University Workshops in Taiwan
By Dr. Sid Jordan
On my recent trip to Taiwan I offered talks and workshops for teachers and students at departments of education for a number of universities. I was coming to learn that the Neohumanist Education curriculum, the Circle of Love, could be applied to teachers and students of all ages.
The first day-long program was given to 125 students and faculty at the Fu Jen University. I had thought that the power point, requested well in advance, was to be translated and I would present in English without the need for translation. I learned just before beginning the presentation that a translator was on hand and that I was to pause often enough to have my talk translated. I started the scheduled two-hour morning presentation with a brief meditation purportedly to give everyone a chance to slow the pace of our busy lives and center ourselves mindfully in the present moment. I had the thought as I was meditating that with an audience of 90% students I should shorten the one hour talk to accommodate the time required for translation. I could skip some slides and create more audience participation as in our Circle of Love used in our Neohumanist schools’ curriculum. This approach would demonstrate what education could be now, rather than a philosophical future perspective. Show your best educational practices of freeing the mind, expanding the heart and offering devotional service now in actions, as our ecoversities friends had demonstrated a week earlier at a program that Dada Shambhushivananda and I had attended in Udaipur (see Dada Shambhushivananda’s article on ecoversities in this issue of the newsletter).
I finally reasoned that the local culture might best be respected by offering what had been advertised. I would offer the Circle of Love approach in the afternoon workshop and offer a shortened talk followed by inviting the audience to engage in appreciative inquiry regarding what learners valued most in their education.
The thesis of the morning talk, The Future of Education: A Neohumanist Global Perspective, was that the future of society depended on the future of education. A more holistic education was needed that supported a four-part bottom line related to environmental, social, economic and spiritual levels of our existence. It was proposed that Shrii P R Sarkar’s Neohumanism which supported a “love of all of creation, animate and inanimate” met these requirements for education and society. The emergence of a critical mass of the “culturally creative” people on the globe who have an environmentally friendly and spiritual approach to life adds to the notion that we are approaching a shift in consciousness on the planet. The researchers who studied this trend of increasing numbers of culturally creatives, however, cautioned that these individuals don’t work collectively to counteract the more organized negative influence of the dogmatic and materialistic groups.
To deal with these social trends that can determine the future of society, Neohumanist Education was offered as the answer to supporting a brighter, more coordinated cooperative future for society.
The model of this Neohumanist Education depends uniquely on a curriculum based on the layers of the mind which would be applied in the afternoon workshop:
This layers-of-the-mind curriculum was constructed as a synthesis of humanities and sciences that freed the mind, expanded the heart and served humanity.
The morning presentation addressed the need for global citizenship that encouraged activism for social justice and education for all. Education needed to be more evidence-based and to support teachers determining educational policies without political interference. The talk ended with a plea for multigenerational and multicultural dialogue and leadership to move us towards a global education that fostered a more sustainable society.
The appreciative inquiry that followed the talk was conducted with the entire audience rather than in groups of six, as previously planned, due to the limitations of the auditorium environment we had inherited.
The first question posed to the audience was: What has been the best educational experience in your life? Many students stated that preschool was their best experience because of the freedom and fun it offered. Others recalled teachers that had inspired them; a philosophy course that supported a discussion among students and their teacher. The second question: What do you think are the most important elements to be applied in creating a brighter future for education? The answers offered included: discussion rather than lectures; field study in the environments related to the subject; group projects; travel opportunities and student exchange programs. Faculty members said they would devote more time to discussion in the classroom and offer more field trips. Students and faculty were becoming aware of breaking the mold of an industrial and colonial model of education.
Council of All Beings
The afternoon program entitled Neohumanist Education: Transform People and Planet, resembled many circles of love that made use of the ‘Council of All Beings’ taken from John Seed’s book Thinking Like a Mountain. This format was chosen to demonstrate the best practices of Neohumanist Education that synthesized freeing the mind, expanding the heart and creating a just and sustainable world through service and action.
This synthesis involved all levels of the mind and was accomplished by offering a series of visualizations, meditative exercises, artwork and small group exercises. These interactive exercises resembled many circles of love that supported ecological awareness and actions that serve a universally benevolent and sustainable society.
The 125 students broke up into groups of six seated at individual tables with art materials placed on them. We began with this visualization: Close your eyes and let yourself visualize scenes of what is disturbing about what human activity is doing to our natural world…….. Now select or let yourself be selected by a specific entity in nature (an animal, clouds, water, trees, mountain, etc) that is threatened and meditate on actions you can personally take to lessen the threat.
They were then requested to: Create a mask that represents your entity and ally in nature. Freeing your mind and expanding your heart to serve other life forms, adopt this entity in nature that you will speak for, to inform humanity. Extend your sense of identity to represent this ally in the natural world, giving a voice to the voiceless
They were then instructed to: Now take 30 minutes to create a mask of your entity with the available art materials and prepare to speak for your entity.
The room was full of fun and excitement with the students and faculty enthusiastically creating their mask and displaying their creations to one another.
They were then asked to:
- Put on your mask and let yourself become the entity in nature that was chosen, to give it a voice for its message to humanity.
- Let yourself become aware of how this entity moves and functions in nature.
- Briefly introduce your entity, in the first person, to the group (which acts as humanity) identifying how it moves and functions in nature: “I am water (or whatever entity you are speaking for)—I fall from the sky and run freely in the rivers and oceans, nurturing every other entity”. Others in the group say, “We hear you, Water.” and the group says to every entity after it speaks, “We hear you……….”. (Each person takes 2-3 minute; total 20-30 minutes.)
Each person in the groups willingly offered in the first person how their entity moved and functioned in nature and the other group members responded enthusiastically, “Yes, we hear you ________”
Each entity was then requested to state:
- it’s present condition as affected by human activity and how humans could improve it’s conditions; followed by the group, that is listening as humans, saying, “We hear you ……….”
- what gift it has to offer humanity, followed by the group of humans saying “We thank you …….”
Afterwards, as humans now, each group member vowed to the group to perform one concrete action they will take to serve their entity as it relates to the interconnected welfare of all beings. (Each person took 3-4 minutes; total 25-30 minutes)
The concrete action that each group member committed to perform in service to their entity was ritualized in the following manner:
Place all of your masks in the center of the table and place your hands on them. Now everyone repeat after me in taking this vow: I promise to take this action to serve my entity and the general welfare of all. (Repeated 3 times)
The appreciative inquiry to end this workshop was, “What did you like most about this approach to learning about ourselves and our relationship to others?’
Responses were many, among them being: fun, joyful, self revealing, empathy, beauty, camaraderie, commitment, doing rather than just talking, creative, expressive, inspiring to know more and take meaningful actions and new insights. We ended by all present singing the Gurukula Prabhata Samgiita song. Everyone joined in to make for a sweet finale for a fun and inspiring afternoon.
I had become more convinced as a Neohumanist educator that the “Circle of Love” approach to freeing the mind, expanding the heart and serving others was suitable for all ages.