You know, sometimes I hate Isaac Newton, or, at least, his devotees who advocated that everything is a machine and is governed by intelligible, universal, and immutable laws. I say this because the scholarship of teaching and learning has turned the classroom in a Newtonian pedagogically and technologically mechanical system. In the rush to make teaching an important part of academia, in the effort to make it a worthy partner to scientific research and publication, in the effort to give teaching a scientific bent, far too many of us have made a pact with the devil. We’ve “scientized” teaching; we “thingified” it; and, in so doing, we’ve unnaturally de-humanized, impersonalized, and sanitized it as well. We’ve brought the 18th century view of people into the classroom; we’ve divided people into the separated higher order of the superior cognitive and the lower order of the inferior emotive. To prove ourselves, we’ve joined the mechanized bandwagon with our total focus on and reliance on scientific method of testing and grading and assessment. We’ve soften our stand, almost into extinction, on the “soft sciences” of feelings, emotions, and spirituality with devaluation, dismissal, and ridicule; and, we’ve hardened ourselves with the purely physical, and mechanical “hard sciences.” Like the 18th century champions of mechanism, too many of us say, “We don’t need that emotional realm. Its subjectivity distorts. We’ll just get rid of all of that.” We’ve convinced ourselves that we’ve risen above brutish, almost lawless, emotions. We’ve convinced ourselves that we are now only controlled, objective ‘thinking man,’ homo sapiens residing in the pristine Ivory Tower way above the fray of the outside sordid world. We leave no place for what we call the human psyche or human spirit or just plain humanity. So, we talk of “how” and “what” of physical assessment, or visible methodology, or apparent technology. We talk in terms of statistical generality, category, label, and stereotype. We “depeople-ize” classroom teaching as if we’ve let the laws of physics, like everything else, take over the classroom and accept that we’re all just machines playing it out. I think it’s because we conceived the classroom world in such a spatial system way that we have little way–or inclination–of describing the psychological, emotional, or spiritual aspects of our being.
It’s a delusion that is a barrier to insight. We don’t really know that we don’t know. In fact, we get in our own way by self-satisfyingly reading into things, engage in what the psychologists call comforting “attribution error.” We manufacture our own obscuring “In my humble opinion;” with accepted beliefs, perceptions, expectations, demands, biases, stereotypes, generalities, labels, categories. We don’t know how to ask the right questions. The result is that we don’t usually see things and people as they are; we numb ourselves to and turn away from what’s going on. So, when things don’t go as we expect, we play the blame game. We, at best, give lip service to, but generally ignore the challenging findings of such researchers as Dweck, Deci, Amable, Goldman, Fredrickson, Seligman, Boyatzis, Lyubomirsky, Csikszentmihaly, Halvorson, et al. They’re not talking about pedagogy or content or technology. They all are talking about the fact that it’s always personal. That no one has one objective bone in her or his body. It’s always about people’s attitudes, perceptions, and emotions. Its people’s values, character, morality, ethics, vision, purpose, meaning.
But, we don’t let the fact of research findings on learning get in our way; we haven’t really changed our view of things and people; we haven’t changed our ways. At best, as Clayton Christenson would say, our supposed innovations are merely sustaining, that is, merely tweaking in order to argue the absolute correctness of what we’re already doing and what we already believe.
You know, this morning I was sipping cup of freshly brewed Tanzanian Peaberry coffee, walking through my flower gardens, quietly watching the sway of the koi in the pond. I noticed that by walking a while in these landscape, my mood was changing. And, I realized that as landscapes change, so do our emotions and actions. So, we’ve got to shift the environment that rest solely on this “thingified” physical assessment or that visible methodology or that apparent technology. Education is overpedagogical-zed and over-technological-ized and under moralized. To barren and imbalanced “thingification” we have to add rich “peopleness.” We must acknowledge the invisible relationships and connections, the emotion of it all, the psychology if you will, that is prevalent in the classroom. To thingified “howdunnit” and “whatdunnit,” we have to add the critical human “whodunnit” and especially the “whydunit.”
That’s where the role of faith, hope, and love come in. They are not for “fixing,” or “correcting,” or “advising.” As I just told a few people, they are not about guiding to a particular place or to a particular activity. They make all the difference. They are what I call classroom “axis shifters.” They’re cleansers. They are, what Rabbi Chaim Stern might call, poetry in action. They’re the guiding light to insight. They’re a portal to a world of wonders. They identify and establish purpose. They enthusiastically capture the sacred in the mundane, ennoble the commonplace, and reveal the uniqueness in the ordinary.
They don’t the need for a self-inflating, and self-importance jargonized language. They “merely” select, rearrange, restructure, recast, and enhance the very same everyday nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs we already use to shed beauty, insight, and inspiration. In so doing, they call for considering what the daily grind adds up to; for taking pause for renewal and rejuvenation by reflecting on our efforts, by taking stock, by identifying and articulating purpose and meaning; and by seeing the bigger picture beyond information transmission and credentialling, beyond a test and grade and GPA. They create a mindfulness that breaks through imposed and self-imposed barriers of the impersonal numbness, disconnect, and disinterest created by the opaque veils of generality, stereotype, catalogue, and label. They close distances between “us” and “them,” and forge communal connections between “me” and “each of you.” Their requirements of silently and sincerely listening and seeing are deeply integrated components of a penetrating radar that gets beneath the surface of mask and facade, of stereotype, of generality, of label, of category, of simplification to the essential inner personal “me.” That is, who we and others are and can become. It’s the residence of character, principles, and values. It’s the seat of spirit, attitude, and emotions; it’s the source of self-esteem, self-confidence, self-respect; it’s the wellspring of priorities and allocation choices; it’s the measure of our lives.
Faith, hope, and love are about “people-ization;” or more specifically, they are about “humanizing,” “individualizing,” “personalizing,” and “realizing” in a way pedagogy and content and technology cannot. They’re about nurturing, caring, supporting, encouraging rather than weeding out. They are about mobilizing and channeling our moral energy. They are first and foremost about witnessing another human being just like us; and witnessing means a mindful, sustained, persistent, subdued ferocious but wise, and sustained presence: an awareness, an alertness, an otherness, a kindness. They are rooted in a deep commitment to our humanity and the humanity of others. They frame our gaze, what we watch and what we see, what we hear and to what we listen.
Think about how the landscape would change, how your emotions would change, how your feelings towards others would change, how your actions would change if you said sincerely to each person, and deeply lived, a simple, “I have undying faith in you. I have endless hope for you. I unconditionally love you.” Think about it.