Posts Tagged ‘ meditation ’

The Future of Higher Education is in Our Intention and Actions Today

Copyright 2012 Favim.com - courtesy of Creative Commons.org/Google Images.

Copyright 2012 Favim.com – courtesy of Creative Commons.org/Google Images.

Part I (an opening)

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton,” Four Quartets

In systems that exhibit little to no change, prognostication is rather straightforward: a living-out of Newton’s first law of motion. Unless poked somehow, stuff does as it does. However, in systems moving very quickly with larger and more chaotic changes, what comes along next is increasingly difficult to predict. As environments and questions become so complex, all we have is our own current stance: the guidance of our intention.

No one, not even Ray Kurzweil himself, knows what the platforms available to higher education will be, what job markets will look like, or what the implications of global change will be to learning, teaching, and living. No one. Whatever claim is made about the “future of higher education,” we must face this realization.

However, we do not need to know the future. Attending to and challenging our current intention guides our response to change and, moreover, provides the means to foster what arises next. Our actions have planet-wide consequences. If we only develop and teach techniques and do not cultivate an active inquiry into their implications, how can we ever expect to produce outcomes that foster systemic flourishing? As we think about the future of education, we must keep our focus on questions of “why” rather than simply “how.”

Our intention is the anchor we develop, the ground from which we respond, no matter what comes along. It is not merely reactive: since we are cultivating an ongoing inquiry into what is meaningful, challenging and deepening our intention is a living process which develops as we see what is created and fostered in this world. This process requires the support of a contemplative practice that sustains our courageous willingness to act in accordance with our beliefs.

Our intention is vibrant and alive, yet grounding and guiding. It is from this stance, here and now in the present, informed by our actions, that we must confront and create the future of higher education. This is what we must be cultivating in ourselves and in our institutions if we want to transform education and society.

Change is guided by intention and vision. In articulating and examining our mission, we will have a perspective to address questions like, “Should we use MOOCs?” Of course, the real question is: “What should we use MOOCs for?” For certain goals, MOOCs are just peachy; for others, rancid compost. And let’s face it: MOOCs are the first baby steps toward the radical changes coming for education transmission. What’s coming soon will be beyond our current imagination but can, and should, be formed and framed by our values and beliefs. It is our obligation to articulate our vision clearly and strongly, to act in accordance with our vision, and to foster this process of ongoing inquiry in our educational institutions.

Without this foundation, we will lurch in reaction to changes brought about by those with the most market and political power.

When students, teachers, staff and administration join together to articulate a vision for higher education in a united effort to create meaning and direction, every act becomes curricular:  an opportunity for learning through questioning, “does this act cultivate a world consistent with my true intention?”

Our educational institutions should be environments which foster the realization that our actions shape the world into a reflection of what is most deeply meaningful to us. Information, theory, and innovation then become grounded in a process of living out meaning–no longer simply unleashed for any purpose. In this regard, higher education can lead the process of societal change and transformation.

It is only through a process of cultivating awareness and discernment that we can develop this sense of engaged meaning and action. This process must form the core of education, affecting political and social policies, technological development, and global awareness. It is essential for a vibrant society. Let’s all work together to create these environments and forge the future of higher education together–without succumbing to calls for narrow training and social control.

The future of higher education is in our intentions and actions today.


In part II, I will suggest ways to implement this inquiry and develop our intentions and actions.

Dr. Daniel Barbezat, Professor of Economics, Amherst; Executive Director, the Center for the Contemplative Mind in Society.

Dr. Daniel Barbezat, Professor of Economics, Amherst; Executive Director, the Center for the Contemplative Mind in Society.

Daniel P. Barbezat is Professor of Economics at Amherst College. He has been a visiting professor at Northwestern University and Yale University and has taught in the summer program at Harvard University. In 2004, he won the J. T. Hughes Prize for Excellence in Teaching Economic History from the Economic History Association.

