
Journal Entry: Ward, ‘H’ designated, and two school encounters
Ward is six years old and a brilliant mind with vigorous energy. He accompanied his mother one day to our school near the end of June to secure a placement in grade two for the following September. Space was available for Ward, and the principal asked me to call the counsellor at the previous school for background information before his personal file arrived. This is often a common practice to find out ahead of time what the student’s learning needs are and to find out information to help with the transition to a new school. As well, Ward’s mother thought Ward may have a Ministry Designation, but couldn’t recall what it was. When I made the call, the secretary on the phone paused upon hearing my mentioning Ward’s name. In a somewhat anxious tone, she replied ‘One moment please, I will connect you with the principal.’
It seemed the principal was elated to learn that Ward is changing schools. ‘Are you serious’? the principal responded. Her voice quickly turned to concern, ‘Are you aware that Ward is an ‘H’ designation’? (An H designation is a special needs category described as ‘Students Requiring Intensive Behaviour Intervention or Students with Serious Mental Illness.’ ) She continued, ‘His behaviour is horrendous; he is constantly in trouble for hurting, punching, and pinching other children. He gets no work completed and hides under his desk. And when the meltdowns begin they are a nightmare! Well, best of luck with this one…you’ll need it.’
The following week when Ward’s file arrived, the content looked even more discouraging. There appeared to be a number of police incidents at the family home and the Ministry for Children and Families were involved with the family. If there was any good news, it was that Ward was going to be in Teresa’s class. Teresa always spoke positively about her students, but lacked recognition that she created incredible magic in her classroom. The children could not get enough of her, and she was well-respected by parents and her colleagues. Children who were labeled as ‘behaviourally problematic’ in other classrooms seemed to be able to endure the school year without incident in Teresa’s class.
On day one, things went rather smoothly. A ‘buddy’ was introduced to Ward to help him get oriented the first week. Ward seemed genuinely astonished at the calm behaviour of the other children. This was not something to which he was accustomed.
On the second day, the challenges began. Ward arrived at school an hour late looking rather tousled and clearly upset. He had missed breakfast since his mother slept in. I invited him to my office where I gave him a granola bar and an apple. This is when I learned he’d had a terrible night’s sleep due to the police incident at his home last evening. His father was retained for ‘fighting’ with his mother and would spend the night in jail.
After recess, he returned to his classroom, wandering about to his liking. When it was time to line up with the class, he became angry once again. He ran off to the playground in the schoolyard, hiding inside the little yellow and blue playhouse. A couple of the children were sent to fetch me.
‘I’m not going to drag you inside,’ I said, as he defiantly peered at me through the window of the playhouse. ‘If you want to stay out here, it’s up to you, but it’s cold and it’s going to rain.’ (I noticed he was without a jacket). ‘Also, your class is baking cookies this afternoon.’ (Thank goodness, I had something positive to report).
‘I’ll give you a few minutes to think about it,’ I said and slowly walked back to the school with fingers crossed. As I eagerly turned to look through the window, he was already making his way back to the school. ‘Do you want to go back in’? He nodded, and I slid him into the classroom.
Over the following weeks, the adults at our school agreed to a ‘wrap-around’ approach with Ward. We made a point of positive greetings, highlighting his strengths, and showing him that school is a place where you can do remarkable things. It was discovered that Ward is extremely bright and good-natured, talented at art, and motivated in math ‘ despite his aloof and distant bravado.
As expected, he formed a beneficial relationship with Teresa. He was aware that he was liked by the teacher and staff. The positive efforts also had an effect on the other children, and they also accepted him. Over a matter of months he was settled and content. Interestingly, his home life became more stable as well, and we met regularly with his parents to discuss how we could all work together to support Ward.
These instances are ripe for reflecting on how we may impair children’s development when two schools can perceive the same student so differently. The actions and language of educators in schools has significant meaning when considering the invisible but very real medium of intersecting relations (Sidorkin, 2002). A story like this reminds me, with great force, of the critical importance of our responsibilities as educators to prioritize the relational realities of schools.
The aforementioned narrative picture is a common example of what could be described as the experience of many students. Social alienation is basically a sociological term that denotes social relationships as depicted by a high degree of distance or isolation between individuals, or between an individual and a group of people in a school. (Ankony and Kelly, 1999). Like the examples in the previous story of Ward, Martin Heidegger (1962) described a form of ‘ontological alienation’ in which students are frequently ‘fallen’ in their particular genres of understanding. Heidegger investigates certain social phenomena such as ‘idle talk,’ ‘everydayness,’ and ‘the they’ which ensues whenever a topic or subject is discussed in the everyday manner of ‘the they’. In these cases, the students are conferred about as ‘the already known’; for example, as in, ‘you know what they say.’ ‘The they’, then, signifies a sort of nameless authority who are ‘in the know.’ In such a mode, and particularly in the case of Ward, there is a subtle understanding that nothing more can be questioned or discovered about him since the facts have been stated and therefore ought to be endorsed and repeated. Like Heidegger, I wish to set out to juxtapose this alienated or fallen understanding with his view of authenticity. Authenticity is a mode of questioning that unfolds as a mode of openness or wonder to that which is under discussion. The alienation of idle talk is abolished through a genuine dialogue which makes the person under discussion one’s own. It is precisely making this thing one’s own, in one’s own self-understanding, that an authentic and relational understanding is achieved.
How do we make sense of the many students who experience ontological alienation in their relationships at school? The example of Ward as an individual known for his problem behavior is a prime example of culturally-endorsed psychologies and educational practices that have helped students perceive themselves and the world as a collection of physically separate entities. I argue that he ontological underpinnings of many everyday exchanges and communications that occur in schools have missed the deeply relational nature of reality (Spretnak, 2011). Dismissing the notion that humans and all other beings are interrelated and dynamic has resulted in a vast amount of suffering. Schools, communities, workplaces, and institutions have become fragmented and alienating for many students. The focus for our modern culture is that of the ‘separate individual,’ and even more discouraging, is the celebrated trend toward narcissistic consumerism. While the connection between relational ontology in schools and humanity’s regard for the natural world may seem unobvious, the end result is an ailing planet, pushed to its physical limits, by our relentless misunderstanding of ontological alienation and reckless global capitalism.
After many years of living a life in schools, I realized that most well-articulated, individualistic theories of psychology and learning do little to significantly challenge and change the power arrangement of modern industrial culture. I resonate with Garrett Hardin (1968), when he critiques individualist ideology as each individual’s actions are performed to take advantage of gains and reduce his or her own costs. The consequences of individualism to society are disastrous, he shows, with the environmental crisis as a prime example. Further to this, I have struggled with my own complicity in participating and recycling the historical belief systems behind traditional pedagogy as an ingrained part of my own daily practice. I think this contradictory challenge speaks to the difficulty of creating spaces to advance our pedagogy, our students, and our global community toward an alternate worldview that seeks to meet the social and ecological challenges of today. Despite the challenge of my personal incongruence of working within a mechanistic school system, this process of trying to gain a big picture understanding of the world and the healing work involved is one that I have been working with for most of my life ‘ a work that is always evolving.
My observation of children and young adults in schools tells me that students encompass tremendous resilience and creativity. Nonetheless, despite well-intentioned educators and a thoughtful curriculum, the overarching belief systems and structures of education instilled in our students throughout the education system are contributing to their emotional and psychological wounds.
Take, for example, the observation that depression is the leading psychological ‘condition’ around the world and is on the rise. Recent study shows that in British Columbia alone approximately 140,000 children and youth experience mental health challenges that result in significant distress and ‘impaired functioning at home, at school, with peers, or in the community’ (Alexander, 2010). The globalization of addiction as significant widespread phenomena suggests that our collective human psyches are somehow out of whack (Alexander, 2010). Beyond the misuse of drugs and alcohol, there is an increasing plethora of people addicted to gambling, video-gaming, smartphones, television, the Internet, techno-gadgets, shopping, self-absorption, and consumption in its many forms. These conditions are no longer a concern solely in the West; there is evidence that addiction in its many forms is spreading rapidly around the globe (Alexander, 2010). According to the World Health Organization (WHO 2001), internationally there are around 40 million children under the age of 15 that are prone to child abuse each year. In Canada, an astounding 47,000 Canadian deaths are linked to substance abuse annually and 60 percent of illicit drug users are between the ages of 15 and 24. Many young people today are seriously adrift, as they contend with the adverse effects of mesmerizing electronics, attachment problems in their relationships, lack of nutritious food, and high levels of alienation, anxiety, and depression (Spretnak, 2011).
Underlying sets of rules for how to live have cultivated an era of unprecedented and fundamental dislocation. Our environment’s rapid deterioration coupled with rampant social injustice calls for a new kind of education, which I refer to as ‘Deep Education.’ Deep Education challenges the mechanistic and individualistic status quo to restore a consciousness of interdependence, peace and community. I first heard the term deep education while listening to an alternative radio talk show featuring Harvard professor and philosopher, Cornel West. West describes knowledge as not simply a commodity to be used in service to one’s economic aspirations, but also in the cultivation of deeper critical sensitivities. My experience in informally surveying literally hundreds of students about the purpose of education is that most students will answer as follows: ‘to get a good job, be rich, own an expensive car, and live in a mansion.’ This notion of the aims of education among young people is alarming in that the prized outcome is about a narrowing focus on oneself ‘ with little or no regard for the well-being of others or the impressions on the impetus of habits that contribute to the continued ecological deterioration we witness around us. These critical sensitivities to the relational world, West contends, are the key to establishing greater social justice in our world (West, 2012).
In a similar vein, Deep Education, as I envision it and endeavor to practice it, encourages the fostering of relationship with our students and the world. This contrasts with the separation, alienated consumption, and, at worst, the destructive exploitation that our educational system unwittingly continues to foster. We as educators, parents, and public in general have an ethical responsibility to nourish student’s understanding that represents and nourishes a relational understanding of the world.
This vision of deep education attempts to unmask the current covert curriculum of a globalizing free-market society and its ill effects. People the world over are suffering from the ‘accumulation of emotional and psychological dislocation.’ (Alexander, 2008, p. xi). A worrisome globalizing trend is that people everywhere have lost sight of what knowledge is necessary to live ethical, peaceful, loving, restorative, and sustainable lives. Ron Miller (1989) describes our disintegrating culture as follows:
‘Our culture does not nourish that which is best or noblest in the human spirit. It does not cultivate vision, imagination, or aesthetic or spiritual sensitivity. It does not encourage gentleness, generosity, caring or compassion. Increasingly in the late twentieth century, the economic-technocratic-statist worldview has become a monstrous destroyer of what is loving and life-affirming in the human soul’ (p.2).
Charlene Spretnak reminds us, ‘happiness does not appear to be a matter of having conspicuous material possessions of the latest design. Rather, happiness is largely a result of having a network of good relationships with family, friends, co-workers, community and with nature, as well as cultivating the mental qualities of gratitude, hope and zest for life’ (p 9). Moreover, some studies show that we are substantially happier when our money and effort is placed on gift giving and service to others than self-centered activities (Graham, 2008).
Schooling and the Hidden Curriculum
In rethinking the project of education, the term ‘Deep’ means encouraging students to investigate and critique what is known as the hidden and null curriculum ‘ those implicit messages and understanding that are taken for granted, or those knowledge forms that are omitted completely. The conception of education as an agent of cultural reproduction is the socialization aspect of the process of schooling. Students acquire appropriate attitudes and values’ needed to further succeed within the confines of education within a capitalist society (Glossary of Sociological Terms, 2007). The notion of the hidden curriculum was first developed by Phillip W. Jackson, who states, ‘teachers, like parents, seldom ponder the significance of the thousands of fleeting events that combine to form the routine of the classroom.’
For example, the hidden curriculum can include things like the aforementioned story of Ward, and the social cues or mannerisms that are understood but not spoken, covert or overt messages about things like political views, the definition of ‘success,’ and messages about student achievement. A school with a robust focus on academics may neglect to value students who are less academically inclined, creating a disproportionate social and academic arrangement that devalues some ‘less capable’ students and privileges others. As part of a hidden curriculum, this configuration indirectly teaches academically successful students to discriminate against other students who ‘underperform’ in school. I see this scenario time and time again in elementary classrooms. These range from subtle messages to the ‘dumb’ students to outright verbal insults and exclusion. Likewise, certain subjects such as math and science may be better funded than music and art sending the message that some subjects are more valued and essential (Bai, 2003). In our globalizing economy, arts are the frills, and are often hacked out of school budgets when cutbacks occur. This worldview of instrumentalism has contributed in a subtle and unobvious way to viewing the world as depersonalized, objectivised, and individualized (Bai, 2003).
This nature of education is reproduced throughout all stages of the system, from primary to post-secondary (Butler & Robson, 2003). The hidden curriculum is an important notion for the concept of deep, relational education since the schools are agents of cultural and social reproduction.
Mechanistic and reductionist judgments of reality have proved wholly inadequate in addressing the multifaceted, interconnected problems of the present world. The current prevailing worldview of scientific materialism, enmeshed in current pedagogy, views the cosmos as a vast machine composed of independent, externally related pieces: this concept promotes fragmentation in our thinking and perception. Added to this, is the curious journey into the conception and celebration of the autonomous individual. From a political perspective, education and national economics are intimately intertwined to permit corporations to compete in a global economy.
Systems of education commonly practiced all over the world prepare our students to compete in their respective countries and the global economy. When we consider the ways the education system has been framed in the light of the individualistic pedagogy mentioned above, we may very well come to the conclusion that the present education system was and is currently defined by the industrial revolution and a global economy. The skilled workforce that met the demands of a national economy based on trade was the project of government-endorsed education (Erricker, 2002). Such a system assumes that world trade and competition are paramount and resources in situ have no value on the balance sheet.
The result: the devaluation of nature and the wholesale destruction of animals and resources on land and sea. To illustrate this point, Erriker states:
For every economically stable family you create another (perhaps many more) unstable ones, whether in this country or elsewhere in the world. For every academically successful child you create one (or more than one) who is unsuccessful, or at least less successful and less able to compete in relation to employment opportunities (whether in this country or globally) (p. v.).
Most people have no idea of the fallout of this relationship between education, politics and economics around the world. It is masked by the spirit of capitalism, the ‘good life,’ or with terms that endear, such as ‘democracy’ or ‘free-market capitalism.'(Erricker, 2002, p. 13) Yet, the great irony of our problem is that we appear to have the wherewithal, ability, resources and knowledge to contend with these issues. Nevertheless, we do not employ our capacities to deal with the problems of the world on a great enough scale today. This is where a relational ethics and ontology may be helpful in overcoming the roadblocks and barriers that prevent us from doing what we are required to do in order to shape a different and more promising future for humanity and life on Earth.
Education mirrors the capitalistic system in that it sifts and sorts individuals, through accumulated social capital from parents or other sources (Erricker, 2002). The students with higher social and cultural capital are more able to excel within the system of education. Thus, these individuals will continue on a track that places them into particular and comparatively high-paying occupations. Alternatively, those with little social or cultural capital will be less successful throughout the process of education and may ultimately end up with a low-paying job (Bourdieu and Passerson, 1990).
The null curriculum is significant because of what is not taught, or what is missed altogether; for instance, infrequently do our school lessons highlight our interdependence with the natural world. Both the hidden and null curricula, as they manifest themselves in a mixture of ways in the schools, embody insinuating and profoundly prominent impositions in the shaping of our students’ worldviews and beliefs. Since neither is especially evident, as is the case with the formal curriculum, emphasis and critique of this critical aspect of schooling is essential. Deep Education calls for interconnection, an emphasis on relatedness and a cross-section between self and whole ecological integration. (I explain this more in Chapter 4). Students, at all levels, ought to be encouraged to learn hermeneutic ontology, critique and pay attention to the undercurrents of our institutions, our collective socialization, and those assumptions we take for granted as everyday common-sense. Our everyday worldview needs to be unpacked, reviewed. We need to explore with our students the embellishments, representations, collective understandings, and other structural forces circulating in the personal and cultural unconscious. These forces shape institutions, our assumptions about learning, and the use of technologies and the like that constitute the true foundations of our time. I refer to the dominant portrayal of our current worldview as one that sees the world as mechanistic, instrumental, and fragmented. The aftermath of this moral account of reality is that it informs the ways in which we think and act. The challenge before us is to really see and understand that the mechanistic world (used interchangeably with Cartesian dualism, anthropocentrism, instrumentalism, etc.) as an epistemological arrangement for living has resulted in vast ecological destruction and insurmountable social suffering. Furthermore, we need to see that there is a direct connection between the dominant mechanistic worldview and a growing trend of psychological dislocation among people the world over.
Educational philosopher Heesoon Bai argues that we need to move away from the modernist industrial worldview of the universe as ontologically separate objects and recognizes the world as relational, interdependent and interpenetrated (Bai, 2003). From this standpoint, seemingly fragmented objects are nothing other than objects in relation to their matrix of continuously changing relationships. Bai speaks about the metaphysics of relationality as it refers to how we perceive the ‘self’:
Is this not in some way truer to the nature of experience? Speaking of ourselves, why postulate an adventurous entity ‘I’ apart from the matrix of relationships that the ‘I’ is embedded in? Just because we are conditioned to see the world in that way is no indisputable reason it as absolute truth. We can always learn to see the world differently…we are our relationships (Bai, 2003, p. 27.
Another subtle but significant manifestation of understanding reality as a mechanistic universe is the movement of our globalizing culture toward entrenched individualism. ‘Atomistic individualism’ is a term conveyed by Charles Taylor to convey the notion that humans are protected by individual rights, with self-selected ends and interests, whose relationships and group memberships are entered voluntarily for the purpose of attaining these ends and advancing these interests, and whose standards for choice and judgment are rational and abstract and lie within. Each individual is therefore responsible both for what he or she does to others and for the life he and she creates. Therefore, the reader is alerted that in this thesis the term individualism is not one and the same as individuality, as in a basic difference between the individual and the collectivity or in the sustenance that each of us has a unique personality. Rather, like atomism, individualism refers to the theory of society as constituted by individuals ‘whose goal is to fulfill private ends, largely through relationships seen as instrumental, and whose principal characteristic is the possession of individual rights that have priority over societal needs.’ (Crittenden, 1992).
As an antidote to the psychological dislocation associated with Cartesian dualism and individualism, my work suggests the goal of educating for whole persons: the fostering of individual and psychosocial-ecological integration, as well as the development of critical sensitivities to understand the notion of a relational universe within a wide scope of historical trajectories. This also includes a critical sensitivity to the political and free market effects of society, and how these effects help build the framework of our education and institutional systems, and foster individualistic and self-centered values. The average student will spend on average about 7,000 hours in school before attending high school. Aside from sleeping, there is no other activity that occupies a child’s life more than attending school (Jackson, 1990). We must recognize, then, the need for schools to foster the lived experiences of children in educational settings as the blueprint to the future of global society. In other words, ‘the relational shift is the antidote to those assumptions of modernity that have turned out to be wrong.'(Spretnak, 2011, p. 17).
Given the state of the impending social-ecological crisis, our world is in need of healing on a grand scale. No longer can we dwell in the assumptions of former times when it comes to the global educational enterprise. In our present condition of a post-historical world, and with the benefit of hindsight, we are living the aftermath of a worldview that has held captive our imaginations and what constitutes the formulation of societies, indeed education for the past two hundred centuries. What I am referring to specifically, is that our current way of understanding ourselves and one another is rooted in the ideology of fragmentation and individualism, embedded within a widely accepted worldview of binarism.
Binarism suffuses our consciousness: I exist here and you exist there and there is an unbridgeable space, a chasm, between us. There is an understanding that there is a split or separateness between man and woman, heterosexual and other sexual orientations, good and bad, right and wrong, rich and poor, subject (me here) and object (that over there), ‘us’ and ‘them’, in all arenas of life ‘ labor, economy, politics, family, and so on (Bai, 2003). The dualistic lens of the universe emphasizes a value and power imbalance inherent in this worldview. This, in turn, is recycling the status quo of binarisms, separations, and divisions. Moreover, these separate parts are seen as more valuable and less valuable. But, do these fragmentations of reality actually exist, or are they figments of our collective imagination that creates consensual reality? Is reality really divided into categories? Are we really a plethora of isolated ‘selves,’ or is a more accurate picture of the reality of the universe interdependent and interrelated?
When it comes to education, how have ideologies of binarism and individualism mentioned above filtrated schooling, and how have they been reinforced within our schools? I can think of a prime example: students are graded as if they are separate beings, ontologically bound within the outer edges of their own skin. This form of thinking, I believe, has resulted in fierce competition, even brutal alienation, among students and educators. I see this every day in my work as a post-secondary educator, with students fiercely working tooth and nail to get the top marks; the pinnacle of the ‘successful’ learner. But are these grading symbols really a representation of meaningful learning? Should meaningful learning be connected with the global trends, injustices and environmental challenges of our world today? From the perspective of an ethical obligation to our planetary health, meaningful learning becomes about how well we are doing in our mutual human and more-than human flourishing (Bai, 2003). And since we cannot escape the relational dynamics of a non-linear universe, how do these relationships with self and other come into play, within a world of dualistic and binaristic acceptance?
The modern educational curriculum has fragmented the world into disciplines and subjects, frequently and hermeneutically separated from the unity of things and the interconnected order of the planet. The ontological implications of this fragmented assumption of reality are significant, as I will explain later, since ontology and relational ethics are inseparable. As David Orr (2004) points out, capitalist industries do not factor into account the ‘costs of biotic impoverishment, soil erosion, poisons in our air and water, and resource depletion from gross national product’ (p 11). The notion of progress, and indeed ‘success,’ is identified as mass consumption, greed, and the quest of the educated to take part in a false facade of endearing proportions.
Much of what occurs in school is encouraging and hopeful. Nonetheless, there appear to be larger systemic forces behind a free-market world that have profound psychological and ontological implications for our students, educators and society at large. These forces are an immense and complicated influence on the globalizing effects of a larger societal moral disorder. These corollaries of a globalizing world are frightening, complex and strange. In this next section, I give an example and analysis of my experience during the events of 9/11. Since the devastation of the twin towers and the homicides of over 3,000 innocent people, the emotional reality of the world has been clouded by terrorism (Carrington & Griffin, 2011). My unique angle on this and other acts of extreme violence is that binarism, and the ideology of power-over relations, has contributed to the further manifestation of the human psyche that retreats into greater pernicious individualism, psychological denial and more acts terror and violence. Once again, my effort in these pages is to awaken pedagogy that espouses the knowledge of interdependence and compassion, to help transform the vicious cycles of alienation and violence.
Journal Entry: One Day that Changed and Challenged the World: A personal reflection on individualism
The daily deeds and discourses in the life of an elementary school counselor, in a cosmopolitan city like Vancouver, may not appear to be profoundly unsettling but there is more risk involved than one might imagine. On the morning that begins this story, I was going about my usual routine: driving to a Kitsilano school in Vancouver on September 11, 2001.
