• First thing: Read our welcome and blog post below.
  • During the day: Join in on the activities, and/or write your own.
  • Join us for coffee break at 5pm UTC.
    Please feel free to come bearing something that has spoken to you today or shifted your perspective, or something you wish to challenge or offer an alternative perspective on. As always, we'll be engaging with
    conversation in Discourse and Padlet throughout the day.
  • Before you say goodnight: Look for our "Good Evening" post later today.

Good morning!

Photo by freestocks / Unsplash

Morning Pages

We would like to invite you to begin your day again with your morning pages, asking yourself what you need, whether you need some kind of permission from yourself today, and what your intentions are. During this time, we encourage you to step away from your screens, perhaps put your phone on silent (or – gasp! – turn it off), find somewhere that you feel good to be, and ground yourself in your current environment. Before you begin writing you might ask yourself, what can I hear, what can I see, what can I smell, what textures and sensations can I feel, and what can I taste. Today is a day for inviting the whole of you into this learning, for bringing all of yourself to your learning and explorations. What does that mean to you?

Photo by Arturo Madrid / Unsplash. Try searching for 'human' on these sites. If you had no other data, what would you assume most humans were like? Probably white, young, able bodied, slim, and inclined to put their arms in the air for no discernible reason.

Our intentions: An introduction to day 2

What does being human mean in the classroom, and why does it matter?

by, Naomi de la Tour

The question we finished with yesterday, what is the purpose of education, is one with many possible responses, depending on the context of the learning, the needs of the individuals, the group, and society more widely, and our own beliefs as educators and learners. There is one particular quote that, for me, transcends all contexts and moves towards something approaching a universal underpinning for the purpose of education.

Israeli educational psychologist Haim Ginott writes about a letter that a school principle would send to his colleagues at the beginning of every school year:

I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates.
So, I am suspicious of education.
My request is this:  Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.

These short paragraphs land in my body before they reach my head. Every time I read them, they take my breath away and cut through whatever preoccupations a given day has brought me to remind me of the power and the danger of this endeavour I'm engaged in. In her book The Well Gardened Mind, Sue Stuart Smith writes of research that has found that it can take as little as two generations for a culture or society to lose the learning it has passed on for generations, learning that before its gone can be hard or impossible to imagine living without. We know it can happen more quickly than two generations where there is intention behind the 'reeducation'. The Carlisle School set out to 'reeducate' children of indigenous Americans into the 'civilised' ways of the invading colonisers, not appreciating, because they had not learned to see it, the sophistication and relationship that underpinned those cultures.  They beat children for using the language of their families and insisted they speak English. They were taught to be prepared for a life which revolved around working the kinds of jobs that the missionaries thought worthwhile. Robin Wall Kimmer, in her book Braiding Sweetgrass, writes that at graduation ceremonies at Carlisle, the young men were required to take an oath: “I am no longer an Indian man. I will lay down the bow and arrow forever and put my hand to the plow.” Kimmer tells a story of loss, grief, grief resistance and growth and she is now in the process of learning the language of her ancestors and the ways of knowing held therein.

The motto of Carlisle was 'Kill the Indian to Save the Man.' Perhaps these 'educators' would have argued that they were helping these children to become 'more human' as they understood it, but there is little humanity in they ways they saw those children and sought to dehumanise them in their difference to the idealised human they tried to educate them to become:

Braids were cut off and Native languages forbidden. Girls were trained to cook and clean and wear white gloves on Sunday. The scent of sweetgrass was replaced by the soap smells of the barracks laundry. Boys learned sports and skills useful to a settled village life: carpentry, farming, and how to handle money in their pockets. The government’s goal of breaking the link between land, language, and Native people was nearly a success. But the Mohawk call themselves the Kanienkeha—People of the Flint—and flint does not melt easily into the great American melting pot.
– Kimmerer, Robin Wall. (2014) Braiding Sweetgrass (p. 255).

As Teresa L. McCarty and Shelah E. Nicholas suggest in their chapter Reclaiming Indigenous Languages, this cultural violence through education is not limited to one education system or culture: "Throughout the world, language education policies have been one powerful mechanism for the eradication of Indigenous and other minoritized mother tongues. By requiring education only in the socially dominant language, such policies aim to “erase and replace” linguistically encoded knowledges and cultural identifications with those associated with dominant-group speakers."

Many years after Carlisle, a group of Kanienkeha sought to undo the damage of that 'education' by establishing a community at a place called Kanatsiohareke.  The goal, Kimmerer writes, "was “Carlisle in reverse”: Kanatsiohareke would return to the people what was taken from them—their language, their culture, their spirituality, their identity. The children of the lost generation could come home." This was education as healing.

Image by Jason Flakes

These are examples of education systems which have systematically engaged in dehumanising others. Meanwhile, education can also be a powerful means of claiming and asserting our humanity in the face of horrifying dehumanisation. Last year, while travelling to DPL 2019, I visited the Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC. It is one of the most profound educational places I have encountered. It is a place in which the whole human is given space, both the experiences of the people being shared and memorialised in the museum, and the people who are experiencing the museum. Many things have remained with me from that visit. One was the contemplation room, a space at once dramatic and peaceful in which a large area of water invited me to sit and be with the horrors depicted below. It was an invited pause. An opportunity to dwell in what I had learned and seen and not to rush away from the discomfort and horror. The second was the restaurant area. This was a celebration and sharing of many kinds of African American cuisine. The walls were covered in quotes and images of African Americans who had protested their treatment in places of eating and through food. Another aspect of the museum which impacted me deeply was its exploration of education. As Heather Andrea Williams writes in her book 'Self Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom, "Despite laws and custom in slave states prohibiting enslaved people from learning to read and write, a small percentage managed, through ingenuity and will, to acquire a degree of literacy in the antebellum period. Access to the written word, whether scriptural or political, revealed a world beyond bondage in which African Americans could imagine themselves free to think and behave as they chose." I left the museum devastated and hopeful. I felt it, too, as an experiential example of the 'null curriculum'. The role of the UK in the slave trade, and the horror this country inflicted on people and cultures, is not one taught in schools here and I wish I hadn't had to travel around the world to understand more about the depths of the UK's crimes against humanity and the extent to which it profited financially by enslaving and selling human beings.

