University of Maryland at College Park
Shue-Kei Joanna Mok
University of Maryland at College Park
University of Maryland at College Park
The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it. (Orr, 2004, p. 12)
Improving education for a more equitable world is a great lofty vision and a dream for humanity. However, we seldom go to a great extent to discuss and dialogue on those values that would uphold such an equitable world. To us, an equitable world is hinged on recognizing that love is the foundational force of the universe as argued by Einstein, Confucius, Gandhi and Martin Luther King. We believe love is built into the survival instinct for humanity. Without love, humans at their infancy would not survive as we totally depend on others to nourish us. Extending beyond humans, love is the energy that propels all lives. Elephants walk with their young in the center being protected by adult elephants in the outer ring; plants grow better when we pay more attention to and take care of them. Love, if translated into respect, cooperation, reciprocity, humility, and interdependence, enables the universe to function harmoniously. We are built in the likeness of the universe; plants and humans share the same genes which originated billions of years ago when plants and animals shared a common ancestor (Cassimally, 2011; Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 2019). Afterall, our cells show the same structure of the solar system and the Milky Way.
Love and Oneness as Fundamental Values for an Equitable World
In contemporary education, acquiring knowledge and skills are key to learners to be considered successful and useful for the world. Yet, education has been shy to talk about love, friendship, and joy, relegating these to the margin. Because of this, our calling for an equitable world is oftentimes abstract, resting at superficial levels such as sharing resources, expanding access and accumulating knowledge and yearnings for individual and societal economic gains. Without love for each other and for nature as fundamental values, no matter how much we have made education widespread to many parts of the world and to various constituencies, we have continued to perpetuate a world of oppression and exploitation, based on values of separation and hierarchies. We, as critical scholars, have critiqued systemic oppressions, social injustices, violence and hatred; called for redistributing and sharing resources and opportunities. However, without deep and profound change in our heart for love, no meaningful changes will happen. After all, these inequitable systems and policies do not exist on their own, but are created, reproduced, and reinforced by us.
Heart and Soul Matter for an Equitable World
The forces that truly establish and sustain an equitable world first and foremost come from the heart and soul. Our spirits govern our body, heart, and mind. Our hearts are what enable us to feel for each other. We are equal on the spiritual level and education should focus on opening our heart and kindling the light of our spirit to embrace love for each other and elevate each other. Education is not only for getting a better job, accumulating wealth or fame but, more importantly, about finding our true self (Lin & Khoo, 2022) . It is about why we live and how we should relate to each other. An equitable education is one that enables everyone to flourish. In human’s long history, our world’s spiritual traditions such as Taoism and Buddhism have called for cultivating wisdom, going inward to reach the source/energy within us and grow light and virtues (Culham and Lin, 2020; Lin, 2019). Such cultivation results in enlightenment which represents higher consciousness, or higher understanding about ourselves and the world, resulting in compassion and aspiration to work for an equitable world, and a world for peace and a world for all (Lin, 2018, 2019).
Extending Our Understanding of an Equitable World to Beyond Humans
A more equitable world is inadvertently related to a sustainable world. We often do not connect these two. An equitable world is one where we share resources, while refusing to exploit nature. In an education for a more equitable world, we inquire, explore, and ponder to know our position in the cosmos, recognizing our total dependence on Mother Nature. This practice requires that we have awareness not only about human society, but also the ecological non-human beings who share the same planet as fellow earth citizens. Hence, a more equitable world must include beings beyond humans who also have a claim to the earth as their home. We need to elevate our awareness to be spiritually connected with all species that exist on earth. When we think of an equitable world, all fellow human beings and all non-human people should be included in our visions and actions. Indigenous people call the non-human beings bear people, bird people, or our relations or relatives as they sense that we belong to a broader community that thrives on respect and ecological kinship.
Calling for Contemplative, Holistic Education
We need to have an education that goes deeply into what we share in common, e.g., the Source that creates us, and embody wisdom that comes from deeply within us.