Over the past decade, he has become interested in how self-awareness and introspection can be used in post-secondary education, economic decision-making and creating and sustaining well-being. With the support of a Contemplative Practice Fellowship in 2008, he has developed courses that integrate contemplative exercises designed to enable students to gain deeper understanding and insight. His approach to these economic classes has been featured in the Boston Globe, the U.S. News & World Report, as well as on the NPR program “Here & Now.”

Dr. Barbezat has worked with the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society–the national hub for contemplative teaching and learning, committed to the positive transformation of the higher education system by supporting the use of contemplative/introspective practices to create engaged learning environments–as a Board Member, Treasurer and Associate Director of the Academic Program since 2009. In 2012, he became the Executive Director of the Center. He has lectured and led workshops on contemplative learning and pedagogy throughout the United States and Canada and is actively working to expand and deepen the Center’s programs, making its work more accessible and transformative for all.

Along with his experimental research on choice and awareness, he is currently editing a group of papers on examples of contemplative pedagogy across the disciplines with Arthur Zajonc to be published by Routledge, and writing (and thinking, thinking, thinking about…) a book entitled Wanting. His latest book (co-written with Mirabai Bush), Contemplative Practices in Higher Education: Powerful Methods to Transform Teaching and Learning, was released by Jossey-Bass in October 2013.

Reprinted by permission of the author, Spring 2014. For more articles and blogs published by the Center for the Contemplative Mind in Society, please visit:

http://www.contemplativemind.org/

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Silence at a Teaching Tool: Meditation in the Classroom

Silence as a Teaching Tool: Meditation in the Classroom

Silence as a teaching tool

Teachers fill their classes with sound. A lecture or assignment that excites a lively class discussion is deemed successful. It is also productive to fill them occasionally with silence. There is no exercise that my students enjoy more than silent meditation. They say they are under a lot of pressure, and a few minutes of quiet with the lights low is refreshing, calming, and settles their minds.

My pedagogic specialty is the application of the principles of linguistics to the writing classroom, and one area of linguistics concerns how ideas are created before they are voiced or written down. Ideas come as plentifully from silence as they do from discussion.

The three meditation-based exercises below give students a creative tool which most of them have never used before.

I.    Meditation Before Writing.

Meditation is a sophisticated practice which requires a long time to master. The better title for this exercise may be “quiet concentration” or “pure thinking.”

Exercise: Provide an in-class assignment; it could be a simple description (“What would the ideal classroom look like?”), or a more philosophical question (“What is the right way to discipline young children?”). It could also be a memory question (“What is your earliest memory?”). The question can be tailored to current class work.

Turn the lights off, ask them to silence their electronic devices, tell them to get comfortable, and announce that the meditation will last five minutes.

When the five minutes are up, give them time to write a paragraph on the assigned subject. You could then ask them to read the paragraphs aloud, but that is not required. Ask them to share their reactions to the meditation process.

The payoff would be that the process results in a better final paper, but there is no good method to test that.

It’s a simple exercise, but provides a memorable and often empowering experience for the students.

II.  Guided Meditation.

One of the pitfalls of learning is the frequent assumption by students that their view of the world is universally held.  In my classes recent statements have ranged from “Everyone serves lasagna on Christmas,” to “Everyone loves their parents,” to “There were no abortions before Roe v. Wade.”

Exercise: Ask students to close their eyes.  Ask them to breathe comfortably in and out, and then instruct them to relax their feet, ankles, knees, hips, stomach, throat, eyes, etc.  Then guide them in a meditation.  This has as many permutations as there are people, but I often use this one:

Imagine you are walking along and you come upon a gate in a fence.

You walk through the gate, and across a wide field. 

You come to a body of water, where you stay for a while. 

Now turn around and come back to where you started.

You can also use this one:

Imagine you stop your car by the side of the road and walk to a lake 100 yards away

What is on the surface of the lake?

Descend lower into the water. What do you see there?

Descend to the bottom of the lake. What do you see there?

