Specialization vs Meaning — What is Education Really About?

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“Meaninglessness inhibits fullness of life and is therefore equivalent to illness. Meaning makes a great many things endurable – perhaps everything.” Carl Jung

There has been much written on the impact of specialization in academia. Certainly, it is well documented that modern culture requires specialization. We see this in all disciplines and we recognize the difficulty of connecting all of the abstracted dots. My own field, sociology, with its emphasis on the social construction of reality and deconstruction of thought has certainly led the pack when it comes to denying a unified perspective capable of offering meaning to the masses. And, of course, when education becomes an instrument for individual careerism, it no longer inspires students in broad sweeping terms.

In my mind, education should be about ideas and connection. Certainly, students value the “skill” based focus of many classes, but they yearn for inspiration. I believe that the secret hunger that gnaws at most students’ souls is the desire to discover the meaning of life. It is not so much that any of us actually believe that we can “figure-it- all-out”, it is just that we crave some understanding of our purpose here on earth.

I teach a class at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) that integrates transcendental meditation in to the core curriculum. All of my students have the opportunity to learn TM as an experiential tool to dive within and feel the potency of their own full potential.

Getting this class accepted into the liberal arts department was a fascinating, eye opening and personally challenging experience. I have heard it said that creating new curriculum is akin to moving a graveyard down the street. Ironically, innovation and academia are not the friendliest of bed fellows.

Perhaps, the most interesting aspect of the entire process of getting my class on the books was learning to speak the institutional language. In other words, figuring out what everyone wanted to hear and producing some evidence that my class could meet the extraordinarily varied needs of an institution. For example, the counseling department at CCS really liked the research on TM as related to stress reduction, the film department really liked the research on TM related to enhanced creativity, the administration liked the research on TM linked to retention rates, etc. Many in my own department expressed concern that my proposed class would not be rigorous enough. I had to produce a long reading list, a research paper assignment, detailed learning outcomes and assure my chair that the TM component was simply an experiential tool. Even the David Lynch Foundation, who generously offered a grant to support TM training costs, wanted to make sure my students met “at risk” status requirements.

Piecing together the fragmented expectations of my varied stakeholders became a full-time preoccupation. It also represented a pretty interesting view of the contemporary educational landscape. A truly integrative educational model is one that does not merely stack discipline on top of discipline but one that literally enlivens the learning process by teaching students to touch their most transcendent nature – reminding them who they really are and how much they really know. A truly holistic curriculum also relies on mystery as much as fact and sees students as whole people rather than abstracted aspects of their full potential.

This semester when I asked my students what brought them to my class, I was delighted to hear many of them say they had heard through the grape vine that “it offered a BIG picture assessment of culture” and pieced together “many varied ideas while giving students a tool to illuminate their own journey.” One student actually had the guts to say he signed up to become “enlightened” – a tall order to be sure but one that I gladly embrace. My students and I are on a journey together. We are determined to create a classroom experience that feeds our collective soul and reminds us of the profound joy of connecting ideas and creating meaning through our combined intellectual and contemplative practices.

Fortunately, my class met all of the abstracted needs of the institution and students. In doing so it tied the varied threads of expectation together to create a harmonious template for the exploration of ideas, connections and meaning with an experiential component of transcendence. In the end, that is what an ideal education is supposed to be about.

To read a short except from an interview with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on what he believed brought people to meditation click here: http://www.tm.org/blog/news/nbc-interview-with-maharishi/

Molly Beauregard

To see the entire “Notes from the Professor” series click here!

 

His Cup Overfloweth — Role Reversal

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Every now and again, life tosses you the opportunity to take part in a role reversal. It can be a powerful experience. Fortunately for me, a favorite former student is teaching ceramics in Detroit. At the risk of making a total fool of myself, I decided to sign up for class. It turns out that working with clay was just the tip of the educational iceberg. Class with Henry is full on performance art!

This afternoon Henry and I met for a cup of coffee to discuss the “philosophy of making a cup”. Henry believes in a relationship between personal creativity, social responsibility and connectivity. He spent the bulk of last year building a kiln in the city of Detroit. His desire is to use the kiln as a “sort of public art space where people come together to celebrate the process of making something beautiful”. Art is a verb in Henry’s mind – it signifies action, process, connectivity and joy. Henry believes there needs to be a new shift in our collective
understanding of the power of art.

Henry believes the art of the future should reflect an understanding of the shared goals of society and be steeped in connectivity. He is more committed to process than object but decidedly attached to technique. Routine is what keeps him in the moment but skill is what ties him to the process. “Heck, Molly, it is impossible to explain because I only confused myself and my audience but there is something about the invisible cord that ties every moment seamlessly together. All I know is that it is bigger than me. It just pulls me along creating this thing that in the end looks like a cup but is really the outgrowth of a million tiny moments of interaction with the clay.”

Henry’s art lives within a socially interactive framework. Firing up the kiln this past June was a neighborhood celebration. “Listen this isn’t just about me and my work. This is really about re- imagining space. I mean, how many people get to fire up a community kiln in their driveway?”

Henry’s passion for ceramics is infectious. You can’t help but have a good time in his presence. And, that is the secret to his success as a teacher. When you sit at the wheel in Henry’s class you get so busy watching his show that you forget to concentrate on the clay moving beneath your fingers. The invisible force that moves Henry somehow moves you too – you “catch” it while you interact. Henry’s students literally fall in love with clay. Everyone’s cup holds the unity of the interaction and as a result the cups literally emanate that purity.

I believe Henry, like so many other young people today, is re-patterning conscious daily life through his behavior, his personal philosophy and his interactions. It is an exciting time to be alive as I feel the transformative power of all my new, young teachers. The ultimate power of their awareness is deep deep beneath the surface pushing gently upward toward the creation of a richer, truer more authentic individual and cultural life experience. Thanks for taking me on Henry – it is a joy to be your student!

