Friday, March 30, 2007

What is Contemplative Education

Several times over the past few months, I have had various inquiries into just what Contemplative Education meant. It is actually much easier to understand than most people think.

Contemplative Education is the art of teaching mindfully. It means being aware fully of your class, each child, the content of what you are teaching and its relationship to the world around you. It is looking at any subject through the lens of mindfulness or contemplation. It doesn't mean that you need to sit on a cushion and chant. While this is a contemplative practice, it is not the only contemplative practice offered.

At the Center for the Contemplative Mind in Society, they have a wonderful graphic that explains the fact that contemplation has many forms. ( Click this link to view.

Living life fully aware and mindful can be elusive. So much in our society works to crowd our minds with needless trivia. We are deluged with sights, sounds, smells, and tastes day after day. Finding a peace-filled center can become a great challenge.

Think for a moment, however, what it would be like to teach or be taught in an atmosphere that allowed for each individual to find their "center". This is what Contemplative Education is all about. When we learn/teach from our center, we connect to the subject at hand on multiple levels. We can critically examine not just the one dimensional facts listed in books, but re-conceptualize what is there to work within our own lives.

Teaching contemplatively is a gift to our students, ourselves and the world.


Friday, March 2, 2007

Over the Whelm

A friend once asked me, several years ago, "When do you think you will be 'over the whelm'?" I laughed. "Probably not until I get 'under the whelm,'" I replied.

Life is often overwhelming. However, who would want to live it if it was underwhelming?

When I first began this blog, it was due to taking an online class called, "Blogging for Beginners" facilitated by educators around the globe. What with critical literacy, multiculturalism and contemplative education as my passions, I had to join. What an adventure!

Each week we had assignments, online chats, virtual meetings, and all types of whiz-bang technological magic to attempt. I must say, I never managed the virtual meetings, but I did join one of the chat sessions. It was enjoyable talking to other educators from around the world. In six short weeks I learned so much!

While I did not receive academic credit for this online course, I am actually working diligently on three master's level courses for credit towards my degree at the moment. (Here's where the "over the whelm" comes in!) I thought that rather than stress trying to work full-time and go to class twice a week in the evenings, I would take, instead, weekend courses. Ha! Was I out of my mind or what!

One intense weekend course is enough, two are crazy busy, three is definitely "over the whelm!" So, here I sit at 5 o'clock in the morning, unable to sleep for all the good stuff that is floating around in my head and wondering if I will get all the reading and writing done for these courses.

Working on my degree has been a journey which began, would you believe, thirty some odd years ago! I was a young woman of the seventies...full of fears, hopes, and dreams. I began my academic career in a two-year college. There I was blessed with two wonderfully wise and intelligent mentors, Mary Beaudry and Pat Venuti.

Mary and Pat became more than mentors. Their passion for what they taught and for life, lit a flame within my soul that has burned bright ever since. Mary's passion was literature and drama, Pat's was philosophy. (She actually taught psychology, but she philosophized more than lectured.)

Immediately after graduation, I married. Several years later, I entered the "University of Motherhood" from which I have graduated and gone on to become a "tenured" faculty member sharing my knowledge with an entirely new generation of mothers. This part of my education was challenging. There were few books that actually helped to teach the skills needed in nurturing and caring for four daughters! However, instinct, luck and a few good role models gave me all I needed.

All the while I was raising my daughters, I continued reading, taking workshops and, of course, writing. My passions may have died down during those years of diapers, doctors visits and daily routines but, they never were extinguished.

Two years ago, I received my BA from the University Without Walls (UWW). This is a non-traditional program within the University of Massachusetts Amherst for folks like myself who had not finished or never started post-secondary education. What was enlightening about UWW was that through a process of investigation, writing and processing we developed individual portfolios of our life experiences which were presented to a team for credit. In doing this intensive work, I came to see the connections in my life that brought me to where I am today.

Words, writing and reading have always been a part of my life, even when I was not in school. Journaling, poetry, essays were written simply for the joy of it. In tracing the mean of words, I have learned more history than I ever did in history class! Paulo Freire is correct in saying that, "Reading the word is reading the world."

And so I return to, "over the whelm."

"Overwhelm" means, according to Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson, the "same as "whelm" which comes from the Middle English word whelven. This meant to capsize or turn over a vessel. The English whelm was first recorded in the 13th century and soon took on the sense of turning a vessel upside down so as to cover it with water, which lead to the modern meaning.

In closing, I would say it is probably good that I am "over the whelm" since, technically, that would mean I was above water! In which case, I am paddling like crazy, hoping that I will soon reach dry land...until then, Peace to all!