Tuesday, September 22, 2009

An unintended sidenote about contemplative education.

So, over a week ago, I said, "Next week there will be links." And have said links appeared on this esteemed blog? Indeed, they have not.

There are a variety of reasons for this lack, both domestic and professional. The temptation is to give those reasons (or at least allude to their seriousness), apologize, and promise to do better in the future. But why is this the temptation? Why are there so many blogs with posts about how the author feels bad that they haven't posted so long, and really, truly they will soon have something brilliant and/or funny and/or meaningful up for whatever audience they may have?

Imagine a classroom. A teacher walks in, says a few words, and invites a response from the students. Mostly there's silence. Occasionally someone will start to say something and kind of ramble off. Let's say this goes on for, oh, 20 minutes. Has any learning happened?

By traditional criteria: no. By contemplative criteria: maybe. Students may have learned that a particular topic is hard to talk about, or that they wish some of their classmates would have developed their ideas more because there was some interesting stuff there, or that when left to sit with a topic for while all kinds of unexpected connections with other classes pop up, or that silent teachers really cheese them off. Who knows? The teacher, too, may have learned something--about the students, individually and collectively, and about their own engagement with and investment in the teaching/learning process.

The point being, when learning is set in the context of personal formation, everything is a potential learning experience. Even actual not-learning is potentially educational. The two obvious complications in contemplative education, then, are time (contact hours and credit totals) and expected measurable results.

The analogy to this blog is obviously not direct. I'm not teaching here, and whatever readers I do have, aren't students. Any lessons from this missed self-imposed deadline are my own to learn. But looking at my own reaction to it, and realizing how much contemplative practice has moved me over the years towards being relaxed and accepting of unmet expectations instead of anxious, suggested that it might be worth a post.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What is contemplative education?

I've realized I should probably start with some explanation of the concept of "contemplative education." I'll give my own personal understanding first, then next week I'll give some links to people who know a lot more about it than I do.

The standard educational model in contemporary American society is the consumer model. There are manufacturers of knowledge (researchers and creators), vendors of knowledge (schools and instructors), and consumers of knowledge (students). Learning is the process of getting the desired or needed knowledge products "off the shelf" and safely "into the cart." There is no real link between where the knowledge came from, how it is delivered, and how it will be used.

The contemplative model takes a more holistic approach. (There is also a movement advocating "holistic education," which I haven't studied enough to know how different it is from contemplative education). Learning is the process of individuals bringing their experiences into conversation with one or, more typically, multiple traditions. In this model, Western academia and scientific consensus are important traditions--but so are wisdom traditions, such as Buddhism or one of the Abrahamic faiths. Lineage is an important concept (one variant being Kenneth Burke's "unending conversation" metaphor). Learning is not just knowledge acquisition, but personal formation.

Because of this holistic approach, an emphasis on mindfulness is one of the key distinctives of contemplative education. Students are encouraged to fully engage with their studies--to not only use their intellects, but to be aware of their emotional and physical responses. This awareness can be caricatured as "and how does that make you feeeeel?" navel-gazing (just as the standard model can be caricatured as "factory education"), but at its best, mindfulness involves self-criticism as much or more than self-indulgence. Intellectual resistance to emotionally threatening facts, after all, is a well-known but remarkably persistent problem, and often our bodies tell us things our conscious minds can't or won't.

So, that's my brief and possibly idiosyncratic introduction to contemplative education. Next week: professional literature.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Whys and wherefores.

So the immediate motivation for starting this blog was to have a spiffy Online Librarian Identity for commenting at the AskColorado Staff News blog. (AskColorado, if you didn't know, is a free and excellent 24/7 online chat reference service that's a collaboration between libraries of all types in Colorado, plus at least one from a neighboring state). The less immediate but more lasting motivation is to publicly explore the relationship between contemplative education, library research, and the services, structures and policies that enable that research. After 10 years of professional librarianship in public, special, and academic libraries, I find that I have, y'know, opinions. Which may or may not be of interest or value to anybody else, but who knows? Besides, it is an inherent good to try to be more orderly in one's thoughts, and to have some accountability for them, however limited or theoretical. And so, one might start a blog.