 

To see what Henry is up to in Detroit and view more of his work visit – www.henrycrissman.com

 

Molly Beauregard | Program Director

 

 

 

You Who Has Not Yet Been Imagined

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Reflections from a Meditating Student

 

You who has not yet been imagined
will we go to God together?
Or if I can be so ready
would You keep me here?
But if You leave
am I to look
or wait?
For you…
no, something new.
no, something more.
We go to God alone
but your archaic draw
and engaging rebound is
the magnetism of the soul
to the soul that is the beautifully
cohesive brilliance of existence
yet defined by science.
But what is so untouched
by our drive to know?
Through Unity
we find Love
and that is God.

Still, I must go
farther to find You.
Abandon all logic
and release myself
to whatever I could
imagine you to be.
Fearlessly
daring and boldly
into the unknown
Where would we be
if we all left this cave?
Insatiably curious
Beckoned by dreams
I will find You
who has been yet imagined

 

Kyle Dornan | Joliet Junior College

 

Be Good For the Sake of Being Good

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My middle daughter is going off to college tomorrow morning. I am hoping the TTSM audience will indulge my mother heart by allowing me to share a favorite story about Cami. I am confident it counts as an “educational” message.

When Cami was in sixth grade at the Sacred Heart Academy, one of her favorite teachers told her about a “sister” school in Uganda. Cami was very moved by the presentation and decided she wanted to “help out” over the summer months by raising some money to support the school. I, of course, was pleased with her enthusiasm and encouraged her to set up a lemonade stand and put some of her babysitting money toward the project. Frankly, as the summer progressed, I forgot about the school in Uganda and was just pleased to see her so committed to the lemonade selling business. She loved to be outside and could talk all day long. The set up was perfect for her. (more…)

Falling off the Wagon, Watching Yourself and Taking Care of the Dog

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Every once in a while, and sometimes more often than not, I fall off the meditation wagon. I do not claim to have never missed a meditation since I learned my technique, like many do. In all honesty, I probably have meditated only half the time of what I am “supposed to”.

After a few years of wincing for only meditating in the morning and not again till the next morning, and going week on week off, I realized I don’t benefit from judging myself for not practicing regularly. I was getting wrapped up in how I was “supposed to do it”. Eventually, I allowed the act of sitting down to meditate frustrate me because of it’s apparent desire to disrupt my ‘flow’. The undercurrent – ‘push’ to meditate was telling me what I needed…but I forgot to listen. (more…)

Meaning Organizes the Human World

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Every semester I share the story of the Angel Museum with my students. It is a simple story really – almost a modern day fairy tale. It all began in 1976 when Joyce and Lowell Berg were vacationing in Florida. They happened to stop at an antique shop where they fell in love with an Italian bisque figurine of two angels on a sea-saw. They immediately bought it and brought it back home to Beloit, Wisconsin where it became the first cherished artifact of what would eventually become a very grand collection of angels.

Now, I usually take some creative liberties with my story about the humble beginnings of the Angel Museum. I imagine Joyce and Lowell scouring the world for angel imagery – passionate in their obsession and abundantly inclusive. I know for a fact that they find angel imagery at rummage sales. They save plastic angels that come on the top of cakes (with the frosting still encrusted on the bottom). They hunt down angels at craft shows and antique fairs. They look for angels in shops and in garages and they happily embrace every angel they find. (more…)

The Most Astounding Fact (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

“Astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson was asked by a reader of TIME magazine, “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?” This is his answer.” – Max Schlickenmeyer

You Are Where You’re Supposed to Be

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I have to be honest. I recently fell off of the yoga wagon. I know that is probably not the first thing you were hoping to read when you clicked on the yoga page of Tuning the Student Mind, but hear me out.

One of the things that I love most about the practice of yoga is that it never lies. Yoga is and has always been a very real extension of myself. Yoga shows me where I am, on an emotional, spiritual, and physical level. Like a mirror, it does not reflect back to me who I imagine myself to be or who I would like to be tomorrow, next week, or next year. It shows me who I am, right now. (more…)

Cultural Rehab

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A healthy man needs to see a doctor after spending time around a group of contagious sick people because he too becomes infected. A clean individual who spends time around a dirty drug scene will eventually start participating and use the drug. If that behavior continues and as a result their quality of life goes down, the best thing they could do is seek help. Individuals in this situation need to learn how to be alright without the addicting drug. There is a type of institution for that. Its called rehab.

The purpose of rehab is to remind you of who you were before you started using. Sometimes I wonder if it is difficult for people to admit addiction because they started down the path so innocently. Initially, they may have even believed that drugs were going to be a good part of their life. Let’s face it; everyone likes likes to experiment and live on the edge from time to time. (more…)

Tetris Game Hijack

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I came into the “Consciousness, Creativity and Bliss” class after a long and stressful previous semester. The promise of meditation lured me in as the stacks of boxes full of responsibilities kept getting higher and higher in my mind. Now don’t get me wrong, the boxes don’t just disappear when I meditate. Going to school and working is necessary, at least until I graduate. The problem arises when these boxes aren’t neatly stacked one on top of the other but rather dropped at random like a really cruel game of Tetris. Things inadvertently become misaligned.

Every one of my classes has a box of its own. Every family member, with their unique and crazy respective problems, has a box just for themselves. Every hour I log at work is another, much smaller box, but still a very real box nonetheless. Every freelance project, every friend, every car on the road as I drive — all these boxes are messily stacked inside of my mind. At the very bottom there is a really weathered and beaten box. This frail box contains what is left of me at the end of each day. It holds more than it should and, at the same time, not a lot. (more…)

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