Long Line: Curriculum for Being

This post is part of a series of posts pulled from a piece of writing I completed in November 2012. For more information on this series, see this post.

Context | Looking Back | Transformation | Looking Back at the Looking Back | Questions | On ethics | Letting Go of Nothing | Taking on Subject and Objects | On meaning making | Why the language of causality trouble me | Conceptual versus Empirical | Futuring | Temporality and Time | Brief Note | Back to Time | What to do with the Past | Some tools to help us be | An example from my past | Avoiding Labels | The educational turn | Being and curriculum | Curriculum of Being | Curriculum Futuring | On dispositions as ways of being | Being and pedagogy | Being and technology | Being and the body | References

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Curriculum for Being

Honestly, I know the answer for this question; but, I do want to explore how some of these ideas might play out in practice, in the day-to-day. Prior to my experiences with Landmark, I doubt I would have answered the question of whether “being” can be taught in the affirmative. However, having been a participant of a curriculum that had at its aim the transformation of being, I am now on the “yes” team. (I wonder how often this could be said to be true about other unknowns of life; once you have “gone through” them, you believe/know that they can happen? But then, here we uncover the presupposition that such a process could be recreated, again and again, regardless of context.) So just what would a curriculum of being entail? To (hopefully) avoid the risk of re-inventing Landmark, I want to take a particular case, a currently-being-lived-experience, and see how this might play out.

In my role as professional development coordinator (whatever that means, and no one has yet to give me a clear answer), I have developed a number of online “professional learning experiences.” Most are geared towards pragmatic (in the traditional sense of the word), technical “quick-fixes.” These are usually aimed at how to use a particular website, or how to “manage” online learning activities (discussion boards, uploading assignments, etc.). Knowing what I know (or think I know) about pedagogy and online environments, there are implicit suggestions I make regarding the “how” of the lessons I create. It may not be evident to the casual observer, but they are there in my tone of voice, sets of instructions, and - this bugs me to no end - the lack of interaction between the teachers who should be partaking in my pearls of wisdom (tongue in cheek, of course). In my conversations with the project supervisor (my boss), we have steadily over the past nine months gained greater clarity on what kind, what type of professional learning our teachers need (we think they need). Just recently did it “click” with me that what our teachers really needed was being. This is my hunch, one of the hunches that I brought to my doctoral studies.

In short and very crudely: All the technical, practical, and content-based know-how does not make a great teacher. To be a great teacher is simply that -- to BE a great teacher. We have been coming at teacher education and teacher professional development from the wrong angle now for a very long time. Let me qualify the “wrong.” Taking all of the many words up until this point and integrating them into this notion: We have many “ways” of preparing teachers and providing them with professional development experiences. I would argue, and I doubt much would counter the argument, that most of the approaches to preparing teachers and providing additional education for existing teachers is framed, grounded, and bounded by epistemological and technical concerns. These are wonderful, useful, helpful. But they come with parameters and assumptions, and at the risk of giving away the next section, they “give” a certain type of future. What I would like to argue (point out? suggest? explore?) is that we should see our approaches to these common and useful activities as just one way of going about things. While I do not think that a “being” approach to professional development is “better,” I do think it offers more affordances and greater possibilities than other approaches.

Back to my example. What is needed is a professional learning experience that takes teachers from where they are in relation to online teaching and their understandings of their subject matter (as if we could start somewhere other than where they are) and helps them embrace their role of online teacher and embody their subject matter. “Being an online teacher” is not just teaching that happens online or a teacher that “just happens” to teach online. It represents a way of being, a way of seeing/hearing/touching in the world. At the same time we want science teachers to not just “be” science teachers; we want them to think like scientists. The question here is “What would ‘being a scientist’ offer for a science teacher?” How would these teachers approach their lessons and the giving of feedback - their entire practice - from being a scientist? As is probably evident, I am not so sure we need to jump on the technological determinist bandwagon. In work with with STEM and online teachers in a sea of technology-championing, this study and concern regarding being is what keeps me grounded. Currently I am working out the implications for the questions: How can I create an online experience that supports a curriculum for being? Can it be done completely online? Must it involve face-to-face time? What affordances/barriers does existing technology possess?

As far as I can see (and from what I have experienced) the only tools we have for accessing being - and for confirming the access to being - is language. I am always on the lookout for other ways of “getting at” being; I am sure that there are many roads to being especially when you consider the individual. What worries me is that there is not a way without language for individuals to share with others their interactions with being. Using language, distinctions can be made that, slowly and carefully, can be used to peel back the assumptions that exist that render being invisible. This is not exactly so. Being will always be invisible, it will always slip out of our grasp. But we can use language to draw some boundaries, play some games, and uncover the covered. A true encounter with being is transformational because it literally changes who you are in the world.

Therefore, a curriculum for being guides learners through ontological distinctions via language. What is difficult (and hard to convey to learners... and everyone else) is that there really is no “curriculum” as it is traditionally understood. There are no objectives or standards. You either “get it” or you do not. Objectives and standards work wonderfully in a world of knowing, but once you enter being these concepts dissolve. Making matters more difficult, some distinctions allow access for some but not for others. Having been helped to gain access to being via conversation and trusted dialogue, I can access it from time to time but this in no way means I have “mastered” “being” or that I have some greater knowledge (there is knowing again) than others. I still need to pick up distinctions from time to time and work through them with others in dialogue. In this way, a curriculum for being is really creating a context for being and what that context might look/feel like. There have to be relationships, trust, and a shared language for shared understanding and meaning-making. Then there are your usual open-mindedness, honesty, caring and so on. But, this cannot be treated or rendered as technique: you cannot tick off the conditions for a context of being and poof! it magically becomes available. These are just a few of my thoughts that need to be worked out as I continue my studies and inquiry.

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