Sometimes historic events arise from what happens to us in our own lives. Yet, even if they do not, they usually connect with something felt deep within but out of immediate grasp. I turned on the radio as I drove over the Lions Gate Bridge and heard the horrific and disturbing news that would change the world forever. An American Airlines Boeing 767 jet with 76 passengers on board crashed into one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Moments later it was reported that another Boeing 767 carrying 46 passengers flew directly into the Pentagon. Then, another passenger plane hit the second tower of the World Trade Center. During the following few hours the reports were confusing and contradictory.
Like most listeners, I suppose, I was stunned and baffled. In the beginning I wondered if it could have been a joke ‘ an off-colour joke being aired to make some obscure point. That thought was soon replaced with the belief it must have been an accident ‘ accident? One place perhaps but three or four ‘ the reports became more confused. There was even something about Pennsylvania and the President being hurried off to a secure, unknown location. Even before I had completed my short journey that morning, the assessment had been made: the United States had been the victim of a series of terrorist attacks.
The deep silence and sense of foreboding, which shrouded the school that day, was immediately obvious when I entered through the heavy, double doors with iron-clad windows. I was troubled and numb. How could I begin to bring myself to the tasks of my daily work? What words were there to say? What really mattered at that moment? I was the school counsellor. People looked to me for comfort and for reassurance ‘ wisdom, even. What words could I possibly offer? Was the world, as we had grown to know it, over? Was that horrific event the precursor to more violence and terror? Had the first volley in a new war been unleashed? I was totally unprepared, personally and professionally.
I made my way through the eerily empty halls to my office where I sat alone for some time. The intercom crackled, signalling an announcement was imminent. The principal began speaking ‘ attempting to offer words of consolation relative to a still, fully unexplainable, occurrence. Her voice quivered beneath her well-intended attempt to provide calm and reassurance.
‘Now, most of us know there was an incident this morning in New York City. At this point there is nothing we can do. We need to let the Americans go through whatever it is they are going through. Here, we will keep going about our school schedules.’
I wondered to myself how by any stretch of the imagination (or her good intentions) that today could ever be approached as business as usual. And, why would this be relegated to an American-only issue? I shouldn’t have been faulting the principal when I had nothing better to offer ‘ nothing in the realm of reassurance, at least. Later, she announced that if anyone knew people in New York they should come forward and let the office know. But the school carried on through the day, going through the momentum of daily routines.
During the following days and weeks, children drew pictures in my office like the one above, and asked the really tough questions that it often seems only children can (will) ask.
‘Why would someone want to kill other people’?
‘What is terrorism? Where do the terrorists live? What do they look like’?
‘I don’t know why, but I feel so afraid. Should I feel afraid’?
I did my best to offer reassurance, such as immediate safety of the students and their families, and minimal answers, knowing I had no really satisfactory answers to the children’s questions. It was only after going through that gut wrenching feeling of abject helplessness that the answer began to break through the darkness. It was the saddest sort of realization based on things I had known since my first child development course. Research on infants and young children suggests children possess an innate capacity for justice and altruism, starting as early as three months of age (Suzuki, 2013). Some studies suggest that non-verbal responses from babies and children indicate strongly that young humans prefer those people who act ‘morally good’ those who behave in just, helpful, honest, and fair ways) over those who don’t (Suzuki, 2013). This evidence suggests that children possess a relational, moral order that is fully intact. By the time children reach the middle grades, most of them can all build a more or less ‘logical’ case for why living according to a set of positive social values is necessary if humankind is to live in peace, safety, and prosperity. What is quite striking about moral research and infants is that as children become socialized, their morality resembles those who are most similar to themselves, and cultural influences eventually shape the morality of children. One can then deduce that it is our process of schooling and pending socialization that ‘educates’ them out of (or at least terribly clouds) their innate ability to care for others and understand that relational interconnection is the cornerstone to improving the human condition? (Suzuki, 2013) I was more than a little inclined to wonder about the seriousness of these implications.
As the hours passed, the headline news portrayed the downtown metropolis of New York as resembling a ghost city, abandoned in an urgent hustle by people fearing for their lives and seeking immediate reconnection with their loved ones. The world, at first puzzled and reeling, soon moved toward anger and a determination to seek massive retaliation and revenge.
Where are we today, 13 years later? Thirteen years after 9/11, we can see for ourselves how much is implicated as problematic in our world. It has been said terrorism in the name of Islam is the symptom of a civilization wrestling with its own demise (Havel, 2007). Vaclav Havel had an editorial in response to the 9/11 disaster in the New York Times titled Our Moral Footprint, and he offered what I believe is an astute caution:
‘We can’t endlessly fool ourselves that nothing is wrong and that we can go on cheerfully pursuing our wasteful lifestyles, ignoring the climate threats and postponing a solution. Maybe there will be no major catastrophe in the coming years or decades. Who knows? But that doesn’t relieve us of responsibility toward future generations.’
It was then that I began to realize that, although the facts of the story were seemingly quite removed from my own life, the emotional content was in some ways parallel with my deepest concerns about the human condition ‘ the human capacity for violence, destruction, and hatred.
And so it was that the attack on the World Trade Center prompted me ‘ no, demanded of me ‘ to think deeply about schools and the ‘education’ we were presenting. How had we, in that school, prepared our students for such a catastrophe? How had we helped them become part of an effective movement to counter the prevalent divisive and violently oppositional philosophies sprouting and thriving in so many corners of our world? Had we even made them aware of such things as they related to ideology, and religion? Had we planted the seeds that would require our students to consider what prompts human beings to unleash such horrific brutality on their brothers and sisters? (Interestingly, the three religions [Christianity, Islam, and Judaism] are siblings: they share the same ‘parentage.’)
The events of 9/11 are an expression of the dark side of humanity, and one worth spending time to consider its relevance to the project of education. We can understand the horrific occurrence of 9/11, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the radiation leaks from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the Typhoon in the Philippines and countless other disasters as learning events that unnerve the complacency of many, and expose many unsettling questions. Our times call for a critical review of socially-imposed ignorance, age old religious tenets that construct seemingly insurmountable obstacles to peaceful solutions, and a much needed rethinking about the divisions between cultures and religions. Might it be that studying the basis of and means for peaceful co-existence (in homes, in neighbourhoods, in cities and beyond) may well be of more importance than the traditional study of math, reading, geography and history? The framework for education in the 21st century would do well to endorse peaceful coexistence as a foundation for the studies associated with all school subjects.
How are we to understand the ideology of ethnic superiority and religious zealotry? How are we to understand the complex interaction between the constraints and freedoms inherent in modernism and an individualistic ideology? Does there have to be a relentless fight for oil and the ‘good life’ in a free market world? (Is there, in fact, a free market world? Should there be?) Are those who live in poverty feeling an unfairness about life when they compare their own situation with the far more luxurious Western lifestyle, which so many easily believe is responsible for keeping the majority of the earth’s citizens impoverished? How can differences in beliefs and dissatisfaction so easily allow the perpetration of harm, violence, and destruction against others and the natural world? How do I as an educator help our students recapture (or, perhaps, build) a communal, globalizing, love and respect-based relational soul?
A horrendous change has surrounded the military strategies of the last century all over the globe (Carrington & Griffin, 2011, p. 9). While there has never been a time in history that civilians did not perish in warfare, over the last fifty years civilians have become the prime targets. At the time of writing this thesis, more vulnerable unarmed civilians (most of whom are women and children) are dying in battles than are soldiers (Carrington and Griffin, 2011). The sense of powerlessness that this feature of modern life brings must in some unconscious way is predicated by the forces that shape our capacity or failure to contend with this acute suffering. My father was in the navy in the Second World War, and I grew up with the understanding that war is a part of human life. I never really questioned or even imagined that the cycle of violence could be transformed. As of late, some researchers are exploring the possibility that there are dimensions of collective trauma that impair communality and damage the foundation of meaningful life connections. Kai Erickson (1994) describes it this way:
‘By collective trauma’I mean a basic blow to the basic tissues of social life that damages the bonds attaching people together and impairs the prevailing sense of communality. The collective trauma works its way slowly and even insidiously into the awareness of those who suffer from it, so it does not have the quality of suddenness normally associated with ‘trauma’. But it is a form of shock just the same, a gradual realization that the community no longer exists as an effective support and that an important part of the self has disappeared”I’ continue to exist, though damaged and maybe even permanently changed. ‘You’ continue to exist, though distant and hard to relate to. But ‘we’ no longer exist as a connected pair or as linked cells to a larger communal body’ p. 233.
Thus, what is really compelling about relationality, is that it gives rise to a mixture of activities that cannot be traced to any of the individuals involved. Collective trauma devastates culture and brings people to experience living in a state of alienation and isolation away from others. Taken together, the narratives in this chapter are an invitation to open up the boundaries of pedagogy to enlarge our conscious understanding of the nature of binarism, and how it has created the conditions for destruction around the world. This acknowledgment is crucial if we ever hope to see our global problems clearly, with the view to transcend the great environmental devastation and dangers of heightened warfare in this era in history.
Pernicious Individualism: The globalization of hungry ghosts
In Buddhism, a supernatural being filled with more desire than it can consume. The hungry ghost is often depicted with large belly and tiny mouth, a metaphor for people futilely attempting to fulfill their illusory physical desires.
How can a world that is so seemingly advanced be so insatiable? The Buddhist metaphor of the hungry ghost illustrates the unquenchable desire of humanity and our conspicuous consumption of a finite planet. Similar to the notion of holism and interconnection, the Buddhist understanding proposes there is no everlasting, intrinsic soul or individual (also known as atman). Much like the hungry ghost who is never satisfied, ‘Samsara’ is a Buddhist term that describes a person’s sense of unfulfilled incessant longing and is defined as the continual recurring cycle of life, especially birth and death. This ongoing cycle depicts a constantly searching and never fulfilled hungry ghost. The endless search for fulfillment stems from the tendency for people to become preoccupied with themselves and their experiences. (Trungpa, 2009, p. 137). Samsura represents a state of consciousness conveyed by suffering and is characterized by unawareness (avidya), and feelings of dissatisfaction and anxiety (dukkha). (Smith and Novak, 2009). What we are witnessing in this era of globalization could be described as the disposition of people in a state of samsara. The human tendency for overconsumption is conceived as a persistent, cyclical desire to escape from suffering. Ajahn Sucitto (2010) explains:
The pattern is that each new arising, or “birth” if you like, is experienced as unfulfilling. In this process of ongoing need, we keep moving from this to that without ever getting to the root of the process. Another aspect of this need is the need to fix things, or to fix ourselves’to make conflict or pain go away. By this I mean an instinctive response rather than a measured approach of understanding what is possible to fix and what dukkha has to be accommodated right now. Then there’s the need to know, to have it all figured out. That gets us moving too. This continued movement is an unenlightened being’s response to dukkha. That movement is what is meant by sams??ra, the wandering on. (p. 37-38).
The root cause of samsara is consciousness that abides by the belief in a single, independent existing self. The root cause of suffering is understood as the centering on a self and healing takes place by recognizing and fostering one’s interdependence with others and one’s place within a larger cosmic order. Until the root problem of a consciousness that views the self as separated and self-contained is addressed, we will have difficulty resolving the complex ecological challenges of the world today.
There are countless cases in point of how the samsara of humanity has taken a stronghold over globalizing lifestyles of consumption and pernicious individualism. Take for example we store in our tissues and blood countless industrial chemicals, many of which are toxic and found in masses of consumer products, plastic containers, and food packaging. Significantly heightened rates of differing types of cancers and other diseases are on the rise, as well as obesity from eating ‘food’ of little nutritious value (Spretnak, 2011, p. 61). Three quarters of American people have trouble sleeping at night. (Spretnak, 2011). Every day, cell phones ring, text messages and emails pop up on our phones, and we spend hours in front of the computer, all of which contribute to unrestful sleep and heightened levels of stress. Depression rates are reported as ‘epidemic’ (Spretnak, p. 63). In North America and the vast use of anti-depressant medication is on the rise. Today, 11 percent of American people over the age of 12 years are on anti-depressant medication, and antidepressants are widely administered in Canada (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2006). The Center for Disease Control (2006) reported that one in every 150 American children has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). By 2009, the rate of ASD was one out of every 100 eight-year-olds (Zarembo, 2009). Although the causes of ASD are not known, exposure to toxic substances in-utero has been hypothesized. The nervous systems of millions of children around the globe are saturated with electronics throughout their early development and children at all stages of development are viewed as a ‘target market’ by video-game companies and television shows. In 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation announced that the average young person in the United States spends the majority of his or her time outside of school using a computer, a television, a cell phone, or other electronic device (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010).
Increasingly, students report that they feel a sense of alienation and detachment from the world (Spretnak, 2011, p. 67). Somehow, in our era of ‘advancements,’ we lost sight of our fundamental interrelatedness with the environment. If we stop to think about it, it should be most perplexing that we can dump significant amounts of toxic substances into our water, air, and soil, but not recognize, or refuse to recognize, that there is any relationship to our health and the health of ecosystems. How is it that the deterioration of our combined and interconnected body-minds has gone largely unnoticed? Western assumptions about the nature of reality (that bodies are separate from minds, minds and bodies are separate from nature) have led humans to believe they are not fundamentally biologically interconnected to each other and other species (Spretnak, 2011). The Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries led to a mechanistic way of looking at the world. Everything was seen as resembling a machine, and all institutions, including schools, were formulated to resemble effective machines (Bordo, 1987).
David Loy explains that we fail to witness the disposition of our attention because we are caught in a plethora of ‘collective attention traps’ that are socially conditioned by the ‘cognitive commons’ (Loy, 2009, p.102). The enclosure of the cognitive commons was a defining crossroad in the development of capitalism described by Jonathon Rowe (2001) in his article, ‘Carpe Callosum’. Here he describes the ambience of daily life and shared mindset as so pervasive it goes unnoticed. Holidays and monthly events, such as Mother’s Day, Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Thanksgiving have been transformed into shopping occasions. Advertising on the internet, television, stores and billboards is so pervasive everywhere we turn that it is filtrated into every aspect of our consciousness. These constant and persistent messages that confronting us are the enclosure of the cognitive commons and no longer grab our attention, they exploit it (Loy, 2009). In the developed world, most of these attention traps are related to consumerism by way of advertising and convincing people that their discomfort can be expelled by their next purchase (Loy, 2009, p. 100). In this sense, attention has become a significant commodity to be manipulated. For example, most children under the age of three recognize the golden M symbol of a McDonald’s restaurant but do not know how to spell their own names. Our daily lives are inundated by ads, the internet, and various techno gadgets which are fundamentally changing our ability to think and problem-solve (Loy, 2009, p. 98-9).
Noam Chomsky (1992) has a point when he discusses how our attention is manipulated by modern democracies that instill fear and worry. Instead, he advocates that societies should be concerned with the deception and distraction of such propaganda to make the public anxious (Chomsky & Herman, 1992). Further to this point, he explains that anxious and fearful people are more susceptible to manipulation (Chomsky and Herman, 1988). I am reminded again of 9/11 and threats of weapons of mass destruction. The invasion of Iraq would have been difficult to orchestrate had the general public not been concerned with non-existent weapons that kept us fearful (Loy, 2009). The cognitive commons of a capitalist culture has enclosed collective attention into commodities. The cognitive commons in and of itself is ironically strong evidence to support the lack of relational reality in our awareness and that to which we attend. The momentum of our species is sadly being transformed by a worldview of individualism and instrumentalism, informed by a pernicious consumerist culture.
In an attempt to remedy the conundrum of these everyday distractions, Heesoon Bai (2004) proposes some practices to make intersubjective ethics an everyday activity. Proper prevention, she argues, rather than making ethics an intervention from not paying attention to the well-being of the other, is the ethical ideal to strive for (Bai, 2004). Following the theoretical notion that all of the earth community is interlinked and interconnected, everyday practices include the integration of ‘mind/body, self/other, and subject/object’ (Bai, 2004, p. 51). I resonate with Bai’s plea that everyday activities that cultivate intrinsic valuing of intersubjectivity, interconnection and the well-being of the world are sorely needed to counter the prevalent pattern of binaristic thinking.
Journal Entry: The pernicious phantom of individualism
Pernicious: causing great harm or damage often in a way that is not easily seen or noticed; highly injurious or destructive; deadly; wicked.
The centering on oneself, as a way of living and being, is having a harmful impact on children, including my own children. What we fail to recognize is the pernicious nature of individualism and how it shapes our view of ourselves, one-another and our relations with the natural world. Watching my two sons grow up in a world of consumerism, what I have tried so hard to keep them from, has still left them for want much like other children. What I see around me is that how children learn, and how children socialize is shaped by the mind set of capitalist culture. There is a sense that one’s identity is captured in ‘cultural capital’ ‘ what one owns, what one wears, having the latest ‘this or that’.
One begins to realize that enculturation of children leads to the shaping of little people, their beliefs about themselves, cultural values and how to understand the world. There is a point at which these customary practices for self-success become self-defeating, for both children and adults. Upon reflection, one realizes you have soaked up the values, symbols, discourses and definitions of people around you. Or rather than absorbed, you have been consumed by them, as though you were overtaken by something alien and foreign. This is how I felt after working in schools for many years. It took a great deal of soul searching to understand how I had been enculturated and to recognize how children were also being socialized into pernicious individuals. At first you engross and accept the school culture, complete with attitudes and modes of communication, trusting that it will convey endorsement from your administrators, parents and coworkers. There is a silent and never challenged understanding it will bring success, socially and academically to the students. After living this way for several years you will have internalized these values and probably not even realize it. You will have agreed to the values of the institution that define your work and shape the interactions you have with others. I have seen contented children lose their souls, either through emotional crisis or ensuing addiction in their teen years and an combination of wants for this or that, probably for the same motives of endorsement. The result is the perpetuation of an “alienated self” over time and a never-ending, vague feeling that some other way is just on the cusp of being discovered “if only” we try harder at those same tendencies for consumption. But the satisfaction never happens. All the while, children have forgotten their capacity for grace with the presence of all-life phenomena, to listen for it and be there for it.
I’m with Richard Louv, when he warns that children today are suffering from ‘nature-deficit disorder’ (Louv, 2005). Children need to play outside in the streams and forests and get their hands muddy with earth. They need to discover that there are diverse varieties of plants, rocks and trees. They need to settle in the grass and witness the natural surroundings unfold. They need to nurture their communities and participate in communal preventative and restorative projects. Instead, I dread that the life that is handed to children is a vacuous, disenchanted hungry ghost.
I am concerned that pernicious individualism is a dangerous mindset and has been wholly inadequate for countering the ecological problems of today. As expressed in my journal entry, the dark side of individualism is that it compromises the ability for people to see themselves existing within and among an earth community. Politicians and corporations support the myth of the individual since this worldview supports economic inequality (Callero, 2013, p. 4). The notion of freedom for many folks entails selfishness, and the desirability of shopping and consumption. Hence, the question of how to define a ‘self’ has a major impact on how we live our lives. Anthropologists and historians have showed consistently that the definition of an individual varies from culture to culture, but has a significant influence on our legal systems, religious ideals, economies and politics (Callero, 2013). The origins of collective belief systems are challenging to track down, but researchers believe individualism took a stronghold during the period of the Enlightenment during the eighteenth-century (Martin & Baressi, 2006).
Here in this limited chapter, I will provide a thumbnail sketch of the history of atomistic individualism and the various nuances associated with this phenomenon. My task here is to provide an overview of the theoretical and practical underpinnings of atomistic and pernicious individualism, and how it has contributed to some of the darker features of the modern world. My purpose is to show how these features are culturally reproduced in our educational institutions and in our pedagogy. I divide the nuances of individualism into separate discussions, each with its own emphasis in helping us to understand the depth, subtleties, traces, and contradictions of individualism. I take up a brief overview of the history of individualism and trace the psychological, political, economic, social, and ecological nuances apparent in such a worldview. I then unpack the understandings, values, and practices that have been instilled by cultural tradition and present ontological implications for personal relationships and connections with community and nature.
What are we talking about when we say, ‘individualism’?
Whatever relationships we may assume with other people, we are conscious that there is an inner being of our own; we know and understand ourselves as individuals. To the average person, this may seem as common sense and there is nothing unusual in this experience. We are justified in our beliefs that our distinct personalities are a taken-for-granted point of departure for our motivation, thought, human psychologies, our educational theories, and our social policies. Yet, our engrained acceptance of individualism is of significant historical significance when we consider the globalizing destruction of climate change.
Nonetheless, let me explain that I think it important that we not do away with the many virtues and autonomy associated with individualism. On the contrary, it would be an ethical violation not to allow people to make choices, exercise their democratic rights, and develop their personal identities. Nonetheless, I argue in this thesis that many of the problems of our modern world are associated with the widely-held ideology of individualism.
The term individualism is not easy to define since as an occurrence it has taken on various meanings and nuances over the course of the last few hundred centuries (Albrecht, 2012). Individualism, as the term stands today, is broadly defined as a political and social philosophy that emphasizes the moral worth of the individual (Lukes, 1971). Common descriptions of individualism often portray our present fixation with the self in terms of narcissistic attitudes, the never-ending quest for narrowly understood and defined self-fulfillment and self-improvement, and the manipulation of others for individual needs and pursuits (Elliot and Lemert, 2006). In Asian traditions, the purpose of ‘self-cultivation’ is to achieve a state of interbeing’the opposite of atomistic individualism. So, we need to understand that the Eastern notion of ‘self-improvement’ involves the fostering of an understanding of spiritual interconnection. In the Buddhist view, for example, there is no ‘self’ and the ultimate goal is to develop daily practices to help reach enlightenment. Eastern practices that foster self-cultivation include meditation, martial arts, Eastern dance, yoga, meditation, tai chi, and Qigong. These daily practices have been modestly entering the fabric of everyday Western life over the past few decades (Brown, 2010).
However, self-cultivation in the West is also associated with another meaning. This meaning is more aligned with what I call autonomous or pernicious individualism. Autonomous individualism conceptualizes individuals as capable of anything without reliance on others, and that the needs of the individual outweigh the needs of the community or society as a whole (Brindley, 2010). Autonomous individualism can be interpreted as the quest to be self-reliant, and in its extreme can lead to self-centered feelings or conduct (Hopper, 2003). The autonomous individual places greater emphasis on self-sufficiency and initiates satisfaction and pride in one’s personal goals and accomplishments. This perpetuates the notion of self-concept, self- confidence, selfishness and a preference for emotional detachment from other people (Parker, Haytko & Herman, 2009). Traditional views of individualism propose that Eastern cultures are more apt to maintain collectivist tendencies while Western cultures accept more individualistic tendencies (Parker, Haytko & Herman, 2009). Even so, research indicates that both East and West are equally as individualistic in their tendencies (Parker, Haytko & Herman, 2009) due to the globalization of trade (Moore, 2005).The term ‘individualism’ is well expressed by Robert N. Bellah: ‘American cultural traditions define personality, achievement, and the purpose of human life in ways that leave the individual suspended in glorious, but terrifying, isolation.’ (Bellah, et. al, 1985, p. 6).
Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim (2002) highlight the structural forces of ‘individualization’ referred to as institutionalized individualism. What they refer to here is that certain institutions of modern society, such as the workplace, schools, and laws, are geared to the individual and not to the group. The continuing trend of individualization is undermining the foundation of social coexistence. For example, Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (2002) describe neoliberal economics as assuming that ‘individuals alone can master the whole of their lives, that they renew their capacity for action from within themselves’ (p. xxi). The ideology of the ‘self-entrepreneur’ conflicts with the lived experience of work, school and family life which demonstrates that humans are intricately tied to others. Our recent institutionalizing of individualism is making profound changes in societal structures and practices. For example, new constraints and demands are made on individuals such as a competitive job market, people are tied to a network of regulations, provisions, pension rights, taxes and insurance protection. All of these are reference points that spell out how individualization is marking the territory of institutions. (Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 2002, p. 2). Another far-reaching example is a woman’s presumed ‘choice’ of whether or not to have children. The enforcement of a market economy has fundamentally influenced the decision of literally thousands of women about the economic, financial and existential risks of taking responsibility for a child. (Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 2002, p. 123-125). Many women, especially single women, are choosing not to have children for concern of not having the means to adequately care for a child. The development of a ‘self-driven culture’ or ‘living a life of one’s own’ is developed by the logic of an autonomous self and is distinctively featured in education. For instance, several school districts (and the BC curriculum itself) include programs designed to center on a ‘self’ and ‘increase children’s self-esteem, most of which actually build self-importance and narcissism’ (Twenge, 2006, p. 55).These trends in the psychologizing of a ‘self’ in turn create greater individualism (Martin and McLellan, 2013).
For the purpose of clarity, and to illustrate my points, I will outline three meanings of individualism, Individualism I’ 1 (Autonomous Individualism), Individualism I’ 2 (Pernicious Individualism), and Individualism I’ 3 (Integrated Individualism or the ‘integrated self’):
1) Autonomous Individualism (I-1): the increasingly narrow pursuit of self-interest that undermines the pursuit of community life and devolves into materialistic selfishness. Accompanied by feelings of social isolation, dislocation and fragmentation.
Pernicious Individualism (I-2): Encompasses autonomous individualism, but with the added recognition that pernicious individualism is harmful and potentially deadly to all life phenomena. Each individual is separately bound and excluded from the interbeing/interconnected dimension of humanity. Pernicious individualism is harmful to the individual, society, and the earth community.
3) Integrated Individualism (I-3): Integrated individualism is the term I use to highlight Bruce Alexander’s (2010) view of ‘psychosocial integration’. The term psychosocial integration is the conviction that each person has a vital need for social belonging, and individual autonomy. Personal identity remains a necessary component of the ‘self’ but there is a ‘profound interdependence between individual and society’ (Alexander, 2010). In my explanation of integrated individualism, the notion of tremendous interdependence expands beyond our social interrelatedness to include deep interdependence with the planetary system.
What I am concerned with in this thesis is the ideology of pernicious individualism. This chapter will analyse why pernicious individualism (I-2) encompasses the most dangerous human psychological problem of the globalizing world. It will show how the mindset of pernicious individualism has contributed to large-scale social suffering and the ecological problems of today.
The significance of pernicious individualism
The importance of distinguishing atomistic individualism (I-1) from pernicious individualism (I-2)
Landscape of theoretical analysis
A historical thumbnail sketch of individualism
About 2,500 years ago, the first traces of the phenomenon of individualism were noted in historical accounts of the writings of Plato (Kim, 2013). Plato’s central concerns were dualism (the rejection of material reality) and intellectual positivism (the idea that intellectual understandings are more ‘real’ than knowledge known to us through sensation. Dualism is the theory in the philosophy of mind that mind and body or mind and brain’ the mental and the physical’are, in some sense, radically distinctive entities. Debate about dualism tends to stem from the assumption of the certainty of the physical world, and the mind as separate from the world. In a similar vein, intellectual positivism relies on the scientific method to describe reality or truth based on cause and effect relationships. As a purely intellectual way of looking at the world, positivism involves observation and classification of data and facts.
A few centuries later, under the influence of Plato’s philosophy, Christianity endorsed a dualistic metaphysics that downplayed earthly life and privileged the quest for individuals to assert themselves to heaven or utopia. In other words, ‘living together’ in one’s community was somehow less emphasized because people were more interested to get to the ideal world after death. In this sense, people were more concerned with ‘my’ spirit’s journey as an individualistic quest for heaven. In this way, one’s personal journey is emphasized over community life (Kim, 2013).
Alexis de Tocqueville (1805’1859) coined the term ‘individualism’ in the early 1900’s to portray an emerging sense of social isolation in Western society (Elliot & Lemert, 2006). The individualist commitment was to suppress relational connections with others and the natural world in favor of self-improvement and the development of one’s own potential. Tocqueville depicted individualism as a sort of modest selfishness that prepared people to be concerned only with their own small circle of family and friends. For Tocqueville, this was problematic because individualism sapped the ‘virtues of public life,’ for which civic virtue and association were a suitable remedy. Modern individualism materialized from these trends in society that Tocqueville identified and the resistance to aristocratic and sovereign authority that was viewed as oppressive to the rights of citizens to govern themselves. In that opposing struggle, support was gleaned from political philosophy with respect to individual rights and the Christian religion. Still, these influences on individual sovereignty were confounded by religious obedience and moral obligation, rather than complete freedom (Bellah, et. al, 1985, 142-3).
In the 17th century, John Locke was enormously influential on the development of ontological individualism: the notion that one is a biological individual in a state of nature. The individual is prior to society, and the primary cornerstone of existence is to maximize one’s self-interest (Sigmund, 2003). This development is known as utilitarian individualism. These prior ways of conceiving individualism evolved into autonomous and now pernicious individualism, and are now the prevalent mode of thinking. In this sense, the danger is that individuals withdraw from the public sphere in order to pursue a private life apart from the public interest. What we fail to recognize is that this distancing from others and our interconnection with all life phenomena is contributing to wide spread social and ecological devastation. Hence, the most pressing issue of all education initiatives involves the fostering of integrated individuals as a useful way of seeing the problems of our globalizing world. The thinking that best fosters genuine individuality is one that contextualizes the individual in relation to a larger whole: the individual with/in the community ‘ the pursuit of both public and private life (Martin and McLelland, 2013).
How then, do we make sense of our development as individuals and our global situation of human starvation and social injustice in a world of ‘human rights,’ war, and ecological demise? To answer these questions, I shall now explain how well-known historical accounts of rugged individualism and the scientific revolution have infiltrated the western psyche and helped cultivate the human view of separation from the natural world.
Herbert Hoover first used the term rugged individualism when he referred to the idea that each person should be autonomous, and that the government should not involve itself in peoples’ financial lives or in nationwide economics by and large. His idea of rugged individualism reflected his conviction that the federal government should not interfere with the American people during the Great Depression. Hoover rejected the idea of providing large-scale humanitarian efforts, since these efforts would injure “the initiative and enterprise of the American people.” (Hsu, 1983). As a Western legacy, the belief in science, progress, and self-improvement has been encouraged. For example, if one lives in poverty, it is frequently understood that he or she is less advantaged because he or she has not taken responsibility, or does not work hard enough. If one works hard, one can reap the benefits by landing a good income. Anthropologist Clifford Geerts (1975) explains the crux of this understanding of individualism as ‘a bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and cognitive universe, a dynamic center of awareness, emotion, judgment, and action organized into a distinctive whole and set contrastively against other such wholes and against a social and natural background.’ (p. 48). Generally, the understanding behind rugged individualism is that we behave in any given way as a matter of liberation, free choice and emancipation. Thus, believers in rugged individualism would explain behavior as purely internally motivated, generally disregarding or minimizing the influence of the external environment.The assumption that humans are separate and unconnected from nature and that there are no interrelations with other humans or other species came to fruition during the Scientific Revolution in the 16th century. This radical and fateful turn away from an interconnected worldview eventually became the cornerstone of Modern Western values (Spretnak, 2011, p. 17). Subsequently, what we have deemed as rational thought in the Western world and elsewhere is rational within a restricted framework, but is rather deficient in a more far-reaching comprehension of the wider nature of things. Moreover, the conjecture of atomism (that matter is composed of indivisible, minuscule, imperceptible parts that bump into each other and sometimes merge) contributed to the birth of the new mechanistic worldview that individuals are like similar tiny particles in a society. (Spretnak, 2011). The notion of the separated, detached, mind fragmented from emotion, segregated from body, and ontologically separate from everything else became regarded as the human ideal in the modern world. People could be set free from all restraints ‘ the Earth, weather, community, and family responsibility. The liberation of the autonomous individual to gain wealth and power was the essence of Western progress and deliberation. As a result, mechanistic orientation informed all aspects of life, including the assumption that everything in the physical world behaves like a machine. Not surprisingly, institutions like schools were designed in the 18th century to resemble machines (Spretnak, 2011, p. 17). All of truth and reality was thought to be abstract, quantifiable, and measurable.
Today, the remnants of this thinking still have a stronghold over our current day mind-set and socialization, even though research in science is producing mounting evidence to the contrary. Insights from systems, chaos and complexity theory (Bai, 2006) demonstrate that creative and unpredictable outcomes are always emergent based on relational dynamics. In other words, the entire natural world is interrelated and interactive, including of course, humans. Charlene Spretnak reminds us that ‘the grand discovery was that nature is actually composed of zillions of dynamic relationships embedded with one another!’ (Spretnak, p. 17).
Individualism and Psychology Culture
The field of modern day psychology originated from the Enlightenment conception of human individuality. In this sense, individuals are self-governing and distinct from others (Fay, 1996). In the late 1800s, psychology developed language to describe ‘personality’ and ‘human nature.’ (Leahey, 1992). In the initial phases of the 20th century, behaviorism was popular by way of understanding human nature as conceptualized through scientific objectivism and as something that ‘isolated’ people did. Experiments were done to examine to behavior of isolated animals, such as rats, with controlled environments. This ‘natural science’ view of psychology tends to dismiss the larger context of experience ‘ i.e. cultural, historical, familial, political, and so on. When individuals are accounted for by behavior, there is an underlying ontological individualism which explains an individual’s motivations by individual dispositions rather than as a member of a group (Fay, 1996). Nonetheless, individuals learn, act, and develop through their interactions with others and the world in which we live.
When it comes to common practices of child-rearing, psychologist Elizabeth Throop (2009) emphasizes that the vast majority of messages American children receive reflect and perpetuate the cultural persistence on individualism. There are assumptions about the sorts of interactions children require, yet we mostly reject the most fundamental ones. For example, many parents believe that children should learn to stand on their own two feet. According to the famous pediatrician, Dr. Spock, the recommendation is that children not sleep with their parents as this is viewed an unhealthy for independent sleep habits. Yet, evolutionary human needs seem to suggest that children need to sleep and be in close proximity to family members for their development (Throop, 2009). Children in western society generally have their own bedrooms, and one common child-rearing practice was to let infants cry at bedtime to get them to learn how to fall asleep on their own (Spock, 1948). We insist very early on in American culture that children need to cultivate independence and make the goal of parenting to teach them how to be autonomous. Yet, according to some anthropologists, this desire for independence is more of a cultural demand than an actual human need (Diamond, 1992, p.7). This attachment pattern of fostering independence may actually be detrimental to children and may contribute to the manifestation of autonomous individualism. Critics of this manner of training children sometimes blame capitalism for a fostering a sense of false independence in children (Throop, 2009). Instead, the human need for interdependence is denied, and competition, self-reliance and self-sufficiency are valued and promoted. This is the culture of individualism that is engrained in our children.
The recognition that individualism has not always been the predominant viewpoint is critical to bringing to light the assumptions we take for granted that are curiously ignorant of the natural laws of the universe. Jack Martin (2013) explains further:
The entire purpose of critical historical inquiry, especially in the social and psychological sciences, is the increase in our awareness of the ways in which social historical conditions and practices (including the assumptions, methods, findings, teachings, and interventions of social and psychological scientists) have entered into the history of our current societal institutions and practices (in areas such as politics and education) and even into our contemporary understandings of ourselves and others. (P. 8.)
It is particularly helpful to critique the historical and cultural phenomena that have contributed to the ides of the autonomous individual and the notion that we are psychologically, separate selves. In effect, the entire psychological disposition denotes a key arrangement of metaphysical and ontological implications concerning human experience as grossly simplified within the reality of a complex and multifaceted world. I would develop this paragraph a little more since it is really the conclusion to this microsection.
Pernicious Individuals: A growing world of hungry ghosts
Success, to the average person, is frequently associated with economic progress and the accumulation of material possessions. The defining processes of our institutions, laws, socialization, and political contexts encourage greater individualism within advanced industrial societies to the extent that many forms of community engagement are threatened. Most people today work in large bureaucracies or private businesses, and as such, aspire to advance up the professional ladder. Often, we are torn between the pressure to work and the demands of family. Consumed with the immediate tasks of daily living and making a living, we can easily become unconcerned about or ignorant of the wider political and social implications of our work.
Globalization presents even more challenges. Some theorists refer to globalism as a homogenization of global culture (Hopper, 2003, p. 31). These global trends are understood as influences from the West, or especially American culture as demonstrated by examples of cities around the world that resemble each other closely. For example, local cultures give way to the industrialized world and as a result cannot compete with globalizing businesses such as big banks, branded retail stores, fast-food restaurants (Hopper, 2003, p. 31). In my own travels, I have observed that many of the world’s airports and cities look increasingly alike: the advertisements and retail outlets are essentially identical and uniform goods can be bought around the world. The globalization of branded goods, such as everything from Burger King to Guess Jeans whether you are in Vancouver or Hong Kong continues a rapidly widening market of consumption and self-interest. The new face of global capitalism is one of the most prominent characteristics at the heart of global culture that undermines small business and diverse cultural tradition. The notion of individualism as personal identity prevails not only in the West but is also spreading rapidly across the globe (Alexander, 2010, p. 3).
The United Nations Development Programme illustrates the consumerist consequence of individualism within modern culture by the mass increase in consumer services and products around the world: in 2005, the wealthiest 20 percent of the world accounted for 76.6 percent of total private consumption. The poorest fifth was just 1.5 percent. These statistics suggest another side-effect of consumerism: the yearning for constant but never attained self-fulfillment and an increased sense of social and universal alienation. According to Buddhist author David Loy, ‘the deepest frustration is caused by my sense of being a self that is separate from the world I am in. This separation is illusory ‘ in fact, it is our most dangerous delusion.’ (Loy, 2008, p. 87). Loy asserts that our global and combined alienation from the biosphere must be an ongoing source of collective anxiety for us, and our attempts to secure ourselves like hungry ghosts are making matters worse. For example, why do we value so highly a ‘growth economy’? Why do we feel as though we never have enough?
Never before in our human history have we come face-to-face with the perils of our individualist ideology and the devastating global consequences (Cushman, 1996). What modernity has contributed to education is the assumption that how to lead a meaningful life is through the attribution of skills and abilities to become a free and autonomous individual (Taylor, 1992). But asking a child to lift her or himself up by the bootstraps ‘ alone ‘ is a self-defeating ideology that ignores the value of collaboration and sacrifice ‘ among many of the complex aspects of living and learning that are ignored when our mythologies cloud the realities of being fully human (Bowers, 1995, p. 7). This is good; just provide one more sentence of transition. There is a significant contradiction between our individualistic culture and our denial of today’s global realities.
The modern Western (and increasingly global) notion that humans are somehow excused, even separate and apart, from the natural laws and limitations of the physical universe has contributed to rapid climate change. Still, despite some common awareness of environmental instability, and the desire for a healthy environment, many people feel powerless to change directions. According to Tina Lynn Evans, we are living in a ‘perpetual state of forced dependency’ (Evans, 2011, p. 74) on the global economy. In order for the industrial economy of enforced dependency to thrive, Evans explains that ____ must continuously undermine people, community, small business and even government into constant and never-fulfilled dependency. Our collective attention is narrowed by our busy work lives and other aspects of daily living that many folks to contend with the problems associated with climate change. (It is as though we are too busy chasing the cows to put up a fence! ) As globalization spreads throughout the world, self-sufficient communities (that are relatively sustainable) give way to the pressures of large-scale industry. The world is a corporate business that requires the vast majority of citizens to spend their lives indebted into a money-generating treadmill so a few corporations can turn huge profit. The costs to Mother Nature (and the local people) do not make it onto the balance sheet. When individuals become a part of a nameless, faceless and complacent mass, democracy suffers (Evans, 2011).
The critically important call to action for deep education is to engage and encourage others to participate in the mutual development of integrated individuals in our sacred shared place. Our best interests are the preservation of locally-engaged planning, economy, and the stewardship of our shared planet.
The Western trend towards separation, dualism, and individualism fosters destructive anthropocentric practices. As a result, nature has been regarded as a commodity to be manipulated for human use. This way of thinking has led to an ontological crisis in the sense we are implicated in a personal and social alienation toward ourselves, each other and the natural world. In other words, this ‘distancing’ is by and large the ontological crisis that we are experiencing today ‘ self from nature, mind from body, subject from object, etc. The reductionism engrained in rational thought is the cornerstone to many of the ailments of Modernity, and is at the root of what ails many of our modernist structures, including education.
The ideology that make believes it isn’t an ideology….
In 1641, Descartes published Meditations, in which he declared mathematics and reductive science are the keys to understanding nature and the universe (Bordo, 1987). Since then the modern world has come to understand the world in terms of separation. We have divided mind from subject, and viewed a material world of ‘objects’ and have fragmented these ‘external things’ from our own sense perceptions ‘ emotions, inklings, inter-subjectivities (Abram, 1996, pp. 31-31). The rational self objectifies, externalizes, and ‘others’ all that is not self-same (Jardine, 2000). We tend to identify the self with our rational mind more than our entire body-mind-heart; ‘truth’ is external to the self, somewhere out in the objective world, and to be ‘discovered’ through Cartesian scientific method. The Cartesian scientific method is a metaphysics and epistemology based on rationalism, reductionism and objective science. This theory is thought to be the only way of understanding the absolute truth of an object or process under study (Merchant, 1996). Although the human ability to reason has produced medical advances that have increased longevity and quality of life for some, (Rilely-Taylor, 2002, p. 34) our work lives have changed drastically with scientific technology. Yet, the focus of relationships with families and communities has been weakened and replaced by increased emphasis on materialism and competition ‘ leading to further alienation and complacency. With increased alienation and detachment fueled by motivation for money and profit, people are apt to exploit the earth’s resources. The interdependence of planetary natural systems is essentially ignored for personal gain. Modern people often measure self-worth on material possessions and career status than by the fabric of their moral being. Elaine Riley Taylor explains:
Questions regarding the kind of person I am, what I value, how I approach my relationships with others and the natural worlds are diminished amid demands to compete and to succeed within a free-market economy. In twentieth century United States, it is common for success to be measured by where you live, what you drive and what you wear. (p. 35.)
Our prevailing capitalist world encourages and makes allowances for the exploitation of planetary resources beyond the scope of any sustainable balance between humans and industrialization.
The paradox of individualism is that it fosters a way of living that is not viable, individually or socially, and ecologically. David Loy reminds us that the source of collective anxiety that haunts the Western world is the fundamental delusion of separation from others and the rest of the biosphere. Furthermore, our futile ‘attempts to secure ourselves are just making things worse’ (Loy, 2008, p. 12.)
Many people assume that the way our everyday instrumental understanding of the world shows up is the way the world really is. Yet it is this individualistic understanding of ourselves that needs to be questioned and unpacked in order to recognize how peculiar, curious and exceptional such a worldview is. Let’s develop this paragraph. It doesn’t feel like a solid conclusion to what has been a meaty and well-argued chapter. Go ahead and work on this ending
In the next chapter, I explain how the nuances and understandings associated with the formation of self-identities are culturally endorsed in our pedagogy. Using examples from my experience and drawing from various authors, I show how trends in education have globalized the concept of the highly individualized self and have developed a language that defines our lived experience as internalized. I discuss the ways in which pernicious individualism has diminished a necessary sense of community and has increased the tendency toward increased alienation, anxiety and consumption (Elliot & Lemert, 2006). I propose the possibility of a different kind of individual ‘ the integrated individual – and put the conception of relational pedagogy forward for discussion. As I have been arguing all along, we need to have a clear understanding of precisely the situation we perpetuate in our schools and make conscious use of our predicament. To be sure, the pedagogy we encompass is matter of life and death on a changing planet and therefore our quandary must be met with urgency.
Pedagogical Individualism: The shadows of our individualistic psyche
The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.
~ R. D. Laing
The Peculiar World of Schools
The notion of individualism has been heavily criticized by some education philosophers for the lack of attention to how individuals develop in relation to others (Noddings, 1984) and for ignoring the inequality of power arrangements that surface from such assumptions (Foucault, 1980; Thayer-Bacon, 2003). Give a few examples of these sorts of criticisms ‘ you don’t need to add much, just a little bit to satisfy your adviser’s comment. Despite these criticisms, the ideal of a liberal democratic education prevails today. In my experience working as a school counselor in the Vancouver school district, there is growing pedagogical interest in the self-esteem, self-concept, and self-regulation of students. This form of emphasis on the valuing of interests, and the entitlement of students to behold their own beliefs and cognitions, stems from an assumption that students are valued as capable and psychologically individualized entities. Say a little more about why they are not ‘lead into the concept of ‘symptoms’ of individualist culture. Because right now I’m not quite sure what you’re defining as those symptoms. These symptoms of an individualist culture have reduced human beings to thin layers. Thin layers of what? I actually love the metaphor, but I just want to make sure you’re being clear. They lost their thicker layers through the process of an individualistic mind-set that disembodied humans from Nature, humanity, and community. How? How did they lose them? Remember what your adviser says’you can’t just state or claim without having the evidence to back it up. I’m sure you do have the evidence, but you need to make sure it directly follows the claim. These thin layers also endorse education based on self-promotion and self-entitlement and are contributing to the development of students as radically autonomous individuals who are too insecure to participate in community or ecological stewardship. Instead, education today is being driven by the global pursuit of progress and the necessity for job creation in order to ensure whose survival in times of diminishing resources and economic stress. According to Iris C. Rotberg, a writer on global education reform, ‘a nation’s priorities are typically reflected in its education system.’ (Rotberg, et. al, 2010, p. xi). Say a little more about this. This is important.
If we were to survey the general themes of the curriculum standards across Canada and the United States, we can easily deduce that the efficient development and articulation of one’s beliefs are the overarching valued educational goals. For example, much of the British Columbian curriculum is concerned with intellectual, social and personal development of individual persons. Moreover, psychologists and contemporary psychological thinking has endorsed their disciplinary expertise and specialized interventions in schools. Educational psychologist Jack Martin points out that ‘psychology’s increasing involvement in education and schooling carries significant implications for the education of persons in contemporary societies.’ (Martin & McLellan, 2013, p. 45). Martin adds that ‘this claim is perhaps best illustrated by an examination of the work of educational psychologists who have focused on the ‘selves’ of learners and insisted that pupils’ self-development, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-regulation should be of central importance to education.’ (Martin and McLellan, 2013, p.45). As a result, due to this psychologized and individualized assessment and subsequent intervention, most educators and the public are familiar with such references to describe particular students as ‘learning disabled,’ ‘low self-esteem,’ ‘gifted learner,’ and ‘troubled child.’ Such pervasive focus on the individual as self-governed and empowered to achieve his or her own ends is a notion rarely criticized or given much attention in the literature on educational theory.