In my teaching, there seem to be few who sign up to my course, Reinventing Education, who haven't had an experience of education why has left them feeling diminished or less powerful, which has reduced their sense of agency, self efficacy, their sense of self. Over the years, working with the students, I have changed and adapted the course to be primarily focused on exploring, through practice that draws from the theory and experience of all in the room, what education could be at its best and what we, as human beings can aspire to be. We seek to reinvent education in the classroom together. One of the things we routinely come up against is the way that education has often taught us to ignore our bodies in the classroom, or to defer our body's needs to the authority figure of the teacher. Still, in Higher Education, many students will raise their hand to ask my permission to go to the washroom. What a strange thing we teach our children when we tell them that the ideas the teacher is communicating to them is more important that the communication coming from their body. This is only one of the aspects of the hidden curriculum, which I have seen no where better succinctly described than in this student produced video from 2011.

The hidden curriculum. A student project by drmathkat I found on youtube.

What, then, does it mean to 'help our children to become human', 'to make our children more human'? [My emphasis.] Firstly, I would argue that it means looking with a critical and compassionate eye at our own assumptions of what a human is, and particularly a 'good' or 'ideal' human. I suspect there are as many ways of humaning well as there are human beings and diversity, in classrooms as in any other ecosystem, is strength. What assumptions do we make about what is an ideal student, learner, human being or teacher.

Asking what it means to help our children become 'more human' also, I would suggest, means asking ourselves how we, as educators and learners, can become more human, and what conditions and permissions we need to be able to do so. In his book The Courage to Teach, Parker J Palmer writes that, whatever content we might be focusing on, whatever techniques we might be using, above all 'we teach who we are.' I find this both a terrify and freeing idea. If this is so, then my main task as a teacher is to be someone worthy of teaching others. That is both impossible and gives me a great sense of meaning, responsibility, and reciprocity to my work.

Parker J Palmer: We teach who we are.

To ask questions of the underpinning purpose of education is the same as asking questions of the purpose of society, and the purpose of being human. These are questions which are rich in space and possibility for paradox and multitudes of perspectives. Asking questions of our underpinning assumptions is a key tenant of critical pedagogy, as well as how we identify what those assumptions are. One assumption we might bring to thinking about teaching and learning is what constitutes a 'good question'.

Parker J Palmer foregrounds the questions we ask about teaching in his book The Courage to Teach. He says (p. 4):

  • The question we most commonly ask is the "what" question – what subjects shall we teach?
  • When the conversation goes a bit deeper, we ask the "how" question – what methods and techniques are required to teach well.
  • Occasionally, when it goes deeper still, we ask the "why" question – for what purpose and what ends do we teach?
  • But seldom, if ever, do we ask the "who" question – who is the self that teaches? How does the quality of my selfhood form – or deform – the way I relate to my students, my subject, my colleagues, my world? How can educational institutions sustain and deepen the selfhood from which good teaching comes?

As teachers, we are often the ultimate manifestation of the educational institutions and settings in which we have grown up and now exist within as adults. We don't exist outside of it – we have learned to abide by its rules, expectations, narratives and assumptions to the extent that we have been entrusted with reproducing it. If we accept Palmer's idea that we teach who we are, which can be linked to the idea of the hidden curriculum, then the question of how we can respond to Ginott's principal becomes clearer, though no less complicated. How can we teach our children to be more human? By becoming more human ourselves.

What does being more human mean to you today?

The 'Messy Middle'.

Brene Brown uses the term 'the messy middle' to describe the part of the learning process in which things might feel difficult, confusing, disorientating or aimless and – importantly – she argues that's where the deepest learning is likely to happen, as we wrestle and try to find our way.

You are invited to explore some of the worksheets we have suggested for today. They offer ways of considering what being human means within education. Each task is grounded in ideas about:

  • The explicit curriculum: that which we say we teach and learn
  • The null curriculum: that which we exclude from our teaching and learning
  • The hidden curriculum: the lessons that are unacknowledged in our teaching and learning, but taught nonetheless.

If you find that what you need isn't among the tasks, we would invite you to use this opportunity of exploration to find or create what you need. You might consider creating your own worksheet in response to your needs which you could share with others here. Our most profound learning in this course is likely to come from conversation, with ourselves, with others, with theorists and practitioners.

You can find the suggested activities by clicking on the Day Two link in the top right corner of this page. If you wish to write your own activity posts to share, as a way of exploring these ideas and what they mean to you and opening up spaces for others, please use the tag day-2 so they show up on that page. Please also tag any resource posts with 'ingathering'.

Look out for our good evening post later today

And we look forward to meeting with you via Zoom later if you wish to join us for a coffee break.

Until then, take care.

Naomi and Elena

~ Read next post in Day 2: Being Human ~

Worksheet: a story of a change

Posted by Naomi de la Tour

1 min read