Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Spiritual teaching (and self-care)

Over the first two days of Passover -- the Jewish people's great celebration of journeys into freedom -- I spent some time reading Teaching to Transgress: Education as the practice of freedom by the African-American feminist author bell hooks.

Her words reminded me some of what I had written just before the holiday -- about self-care and about the work of another person who takes a spiritual approach to teaching (Parker Palmer and his work using clearness committees.

What I really loved about what she (and Palmer) say is their contention that you really can't be an exciting and compelling teacher if you don't take care of yourself and your own spirit. Hooks also contends -- as I do! -- that ideology is never enough if it does not lead to action.

Two authors she takes great inspiration from are the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh and the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. These are two authors I am really not that familiar with yet, but reading what they have meant to Hooks, makes me more curious about them:

In his work Thich Nhat Hanh always speaks of the teacher as healer. [But w]hereas Freire was primarily concerned with the mind, Thich Nhat Hanh offered a way of thinking about wholeness, a union of mind, body and spirit. His focus on a holistic approach to learning and spiritual practice enabled me to overcome years of socialization that had taught me to believe a classroom was diminished if students and professors regarded one another as "whole" human beings, striving not just for knowledge in books, but knowledge about how to live in the world. (Hooks, 14; emph. mine)

Hooks argues for teachers to be concerned with their spiritual and emotional health, something she seems to sum up as a process of "self-actualization". She recounts how painful it was for her to have professors who were scornful of her efforts to unite her mind, body and spirit in her academic work and says,

Memory of that pain returns when I listen to students express the concern that they will not succeed in academic professions if they want to be well, if they eschew dysfunctional behavior or participation in coercive hierarchies. These students are often fearful, as I was, that there are no spaces in the academy where the will to be self-actualized can be affirmed. (Hooks, 18)

I'm not sure Hooks really has a really well-developed view of what she means by self-actualization, but I like the direction she seems to be heading in.

It was a joy to be able to spend part of this holiday of freedom with the words of an author who is striving to find ways to make a learning environment a place where people can free themselves from the things that are enslaving them or holding them back. And I look forward to reading more about spiritual approaches to learning and teaching -- especially those of Palmer -- over the rest of the holiday. I hope any of you reading this are finding your own paths to freedom.

Next year in Jerusalem!!!!

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