Following Jack Martin (2013), I recognize that the central concerns of modern pedagogy are (pedagogical) individualism, (psychological) interiorism, reductionism (of people and contexts), and manipulation. These pervasive ways of understanding pedagogy and its practices are bound within a framework that conceptualizes the self as a cognitive and experiential entity, and has created educational practices in schools that propagate an ontological residue of a particular way of being a student. The ontology of the individualized learner accentuates the predominant worth of experiencing and acting in ways that are an exclusive to an inner-self.
The ideal of pedagogical individualism exerts a significant influence on the pedagogical thinking and practices of teachers, administrators, parents, students, curriculum-makers, and the general public. Moreover, in its extreme, it endorses a particular from of selfhood that has pervaded our governing strategies in our modern economies of globalization and consumption. I end this chapter with a discussion of the cautions and dangers of such an educational ideal since the ideal of an internalized self as an ontologically separate being has implications for our collective educational, social and ecological well-being. Try to bridge into the next section rather than mentioning chapter 5. You don’t really want the reader to flip to chapter 5, do you? Think about how the reader will see this, and in what order. It’s fine to give a hint that you’re going to address things later, but honestly, if you write this well enough’and you can, because you do have the talent’you won’t need to do that sort of thing. The writing will flow and the reader will stay in this chapter, which is where you want him/her right now.
Pedagogical Individualism: An unquestioned educational value
Scott Davies & Janice Aurini (2003) propose defining pedagogical individualism as ‘a highly individualized conception of learning; one that prizes a customized experience to enhance a child’s personality, and an individualized sense of self’ (p. 63). When institutions like schools are entrenched in such cultural worldviews of ‘self,’ it is presumed that they have established functions and ideals in our world that have become so integral they are unquestioned, invisible, and thought essential to the theory and practice of education. The hidden curriculum of individualism has largely resulted from historical constructions and a culturally promoted psychology of self that emphasizes competition, anthropocentrism and consumerism. One need not look very far to see where we have arrived: we live in times of mass social injustice and catastrophic climate change largely as a result of our ‘self-liberated’ notion of industrialized ‘progress’ and instrumental thinking (Bai & Romanycia, 2013). A deeper inspection into the individualistic assumptions behind schools reveals ideological roots in the virtue of democracy and individual freedom (Hargraves, 1980, p. 187).
Can you work on the transition between these paragraphs? It is now commonplace for theories of learning to be premised on the notion of individualized learning styles. Bowers (1995) describes the underlying assumptions of constructivist education are based on the autonomous individual. He describes this human-centered focus that reinforces individual interests and experiences of pedagogy as anthropocentric. Bowers says these cultural beliefs and pedagogical practices have contributed to the environmental problems of the world today since the significance of relations ‘ with others, community, family, and ecosystem ‘ has been undermined.
Our individualistic assumptions about epistemology, enmeshed in teaching and pedagogy, persist largely unexamined and unquestioned. To contemplate the phenomenon of individualism immersed in everyday schooling is to journey into the creation and manifestation of our cultural embellishments, which are culturally reproduced in schools. Schooling, as an everyday occurrence for millions around the globe, is taken for granted. Infrequently do the majority of people step outside of the parameter of the daily aspects of schooling to investigate, reflect, and question the assumptions and political currents behind the common educational enterprise. Schooling as an institutionalized marvel has some features not readily apparent; as a result we seem to have a peculiar blindness to the shadows of our individualistic psyche (Cushman, 1996, p. 1). Let’s work on this transition. Again, what I want to see is you linking the ideas, not just saying ‘here’s what I am going to do.’ We can talk more about how to switch modes and bring in this material. Also, is this next material fictionalized? How true is it? I would say that what you’re doing isn’t really using fictional examples as more fictionalizing examples that exist, based upon your experience. Is that right?
Journal Entry: A Teacher Seeks Counselling
Knock, Knock: Gillian, Do you have a few minutes…I need to talk….
Ah, come in Mary, what’s up?
Essentially, we’re three months into the school year, and I’m going crazy. There are three kids in my class with ADD and at least six who are medically undiagnosed. Five children in my class arrived in Canada within the last month and don’t speak English. Two kids are ministry-designated as having behavior problems and one child is special needs but has a nine-month waitlist for assessment at Children’s Hospital ‘ so, in the meantime I have no teacher’s aide. I’m thinking of taking a health leave. I vaguely recall that children are rather intriguing little creatures, and once upon a time I devised creative and fantastic things for them to do in my classroom. That was when we used to have fun. I don’t have time for that now…PLOs, you see….
Yes, Prescribed Learning Outcomes, it’s the prescribed learning standards set out by the province of what each student is expected to know and do at the end of each grade. And I have to put together at least nine Individual Education Plans. I have the responsibility to ensure that each student with a ministry designation has an IEP while also ensuring that the prescribed learning outcomes in each IRP are met as well.
Yes, Integrated Resource Package. It’s the government system for managing student assessment and identifying the required learning in relation to one or more of the three domains of learning: you know, cognitive, psychomotor, and affective. But that’s the problem ‘ there isn’t enough time to do all that I’m required to do these days. There are 28 children in my class and I’m up until 2 am every night planning and assessing their reading, writing and math levels. My husband has forgotten I exist, my friends think I’m passed on, and I have developed these unusual bumps up and down the side of my body’
Oh my, this sounds very severe. Surely, these PLOs aren’t that demanding?
I have to collect data for every child in my class and I have to use the prescribed outcome criteria to assess each student to see if they are ‘not meeting,’ ‘meeting,’ or ‘fully meeting’ in each subject area. I’m bewildered by the language and all the subheadings ‘ you haven’t got any vodka, do you?
Sorry, no. But I have some Tylenol in my desk.
I have to get all the data into the principal by the end of the week, in case we are audited by the province.
Surely, you could ask the other grade five teacher, Ms. Brown, to help you?
Oh no, she rarely comes out of her classroom anymore. I think she lives in there.
Well, I imagine you must know whether or not your students are making progress without having to refer to all those PLO criteria?
Of course, but teachers aren’t to be trusted these days…that’s why I have to complete all this data to see how our students and school compares…and to ensure we are up to snuff! Anyway, I also wanted to mention that I’m so glad you take the children out of the class to talk to them about their personal dilemmas and problems ‘ I don’t have time for that ‘ I have a curriculum to teach!
As the aforementioned story suggests, The current popularity of Howard Gardner’s ‘multiple intelligences’ and the idea that each person learns in a unique manner (e.g., Carol Ann Tomlinson’s differentiated instruction) signals a profound cultural shift in our assumptions about student learning and the backdrop of the competition factor inherent in mass educational standardization.Wait’how does the aforementioned story suggest this? This is fine, but now you need to connect the dots for us. Go ahead and analyze your own story. I know it seems weird to do that, but if you were analyzing a case study or someone else’s story, you’d need to show directly what parts of the story make you conclude what you just did in the previous sentence. So do that here. You don’t have to say a lot. Just a few lines that call our attention back to specific phrases and sentences in that story and show how the story illustrates this principle.
The belief of differentiating instruction ‘ varying teaching approaches, subject matter, assignments, even the rules and structure of the classroom itself to teach students with differing needs, interests, and academic levels ‘ has become a mainstream model in education, and is regarded as essential to raising student performance and ‘closing the achievement gap. Tomlinson’s method calls for teachers to assess individual student needs in four areas: content, process, products, and learning environments. Then the teacher is to tailor materials and activities to match these needs. Some educators, however, see the method as an expectation that they should meet the learning needs of each individual student, which is not practical and leaves teachers feeling overburdened, since implementing such techniques is impossibly time-consuming (Schmoker, 2010). In particular, one aspect of Tomlinson’s approach calls on teachers to address students’ ‘preferred ways of learning.’ The notion of learning styles is suspect since it is utterly impossible to ignore the relational and psychosocial realities of learning.
In contrast, Bowers advocates for ‘ecological intelligence,’ which acknowledges students ‘as relational’ and as interactive members of the environment (cite). In this theory, a child’s sense of identity is situated in multiple relationships with others and the natural world. Education, in this sense, is measured by its potential to create attitudes and practices that will lead to an ecologically sustainable world (p. 5-6) and mutual and communal interests.
The notion of pedagogical individualism is worth exploration, not out of mistrusting reverence for the views and values of educational standpoints, and inherent gifts and strengths of individual students, but rather to discover and appreciate the historical origins of our educational era. My task is to give voice to the mostly unquestioned assumption behind individualistic notions of learning; to seek to understand and appreciate its meaning, and to reflect on its human and more-than-human consequences. With a world in epic transformation and global struggle, shadowed by a less visible individualized view of self, what? (what’s the subject here?) has led the project of modern western what?, and is now fast becoming transnational, education on a rather extraordinary course. Nonetheless, explorations of this fashion demand us to entertain frames of reference that are sometimes drastically different from the context of our own situations. Not exactly sure what you mean here’I think this paragraph needs a little work, just to make sure the ideas flow and are all connected.
The notion of ‘self’ as individual entity is considered a given; it is for the most part an unquestioned part of our world and daily existence. Not surprisingly, much of contemporary educational theory (for example, developmental, behavioral, experimental, and cognitive learning theories of mainstream psychology, to name a few) rests upon the virtue and ideal of individualistic forms of thinking. Another indication of pedagogical individualism is the favoring of individual autonomy in thought and action as the central aims of personal development (Watt, 1989, p. 118). Yet, is the idea of self-esteemed, self-fulfilled individual appropriate as an educational goal in our world today? Has our global culture of individualistic tendency contributed to existential alienation and detachment from others and our shared planet? As Stout (2000) and Twenge (2006) point out, many who exactly? Let’s see if we can use a better word than folks. 😉 are concerned that educational practice that stresses the self-esteem and self-interest of students are inflating grades, making students less respectful, and are contributing causes of school failure and general student unhappiness.
To many who? it seemed as if narcissism was on the rise in our schools, and its consequences were being felt in all corners of modern life, including degradations in civic, vocational, political and economic life that seemed attributable to self-interest running amuck. Not sure where this information is coming from, but it really feels like you need more support for this statement. It feels very general and not very ‘provable.’ Unnecessary material consumption, celebrity mania, and environmental decay were all linked to the unfettering of self-esteem and self-absorption (Martin and McLellan, 2013, p.179).
Moreover, the self-focus in education and society has been associated with the greed stemming from the Wall Street and mortgage crisis with ‘an overblown sense of materialism and entitlement…The nation needs to recognize the epidemic and its negative consequences and take corrective action’ (Bush, 2009, p. 6).
Can you transition into this section? Let’s provide a little introduction to this story. It’s going to be great’but let’s provide some introduction.
Journal Entry: Sam in grade six
Sam in grade six was referred to me since he had anxiety about coming to school and his parents reported he was playing excess of six hours a day on video games to make ‘life interesting’. His parents were concerned that his video gaming play was compulsive and that he isolated himself from family and friends except those who he met online in his gaming sessions. His focus was almost entirely on in-game achievements rather than other life events and people in his ‘real-life’, and he often became belligerent if the gaming was impeded by his parents. In addition, he was neglecting his personal hygiene, had lost significant weight due to skipping meals to play videogames, and frequently was up late at night to play resulting in sleep deprivation. He was often late for school or missed the day entirely due to his need to catch up on sleep. His parents reported they also felt he was not honest about how much time he spend playing videogames when his parents were not home. His parents fought with him continuously and he adamantly refused to come to school saying it was ‘useless and a waste of time.’
During our first session; I asked, ‘What would you like to talk about today, Sam’?
‘Well, I don’t see the relevance of school. Its dead boring….and I don’t understand why my parents make such a big deal out of videogames…all kids do it… and it’s what I want to do. All my friends play videogames, every day like I do, so I don’t see what the big deal is.’
‘You sound frustrated that you cannot do what you would rather do ‘ play videogames’ I replied.
‘No kidding!’ he said.
‘Can you see how what you are doing at school is relevant to your future’? I asked.
‘No, what I learn in school has absolutely nothing to do with my future. What we do in school is stupid and has nothing to do with my life. It’s totally boring. I hate it here’ he stated emphatically, slumping in his chair.
‘Tell me more about how you see your life and school as different.’
‘Well’, he continued, I don’t see any connection between the vast majority of what we learn in school and what I am doing in my life. I mostly like to just play videogames. For example, in school we are learning algebra. Now that there are calculators and computers, why do I need to learn algebra? And with the internet, I can look anything up within seconds on a Google search. So, why do I need to learn all this stuff’? I really didn’t know what to say in that moment. He has a point, I thought to myself. I scrambled through a response,
‘OK, so the information you learn seems irrelevant, but if you were to tell other kids about this school, what would you say’?
‘Do you want me to be completely honest, really honest’? He asked hesitantly, as if not to offend me.
‘Well, it’s a dump, like a prison, and there are bars on all of the windows and doors so it’s like we are locked up inside and can’t get out. The lockers are falling apart; half of them don’t close properly and are scribbled with graffiti, and ‘people leave their garbage everywhere. Basically the only teachers I like in this school are the janitor and my grade two teacher. And the janitor isn’t even a teacher….’
Okay, so now connect this. To me I’m not as much seeing a child with a videogames addiction as I am a child who is very smart and completely bored. I mean, if I were that child, I’d probably not like school either, if there were bars on the windows and I felt locked in. I think the story is fantastic, and he clearly does have issues with the gaming, but I think you need to build a bridge here.
In 2007, a media/technology research and analysis company, ‘Parks Associates,’ reported that “video game addiction is a particularly severe problem in Asian countries such as China and Korea.’ Moreover, results of a 2006 survey suggest that 2.4% of South Koreans aged 9 to 39 suffer from game addiction, with another 10.2% at risk of addiction (Noyes, 2007; Faiola, 2006).
A 2007 Harris Interactive online poll of 1,187 United States youths aged 8’18 gathered detailed data on youth opinions about video game play. The average play time for 81% of admitted gamers varied by age and sex, from eight hours per week for teen girls to 14 hours per week for teen boys. Among 8’12-year-olds, boys averaged 13 hours per week of reported game play and girls averaged 10 (Harris Interactive, 2007) These trends and statistics hint to the dark side of losing connection with human-others and the natural world. The intersection of self and other, of individual and establishment, citizen and community, local and global is the most complicated issue of our time. Why are so many of the children in the world today seduced and enticed into video-gaming and cyber-realities? Why is the range and scope of addictive behavior spreading rapidly on a global scale to include not only drugs and alcohol, but also rampant consumerism, television, internet surfing, gambling, pornography viewing, and so on? What is it about schooling that is seemingly irrelevant for many youth of today, other than participation and to find a vocation in a growth economy? I wonder how it came to be that so many children exhibit a sense of self that seems thin and fragmented, not really there. Erich Fromm discusses a similar process of ‘abstractification’ and the effects of capitalism as the phenomenon of alienation Fromm, 1964). To elaborate his definition:
By alienation is meant a mode of experience in which the person experiences himself as an alien. He has become, one might say, estranged from himself. He does not experience himself as the center of his world, as the center of his own acts- but his acts and their consequences have become his matters, whom he obeys, or whom he may even worship. The alienated person is out of touch with himself as he is out of touch with any other person. He, like the others, are experienced as things are experienced; with the senses and with common sense, but at the same time without being related to oneself and to the world outside productively p.67.
Discuss the quote a little bit to provide a transition into this material. What we need is a reorientation of pedagogy that respects the individual but also highlights the relational aspects of learning, knowing and being. We must realize, as in the Buddhist philosophical tradition, that our true relational nature is to be liberated and self-fulfilled. In other words, one must fully realize one’s relationality within a wider order in order to be liberated (This is the project of chapter 5).
You may ask, then, how do we arrive at such pedagogical appreciations of self and learning? Let’s provide a better transition here. Remember that the best transitions don’t call attention to themselves, but connect the ideas. Since the historical Enlightenment period in the West, contemporary schooling has emerged from the emphasis on individualism and the assumption that the best thing a student can learn is to be liberated from the ‘constraints’ of society. As we move into the 21st century, however, we may realize that the entire project of education may be a flawed one, when one aspires to dive deeply into the shortcomings of the dualistic notions that have held captive our schools and our societies all over the world for the last two centuries.
Reflections on the Philosophy of Charles Taylor: Schooling the individual
In his book, Ethics of Authenticity, Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor accounts for what many see as the decline of modern society. As he describes it, there are three sources that have contributed to the sense of loss that many people ascribe to when it comes to contemporary culture. The first theme he points out is the rise of individualism apparent in our daily living: modern comforts, the ideas that one can choose their values and direction in life, and these ideals (often considered accomplishments) are fortified by our legal classifications. The dilemmas of individualism have eroded our moral horizons and broken us free from the ‘sacred orders that transcend us’ (Taylor, 1991, p.2).
Taylor explains that people from earlier times understood themselves within the context of a larger cosmic order, in which people had their place among other entities and the world. Modernity has promoted the conditioning of the individual by discrediting these orders. Taylor also suggests that these orders gave our lives meaning, since every being and entity had significance. The loss of this attachment to the world and our place in it he calls ‘disenchantment’. The aftermath is a form of suffering from a lack of passion and magic. He also associates our lost sense of purpose with the narrowing of our lives toward self-interest. ‘In other words, the dark side of individualism is a centering on the self, which flattens and narrows our lives, makes them poorer in meaning, and less concerned with others in society.’ (Taylor, 1991, p. 4). One way of understanding this flattening effect, is that ‘self’ in individualism is ‘flattened’ already. Say a little more about this. This seems key. The second theme he speaks of is that of disenchantment of the world attributed to primacy of instrumental reason. When economic application is the means by which we make decisions ‘ the best cost-output is the measuring stick for success ‘ many times at the cost of humans and the natural world. Moreover, once the more-than-human world loses its significance in the ‘great chain of being,’ everything is reduced to raw materials available for human consumption and manipulation (Taylor, 1991, p. 5). Homo Economicus is already a flattened, disenchanted, and vacuous, hungry ghost self.
It appears the powerful mechanisms of schooling press us toward instrumental reason that Taylor speaks of, the disengagement from the natural orders of the universe. Our students are taught very important lessons about their identities as individuals: unique, separate, and distant from all others. There are examples of how these mechanisms play out in our schools. For example, many children today spend most of their daily lives, including in school-time, in a highly de-natured environment. Our children are slipping from real to vacuous virtual worlds, despite the mounting evidence that contact with nature is necessary for psychological, social, ecological and spiritual health (Louv, 2005, p. 3-4). The wide use of techno-gadgets endorsed by schools as tools for learning is an exploding trend in education.
Why are we seemingly unable to reflect on the consequences of our questionable momentum toward technology in schooling? Institutional and political change is the third malaise of modernity Taylor puts forth, suggesting that the structures and limitations of industrial-technological societies constrain the choices we have. In this sense, altering the direction of techno-consumption is difficult at best, since schools are by and large constricted by the economic-political system of an industrialized and globalized world. This is the paradox of individualism.
In addition to the value of the ‘individual’ as the central entity of our culture is the modern ideal ‘ upheld by both West and East ‘ notion of ‘progress.’ This assumption endorses people to adapt a life trajectory that is valued by expansion and growth. This idea is further complicated by the notion that individuals have a right to buy and sell within a free-market system. When associated with the Cartesian principle of ‘rationality’ we stray from uncertainty in favor of the illusion of certainty and control over the future (Spretnak, 1997). The rational perspective generally implies the separation of matter into opposing dualisms ‘ body and mind, male and female, morally ‘good’ or morally ‘bad.’ These dualisms take shape in many ways, but the most obvious is the power dynamics of patriarchy: that masculine is superior to feminine and that this epistemology is ‘normal.’ This black or white thinking of the nature of reality often distracts us from noticing the between of things (Riley-Taylor, 2002, p. 43). These dualisms are the greatest challenge to modernity since they are epitomized in dialogical binaries, such as rational versus emotional, male privilege and female subordination and cultural ‘progress’ over the oppression of nature (Rilely-Taylor, 2002, p, 45).
Taylor suggests that a powerful moral ideal is behind the currents of atomistic individualism: that ‘the moral ideal behind self-fulfillment is that of being true to oneself, in a specifically modern understanding of that term. In his own words,
What we need to explain is what is peculiar to our time. It’s not just that people sacrifice their love relationships, and care of their children, to pursue their careers. Something like this has always existed. The point is that today many people feel called to do this, feel they ought to do this, feel their lives would be somehow wasted or unfulfilled if they didn’t do it. (Taylor, 1991, p. 17)
It appears, in his explanation, that moral relativism is fuelled by a moral ideal: the ideal of the individual, however self-absorbed that may be. This has resulted in a form of liberal neutrality, resulting in impartiality of society in general. Yet, there appears to be a great silence about how these moral ideals are captured in our individualistic notions of pedagogy. Moreover, this position is espoused by the cultural worshiping of scientific explanation that connotes no connection to moral ideals. The enmeshment of instrumental reason in our culture and pedagogies are assumed to have no moral force behind them, yet illustrations of egotism and apathy toward others may be indicating the opposite. Taylor suggests that healthy individualism encompasses an understanding of ourselves within the matrix of a larger moral order. In his words,
Being in touch with our moral feelings would matter here, as a means to acting rightly. What I am calling the displacement of the moral accent comes about when being in touch takes on independent and crucial moral significance. It becomes something we have to attain to be true and full human beings (Taylor, 1991, p. 26).
In earlier times, there was a larger connection to the common good, or the appreciation of the divine ‘ the recognition of something larger than ourselves. In today’s world, most folks would advocate that morality is located within individuals. In contrast, the classic Eastern philosophical ideal is the sense/understanding that the self is always and already embedded in the larger whole. Nonetheless, in today’s world, the Eastern ideal of a self embedded in a larger whole appears to have subsided in favor of modern Western instrumentalism ‘ also in the East.
Free Market Schools
There are many who would agree with educational standardization and the ‘rational scientific’ approach to education. Many would claim that individual rights and independence are the central goals to which we should aspire. Nonetheless, as I explained earlier, there may be dire consequences to the hidden undercurrents of individualism and the associated moral choices we bestow to our children. Moreover, the rational scientific approach to education, coupled with a growing trend of a globalizing free market has resulted in a curious trend toward the ‘business model’ of schools.
Like many of my colleagues in my early days of teaching, I was mesmerized by the idea that the free market would unleash creativity and bring greater effectiveness to education. There is something comforting that the sway of a free-market will bring about some unforeseen and pleasant consequences ‘ ideally insurance that disadvantaged children will not be neglected and that better equality education will be realized and offered. I wanted to believe that choice and accountability would lead to great changes. But as time went on, and whatever the new trends were in education, be it a new curriculum, new teaching methodology, or the latest ‘best, evidence-based practice,’ I realized that many of the well-intentioned ideals did not meet up to their promise. The more I saw, the more experiences I had with children, families and teachers, the more I wondered about the ‘business-like’ direction we are taking with our schools.
