Preparing School Staff and Families as Neohumanists
By Marcus Bussey
Neohumanist educational theory and practice follows in the venerable footsteps of the critical pedagogical tradition. This point can easily be established with reference to the central themes of social justice, reflective action and a commitment to practical not theoretical engagement with the real-life issues of teaching in situ found in the heart of critical pedagogy.It is important to realize that a name tells a story and that in the context of critical pedagogy the word ‘critical’ does not mean to criticize. It means to look beneath the surface of the taken for granted, to question assumptions and to ask that telling question: ‘Who benefits from things as they are? And of course, ‘Who loses?’ As a way of approaching the world it is not narrow and the term can only be loosely defined. I like the descriptive definition given by Symes and Preston here:“[Critical pedagogy] is an orientation, not a closed paradigm; it is a way of addressing problems, not a set of answers; it is ready to be amended at any time; it is therefore somewhat resistant to precise statement of how it is to be implemented; it is truly ‘educational’ in the etymological sense of the word, leading out to new and revised forms…Critical pedagogy is committed to engaging social realities (the pragmatic impulse) but it is not to be bound by them, just as it sees no reason to apologize for a visionary dimension (the romantic impulse). Indeed, in the quest to distil from contemporary social theory an adequate basis for education policy and practice, the emphasis on utopian praxis is essential.” (Symes 1997, 78)
Neohumanism shares this utopian dimension. Such a vision serves as a catalyst for engagement (praxis), generating the momentum for developing the visionary energy to describe and strive for the ‘good-life’ well lived. Yet critical pedagogy is not the only stream that converges in the neohumanist tradition. There is also a healthy dose of post-colonial critique in which the privileges and oversights of a Eurocentric academic and theoretical tradition are challenged. The fingerprints of feminism can also be found here as we find the gendered and partial narratives of patriarchy overthrown and new models of thought and action proposed. There is also a post-structural sensibility present here that allows the neohumanist to challenge narrative, seeing it as layered and causal in nature. And beyond the post-structural lies the indigenous sensibility of an ecological and mystical kind. Tantra here is the most potent strand, in the hands of P.R. Sarkar it functions almost as an anti-narrative that merges vidya and avidya in a transcendent social theory that weaves human struggle and consciousness into an ever unfolding cosmic drama.
This is truly liberating stuff! Neohumanism is both critical and spiritual, analytic and synthetic; merging as it does the scientific rigor of the west with the integrative embrace of the east. As Sarkar likes to remind us, Rudyard Kipling was wrong when he said, “East is east and West is west, and never the twain shall meet!”
To step beyond the theoretical maelstrom we find the neohumanist individual bringing together an ethical sensibility, a desire to serve with a deep awareness of belonging. It is difficult to know if there is an order of appearance, I suspect that they emerge differently according to an individual’s samskaras. What is clear however is that there are different processes available to us that help establish us in the neohumanist way.
There is no doubt that sadhana or contemplative practice of some kind is essential. Lifestyle folds into this and becomes a sadhana of its own. Awareness grows out of theoretical immersion in the pool of neohumanist specific material and also in a broadening awareness of the theoretical and historical context of the neohumanist philosophy. Beyond this there is the labour of love (karma), applied neohumanism as service, which instills in us an awareness of body, working with mind and with soul towards a worthy end.
The utopic stance (adarsha) of an end worth striving for inspires and generates hope in the heart of the worker. Work in itself can be a creative expression but singing, painting and artistic expression of all kinds kindles joy and when shared with a community of kindred souls quickens the joy and commitment to go ever deeper.
In neohumanist schools seeking to develop neohumanism in their staff there are more site-specific tools at hand. Nothing is more important than a mentor who inspires the new staff members to challenge their own fears, insecurities, prejudices and doubts. Simple rules on life style are also something that some schools can enact, though this can prove difficult in the more permissive western cultures who take all such acts as attacks on individual autonomy. Such people need to be shown the difference between the isolated and existentially alienated individualism of advanced capitalism and the ecologically situated grounded individualism of neohumanism.
The taste of success, the experience of trust, the sense that they are not alone, the joy of working for goals that keep on expanding as they become more neohumanistically aware also work towards establishing new staff in the neohumanist path. Workshops and collective gatherings are also important. Workshops such as the Four Classrooms and The Values Game really help people understand what it is that makes neohumanism unique. They feel the power of it and at the same time come to acknowledge the wounds that hold them back in their own neohumanist journey. Collective gatherings whether job specific as in reflection times, conferences, school celebrations, sharing occasions or just spiritual gatherings for shared meditation, collective meals, kiirtana, singing or spiritual sports also develop a deepening sense of belonging and commitment.
Ultimately of course each of us has to cross that bridge on our own. This is the point at which we are graced with the realization that we have a mission. Many never reach this point because we do not clearly understand the long role of nurturing in our lives. The patient love required to see people to this point is an incredible thing. Sarkar talks of developing a ‘loving stamina’ for just such occasions.
The two group activities that follow are useful tools and can help all involved become more reflective beings. They have been designed for teachers, school staff and university students but are generally applicable to anyone. They can be modified for any context but the end result needs to be an increased self-awareness along with an emerging knowledge of the forces that have shaped us. The great Brazilian critical pedagogue Paulo Freire noted that: “Only beings who can reflect upon the fact that they are determined are capable of freeing themselves.” (Freire 1998)
This is an essential awareness for a neohumanist: the recognition that we are culturally and historically bound. It is only when we recognise this fact that we begin to be free.
Freire, P. (1998). “Cultural Action and Conscientization.” Harvard Educational Review 68(4): 499-521.
Symes, C., & Preston, N. (1997). Schools and Classrooms: A Cultural Studies Analysis of Education, 2nd Edition. Melbourne, Longman.
Today’s humanity is in despair; people think too much about their imperfections. They think, “Can I do it?” But in that supreme, Neohumanistic status, they will say, “Yes, I am a Neohumanistic being and I am destined to do great work. For that purpose I have come onto this earth. So there is no scope for doubt whether I can do it or not.”Once long ago I went to Purulia. I was carrying heavy baggage. I asked a village man: “Can you carry this baggage?” He replied: “Why not, certainly I can!” I appreciated his answer very much. And I am sure that one day this Neohumanism will inspire the world population to say, “Why not, certainly we can!”And I am confident that on that day no geo-sentiment will be able to rear its head, no socio-sentiment will be able to erect barriers of discrimination in human society, nor will any demon be able to harm millions of people in the name of humanism by exploiting their gullibility. And when those ever-vigilant human beings, those physico-psycho-spiritual entities, will be able to merge their existential nuclei with the Supreme Existential Nucleus, then only will Neohumanism be permanently established, and human beings will be ensconced in the joy of freedom forever. On that day they will proclaim in full-throated voices: “We have come to the world to perform great deeds — for the physical welfare of all, for the psychic happiness of all, and for the spiritual elevation of all — to lead all from darkness unto light.”—Shrii P. R. Sarkar