Sages of all ages have talked about searching for inner wisdom by going within so that we know that we are divinely connected to all existence. Improving education for a more equitable world can not happen without inner work, which leads to the transformation toward a higher consciousness, realizing that we are in this world to share love, and to work with one another elevating each other. To improve education for more equitable work, we need to prioritize education to do good, and embody compassion and love for each other and Mother Nature. We must not forget to seek inner peace. A more equitable world is related to a peaceful world, hence we need a different consciousness that says that we cannot be whole and joyful while others are suffering, that when we harm others we harm ourselves, and when we do good for others we do good for ourselves. Effectively growing our compassion and empathy hinges on the provision of a new form of education.
Applying Embodied Learning
We need to embody our learning, holistically engaging our body, mind, heart, and spirit. We need to know how to keep our body healthy, our emotions balanced, and engage our heart in order to align with our higher Self. Our educational pedagogies and curriculum should be greatly transformed, moving way beyond learning for examinations. An equitable education gives tangible experiences to students to create a world they want to see, allowing them to know that when we love, we think big and can have a big impact in the world. In fact, a flipped pedagogy is necessary, that is, we learn from children, and we learn from nature as the most important source of knowledge.
Cultivating the Heart
In order to build a more equitable world, education should prioritize cultivating the heart for kindness, compassion and empathy for each other. Education should transmit energy and love rather than imparting just factual knowledge. The balance of body, mind, heart and spirit are crucial. Incorporating contemplative practices are ways to build the connection, not only to each other but also to nature. When we open the heart to feel and receive intuition and wisdom, the knowing becomes deep and one’s own. And when we open our spirit, we sense divinity and sacredness of all existence. Direct experience of knowing that we are in each other and we come from the same Source will grow compassion and willingness to support each other.
Seeking Inner Tranquility
Knowing the world and ourselves deeply and holistically is premised on reflective learning and contemplation. Going inward is critical for us to quiet down the noisy mind and start to sense and resonate with each other and the world. Education for an equitable world should seek to observe commonalities amongst differences, know the subtleties of life forms and their sacred purposes, observe how the cosmos and nature work, and how human society depends on virtues to sustain and stay in harmony (Culham and Lin, 2020). These practices allow us as to be lifelong learners and to go beyond our physical differences and connect with all in energy, heart, mind, and spirit. In cultivating our inner selves, we go beyond the ego; we transcend ideological and structural barriers towards creative expressions of life and the exploration of our common destiny. Without a sense of interbeing and togetherness, there won’t be an equitable world.
Contemplative Education and Activism Can Go Hand in Hand for an Equitable World
The fight for a more equitable world has often been associated with vocal and physical activism, such as participating in protests. Some might think contemplative ideas such as letting go, searching inward, or making peace are passive, suggesting a sign of weakness especially when we are countering systemic oppression. Yet, we argue that practicing contemplative exercises and embracing the idea of surrendering are helpful and meaningful in our active pursuit of equity at least in three ways:
Awareness. Being more receptive, observant, and open to our surroundings cultivates awareness for things that are happening around us and helps us draw connections. This is essential for us to become informed members of the society and the broader ecosystem, allowing us to make knowledgeable and responsible decisions and take active actions.
Effective, genuine communication. In the authors’ experiences, contemplative practices could help build an open, trusting, and loving community where everyone feels safe and comfortable sharing their fear, uncertainty, vulnerability, and joy. With mindful listening, respect, and humility, we are more truthful to our feelings and words. We can effectively and respectfully communicate our beliefs and seek common grounds instead of being hindered by intense emotions and preconceptions.
Resilience and perseverance. At times, we feel stuck and frustrated while doing activist work. Gratitude exercises and our trusted community then become vital support and remind us of our original intentions and envisioned future. Contemplative practices also help us create a space to take a step back to recenter ourselves and be reflective. This is crucial for not only our own wellbeing, but also the practicality and effectiveness of our activist strategies.
Practicing Contemplative Teaching and Learning Pedagogies
With all of the above in mind, we believe incorporating first-, second-, and third-person learnings are essential to cultivate holistic educational experiences, feel for ourselves and others, and build solidarity to face local and global challenges (Miller, 2014).