Several recent educational reforms have attempted to change the ‘factory model of schooling’ to a restructuring of schools to function like business corporations. The idea is to transform classrooms to resemble workplaces that feature ‘high performance,’ teamwork, and interpersonal skills. While this movement away from the factory-model of schooling may seem promising at first, Philip Wexler (1996) concludes that this form of education looks a lot like ‘corporatist reorganization’ that manifests the business vision of a growth economy with a productionist emphasis. He argues that the translation of work skills into the academic curriculum deems education as closely linked to economic production and analogous to another process of rationalization and instrumentalism.
The Production of Useless Things
Educational researcher Alexander M.Sidorkin experienced communism in the old Soviet Union before he moved to the United States. Sidorkin (2002) describes the flaw in the educational enterprise as ‘the production of useless things’ (p. 5). Sidorkin suggests that the work that students are asked to do might be considered hard labor, not because it is particularly difficult, but because it is unavoidable and compulsory. Hence, reports from many school children are that they experience schooling as imprisonment and forced labor, by and large. There are, of course, a few students motivated to rise to the top by ‘beating the system’ but others (the majority?) experience only dreariness and disconnect. He also points out that the motivation to learn may very well be impeded by the fact that much the work produced in schools inevitably ends up in the wastebasket. In his own words,
The most important fact about learning is so obvious that it goes unnoticed in theoretical work on education: because children are asked to make things that no one really needs, they do not want to make these things. Now, the fact of not wanting is fairly well-established. What is almost totally ignored is the simple explanation of why students do not want to learn: because learning involves mass production of useless things. (p. 15)
Sidorkin seeks to define learning as it relates to the space between students and the activities they engage in while at school. Moreover, Sidorkin points out that learning activities surrounding useless work contribute to the political economy of education, he calls ‘an exploitative economic enterprise.’ (p. 26) Education, in this sense, is a certain form of capital; the results are submission to supervision and authority, continuous work on mundane tasks, fragmentation and all of the things that a capitalist economy requires. In this manner, a wastebasket economy may also lead students to existential problems in that their schoolwork contributions do not matter in the grand scheme of things (Sidorkin, 2002, p. 14).
An instrumental framework for educating children has flavored the structure and delivery of educations for the last several decades. Knowledge was fragmented into parts, content areas were separated apart, and power relations between teachers and students were created in order to maintain ‘control.’ Our implementation of standardized testing has shaped the way that curriculum has been understood ‘ that it is measureable ‘ and the way knowledge is transferred from teacher to student. There has been a favoring of the rational mind with a marginalizing of the other aspects of human expression. This mechanistic worldview has supported the flourishing of fragmentary pedagogy (Evans, 2012).
According to Susan Griffin, these socially created fragmentary realities have manifested a social hierarchy expressed in categories of masculine and feminine, with the feminine ‘object’ and natural world as passive (Griffin, 1990, p. 87). Sadly, the binary thinking of patriarchal epistemology has supported the oppression of women and the environment throughout a significant portion of human history (Merchant, 1996, p xxiii).
Many ethics of care theorists and ecologists tend to emphasize the interrelatedness of the world. Every being in the universe may be distinct from all others, but they are not separate from each other. Instead, a holistic view of the universe suggests that entities are interconnected and interdependent. Why don’t you develop this paragraph a little bit. Let’s add a couple of more sentences right here. How then, do we revision the educational enterprise to embrace relational and ecological awareness?
Many philosophers and theorists wrestle with the malaises of society, the decline of education and the dangerous lack of a cultural starting point for grappling with the contemporary problems of our time (Taylor, 1991, p. 1). Such concerns reflect anxiety and insecurity about the radical and rapidly changing world. We all use mental filters to make sense of our experiences. In terms of those filters, from an educational standpoint, do we think in terms of a web of relationships, or a distribution of individual entities? Much of western thought ‘ in fields as diverse as psychology, criminology, biology, theology and especially education ‘ has tended toward an individualist perspective. That “atomistic” slant has contributed to the social and ecological dilemmas we face, by concealing crucial dynamics of how the world really works. A dynamic, relational perspective of individualism provides a more accurate picture of the world, and may steer us toward helpful ways of living. For example, social housing programs are a way of helping individuals who have difficulty getting employment, or finding a place to live, but they do not fully address the systemic inequality of our social system. Ideally, we need to aim at addressing both levels: the individual and the systemic, and find ways to do both through one integrated move/approach.
The individual approach targets problems in the people who need help, such as a need for vocational help or the ability to become self-sufficient. A relational perspective recognizes a broader set of intertwining factors that are involved. Both perspectives need to be integrated in order for healthy individualism to unfold. In families and in community life, a focus on the web of relationships is more revealing and more fruitful than an emphasis on individuals in isolation from each other. This is not ‘collectivism’ that disregards the individual or ‘individualism’ that disregards the collective. ‘Relationalism’ is the ‘third-space’ perspective that intersects the two binary antipodes ‘ individualism and collectivism. I agree with your adviser that you should elaborate here and make sure you have evidence for this point. It’s a great point.
That same broadening of perspective is at the heart of understanding ecological issues and requires emphasis in our systems of education. Now if we were to take into account issues related to morality and schooling, we would need to begin with the fundamental, and taken for granted, assumptions made concerning the nature of the universe. The vast majority of schools in the West are based on pedagogical theories that understand the world in a dualistic manner.
One time I asked students to tell me about the best time they had experienced recently in a classroom, and a majority related techno-related activities and discussions: how the ‘cloud’ was improving life, i-Phone vs. Samsung vs. Nokia, what they thought the next innovations on the internet were going to be (and which ones they wanted). It was not surprising, of course, since it has been a well-established fact that when classroom activities are based on topics that are relevant and interesting to students they become intensely participatory in the discussions, as relevance and meaning are eternally engaging (Dewey, XXXX). But is this modern obsession with technology changing the relational intuition of children or competing with the lost relational intuition of previous generations? As Dewey would point out, much of education fails because it neglects the fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life: ‘the school must represent present life.'(Dewey, 1929, p. 36). Dewey continued that where lessons and habits are to be learned, their value is bound with a preconceived future. The students do these things because they have to do them for the sake of preconceived preparations for the future. But for Dewey, if these activities are not part of the life experience of the child, then they are not truly educative (Dewey, 1929, p. 36). In his quest to portray the moral lessons inherent in education, Dewey asserts:
The moral education centers upon this conception of the school as a mode of social life, that the best and deepest moral training is precisely that which one gets through having to enter into proper relations with other in a unity of work and thought. The present educational systems, so far as they destroy or neglect this unity, render it difficult or impossible to get any genuine, regular moral training (p. 36).
When I reflect on Dewey’s assertion that schooling is at the heart and pulse of learning human relations, and a learning a moral social life, I cannot help but think our societal overindulgence in self-advancement playing out in the daily aspects of education. Our globalizing consciousness of celebrated technology in the form of consumption, ipods and other digital gadgetry is moving faster and broader but seems to run less deep with respect to our understanding of interrelatedness with a relational universe. Our relationships are becoming more and more mediated by technology rather than personal interaction. The search for new and improved ways of being in the world has been growing havoc and destruction and education is providing virtually no safety nets for our youngsters to help them cope understand or sensibly integrate new developments into their overall, well-rounded life experience. What knowledge is of most worth is the eternal question in education that all too often is answered outside the realm of thoughtful, long-term consideration for interrelatedness and a sustainable planet. As explained and illustrated in pervious chapters, education has been historically molded around philosophical or ideological positions, instead. Have we lost our central focus on developing the human being, rather than defining the student as a container of some growing, circumscribed, set of knowledge designed to reflect the needs of an antiquated educational structure? (The student is presented with a standardized curriculum rather than a curriculum that serves the student). Does this educational predicament have the unfortunate effect of dislocating and isolating our students, with the wasteful fulfillment of schooling and its own internal impetus?
The Cultivation of hungry ghosts
This feels a little disconnected. Try to find a better way of transitioning in. Parent: ‘What do you mean my daughter feels lonely and isolated…she has 500 friends on Facebook!’
According to developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld and physician Gabor Mate (2004), our youth seem to have lost their moorings. For example, they report that many youth lack self-control and are increasingly prone to alienation, drug use, violence, or just a general aimlessness. They are less teachable and more difficult to manage than their counterparts of even a few decades ago. Many have lost their ability to adapt, to learn from negative experience and to mature (Neufeld and Mate, 2004). Unprecedented numbers of children and adolescents are now being prescribed medication for depression, anxiety or a host of other diagnoses. The crisis of the young has manifested itself ominously in the growing problem of bullying in the schools and, at its very extreme, in the murder of children by children. Such tragedies, although rare, are only the most visible eruptions of a widespread malaise, and aggressive streak rife in today’s youth culture.’ (Neufeld and Mate, 2004).
These disturbing trends should alert us that some deepening of the quest to be human is called for. What we call education is what’s on the surface: the daily grind of schedules, recess bells and seemingly unrelated subjects. What is beneath are certain assumptions and beliefs: the commitment to mechanistic education and the scientific method, trust in a government-generated curriculum and the authority of the school; and faith in technology and our subsequent ‘advancement.’ When we are confronted with problems as complex as climate change, we must put into question our beliefs and assumptions. Technological and scientific measures to lessen our footprint and regulations for industry are important, but also significant are the undercurrents of how education reflects our daily experience and way of living, indeed being in the world. Vaclav Havel, in his article in the New York Times, Our Moral Footprint, reflects on the challenges of today’s world, whether they concern the economy, society, culture, security, ecology or civilization in general. He confronts the moral question: ‘what action is responsible or acceptable? The moral order, our conscience and human rights ‘ these are the most important issues at the beginning of the third millennium.’ (Havel, 2007, p. A33). The story of 911 described in the pages earlier illuminates the reality of personal human experience and the importance of relationships, and helps us understand how a deep, ethical education toward the healing of our world is important.
From a relational perspective, learning doesn’t just happen at school within the four walls of a classroom. Education happens on the playground, when we listen to our parent’s discussions, in our relations with others, when we turn on the television set or the internet, and in our observations and co-understandings about the world around us. If you watch the morning news, one thing you are not likely to hear about is climate change, yet there is no global problem more significant in our world today than the ecological crisis and the continuation of life on earth as we know it. You may ask, ‘how is it we can seemingly downplay this enormous challenge before us’? David Loy (2008) suggests the fundamental essence of personal problems is the delusion of separateness from others, not just personally, but the collective worldview of separation. He advocates that our collective alienation from the biosphere is a relentless source of anxiety for us, and our efforts to seize our anxiety (via consumerism, economic growth, and technology) are worsening the problem (Loy, 2008, p. 12). This ‘distancing’ signals the looming crisis of our world today ‘ the way we think.
My task is to give voice to the mostly unquestioned assumption behind individualistic notions of learning: to seek to understand and appreciate its meaning, and to reflect on its human and more-than-human consequences. With a world in epic transformation and global struggle, shadowed by a less visible individualized view of self, has led the project of western education on a rather extraordinary course. Nonetheless, explorations of this human journey demand us to entertain frames of reference that are sometimes drastically different from where we are accustomed. Here is a call for the reconnection of what has been separated, and an opportunity to wake up from our collective numbness. Today, we still live, more than ever, in a mechanistic world that has taught us to think in terms of fragmentation, separation, and linearity. The inner rhythms of our biological ties with the biosphere have been replaced by our routines in many ways. Riley-Taylor (2002) explains:
We wake to an ‘alarm,’ live our lives according to the hands on a clock, spend most of every week at a job that, in many cases, is disconnected from an internal desire to create or engage in a task for its own sake. So often, the meaning within our work is disconnected from the immediacy of experience, or is even unknown to us. Extrinsic motivation, such as output requirements and job security, replaces intrinsic motivators. The capitalistic system of the United States- coupled with industrial and technological growth- keeps us running on a wheel of ever-escalating production and consumption. (p. 2)
This sense of alienation immersed in modern industrialization permeates almost all aspects of our daily living. Starhawk (1994) points out that ‘as Westerners we do not see ourselves as part of the world ‘ we are strangers to nature, to other human beings, to parts of ourselves’ (p. 176). The relational understanding of the world seeks to highlight a consciousness that brings into awareness our connection to our finite planet.
Joanna Macy (1994) suggests we numb our consciousness in order not to feel the pain of separation, as though we collectively ‘suffer from some form of resistant and dismissive attachment disorder’. It is as though we have ignored our lived experience altogether ‘ the ontology of estrangement (I discuss more about relational ontology in Chapter Four). What is crucial, then, is the educator`s pursuit of teaching our students that they are citizens of a larger matrix and the conscientiousness of being human is to invent a better world.
Chet A. Bowers (1995) points out that the cultural orientation of schools has been a medium for student individualism in that great emphasis is placed on individual talents, interests, and self-indulgence. In this next section, we will explore the notion of individualism as cultural capital embedded in the ethos of schools.
The Ethos of Schooling: Individualism as cultural capital
While I would acknowledge that students should become active participants in their learning, I agree with Riley-Taylor (2002) that ‘In its coupling with capitalism, ‘corporate’ schooling can easily become another process of bureaucratized rationalism and instrumentalism wherein the bottom line is student achievement, based on suitability to perpetuate an economically restructured global marketplace’ (p. 16). One obvious example is the individualized grading system that is preserved and the intense competition that emerges from this practice. Margunson (2004) argues that social competition in higher education is much broader than economic exchange, but in the neo-liberal era marketization is becoming more significant, particularly cross-border markets. In his words,
Globalisation and markets together are changing the competition for status goods (positional goods) in higher education. The competition is becoming more ‘economised’ because mediated by private capacity to pay, and intensified because there is diminished attention to public good objectives such as equality of opportunity: in any case transnational markets are configured as a trading environment where such objectives are irrelevant. The outcome is the steepening of university hierarchies, the formation of a ‘winner-take-all’ world market in elite and mostly American university education, a tighter fit between social hierarchy and educational hierarchy at the national level, and global patterns of domination/subordination that are as yet scarcely modified by global public goods. This suggests the need to rework the equality of the educational project and situate it globally as well as nationally (p. X).
My other hat as a university instructor of graduate and undergraduate education courses has prompted me to recognize the impact of modern Western tradition on our current Canadian education system and its global spread. Our notion of democracy as portrayed by the Enlightenment Project of individual freedom, to this day, has a vice-like grip over the structuring of our educational institutions and our pedagogical practices (Thayer-Bacon, 2008). Our curriculum is primarily presented as standard, without bias, and wide-ranging, with the ultimate project of creating reasonable and balanced individuals in a free democracy (Thayer-Bacon, 2008, p. 7.). The objective of liberal democracy is to help students realize their true potential and live freely without interruption from governmental interference (Taylor, 1991).
The Hidden Curriculum of Capitalism
Today, most students are aware of climate destabilization and the ecological challenges of the 21st century, yet their day-to-day experiences in nature and their connection with the natural world are fading fast. There appears to be an increasing split, even dissociation, between children and the world outdoors (Louv, 2008). These changes have significant and startling implications for our social, psychological and spiritual health. Most of the ways in which education is assumed and delivered is teaching children to avoid direct experience in nature. Most school buildings (and our workplaces) are designed with no regard for the relationship between human health and natural light (Spretnak, 2011, p. 1). Our schooling methods deem students as essentially isolate beings into which learning can be embedded. The breakdown in the overarching assumptions of reality ‘ the somehow missed realization that reality is inherently dynamic and interrelated at all levels ‘ has resulted in a vast array of suffering. Many students are discouraged and hindered by the fast-paced, sink-or-swim competition-based learning that is insisted upon in the world of schooling. Learning is a matter of acquiring what others believe is important to me. Generally, students are unaware of the hidden curriculum of capitalism; rather, their attention is necessarily focused on the all-encompassing threat of the next assignment or test, and their growing, insatiable, state of unease, which typically morphs into a broad-based, underlying sense of pervasive insecurity.
There feels a real shift here between these two paragraphs. I love both paragraphs, but the first sentence of this next one, as good as it is, jolted me. Could you work on getting me back to you and your role as a counselor? Part of it is the abrupt change in tense.
As I returned to my office, day after day, reflecting on plentiful conversations with children, parents, teachers, principals and custodians, I decided to write a thesis about what I had learned. I wanted to describe where we have gone off track in our lofty (meaning poorly connected with reality) pursuit of schooling. We are at a point in history where we cannot eliminate our challenges unless we are willing to carefully examine where we got entangled in them. We cannot address problems in education unless we are willing to examine the good and the bad, what needs fine-tuning, what should be kept and what discarded. Moving forward involves exploring solutions without pre-judgments, and adapting an open-mind. In our seemingly advanced culture, have we missed the way reality really works?
It seems to me these recent advances in technology and the resulting globalizing society are not entirely an improvement. Moreover, these distractions and attractions that are a large part of everyday living for students are shallowly discussed as part of the regular curriculum. They have become more all-consuming interests in the lives of our youngsters than anything that happens in most traditional classrooms. When they are, the students become intensely participatory in the discussions, since relevance and meaning are eternally engaging.
When I ask a young boy what’s new and exciting in his life, I am far more likely to hear that he got a new X-box or that he scored 25,000,000 points on the fad of the month electronic game than about anything that went on in any of his classes. What is amiss when learning the curriculum is not exciting and meaningful and a source of eager participation? (Sleeter, 2013).
A relational understanding of the self and the aptitude, cultivation of the collective good and the development of relational sensitivities may be the antidotes necessary to set pedagogy free from its entanglement with individualism, reductionism and instrumentalism. Say a little more about this. Go ahead and use this to bridge to 5. Instead, it must be established that educational approaches that promote individual self-development and the communal obligation to others and our surroundings are the key to reconstructing the idea of human agency. Human agency, therefore, becomes the pursuit of self-development with the capability to act intentionally with communal and ecological foresight, rather than the narrow version of an individualized and separate self.
Relational Ontology and Ethics in the Educational Setting
We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
I can remember the summer of 1974, when I was almost nine. I sat in the sun-dried yellow grass among the oak and maple-trees in the backyard of my childhood home, watching for signs of my neighbor. Mr. Parsons was an elderly fellow, who used to pass me little army men and smarties through the bushes between our properties. We jokingly referred to our house as ‘the white house’ ‘ proudly developed and painted stark white by my parents, Scottish immigrants, who moved to Sarnia Ontario so my father could find work as a coroner and laboratory analyst at the local hospitals. My mother worked part-time at the YMCA those days and cared for her four children.
That particular Sunday afternoon was like many others’the light in the sky gradually faded into dusk, and the evening turned pleasantly humid. I thought about the shrill and wailing sounds of the bagpipes that my father had played earlier that morning in the spot where I had settled in the grass. He played them faithfully every Sunday morning, a lonely piper in the center of our block, captivated by his Great Highland practice. As the sound of bagpipes drifted across the neighborhood, the occasional passing car would suddenly slow down. It was not uncommon for the local neighbors to come out of their houses and listen as they went about their business, hanging clothes on the line, gardening and raking leaves. Such was the effect of the mesmerizing, even haunting sound. Even now, the sound of the bagpipes stirs me, as it brings back fond memories and pieces of memories. Somewhere deep within me, the sound resonates. This transition is almost there. I think you could work on it a little more, though.
While the sound of bagpipes stirs in me fond memories and love for my father, sadly, the instrument itself has had a long and obliging association with military action. Apparently, the bagpipes are the only instrument to be declared a weapon of war ‘ a notion far removed from my immediate awareness and response to the sound of bagpipes. My experience with my father colours what I feel when I hear them. This experience and other hermeneutic and ontological moments from my past has shaped my worldview and provided me a framework from which to understand the world.
Our experiences shape us, and vice-versa. As Elaine Riley-Taylor (2002) asserts, our experiences shape how we think and how we think reciprocally shapes what we experience, learn, know, and understand. I am not myself as an independent entity, but rather a connected, fluid and integral consciousness that exudes relational ways of knowing. Berry (1988) says there is a growing drive to sense the world as interrelated, especially in the way of ecological awareness. For example, the modern world’s increased appetite for diverse culture, indigenous ways of life, spiritual teachings, and interdependence (Jacobs & Jacobs-Spencer, 2001, p. viii). My stance on interrelation as an educational ethic is ecological in that all living things are mutually linked, reciprocally dependent, and equally respected. It is pedagogical in that the qualities of my pedagogic interactions as an adult are phenomenologically constituted by memories from my childhood (Smith, 1991).
In my earlier critique of conventional Western modes of thought, I argued (alongside Loy, Spretnak, Taylor, Jardine, Bai, and others) that our modern world sees reality in terms of instrumentalism, separations, binarisms and dualisms, and as a result for the most part, we understand ourselves as separate entities. This sort of thinking maintains other problematic understandings that propagate a worldview of fragmentation: power-over relations such as man over nature; man-over woman, divisions of subject-object (like we are passive observers of our world rather than a part); a value system that favors instrumental, mostly economic, growth rather than relations; and differences of race, sex, and socio-economic status viewed as hierarchical benchmarks. Western epistemology espouses a reality that prefers a ‘rational’ and detached mind separated from its body (spiritual and sensual counterparts), and, therefore, the information and insights available from them (Hawkins, 2003). Lastly, Western modes of thought have a propensity to overlook the interrelatedness of all life, and therefore dismiss the opportunity for connectivity with others and our environmental surroundings. I have emphasized in the previous chapters, that this form of dualistic regard has resulted in a prioritizing of the human desire for consumption which is dangerously reproduced in our pedagogy and continues to rapidly devastate the environment. Moreover, the quest for a free market world has degraded, disregarded, and exploited immeasurable numbers of people and other living creatures. What are the associated ontological and ethical gleanings we can derive from our modern living arrangements? And what would a relational ontology and relational ethic look like? These are the questions I wrestle with in the remainder of this thesis.
Karen Hawkins (2003) describes our present day predicament:
But the separation of ourselves from our broader contexts and connections, and the separation of dimensions of ourselves from our own meaning-making processes, has enabled us to sink, as individuals, and as a society, into a state of apathy and indifference. This separation has cut us off from our ability to recognize and value all our ways of interacting with and making sense of the world. It has cut us off from deeper connections with each other, and with the world. Unfortunately, the absence of connections also tends to result in the careless dismissal of the wider implications of choices and actions, and, therefore, to cause or condone actual harm.
A sense of estrangement, indeed psychic numbing, has branded contemporary culture from the wider aspects of life. And yet, the distress signals from our planet Earth continue to rise, like the weather atrocities from the effects of a heating climate, loss of species every day, and other warning signs. As a modern global society we seem to be turning a blind eye to our reality by distracting ourselves with technology, substances, and consumerism. Like Hawkins, Susan Griffin (2002) explains that when it comes to a sensible response to the threat of climate change, ‘we are a culture in a state of paralysis’ p. 52. In individual psychology, hysterical paralysis of this magnitude is akin to an unconscious and seemingly irresolvable conflict. ‘One of the selves is divided against the other’, p. 52.