Now rise back to the top and walk to your car.

This part of the exercise should take 5-10 minutes. It takes time for images and impressions to develop, so leave plenty of time between each phase of the imagined experience.

After it is over, ask the students to tell the rest of the class what their fence/field/body of water looked like, what they did while they were walking.

Some students are alone, some with others. For some the field is full of flowers, which they pick, others play soccer with their team. Some go swimming in the water; others dip their toe in, and some just look at it. On their return, some lock the gate behind them; others walk through and leave it open. Some have friends awaiting them on the other side of the gate; others are alone. The imagined experiences are utterly different from one another, and students are amused, amazed, and delighted at the variety.

(As an aside, Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to demonstrate similar diversity on a more practical level. In the first class after the break, I ask each student write down what they ate on Thanksgiving. I have done this three years in a row and there is no single food that “everyone” has served, not even turkey and pumpkin pie. One such real-life example of natural diversity is worth any number of lectures on the subject.)

This is a counter-linguistic exercise in that it involves no language at all until the class reviews what they have imagined – the experience takes place on another level. It is a good opportunity to question where ideas come from, how creativity works, and what our “minds” are.

The dazzling array of different experiences speaks for itself in demonstrating that no two minds think alike. The point can be underlined by noting that their imaginings proceeded from different experiences and expectations, and that this diversity should be assumed in every area of the human experience.

III. Talking Stick:

This exercise is based on tribal ceremonies to resolve differences and hash through issues. It can be used in any discipline to dig deep into a specific area of inquiry. It is nonthreatening, egalitarian, and always interesting. I participate too when the Talking Stick comes into my hand.

Example: In my writing class this semester, the essays are based on the Ages of Man, beginning with “before birth, childbirth, and early childhood.”  We are reading poetry, essays, and fictional works which portray or discuss this period in life, and inspiration can be gleaned from these readings, but it is still a daunting challenge to narrow the focus to a specific claim. This semi-meditative exercise provides a rich lode of issues and experiences to enrich the thinking of all members of the class.

Exercise:  The teacher must find a “talking stick” of some sort, which is simply an interesting stick. You can tie a ribbon around an ordinary stick from your yard, or use, as I have, a colorful carved walking cane. Some stick-like object decorated by your imagination suffices.

The role of the teacher is to guide the discussion and regulate the timing.  The students should understand clearly the issue they are to address. Instruct them to give complete attention to the person holding the Talking Stick – no laughter, no commentary, no questions. Students self-regulate the length of their comments so each participant has time to speak, but the teacher should be ready to cut off a time-hog. The teacher will also judge how long the sharing should go on, giving each student a chance to speak the same number of times. In a class of 18 students, two times around with the Talking Stick took 40 minutes.

The class sits in a circle and the Talking Stick is placed in the middle.  The group sits in silence until someone is moved to pick up the stick and share a thought about the subject at hand. He or she speaks for as long as necessary to express his or her thought and then passes the stick to the left. The next person speaks, and passes it to the left, and so on. Students who can’t think of anything to say can pass it without speaking, but the teacher should come back to them later.

The Talking Stick is powerful. As each participant sees it coming closer and closer, a sense of excitement grows, and often the thoughts expressed when the Talking Stick arrives are freighted with deep commitment. It is a cathartic and informative experience for everyone involved.

This exercise works for both introverted and extroverted students. There is plenty of time to compose a thought, and a flexible amount of time to present it.

Ann Evans is an Adjunct Professor in the award-winning First Year Writing Program at Montclair State University.  She has an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from Montclair State, and an M.A. in English from New York University.  She writes a monthly column, Language Bits, in The Sussex Newspaper and her blog, “Linguistics in the Writing Classroom” (http://www.linguisticsintheclassroom.com) is read around the world. An article, “Beyond Grammar: Linguistics in the Writing Classroom” was published in the Spring 2011 issue of the Duke University journal, Pedagogy.

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