First-person learning is powerful not only for us to investigate our inner world and express our daily encounters, but to step into others’ shoes to feel how someone or something might feel, hence developing multi-perspectivity, empathy, and compassion. I Am a Pencil: A Teacher, His Kids, and Their World of Stories is Sam Swope’s sharing of his experience volunteering to do a workshop on the children’s writings in an underprivileged elementary school for three consecutive years. In an exercise where children were asked to write metaphors of themselves, Fatma produced two heartfelt pieces, one of which wrote:
“I’m a book
and my cover is ripped
and my back is dirty.
But the beauty of my pages
and the story is still there.
No one reads me.
even though my story is still there.
just because the cover is ripped
and my back is dirty.
As they all say,
“You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
But the problem is,
No one follows that moral.” (p. 169)
How well could we connect with our loved ones and the world without these organic, emotional accounts?
Questions encouraging us to share and reflect on our perceptions and emotions should be extended to second- and third-person perspectives, attempting to understand others (Project Zero, 2019). For example, we ask: What makes you/them think so? How do you/they feel? Why do you/they feel this way? Having listened to these thoughts and stories, it is most essential for us to close the loop, going back to the first-person perspective and connect us as one: The way they feel, have I felt that way before? Why are there differences in opinion and emotional response and what do those differences mean? What do WE have in common and what future do WE strive for? Contemplative, artistic inquiries, sharing, and dialoguing are the multiple pathways for us to genuinely communicate with one another through body, heart, mind, and spirit. Through these practices, we would have more opportunities to engage with ambiguity and differences, thus prone to be more open-minded, respectful, collaborative, and willing to act in solidarity to make the world a better, more sustainable place.
As we have become more aware of our history, behaviors, and surroundings, we stand to go against systemic oppression, racism, gun violence, hatred, and more. Focusing on access, resources, accountability etc at the surface level does not truly address inequity. Inequity in education and in our world should be tacked at the root level — seeing all of us as one. All human and non-human beings. With the foundation of oneness and interconnectedness, we redirect the educational resources, reconstruct curricula and adopt educational pedagogies which embrace the a culture of care and cultivate healthy and supportive relationships. Schools should provide a safe space for holistic inquiry about ourselves, our relationships, people, society, and world. By putting ourselves back to the center, we understand our place in this interconnected world, and seek to live our lives fully as responsible actors in society and the ecosystem. This is how we cultivate more intentional peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, lovers of every kind, and responsible, sincere members of the world.
Attaining a more equitable world is about reconnecting to ourselves, to others, to the environment, and to the world. Albeit how our current society structures hinders our full potential to have meaningful engagements, having the space to cultivate such reconnections should not be a privilege. We need to call out and address the issues of disembodiment, the lack of holistic development of learners, the negligence around cultivating our body, mind, heart, and spirit (Bai, 2001; Barbezat & Bush, 2014; Brown & Miller, 2019; Oxford et al., 2018; Zajonc, 2006). It is not until we understand more about and stay true to ourselves can we start being humble, respectful, compassionate, and open to others to build genuine and meaningful relationships (Lin, 2006; Miller, 2014). Such a safe and trusting space is essential for us to conduct difficult dialogues and share insights on how we, as one in solidarity, would envision ourselves tackling pressing local and global challenges. Ultimately, we need to acknowledge that we are all interbeings and utilize this interconnectedness to work towards a more equitable, collaborative, peaceful, and loving future (Lin, 2021; Zajonc, 2006). It is difficult to achieve without honing our attention, stimulating a deeper understanding of the material, developing social connectivity, and allowing learners to explore personal meaning (Barbezat & Bush, 2014).
In conclusion, an equitable world through education is only possible when schooling is about and for unconditional love fostering a deep understanding of our oneness with humanity and the world around us. In an equitable world children are taught the simple idea that everyone and everything around us is sacred just because they exist. When unconditional love is fostered, schools become the shared space for compassion, respect, and peace.
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