Here is a call to see that all of this is only a human-inspired construct ‘ a very powerful belief system that can be shaken. The illusion of objectivity that results in dislocated, disembodied superiority over ‘other’ reflects an unconscious and inflexible desire to dominate reality than to understand our relation to it. Work on the transition between these sentences. I wasn’t sure where this quote was coming from at first. I assume Griffin, but I wasn’t sure. To illuminate this meaning:
The Empire believes that what is asserted within its boundaries is a superior point of view. It ‘knows best’ not only for itself but for others. In this process the needs or desires of the Empire are conflated with the imagined needs of others. The same structure of dominance exists in the masculine definition of the female. The female point of view, like sensual data, is by definition an illegitimate source of knowledge. The testimony of women is regarded as suspect and deceitful. From this perceptual hierarchy, a portrait of the ‘other’ emerges as a being who is not only unreliable as a witness, but who is volatile, unpredictable, and above all unreasonable. The ‘other’ is the subject who is studied ‘ nature, the women, the ‘native’, or, in the tradition European and anti-Semitism, the Jew. Though the descriptions of the other vary in detail, we are all described as being more material, (or ‘materialistic’), more sensual, more sexual, less spiritual, and less intelligent. (p.53).
Since this hierarchy is regarded as the ‘natural order’ of things, whether the notion of dominance be male, white, ‘rational’ knowledge, or Empire, the control and authority over the other is deemed necessary. But Griffin warns us that underneath this prejudice is an ‘unconscious and deeply alienating self-hatred’ since the quest of consciousness is to ‘reflect the wholeness of felt existence’ (Griffin, p. 54). Since we cannot separate one part of our existence from another, we project and unconsciously distort these ideologies through our institutionalized structures and our delusional beliefs. In my estimation, our persevering belief in separation of matter and spirit may contribute to the denial, even repression, of the reality of an increasingly lethal planet. Fortunately, these beliefs are changing in many parts of the world, yet they still remain uncomfortably popular. This is especially true when taking into consideration the significant loss of species occurring around the world every day.
Tyrone Cashman names the mass extinction of species around the globe as ‘The Great Dying’ and iterates ‘the extinguishing of a million lineages of beings as ancient as we are is not redeemable’ (1992, p 3). I can only agree with Cashman that the historical and ethical task of this generation is to abandon our predisposition of a moral disorientation of anthropocentrism and binarism. I return to the example of selling commodities for profit in the world market quoted by McLaren (2012):
a global racial/ethnic hierarchy that that privileges European people over non-European people; a global gender hierarchy that privileges males over females and the system of European patriarchy over other forms of gender relations; a sexual hierarchy that privileges heterosexuals over gays and lesbians; a spiritual hierarchy that privileges Christian over non-Christian/non-Western spiritualties institutionalized in the globalization of institutionalized Christianity; an epistemic hierarchy that privileges western cosmology over systems of intelligibility over non-western knowledge and cosmologies and institutionalized in the global university system; a linguistic hierarchy between European languages and non-European languages that privileges Eurocentric knowledge as true communication and rational knowledge/theoretical production yet denigrates indigenous knowledges as ‘merely’ folkloric or cultural and not worthy of being theoretical (Grosfoguel, 2007, 2008).
McLaren (2012) asserts that the challenges to the world associated with global capitalism are not self-contained. On the contrary, the capitalist society renders self-alienating subjectivity and social alienation, which is linked to the social relations of production and consumption, and to racialized and gendered antagonisms. He explains further, ‘the normative constraints of the global ‘power complex’ that reduces everything to production and consumption ‘ and it is this alienation that generates the self which remains isolated from its Other.’ (p. xii)
We need to move away from the alienated ‘selves,’ as we are defined by the problematic worldview of alienation, which in turn generates a worldview of separation. The question remains, how can we stay alert to global changes and not become overwhelmed with insurmountable hopelessness? Nonetheless, we can envision a new way of life, of being, and a world void of violence and destruction (Macy, 2007). This involves hard work and the practice of service to others, via relational ontology, ethics, and praxis. This practice is largely ethical, since one makes the conscious effort to prioritize the Other, and their counter-stories. It is also pedagogical, in that it adopts a relational positioning in the larger context of multiplicity. To sum it up, ontology entails ethics (Bai, 2003).
The Task Before Us: Relational ontology as ‘knowing and becoming’ education
In this next section, I will explain relational ontology and ethics from an educational standpoint. Then I will link the praxis of teaching and pedagogy to free market forces, inherent in society and educational institutions. I will describe how the psychological dislocation reinforced in schooling corrupts educational values and the psychological health of individuals and our society as a whole. The three major themes of deep education developed in the book are relational ontology and ethics, relational pedagogy and the general praxis associated with these themes. An educational paradigm based on a dualist theory of autonomous, disconnected humans is very contrary to an education based on a theory of holism. Not only are students connected to their teachers, their families, and each other, but they are connected to other cultures, other species and other parts of the biosphere. The next portion of the thesis deals with such ecological implications, as well as the various ethical, ontological and practical changes that relational pedagogy brings.
The first point I would like to make is that the way we think is always changeable. Here is where I see an ethical call to action for our schools. We can teach our students to think differently and therefore act differently. Here I would like to point to Robert N. Bellah (1992) when he describes the irony of social circumstances (and indeed our systems of education) when we overlook our peril. While the ideal of the ‘freedom of the individual’ has been linked to the right to an economic and prosperous life, we have uncovered horrific ontological and planetary consequences that were not likely expected by our former mechanistic thinking. Bellah continues that ‘the triumph of capitalism should lead us not to triumphalism but to self-reflection’ (p. 157). Here we need to be wary of a shallow competitive individualist mindset that pervades and undermines our connections to other people and the natural world. Although we are not conditioned to recognize our connections, there is no more valuable curriculum than the stewardship and future flourishing of life on earth.
I am particularly drawn to David Loy when he asserts that what we do is motivated by our thinking since intentional actions become habits when we repeat them over and over. Our habits manifest in the kind of person we are ‘ our sense of self. This is an important insight, I believe, to help us move away from the detrimental effects of a worldview of fragmentation and individualism. I resonate with his strand of thinking that in order to disrupt modernist discourses in education which separate children from each other and the natural world, we foster an education of non-duality:
To become a different kind of person is to experience the world in a different way. When your mind changes, the world changes. And when we respond differently to the world, the world responds differently to us. Insofar as we are actually non-dual with the world, our ways of acting in it tend to involve feedback systems that incorporate other people. People not only notice what we do, they notice why we do it. I may fool people sometimes but over time my character becomes revealed as the intentions behind my deeds become obvious. The more I am motivated by greed, ill will, and delusion the more I manipulate the world to get what I want, and consequently the more alienated I feel and the more alienated others feel when they know they have been manipulated. The mutual distrust encourages both sides to manipulate more. On the other aside, the more my actions are motivated by generosity, loving kindness, and the wisdom of interdependence, the more I can relax and open up to the world. The more I feel part of the world, and genuinely connected with others, the less I will be inclined to use others, and consequently the more inclined to trust and open up to me. In such ways, transforming my own motivations not only transforms my own life; it also affects those around me, since what I am is not separate from what they are (p. 62).
The recognition of interdependence calls for educators to make the central task of teaching devoted to the critiquing and dismantling of separations and binarisms that characterize current pedagogy. Given that social and ecological justice are the ethical problems of our time, schools can be places where habits of thinking and present assumptions are examined, critiqued and problematized, giving way to relational knowing and connecting.
Many teachers question whether we can create these widening spaces given the current public school curriculum (cite). The curriculum we adhere to is a product of our epistemology: subjects are separated into fragmented topics and time periods, we have confidence in ‘facts’ and information (cite). Our educational imperatives reflect our reverence of scientific methodology and the objectivity and standardization that are an outcome of that thinking. But our curriculum is also a reflection of what society values, and teachers lawfully cannot abandon it. They can, however, learn to reframe it not as rigid and inflexible, but as a tool and an opportunity to work within the institutional contract while enabling students to disrupt, question, explore and reconstruct that contract and the associated curriculum.
Recently, a theme in teacher education has been to question the moral gestures of teaching ‘ that is, to question the ethical orientation of the value assertions of what is taught and how it is taught (Totterdell, 2000). For example, Michael Totterdell argues that since teachers are ‘gatekeepers to increasingly powerful forms of knowledge and to the powers of discrimination to use them wisely and for the good of others,’ (p.127) teacher education will continue to come under scrutiny of an ethical focus. Let us review some possibilities of what relational ontology/ethic espoused by pedagogy could look like.
Nel Noddings: The ethics of care
Nel Noddings wrote extensively on the ethics of care and the bulk of her work prioritizes concern for relationships. Noddings describes the ethics of care as ‘feminine’ to illuminate the idea that the essence of human nature is relational as opposed to a traditional, so-called ‘masculine’ approach. This view aligns with the basic feminist view of human nature itself. If we are relational beings who naturally care for others and know in emotional ways, then our natural instinct will be to think about morality in an emotional, relational way. In this sense, the quest to be moral begins with the desire to be moral, and moral acts are evaluated based on the relations of the people involved ‘ thus, the relationship is at the core of the ethical dilemma. All relationships, according to Noddings, include the ‘one-caring’ and the ‘cared-for.’ The one-caring takes the obligation of the ethical ideal, an apparition of the ideal preeminent self. This involvement of relational energy is not one-sided, since we must keep in mind that the relation is significant, and that the one-caring in one context may be the cared-for in another. Caring also involves action as well, since the one-caring must understand the true needs of the person and act to fulfill those to truly act on behalf of the cared for.
Caring is natural to us, Noddings would attest, and this natural capacity must be fostered and cultivated through schooling. Students learn to care and be cared-for in relationships with teachers and other students. Dualistic thinking that divides students is replaced by relational understandings that lessen the gap between them. Noddings’ believes that ethics is ultimately about overcoming the ‘otherness’ through enhancing the connections that are naturally there but are de-emphasized by modern, individualistic, masculine world views.
Noddings’ ethics of care, defined as a desire to help others fulfill their legitimate desires and improve their current states of affairs as well as acting on that desire has been a mediocre focus for education and morality for several years (Noddings, 1984). The ethics of care has also been a subject of concern for feminist thinkers such as Carol Gilligan and Annette Baier. They have argued that women think about morality and moral decisions in different ways from men. They describe that men tend to think about universal principles, rights, and justice in expressing their outlook of morality, whereas women are apt to consider context, responsibilities, and concern for others. These fundamental differences, they argue, discount traditional forms of ethics since they do take into consideration the ethical views of women. Explain these differences more and unpack that last sentence. Let’s work on this transition.
But in my view, the ethics of care, as the discussion stands, is incomplete. A holistic conception of care ethics would include both feminine and masculine approaches to moral decisions. We need the balance. Nodding’s ethics of care still has the underlying characteristics of binarism. For example, whether we are biologically male or female, we all have both feminine and masculine aspects. The whole concept of care, while historically identified with the domain of women is not exclusively ‘feminine.’ Care as a holistic human attribute has to be both feminine and masculine. In this sense, Noddings’ assumption that care ethics can be split into masculine and feminine positions contributes to the problem of binarism in relational ethics.
Many ethics of care theorists and ecologists tend to emphasize the interrelatedness of the world. Every being in the universe may be distinct from all others, but they are not separate from each other. I widen the discussion of the ethics of care to include a holistic view of the universe that suggests that entities are necessarily and crucially connected to each other. In other words, all entities in the universe really only exist in relationship to other entities. For example, Descartes’ timeless quote, ‘I think, therefore I am,’ is condemned as being counterintuitive. Noted feminist scholar Lorraine Code articulates this criticism well when she contends that before the ‘I’ can think, or even subsist, it must first be a ‘you’ related to something in addition and comprehensible only in that context (Code, 2000). I fell the focus for knowing and living, then, in terms of how we live becomes the fostering of self and eco-relationship within ‘an ethic of earthcare’ (Merchant, 1996, p. 206).
If all objects in the universe are related to each other, then it follows that humans and the physical world are necessarily related to each other. Caroline Whitbeck, who writes about ethics in engineering, suggests that students know themselves through others, discarding the illusion that you and I are inherently separate. I agree with this understanding of human relatedness in that flows from the feminist rejection of Western dualism.
However, according to Nel Noddings, human relatedness implies that the self inevitably exists. I’m not quite following the transition between these ideas. You may need a little more linkage. I agree with Noddings that the self is defined by relationships with others. A relational understanding of how learning occurs puts into question the very notion of report cards, designed for individual learners why? Spell it out for us. If we are relational from birth, how do we know that learning is encompassed within an individual learner? Moreover, how do we know that our identities are self-contained? Since we are fluid learners, I advocate for the elevation of caring relationships as well as the call to act ethically. Why is it that you advocate for this because we are fluid learners? I just need to understand the concept of fluid-learning and how it relates to the previous sentence. This is significant from an educational standpoint: we are no longer speaking of individual goals or pursuits or needs. Alternately, the individual is the moral agent and therefore the unit of analysis when doing x, but when contemplating a moral question, the relationship between two people is the ethical unit. For Noddings, moral challenges are thus relational in nature and appropriate for interrelated dialogue, not individual monologue (Noddings, 1984). Pedagogy could be best described as a praxis that ‘sees’ students as whole human beings with complex lives and experiences rather than simply as seekers of compartmentalized bits of knowledge (hooks, 1994, as cited in Riley-Taylor (2002, p. 13).
When all is said and done, epistemology (ways of knowing) and ontology (ways of being) cannot be separated from each other. Ecologically speaking, I believe we need to foster relational ways of knowing. As early as year, Margaret Mead recognized the importance of the primal role of relation and the mode in which knowledge is conveyed, rather than the contents of instruction:
The social structure of a society and the way learning is structured ‘ the way it passes from mother to daughter, from father to son, from mother’s brother to sister’s son, from shaman to novice, from mythological specialist to aspirant specialist ‘ determine far beyond the actual content of the learning both how individuals will learn to think and how the store of learning, the sum total of separate pieces of skill and knowledge…is shared and used.
Discuss the Mead quote and put it into context here before moving on. Proto-learning (the contents) can be monitored, recorded, designed in a lesson plan but deuteron-learning (relational aspect) is subterranean process, monitored by the participants and only loosely associated with learning (Bauman, 2001). Such separation and fragmentation has prevented us from understanding our relational ties with the larger order of the ecosphere.
In support of this relational assumption, Cohen and Bai (2011) suggest that relations are the foundation of personal and mutual transformation. For these authors, the most prevailing and genuine transformative agent of teaching and leadership is ‘not the individual teachers and leaders, rather the relationships ‘ the in-between spaces of meeting ‘ that they create and relational encounters they both represent and facilitate’ (Cohen and Bai, 2012). To elaborate this meaning Let’s work on a better way into this quote:
We believe that the time has come for humanity to move out of the stage of the individual leader and teacher, and that what is now required are relationships that are multi-dimensional and that themselves are a central part of what teaches, facilitates, and leads. To be clear what we are proposing and will attempt to illustrate in our dialogue below is not that a person can learn and grow in relationship, which we certainly believe. Beyond this point we argue that a relationship that is based on mutual learning and growth is itself a teacher, and that two or more such individuals within a group will supply the most important learning through the nature and process of the relationship between them (p. 261).
In what ways do these ‘in between spaces of meeting’ and the essence of relationships create ethical encounters? By outlining a far-reaching and philosophically-supported relational ethic, educational praxis is called to concentrate on the art of ethics. The focus of relational ethics is the way students interact as interdependent and inter-subjective parts of a community, where each individual has an ethical obligation to the others within the whole.
As John P. Miller (2000) contends, ‘if we can see ourselves as part of the web, there is less chance we will tear the web apart’ (p.5). Thus, a deep education today would do well to shift the focus to how we can help our students appreciate their deep-seated association within a broader scheme of relationships, and their situatedness ‘ the notion that students are cultivated to adopt the obligations and responsibilities to the welfare of others. Palmer reminds us that the job of the teacher is not to fill the student’s minds with facts, but rather to ‘evoke…what students hold within’ (Palmer, 1983, p. 43). The teacher-student relationship is a mutual partnership, rather than the historical pedagogical stance as students as passive recipients of knowledge. Moreover, the pedagogical key to deep education is to move away from the focus on a student’s autonomous individuality and emphasize the significance of the student self within the broader context of a social and biological universe (Bowers, 1991). The ontological journey of humanity as relational beings is to develop our sensitivities to engage with others and our natural environment. A cultivation of ‘offering’ explained by Riley-Taylor (2002) as ‘a relation that is deeply felt, an interaction conducive to coming into partnership as a creative force. Teaching children to become aware as response-able partners within relationships can be a beginning road toward helping them see they have response-ability within a world community much larger than themselves’ (p. 146-147). Moreover, assisting students to critically examine patriarchal ways of knowing will help to shift the emphasis away from anthropocentric and androcentric ways of knowing toward a relational review of the world (Merchant, 2005). The relational ethic in deep education seeks to raise conscious awareness of the destruction humans have brought to the modern world. As Charlene Spretnak argues, it is time to rethink the nature of intelligence (Spretnak, 1997, p. 122). Away from the notion of the ‘detached spectator,’ a re-evaluation of the ideology of individualism underlying anthropocentric worldviews (Bowers, 1995) and an appreciation for response-ability in an interconnected world (Bowers, 1995). This shifting of relational pedagogy will require an ontological-repositioning from what to the development of a relational praxis based upon the critical reflection of the ideals and practices that have fostered alienation toward ourselves, others, and the environment.
In one interesting example, Lynne Gabriel (2009) defines relational ethics as ‘a set of moral principles and relation as narration.’ In the context of a helping or educational relationship we can construe a relational ethic as a co-constructed ethical and moral encounter, with associated relationship experiences and processes, that both influences and in turn is influenced by the complex multidimensional context in which the relationship occurs. The term relational ethic represents the complex medium through which decisions and interactions of a relationship are mindfully and ethically engaged’ (Gabriele & Casemore, 2009, p. 1). To take the idea of a relational ethics a step further, we can refer to Aldo Leopold’s (1949) ‘Land ethic.’ Leopold’s land ethic suggests we live on the planet with reverence as earth as community, not earth as commodity. He defines ethics in ecological by way of setting limitations on human activity, ‘(ethics) is a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence’ and in sociological terms, ‘differentiation of social from anti-social conduct’ (p.202). Leopold’s land ethic provides a rich foundation for broadening our vision of schooling. Using his work as inspiration, I argue for an educational ethic that moves pedagogy away from individualistic, patriarchal and dualistic ways of knowing and to x
All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him to also cooperate. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters. Plants, and animals, or collectively: the land (p. 203-204).
I maintain that this problematized distancing from nature can be addressed pedagogically if we help students assume the responsibility of communal caretaking and stewardship of our local places. This might be a great place to talk about what we can do differently. I think you might want to continue this thought a bit more and connect it to pedagogy before moving on to the next segment.
There is also evidence to suggest that relationships are the foundation of ethical action and that human thriving is increased by healthy and ethical relationships (cite). For example, professionals in health care often commit themselves more to their relationships with their clients than with one-another (cite). In our current trend of modern healthcare; however, this commitment to relationship can be dampened by the prominence of advanced technology, consumerism, legal liability, bureaucracy, objective rationalism, and individual autonomy (Burgum and Dossetor, 2005). Similarly, educational ethics should be refocused upon the importance of understanding oneself within a relational context of self and social-ecological integration.
Sally Gadow and Edmund Pellegrino (2005) situate their relational ethics approach within the scope of the historical development of bioethics theory in the Western world. Relational ethics is presented as an opportune, progressive, obligatory approach that builds on, rather than challenges, the effectiveness and magnitude of ethical theories, normative ethical principles, virtue ethics, feminist ethics, and ethics of care. These authors contend that knowledge of each of these approaches to ethics is vital, yet insufficient without a fuller exploration of the relationships within which the ethical moment is enacted.
Mutual respect is identified as the central theme of a relational ethic. As described by Bergum and Dossetor,
Respect is described as interactive and reciprocal, with an emphasis on respect for and acceptance of difference. In coming to mutual respect, there is a need to be both respectful of others and also respectful of oneself. The theme of engagement implores the cultivation of a sensitivity that promotes authentic connection.’
To be truly present and personally responsive to another are the central features of empathy. In the premise of embodiment, the feeling body is integrated with the thinking mind, rather than dual notions of ‘rational’ and ’emotional’.
We can use the theme of ecology to expand the concept of the relational space beyond the individual level and explore the web of relations that tie the individuals to their families, their schoolmates, their communities, and the earth. The individualistic freedom of liberal philosophy must be linked to responsibility to our larger community. As x and y have argued, it is important to understand that the relational space is an ambiguous space without certainty and that this uncertainty can open possibilities and contribute to better outcomes when it comes to human health and well-being. Go ahead and spend a little more time developing this transition. It’s important (and very good). Deep education encourages us as educators to act more mindfully in our interactions with our students, to ask more personally relevant questions, and to reflect on our relational practices as immediately and continually as possible. As educators, it behooves us to be continually mindful of how we relate to others. This what? includes the cultivation of an attitude of deep respect for ourselves, for other humans, and for other species, and for say something about the ecological implications.
As educators, we can choose to use existing curriculum as a way of opening up new conceptions, understandings, questions, and directions. This will involve shifting the focus of our attention to ecological sensitivity rather than technological and consumer-driven ways of living. Both the intended content of the curriculum and the curriculum as an intention can become potential sites for disruption and exploration, for re- and co-creation, for weaving personal and group biography into the intended curriculum as it unfolds. Thus, the notion of interrelationship becomes the foundation for ‘Deep education’ pedagogical theory.
As educators, we can take advantage of the latent potential of our classrooms to provoke and engage, to build bridges between what and what, and to challenge the collective assumptions of our narrowly understood individualism. The central message is that we cannot afford to let the ways in which we have thought limit the ways in which we can. Develop this idea just a little bit more. Maybe two or three more sentences. In the next chapter, I provide practical examples and an in-depth exploration of what eco-relationality looks like, on a daily basis in schools. Give one more sentence about what they’ll look forward to next.
Deep Education: Relational Pedagogy as Daily Praxis
‘It is through communion with nature that we attain our full humanity.’
~ Charlene Spretnak
We must die as egos and be born again in the swarm, not separate and self-hypnotized, but individual and related.
Journal Entry: The Remembering
Looking out from my desk window, a crisp January morning begins with the first hints of sunshine and a cloudless sky, providing a welcome and unspoken reprieve from the rainforest drizzle and dusky days that commanded the past three months. With amusement, I watch the stellar jays and robins play among the variegated greens of the Douglas fir branches within my immediate view. Miles, my ever-self-less golden retriever, lay sleeping at my feet, warming them against the last remnants of the cool night just past. He twitched and whimpered occasionally, which, I surmised, must have been occasioned by the events in his canine dreams. The world outside my window was emerging from the darkness of night into the brightness of day, from the gray, gloomy desolation of winter to the green re-birthing of spring. With the passing of hours, twists of light transform the scenery into the forest beyond. I catch a glimpse of the inescapable interconnectedness I sense with my surroundings, my resonance with the extraordinary spirit of nature.
In these moments I consider myself fortunate, since the astonishing expressions of this natural grandeur can also be unnoticed when I am thrust into the distractions of daily living. David Abram reminds me that for the most part, many folks frequently fail to take notice, to awaken sensibilities, and to become aware of our immediate experience and engagement with the natural world (Abram 2010). At this juncture is my own private yearning for a restored connection with the all-inclusive life force, for an internal remembering of my place in an all-encompassing universe.
I wonder how well we educate our students to take notice of our allowances of human knowledge, our insensitivities, and our apparent susceptibility to mechanistic and instrumental misconception and delusion. Conscious connectedness is a way of knowing, an integrated understanding of relations, and an inspired spark of life ‘ not limited to only scientific understanding that deems what knowledge is valid. The establishment, preservation, and revival of conscious connectedness are critical to the future of humankind and the planet. I resonate with Elaine Riley-Taylor (2002), when she says:
As humans, we must find our way over landscapes filled with anguish, assaults and assignations, inspired to keep moving toward some quenching of unnameable pull, a draw toward some perceived fulfillment, some final quenching of thirst. But, from where do we draw our water? How do we answer the question, what will bring peace and contentment? Is it money? Is it health? Is it power and control? Is it relationship, or beauty or status and image? We race ahead to fill the longing, but does the water we drink quench the desert of our inner thirst? (p.2)
According to environmentalist author, Bill McKibben, (2010) global warming is not something that is in our future, it is our current reality. The Earth we inhabit today is drastically different than the Earth of even a few decades ago due to human impact (McKibben, 2010). Our predicament is to understand our world and the impending problems of climate change (draughts, severe weather systems, food and water shortages and diminishing resources) and to make immediate plans for how we are going to respond to it (McNamee and Gergen, 1999). Continuing to employ the assumption that our world is as it was throughout history ‘ diverse and flourishing ‘ is a short-sighted option that will result in wars and violence over the last remnants of fossil fuels, water, food and resources (McKibben, 2010). It is the project of this thesis to imagine what educational praxis can be urgently utilized as we contend with our rapidly changing planet.
The daily grind: Some observations…
Chapter 2 ‘I cannot go to school today”
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
“I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry.
I’m going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox.
And there’s one more – that’s seventeen,
And don’t you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut, my eyes are blue,
It might be the instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I’m sure that my left leg is broke.
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button’s caving in.
My back is wrenched, my ankle’s sprained,
My ‘pendix pains each time it rains.
My toes are cold, my toes are numb,
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow’s bent, my spine ain’t straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There’s a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is …
What? What’s that? What’s that you say?
You say today is …………..Saturday?
G’bye, I’m going out to play!’
~ Shel Silverstein
What I have mostly discovered in speaking privately with teachers is that we’re absorbed in our individual teaching tasks and personal lives most of the time and rarely get a chance to really talk in depth with other teachers, the administration and the students about their personal lives. It results in a sort of endless day-to-day shallowness and monotony that lasts years, and works to build an often unquestioned distance among the members of the school community. What does this tell us about relationships? All of that works to create a sense of fragmentation that creates a worldview of separateness between students/students, students/teachers and students/teachers/school/life-in-general, and a young person’s expectations about his or her present and eventual role in the process of living a social experience.
The pursuit of education is generally conceived by society as the effort to improve students’ capacity to engage with the curriculum, increase knowledge about various subjects and land a good job – learn just what is necessary to succeed financially in life. The resources for learning have, during the past several decades, been expanded far beyond the family and classroom. Our children are occupied by fast-paced movies, video games, television, iPods, cell phones, American Idols, consumerism and a fair amount of widely-celebrated narcissism. What do schools typically do to help youngsters absorb, sort-through and appropriately interpret the incessant stream of data confronting them from these technological sources? In my experience, schools do very little to help children critically reflect on these nuances of modern society.
It seems to me that these daily relational experiences and recent advances in technology and the resulting globalizing society are not entirely an improvement. Moreover, these distractions and attractions that are a large part of everyday living for students and educators are shallowly discussed as part of the regular curriculum. The use of technology has become all-consuming in the lives of our youngsters than anything that happens in most traditional classrooms.
Through the lens of an individualistic worldview, education theory, practice and learning are considered without much attention to interrelations and inter-subjectivity. Although many students are rewarded in our modern schools for advancing to the top academically, I have discovered in my experience as a school counsellor and teacher that the majority of students experience dreariness and isolation. Deep Education is the promotion and ability to perceive problems, situations and contexts with an awareness informed by relational sensibilities. This change in consciousness will be highly valuable as we contend with our rapidly changing world. One of the successes of mechanistic thinking was to marginalize former relational ways of being, such as in the instances of ‘primitive’ societies, spiritual leaders, shamans, indigenous cultures, and the conversion of the unofficial society of women (Spretnak, 2011). X The last two hundred years has resulted in vast suffering from forced absorption into wholly unnatural ways of thinking and being.
The question remains, then, how do we ourselves, acknowledge, recover, nurture, and robustly practice relationally and help others to do the same? How do we help teachers, children, administrators and communities become relational, particularly within the scope of a cosmic order bound by a widely accepted curriculum of instrumental gleanings? We as a society cannot eliminate our challenges unless we are willing to carefully examine where we got entangled in them. We cannot address problems in education unless we are willing to examine the good and the bad, what needs fine-tuning, what should be kept and what discarded. Moving forward involves exploring solutions without pre-judgments, and adapting an open-mind. In our seemingly advanced culture, have we missed the way we experience life as an ever-flowing, ever-changing series of interrelated, complex states? (Spretnak, 2010)
This chapter seeks to help educators locate themselves anew within the field, and uncover issues that have been neglected. It will also reassess the scope and scale of the global challenges before us. As the relational paradigm emphasizes, there may be aspects of theory and practice that have been missed altogether or overlooked in the educational arena.
In the next section, I offer some pedagogical and curricular suggestions for adapting a relational pedagogy. I propose an understanding of students that undermines the notion of an autonomous individual and cultivates students as eco-relational agents. The notion of eco-relationality that I am proposing is grounded in interactivity with others and the natural world. What contemporary educational theory went astray is in the accepted ideal that students as psychologized selves are isolated, separate beings, secondary to our social inter-subjectivity. Because deep forms of education that acknowledges the ‘we’ within a larger matrix is still very much in its infancy, this inquiry represents an initial, tentative stage, and will require further development by educators and researchers.
In an effort to mend the theoretical divide, I explore relational pedagogy as a foundation for educational theory and the practices associated.
Mending the Theoretical Divide: From Individualism to Eco-Relationalism
In the last chapter, I explained that binarism (dualism), power-over relations, and ontological separation promoted an anthropocentric acceptance that humans are somehow over and above the natural world. Instead, what I offer in this chapter is an eco-relational ethic that enriches the understanding of interrelatedness of our human place within a larger reciprocal universal order. Rather than power-driven binaries as the fundamental source of knowing, an eco-relational ethic provides an approach to knowing and being that acknowledges that humanity cannot be divorced from each other and the natural world.
If we were to consider how we may educate with fresh eyes, to think deeply about alternatives that envelop an interrelated universe and the actions necessary to move out of a mechanistic education system, we will require a relational thinking that views situations and problems as multidimensional.
In this next section, I outline five key themes of relational sensitivity for education to promote a livable world for all. I submit that these five key themes are applicable to or contribute to the emerging global culture in which increasingly all societies are participating. These key themes are meant to augment existing curriculum or educational projects in an effort to have a sustainable directionality. The intent is to name educational principles to create a space to move away from the entrenched pedagogical individualism that is frequently unobserved or ignored in education. In other words, these themes are offered as enhancement to educational praxis.
Key Relational Practice #1: The Cultivation of Thorough Thinking
Relational Effects of Decision-Making
All proposed solutions to situations and contexts are viewed for their ‘relational effects’ ‘ that is the consequences, long and short term of any decision and the possible impacts on others and the planet. Too often, corporations and politicians make decisions that are very short sighted without consideration for the wider ecological and social implications of their decisions (Spretnal, 2011, p. 199). Moreover, decisions within a relational paradigm will also consider the remedial solutions to damages incurred by a mechanistic system of knowledge that contributed to many of the problems we have in the world today.
The mental habits that we form with our students will be critical and relational responses to life events. To explain, the way we reflect on moral choices and subsequent actions in a relational appreciation will be different and have much different outcomes if we were to make those same choices on our modern socialization that we make our moral choices independently. McNamee and Gergen (2002) advocate for shifting our conception of responsibility from individual to a relational process. These authors contend that our legal and ethical codes central to the Western notion of the individual are ‘isolating and alienating.’ (Spretnak, 2011, p. 201).
Edgar Morin (1999) speaks about the need for ‘thorough thinking,’ a way of thinking that encompasses ‘both text and context, individual and environment, local and global, the multidimensional ‘ in a word, the complex: the conditions of human behavior’ (p.53). A thorough thinking process will assist students to examine the challenges and solutions of the world predicament more clearly with attention to the relational outcomes of decisions and attention to restoration and healing. Following Charlene Spretnak’s words,
‘Thorough thinking’ that is not linear but seeks to apprehend the gestalt would also help us re-sculpt our habitual mental habits regarding our responses to life’s events. That is, the way we deliberate about moral choices and act responsibly has traditionally focused in Western socialization on the capability of an individual to deliberate independently, choose morally, and initiate action (while quite possibly remaining nearly oblivious to the realities of other persons involved) (p. 201)
An option that takes into account a relational understanding of decision-making explores the notion of focusing our decisions on the relational process rather than the individual focus. [I suggest that you build in a narrartive to go with this sub section, just like the next section with your Ben story.]
Key Relational Practice #2: Relational Responsibility
Fostering the more-than-‘individual’ responsibility to relational responsibility
Of specific relevance to individualism, is the form of thinking that emphasizes the blame of ‘a person’ and holds individuals accountable for character flaws or wrongdoing. However, faulting people for their behavior is one form of having a conversation According to authors Gergen and McNamee in their book, Relational Responsibility, the focus is shifted from the attention to the individual to the relational process within which the behavior comes in to existence’ (p. 23). This effort is intended not the shift blame to yet another plethora of evil wrong-doers but to entertain frames of reference for how certain ways of behaving become visible within a relational context. The after-result may be a way of opening spaces for new ways of understanding, new ways of framing events and new ways of relating to one another. For example, placing fault and blame on persons for alleged character flaws is only one example of discourse or narration of an individual. When the attention is shifted to co-authored narration of a person’s history, cultural context, and multiple exchanges of the good, new ways of relating and framing events are fostered. Here, I provide an example of Ben, a boy I met in the hallway who was in a specialized class for children with behavior problems.
‘Problem Child’ on time-out in the hall
As I became more familiar with the family and school histories of the students in the ‘Special Remedial Behavior Program’, (what a name!) it became apparent that numerous injustices contributed to the manifestation of the mental health problems of the students in the class. As the name of the program might suggest, the trauma and brutality of the lived experiences of these children were unintentionally reinforced in the very programs that were intended to help the kids. This included but was not limited to injustices these children routinely experienced in their families (e.g., being subjected to parental abuse and neglect) and schools (e.g., being bullied by peers and disrespected by school personnel) and movement into a program for ‘special children with behavior problems.’ While the emotional difficulties they exhibited exacerbated the problems the students experienced in their families and schools, their sense of self-identity and absence of an adult who advocated for them were additional challenges that enabled the abovementioned difficulties and their negative psychological outcomes to continue unabated.
Ben was no exception; he had multiple ‘problems.’ His ADD symptoms were affecting his work and he was on the verge of being expelled from school. His greatest difficulty was in prioritizing his tasks; he tended to major on the minors like the constant need to be out of his seat and in discussion with other students.
Now the other thing about Ben that I could not help but notice was that he sat at a desk placed outside of the classroom door and in the hall, day after day, for most of the school days. (I would often tell my pre-service teacher-students that before they send a student into the hall for an extended period (a.k.a. time-out), to go and try it themselves. If you are bored out of your skull after a few minutes, and feel forgotten, imagine what it might be like for a student!). Since I saw him daily in my passing, always sitting in his desk with his head in his arms, playing with a pencil or some object, or sometimes creating detailed and astonishing sketches. I stopped on my passing to chat with him on light subjects.
He was in his first year of a special class for children with severe behavior problems; prior to that he had been schooled in three different districts and had been moved to several different schools. He would be moved again to another, more structured and specialized placement by the following school-year.
He lived with his mother and aloofly mentioned, ‘I don’t have a father.’ His demeanor and body language strongly suggested this was a topic not to be discussed. When I inquired about Ben to his teachers, they rolled their eyes, and said, ‘Ben is impulsive and does not know how to behave appropriately. He never does any work, nothing! So, he gets ‘kicked out’ of class every day, since he knows what he should be doing’ and does not comply. It occurred to me that Ben likely enjoys the peace and solitary surroundings of the hall, and in class, made up exit strategies so that he could go to his own space.
I had a different experience of Ben: he was always pleasant, never hesitated to greet me and allow me to escort him to my office when I came to the class to retrieve him. During our first discussion I learned that he liked building airplane models (something he used to do with his grandfather, before he passed away).
I offered the idea that we build a model during our time together ‘ and he eagerly appeared interested. Asking questions, and trying to prompt Ben so I could listen to his life experiences were evidently not going to work: Ben had learned to conceal his feelings, and was referred to by his teachers and parents as ‘shut-down’ and ‘unwilling.’ I was told that to discuss anything about his personal life or problems was like pulling teeth. And so it was, day after day, week after week, month after month we built, glued, and talked together. I learned that with his grandfather he discovered the woods and was taught to garden. I asked the principal for permission to take him outside and start a school garden with some other students. Over time, Ben began to look physically different; he appeared healthy and less unkempt. He also befriended some of the students at the school and joined a community after school program. While Ben never remained at the school long enough to see the outcome of his school garden efforts, I cannot help but think our interchange was mutually transforming for both of us. To this day, I don’t know what became of Ben, but I do know the power of relationship when constituted with a new sense of reality that creates a conversation more encouraging than many of the interchanges he had in his relational history. Together, in those moments, we shaped what we are with each other.
The relationships we foster in schools can be mediums through which we establish trust, and learn attitudes and skills to foster growth and development. Psychological research has demonstrated that ‘at-risk’ students recover positively from intense stress, low self-confidence and trauma more easily if they have specific conditions in their relationships (Henderson, 2007). For example, the relational impact of highlighting the strengths of students and establishing ‘resiliency-style’ conditions around each student.
The school garden: A starting point
An encouraging development in recent years is the plethora of school gardens that have surfaced across schoolyards in settings from preschool to post-secondary schools. A school garden can be a good launching point for lessons about ecology, caring for gardens and the abundance of relational implications for all subject matter. Moreover, students and teachers who participate in the establishment and maintenance of school gardens report numerous benefits such as decreased anger and stress, particularly among students who exhibit undesirable behavior in school. For example, a grade 6 student in a low-income school reported: ‘Before, we were all mean to each other, but now if you have a watering can and somebody wants it, you say, ‘Here’! (Matus, 2013)
An important aspect of relational learning would involve the understanding of one self and one’s development as inexorably linked to multifaceted and complex relationships all around each one of us. Edith Cobb discusses compassionate intelligence, a ‘generous worldview and process understanding’ that moves beyond a narrow focus on the self. Instead, the development of children is ‘regulated by the meanings of nature imparted to him by the nature of his particular period in history.’ (Cobb, 1993).
There is encouraging potential in our K-12 education systems to pose educational reform on the basis of relational understandings to move away from the mechanistic models of educational modernity. Children who encompass an appreciation of interconnectedness would thrive rather than succumb to the challenges of alienation, lack of purpose, and egotism that afflicts many people today.
Cultivation of Relational Ethics and Determined Social Action
To move beyond the widely socially endorsed anthropocentric ethic is to develop awareness of eco centrism. Stan Rowe defines eco-centrism as a way of living:
To switch Western culture from its present track to a saving eco-political route means finding a new and compelling belief-system to redirect our way-of-living. It must be a vital outgrowth from our science-based culture. It seems to me that the only promising universal belief-system is eco-centrism, defined as a value-shift from Homo sapiens to planet earth. A scientific rationale backs the value-shift. All organisms are evolved from Earth, sustained by Earth. Thus Earth, not organism, is the metaphor for Life. Earth not humanity is the Life-center, the creativity-center. Earth is the whole of which we are subservient parts. Such a fundamental philosophy gives ecological awareness and sensitivity an enfolding, material focus.
Eco-centrism is not an argument that all organisms have equivalent value. It is not an anti-human argument, nor a put-down of those seeking social justice. It does not deny that myriad important homocentric problems exist. But it stands aside from these smaller, short-term issues in order to consider Ecological Reality. Reflecting on the ecological status of all organisms, it comprehends the Ecosphere as a Being that transcends in importance any one single species, even the self-named sapient one. (Rowe, 1994). [better to break these two up into separate block quotes with your own comments in between. Too big a block quote at once.
Similarly, individual/species ethics in education a calls for world citizenship in the 21st century. From an educational standpoint, ethics is taught by fostering the awareness and appreciation that all persons are simultaneously individuals, a member of a society, and a member of a species on an interconnected planet. A process view of human development essentially comprises of an intersection and cross-section of the individual within the context of community involvement. Moreover, greater awareness of how each of us as member of the human species is integral part of the whole interconnected system of biosphere would prompt us to take better global responsibilities for the effects of climate change. Such awareness, therefore, would critically be a focal virtue for education.
At this junction of awareness, is the potential for a reorientation of the ethical-political decisions of the planetary community as they related to local, place-based responsibility and global citizenship. [again, this section too needs a bit more elaboration, and connecting the themes to the next section.]
Service learning projects as a means to determined social action
In Chapter four, I discussed Tina Lynn Evans’ portrayal of schools as places that pervasively endorse a system of enforced dependency on social and economic systems in a globalizing world (p. 223).
Following Evans’ conceptual framework for sustainability praxis, a key focus for relational responsibility is student-learning projects that can be conceptualized within a critical view of the world-system. This involves participation in transformative and trans-disciplinary community action, (p. 223). If we are to transition toward more eco-relational projects, the sources of existing and prevailing social, economic and environmental problems will need to be critically examined and alleviated wherever feasible. Using community action pedagogy that involves social action projects may assist the transition away from the neoliberal framework that undermines schooling. In addition to learning service projects, students can be helped to connect the dots between the historical, political and social causes of climate change and economical implications. Deep education in this sense becomes the project of challenging and interrupting the hegemonic educational agenda of enforced dependency as described in Chapter three (Lynn-Evans, 2011). Check year
Service learning projects at both the local/global level can also be helpful as a basis for understanding and critiquing neoliberal capitalism in their geographical and historical circumstances. This framework helps reveal the economic effects on a globalizing world as oppression and alienation of people and the natural world for industrial growth. Most importantly, is the need for education to uncover the political and economic structures and practices that reproduce power-over relationships that reinforce dependency and empire of capitalism? (McLaren and Houston, 2005). [is it good enough just to end here after asking a question? Is it a rhetorical question??
Focus on Global Moral Progressiveness/The Common Good/ Ecological and Social Justice/Empathy and Compassion
In contrast to viewing the planet as private property, there appears to be growing interest in understanding the planet as a mutual commons (Shiva, 2005). On a local and global scale, communal trends around the globe are recognizing the economic, social and ecological costs associated with a globalized free market. There is a growing need to capture this notion of the commons in our educational pursuits, as a form of resistance to the enclosure of the commons ‘given the devastating effects of the privatization of public resources. As noted earlier, the relational perspective provides a deeper understanding with which to arrange one’s untidy worldview, with respect to economic globalization:
It suggests a certain attitude for how one can approach knowing, conceptualizing, and theorizing. It suggests not so much what is true about the world but how people can work together to discover what is most true, just and useful in a particular context (i.e., it includes epistemology as well as ontology) Murray, 2009).
Curricular suggestions to help students appreciate the common good are:
‘ Implementing strategies to design schools as communities of care ‘ caring for people, community, and the effects of globalization for people and species the world over; [nel noddings’ work?]
‘ Creating classroom jobs that require students’ participation in daily tasks that contribute to classroom or school functioning and extend the ethic of care to the environment and the global ecosystem;
‘ When decision-making, considering what is best for the common good, (classroom, community, or planet as a whole), similar to the native philosophy of making decisions that would benefit successors seven generations hence;
‘ Finding ways to provide food and shelter to those less fortunate and the homeless;
‘ Educating students about the global, ecological, societal and health effects of consumerism, capitalism and industry;
‘ Teaching students the real cost of eating and consuming certain types of food and products, for example, how much water is required to produce a pair of jeans, or a steak, or a loaf of bread;
‘ Discussing the pros and cons of collaborative sharing and living arrangements such as community resource sharing, co-housing, eco-villages, non-individualized forms of land ownership, and localized ways of living.
Key Relational Practice #3: Eco literacy from k to 12
Eco-literacy refers to a comprehensive approach to ecological education that emphasizes systems thinking, place-based pedagogy, sustainability as a common practice and real ‘world learning. As well, four areas of competency are also endorsed ‘ head, heart, hands and spirit ‘ while focusing on sustainability (Spretnak, 2011).
Helping students understand from an early age that he or she is part of a complex intermingling of relationships beyond the narrow identity of an isolated self. Learning about the deeply relational nature of the world, students will be able to move away from strictly mechanistic and instrumental notions of truth and reality. The appreciation of ecologically-based schooling may help our children and our societies heal from the confines of consumerism, egotism, individualism and resulting meaninglessness and alienation when we adopt an embodied eco-relational knowledge of the Earth.
Learning to be Conscious and the Connection to Mental and Physical Health
Likely the majority of us do not recognize the suffering basis of our human bodies when our embodiment of nature is absent and our schools are environments, essentially designed and constructed without attention to our natural surroundings. Four studies conducted at the University of Rochester in , 2009 showed that when people are engrossed in a natural setting, which includes sitting near plants or viewing slides of nature photos, they are disposed to care, to value others and their communities, and to be more generous than before. Conversely, looking at photo slides of strictly human made settings, the viewers had a distinctly opposite effect. After viewing the human-made environment slide show, people indicated that they valued money, prestige, and fame more than interpersonal relations or generosity. Moreover, this research concluded that non-natural environments have a profoundly powerful isolating and alienating effect on the expressions of human disposition. Close association with nature, then, has significant restorative implications for human health (Spretnak, p. 202).
In his book, ‘The Voice of the Earth,’ eco-psychologist Theodore Roszak (1993) explores the connection between human mental health and the environmental world. He suggests that an individual’s harmony is not just a matter of self-reflection but also a harmonizing of oneself with the natural world. Roszak’s work has profound implications for the framework of Deep education ‘ and the necessity to take schooling into the outdoors, to reconnect students to their natural surroundings. The psychological, spiritual and ecological benefits of such outdoor schooling are far-reaching. If incorporated into educational programs, they can greatly enhance the psychological well-being of students (and teachers).
One very practical reference for learning ecological consciousness is David Sobel’s recent book, Childhood and Nature (2008). In it, he proposes the metaphor of a necessary marriage between school and Mother Earth. According to Sobel, it is not enough to simply talk about the life cycle in a classroom; this type of education only leads to a superficial understanding of ecology, at best. Instead, children must experience nature kinesthetically ‘ first-hand ‘ in order to appreciate and want to care for it. The most effective way to educate children in environmentally sensitive ways is to create semi-wild places for urban children to gain access and to continue to foster experiences for children to play in nature. Furthermore, he stresses the need for flexibility in our rigid system of standards, curriculum frameworks, and high-stakes testing to allow for these essential outdoor experiences that foster love of nature, and ultimately, environmental stewardship. In other words, rather than memorize the plants, animals and trees you might find in the local ecosystem, children need to go out into the ecosystem and develop their love for it.
Sobel continues:, ‘Knowledge without love does not stick’ (Burroughs, (1919) as cited in Sobel, (2008). Too often, we inject knowledge without the experiences which allow love to take root and flourish. His hypothesis is that ‘one transcendent experience in nature is worth a thousand nature facts.’ These meaningful experiences in nature can lead to multiple understandings.
‘Talking to trees, hiding in trees, and climbing trees precedes saving trees’ (Sobel, p. 19). Moreover, Sobel points out that there is a powerful relationship between evocative childhood experiences in nature and adult environmental ethics and behavior. Therefore, we need to optimize childhood experiences in nature through our systems of education and prepare pre-service teachers with the theory and praxis to undertake outdoor forms of schooling such as . Nourishing a Sense of Place, Local Community and Global Village
In his book, Earth in Mind, Orr emphasizes that students need to be encouraged to understand their surroundings and the effect of these surroundings upon people and communities. Also, learning from direct experiences outside the classroom is as important as the content taught in the curriculum. Here, the content taught is specific to the geography, sociology, ecology and politics that are attributed to the economics of place. Some examples of key educational activities that foster a sense of place include:
‘ Encouraging students to buy locally, and appreciate the effects of transportation of goods;
‘ Documenting the ecological and health effects of local and global environmental hazards and the human/species impact;
‘ Encouraging students to plant special indigenous trees and plants;
‘ Going on school field trips and hikes;
‘ Allowing children to build tree forts in the schoolyard, and play in wild places;
‘ Establishing a pond or water garden. Developing school yards that attract wildlife;
‘ Equipping students with methods to help each school model environmental sustainability ‘ green the community, adding indigenous plants and generating local ecosystem restoration projects in the schoolyard and community;
‘ Helping students to identify ecological problems, and devising solutions to solve local and global environmental and social problems;
‘ Involving students in social and collective action at levels that are age-appropriate, so they may become confident stewards of the Earth and effective campaigners on its behalf;
‘ Providing a balance between overwhelming students with environmental facts on climate change and giving them opportunities to address the challenges to enhance agency and hope ‘ to make a difference;
‘ Creating ‘Small world activity’ (Sobel, 2008): students can build miniature models of the community, and then create overlays of streams, lakes, eco-places, geographical features, etc. The small world activity can be used to make decisions such as: which area receives the most sun (experts say six hours a day or more is necessary for good plant growth) and therefore, where the best location for a school garden might be;
‘ Community composting, gardening and recycling;
‘ Countless new educational endeavors, to counter industrialization and development, opening children to become stewards of their natural surroundings, communities and the globe;
‘ Initiating a school or community vegetable and herb garden.
‘ Cultivate relational Sensitivities: Practices to cultivate awareness of interrelatedness in students
Earth identity and Place-based Responsibility
The future of our world is now situated on a planetary scale. That our students understand the increasing pressures around the planet accumulated by climate change is of critical importance. No doubt, severe weather patterns, droughts and other destabilizing effects will continue to havoc the planet. Knowledge of our planetary era, the predicaments and resolutions will be vital for all global citizens. As an antidote to the mechanistic and individualist understandings, we ought to teach our students instead how all parts of the world are interdependent and inter-relational. Moreover, the multifaceted arrangement of our earthly predicament ought to be illuminated and clarified to reveal how all human and more than human beings will inevitably confront similar struggles of life and death and ultimately contribute to the same fate. [my usual complaint here: this subtitled section is too short, sketchy . . . Perhaps these short subsections need to be integrated and come with more interpretive comments from you. These short sections seem like they go nowhere.
Unification of the mechanistic and the relational
Progressive approaches to education allow students and teachers to ‘stray afield’ from contemporary manifestations of traditional practices in education. To continue the ‘status quo’ of contemporary education is to introduce its failed practices into the next generation of students. The relational perspective acknowledges both the traditional and the multifaceted approaches to pedagogy by honoring both. Since the underlying assumption of relational philosophy is to encompass the many virtues of a student (internal, external, interpersonal), aspects of many traditions can be reviewed for the applicability to the global problems of today, and adapted or disregarded for their relevance. Some curricular activities that encompass both objective materialism and relational awareness are:
Development of critical sensitivities ‘ discuss war, emotional costs, resource costs.
‘ Using technology, working toward ways of reducing reliance on fossil and nuclear fuel by conversion to renewable, cost-effective energy based on wind, solar, and geothermal energy sources;
‘ Discussing with students the soothing value of nature and spirituality as an antidote to stress;
‘ Encouraging course objectives to diverge from rigid, standardized curricular objectives to embrace the ‘internal’ particularities of local culture, community and the bio diverse natural environment;
Key Relational Practice #4: Educating for Self with/in Community
In order for the potential of relational pedagogy to come to fruition, our models of education must be disentangled from the psychological individualism and reductionism in which they are intertwined. Many educational objectives are contexted by the assumption of students as autonomous isolated individuals. The focus of this thesis is to re-orient this assumption toward the effort to establish students as self-developed and committed to the common good. Individuals cannot be isolated from one-another because individuals do not exist apart from those relations.’ (Damon, 1995, p. 80). Consequently, the slant I take in this thesis is the necessary constitution of the self that views human agency as the act of communal intentionality and less individual notions if living and being.
Jack Martin (2013) highlights the significance of social and psychological theorizing, are grounded and reproduced in historically established cultural traditions and social practices (Martin and McLellan, 2013, p. 177). Martin explains that our socially endorsed interactions with others facilitates and confines our lived experience as psychological selves. Following the theorizing of George Herbert Mead, Martin emphasizes that primacy of interactions is the essence of our humanness. In his words,
What we believe mainstream educational psychology got fundamentally wrong was to conceptualize ourselves (our psychological being) as isolated from and prior to our coordinated sociality within communities of others. When this error is corrected, it is clear that our selfhood and agency (now understood as important socio-psychological aspects of our personhood) are evolutionary and developmental accomplishments that have emerged over the course of our history as a species and develop as we mature over our individual lives. We are first social and then psychological, and our psychological personhood arises only within our coordinated interactivity with others( p. 177-8).
While the definition of self in its strictest sense is not to deny that the existence of a self is real, but rather to appreciate that the self is not entirely interior and entirely isolated. Rather, selfhood, if properly understood, is the understanding of communal agency as the social virtue of collective flourishing as a primary life goal.
Key Relational Practice #5: Preparation for Uncertainties
While science has assisted our world in uncovering countless new discoveries, including the relational reality of the universe, science has also revealed many areas of uncertainty. By the same token, our educational curricula ought to also include the study of uncertainties that have surfaced in the physical sciences and in all other aspects of life. Determinist models of human history that declared our future is predicable have been discarded, since the study of history the world over confirms how unexpected the twists and turns of our planetary evolution have been. If life is unpredictable, we ought to integrate strategies to help our students to expect the unexpected and know how to cope with it.
Our educational culture tends to celebrate objective, empirically-derived knowledge, and de-emphasize other forms of knowing. For example, we do not have standardized tests that can account for moral imperatives, emotional intelligence, or subjective experience (although scientific materialism rigorously attempts to reduce these subjects to numbers). Understanding our own biases and awareness of our own cultural conditioning can help us to deepen and expand our consciousness to ‘see’ more diverse options and enact more inquisitive, just, and creative solutions to classroom, community and world problems. In this way, an eco-relational ethic provides a means to appreciate multiple ways of knowing among students and teachers, which enable us to change our understandings and make informed choices.
One of the main advantages to the eco-relational approach is that it may serve as a form of ‘meta-container’ for multiple educational philosophies. The multiplicity aspect of individualism embraces and initiates critical evaluations of the underlying principles and values of the individual within an integrated natural world. Critical evaluations of self and the larger ecological context are also important to ‘sift and sort’ traditional educational practices to take forward the most redeeming aspects and revise pedagogy toward understanding of a relational world.
‘ Provide professional development to teachers so they are introduced to the theoretical literature on relational education and implementation;
‘ Enable teachers to create relational education lesson plans that connect learners and the curriculum to relational awareness;
‘ Introduce teachers, students, and policy makers to the pedagogical implications of relational pedagogy.
One of the most significant ways to understand integral consciousness is the notion that while we may acknowledge ourselves as individual entities, there is an interdependent, collective psychic consciousness that lends itself to unique opportunities for global cooperation. From this vantage point, there is a pedagogical implication of ‘understanding the self as semi-permeable.’
For example, many indigenous cultures of the past and present view themselves as part of the holistic natural world. From North American natives and ancient Greeks to Australian aboriginals and ancient Mayans, many past cultures (and religions, for that matter) have conceptualized the universe as an extension of the interconnected human body and soul (Skolimowski, 2005; Merchant, 2005; Abram, 1996). Conscious evolution or relational sensitivities, if adapted in educational settings, would eagerly embrace some of the native, transpersonal and pre-modern conceptions of the collective self. In his book, The Spell of the Sensuous (1996, p. 57), Abram outlined a compelling phenomenological definition of the term ‘participation,’ as used by the anthropologist Lucien Levy-Bruhl to describe the nature of indigenous sensory perception and collective consciousness:
Levy-Bruhl used the word ‘participation’ to characterize the animalistic logic of indigenous, oral peoples’for whom ostensibly inanimate objects like stones or mountains are often thought to be alive, for whom certain names, spoken aloud, may be felt to influence at a distance the things or beings that they named, for whom particular plants, particular animals, particular persons and places and powers may all be felt to participate in one another’s existence, influencing each other and being influenced in return.
Fostering students’ self-conceptions as semi-permeable needs to be stressed as an educational imperative. This will achieve more holistic and cooperative ideals as we move away from the extreme individualism model enmeshed in our systems of education. Listed below are some curricular activities, which could enhance the understanding of conscious evolution:
‘ Tell stories about special places in nature. Examine our planet’s place in the universe and enable students to tell their own stories from within that perspective;
‘ Help students to anticipate the world they envision, and brainstorm practical methods to obtain a preferred future; (Rhea, 2005)
‘ Talk to students about the idea of relational understanding as a cohesive, practical and worldwide strategy to combat climate change at both local and global levels.
Challenges to Adopting a Deep Education Approach to Pedagogical Practice
I hold no misconceptions that there are several challenges and difficulties associated with the implementation of any progressive or alternative pedagogy. Some of the challenges to an integral approach to education include, 1) the reluctance to change accepted practices ‘ from teachers, parents, and students, when a deviation in learning is suggested. Teaching and learning alternate forms of consciousness are difficult and can be met with much active and passive resistance; 2) the logistics of applying new educational approaches, in general. From a political standpoint, changes are challenging to any existing system, and especially when moving from traditional to progressive approaches and when the political pressures are to conform to a neoliberal capitalist agenda. To accomplish this, professional development is required. Unfamiliar approaches to teaching can pose challenges to teachers who prefer to rely on familiar methods of teaching, using lesson plans from former years.
Relational Pedagogy, Globalization and the Future
As we consider ways in which we can foster integral pedagogy through education, this paper is a call to create a form of schooling that reflects the conviction that only those who act can rescue our moribund world from collapse by fostering global consciousness.
Furthermore, it could be conceived hat the rise in mental and physical health problems, are the accumulated effects of human disconnection to each other and the natural world (Macy, 2006). . Our suppressed, marginalized, and discredited intuitive ‘knowing’ is a yearning to be reconnected to ourselves, each other and the natural world, which is bursting with life affirmations and remains the source of human well-being.
The forms of schooling that represent this need will be ones that affirm our humanity, and acknowledge our wakefulness to living as part of the web of life. Education must focus on fostering integral experiences in children. This must connect them with nature and spirit to show how learning in a global world can be integrated within the educational process.
As the UN has pointed out, we have a window of opportunity over the next few decades to stabilize the planet and to prepare the next generation of students for stewardship of one another and the Earth.
With the ecological reorientation of the sciences, humanities, building designs and sustainable energy sources that have recently emerged, the teachers of tomorrow will require a re-education that involves adequate preparation to pave the way toward relational pedagogy. Schooling may provide an important link to unhinge the educational structures and restrictions and misconceptions that have held our predecessors captive in a flawed model. Our students, our future, and our cultural reality can soar toward a more intelligent vision of life that places humanity within the matrix of the universe ‘in-which-humanity-exists-as-part.’ (Rowe, 1991).
There are positive indications the world is coming together to resolve problems of climate change and issues facing humanity, through the United Nations and events such as the Copenhagen conference. While we have recently seen political attempts to unify and secure world strategies on a political and business front, we also require educational policies and global curriculum, in part, to rectify our global crisis.
At first consideration, a worldwide theme of enlightened education may seem like a preposterous thought. How could we possibly endorse a policy that needs to be relevant to the vast diversity that exists between continents and cultures? While an integral and globally significant curriculum may not be the only tenet of the educational project, some room is needed for such an adjustment. It must be done if we are to pull together our human and planetary resources to establish global consciousness on a necessarily global scale. The Internet presents us with such a forum for planetary communication.
There are countless examples of a relational shift occurring around the world that provide hope for a paradigm transformation from that of a mechanistic worldview to a relational worldview (Spretnak, 2011). This relational shift requires people across the globe to perceive, think and act in ways that are relational in nature. While the prospect of education is fertile ground for such ventures, larger coherence within workplaces, communities, and various sites of socialization will be required to find solutions for daily living that are conceived and acted on in interrelated context. (Spretnak, 2011). In a mechanistic orientation of education, problem-solving is understood by objective rationality, diploid of values and context. The mechanistic worldview also supports the illusion of a separate self who is fundamentally apart from all else (Martin and McLellan, 2013). These unsympathetic appreciations of an interrelated and dynamic universe are the challenge before us in the future of education.
In summary, the common understandings of relational philosophy are presented as a viable foundation for a practical educational approach to lead us into the twenty-first century and beyond. The hegemonic, mechanistic worldview as an isolated foundation for education is one of the core problems at the root of unsustainability and social injustice. This philosophy, which has dominated commerce and ways of living for the last few centuries, does not encourage conservation and simple living; on the contrary ‘ these imperatives encourage further unrestrained growth and planetary despoiling and destruction.
Ervin Laszlo, a renowned physicist, states, ‘standard theoretical models are, by truly overwhelming factors, out of line with the real world, the issues appear very much more substantial than the seemingly trivial anomaly that triggered the last scientific revolution’ (2008, p. 16).
In his book, Earth in Mind (2004), David Orr condemns the modern curriculum: ‘We have fragmented the world into bits and pieces called disciplines, and sub-disciplines, hermetically sealed from other such disciplines. As a result, after 12 or 16 or 20 years of education, most students graduate without any broad integrated sense of the unity of things’ (p. 11).
Moreover, the role of higher consciousness in the development of humanity has been essentially ignored, considered unworthy of discussion in mainstream science and education, even today (Laszlo & Currivan, 2008).
Fundamental change in our global educational worldview is hopeful, given the emergence of recent global ecological revelations and a blooming interest in green school initiatives. With the greening of consciousness, integral, progressive and environmental awareness begins to assess anew all of life’s global concerns. Moreover, with the recent developments in communication technology, such as the Internet, never before in the history of the planet has there been the opportunity and potential for vast expansion of awakening around the globe.
We are living on the brink of millennial transformation. This transition into a planet-conscious age depends, in part, on a purposeful effort to introduce insightful new theory and practice in education. This paper is an urgent call to investigate human potential on a global scale, within education, to facilitate this transition.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, proposes that we ought to assume existence is founded on interbeing. ‘We interare. They interare. Everyone interis.'(Spretnak, 1022 p. 201). Our bodymind, he suggests, needs genuine connection with embodiment of others and nature. The outdated moral value of the Autonomous Individual has ignored the inter-relational reality of selves within the scope of a larger world. The relational self as the context for Deep Education is far more conscientious, imaginative and healthful for our World Community.
Add in where ben on playground’.say something about playground is meeting at the childs place
‘The playground is an important place. It is a place for children who are waiting for their parents to collect them. It is a place of recess. And it is a place to take the
children when there is nothing more pressing to do. But the playground is even more than this. Although ignored by those for whom children are of little consequence
or by those who are too preoccupied with adult concerns to be much bothered with things that matter to children, although taken for granted by those who take
children for granted and prefer to see their effective removal from the adult world, the playground is also a place for understanding what is happening to children. It is a
child’s place, a place for being able to act like a child, and a place for seeing what matters to children. (Smith, 1998).
Consciousness is never self-sufficient; it always finds itself in an intense relationship with another consciousness.
~ Mikhall Bakhtin
We must die as egos and be born again in the swarm, not separate and self-hypnotized, but individual and related.
The Call for Deep Education in an Age of Globalization
An unfolding journey occurred for me as I wrote this thesis. When I began the PhD program in Curriculum and philosophy in 2007, I had no conception that I would write about individualism and eco-relationality. Yet, the subject theme arose over and over as I contemplated the doctoral readings and considered what was important to me as an educator and counsellor. As the time went on, the light began to show through the darkness: we humans have lost sight of our connection to the Earth. The nagging question as to how this issue could be better addressed in education has been what I have been asking myself for the last several years. And while there is plenty that has yet to be uncovered, what I discovered in this reflective journey is that the basic design of contemporary pedagogy is rooted in the Cartesian ‘severance’ [of] human knowing and being from any sense of earthly embodiment, obligation, necessity, or ecological consequence’ (Jardine, 2000, p. 89). As I drew closer to the increased understanding that in order to solve the global ecological crisis facing the world, new methods for knowing, valuing and existing on Earth are necessary. This is particularly relevant when considered in the context of education since systems of schooling present fertile ground for such needed transitioning toward a ‘radical re-cognition of life’ (Riley-Taylor, 202, p. 153) . When we contemplate our future world we meet head-on countless uncertainties about the Earth that our children and future generations will inherit. One thing seems certain: if we wish for a future planet that affords the mutual flourishing of all beings, humans ought to undertake a determined transformation of enormous challenges. These aforementioned challenges in the previous chapters include the sustained effort of modelling a worldview of eco-relationality. With Bill McKibben (2010), I believe the Earth of the future will be fundamentally different from the world as we know it today. According to him, the most pressing and urgent transformation will be the switch away from dependence on fossil fuel in order to return the atmosphere to 350 parts per millions carbon dioxide. This attainment, he urges, will help to stabilize the planet even at the current rate of disruption, p. 184. Therefore educational imperatives should make every effort to build a sustainable future based on conservation. Local actions that build sustainable communities around schools could be the thrust needed to create neighborhood cohesion for renewable energy systems close to home, green transportation and local food. According to David Suzuki (), households can conserve up to one quarter of energy consumption by turning off video-game consoles, installing solar panels and starting a backyard garden. At one of my schools, every Friday is ‘bike or walk to school’ day. The amount of traffic and idling cars around the school is greatly diminished, and the amount to children and families walking the community brings a sense of community and friendship. As I write now, virtually every school in which I work has a community garden tended to by the students and community volunteers. The notion expressed in Chapter three of ‘eco-relationality’ as the pedagogical base of our educational knowing can help foster this transition in terms of the way we live, the way we organize our communities, and the nature of our interaction on both a local and global scale.
Education, broadly speaking and widely conceived, plays a momentous role in this enhancement of deep-seated change in our ways of living and behaving. I am with Edgar Morin (1999) when he states: ‘education is the ‘force for the future’ because it is one of the most powerful instruments of change.’ Likely the utmost challenge we confront is how to alter our way of thinking to rally the problems of a progressively more multifaceted, hastily changing, unpredictable world. This transition in education requires a reorganization of how we contemplate and value knowledge.
This thesis has been a sustained contemplation into new ways to reconnect that which has been torn apart such as widely celebrated individualism, separation and binarism . And as we make these adjustments in education we have to persist in our commitment to the long-term (such as ‘thorough thinking’ referred to in Chapter 4) and respect our enormous responsibility for the children of the future. My effort in this journey is to rethink education in terms of the repair work needed to swiftly take measures to implement, through significant reform of relational ethics and pedagogy, a new view of education for a sustainable future. In chapter five, five key principles that are relevant for education of the future that aligns humanity with our current predicament of ecological demise. My utmost aspiration is that these ideas will encourage discussion and assist educators and all stakeholders to consider their views on this very important predicament before us.
Any new theoretical basis and practice of education may be better appreciated when it is proposed as yet another presentation to increase standardized test scores and support governmental policy. As we have discussed in this thesis, relational theory of education delves into the very fundamentals of humanity’s search for meaning. It also provides a framework that stakeholders in the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge can begin to review and revise practices.
Although I have been researching transformative pedagogies and in teacher/counselor education only in the last several years, on an intuitive level, I have been practicing many of the aspects of relational pedagogy for some time (without realizing there was an official academic niche). Many of the suggestions originate from others who have explored the issues and practicalities of alternative education, mixed with my own intuition of what could be deemed ‘relational education practice.’
In order for the relational transformation of Deep Education to occur, global participation in such an educational pursuit must happen. Resolution and healing of our planet involves a global transformation of the instrumental and individualistic worldview. As I have been contending in this thesis, our World society will profoundly change when the global worldview metamorphoses into a holistic and interrelated one. These changes are occurring as we speak, and foster wonderful hope and great promise, but the growing consciousness of alternative philosophy of education must be far-reaching with imagery, descriptions, metaphors, rituals, music, and metaphysics that bring it to life in the daily knowing and actions of people.
Elaine Riley-Talor (2002) provides words for living a commitment to an interdependent world:
It will require a constant mode of reflecting and acting to continue the generation of new and more interesting ways of seeing, of thinking, of being, so that we are the journey and the journey is us; alive in the moment of it, engaged in the ‘present’ of it’And as teachers, it is in learning to reflect, to become aware, to become engaged to life, that we may mirror these things for those whose lives we affect and whose lives affect our own’ p. 154.
If we were to educate students to know themselves as intertwined with their communities and their surroundings in ways that are essential to their own development and that of their communities, we will have assumed a promising commitment toward the ambition of a sustainable world for our local and global societies and our children.