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It’s Not About the Grades: Love for Learning Beyond Schooling

This is a hypothetical letter to high school students that I am using for the opening of my book-in-progress, It’s Not About the Grades: Love for Learning Beyond Schooling. I am under no illusion that a high school student, a 14-18 year old, would likely be engaged in actually reading such a lengthy “text” such as this, nor would I write with this voice and style if I was honestly trying to engage a high school student. The “Dear John” is merely a tool created to engage the primary audience which is parents, mainly, or others with any casual or serious interest in the world of learning, school, or education.  Partly, I imagine that parents may be concerned about a teacher who is attempting to influence (or otherwise inculcate) their child and so be interested in reading. They ought to pay attention if they aren’t already.

Dear High School Students,

There are landscapes for learning which extend far beyond school, one of which is an inner landscape that is waiting for you– waiting to be explored in order for you to know your truest, most essential self– your authentic self. You will acquire knowledge on the external landscapes that will certainly help you navigate the social world, the world outside yourself, that one clamouring for your attention all the time, but you will also gain wisdom from time spent learning on your inner landscape– the landscape that you might have an intuition exists but perhaps you haven’t been able to access properly or effectively. You need both landscapes for learning, where you can acquire both knowledge about the external world and deep, important wisdom within to be 100% authentically you– the truest you that the world needs– who you are in each and every moment and destined and meant to be as you continually change and grow.

After a long career in education—as a student on many levels of school, as a softball coach, high school English teacher, and teacher-educator, and single-mom of four college-educated young adults, I finally discovered, at midlife, that being “educated” in the traditional academic sense is not the key to a meaningful, quality, healthy life. I wished someone had taught me about the landscapes for learning sooner, especially the untapped inner landscape, which is why I am writing to you. I was limited in my understanding of learning and I discovered that my “education” was, indeed, incomplete, in the same way I believe formal education, especially high school, still is today. I’d like to offer you insight to possibly improve your experiences at school, to value the process of schooling in a new way, and challenge you to do something difficult that will afford you the great payoffs of fulfilment and meaning for your life: spend time alone, quietly, reflectively, through introspection getting to know yourself–your truest, most authentic self, as often as possible, every day. If you can manage to eat each day, then you also can feed yourself daily, regularly, repeatedly with your own attention— which, like good, nutritious food, is life-sustaining and necessary for vitality, wholeness, and wellness.

In order to be a successful social creature, you need to know who you are, as an individual—before you can consciously agree to identify with or define yourself as a member of a particular group or groups in the external world. If you do not gain the courage or the ability to spend time focused on your own inner landscape– the world of you, and value this lifelong quest as critical to becoming the fullest and truest you possible, then the social world: your parents, your friends, your society, the media and the market will shape you relentlessly without your consent, as you remain blissfully unaware, a product of your environment unbeknownst to yourself, childlike, and immature. Growing up, being an adult and “joining” society at large is not about going to college, getting a career, gaining prestige and money; rather, it’s knowing who you are at your core– it’s an understanding of how your body, mind, and spirit works; it’s about understanding human nature and your own specific human nature– all of it: good, bad, and continually changing, and taking 100% responsibility for this person that you ought to know (and love) better than you know anyone or anything else in the world. I learned most of this when I left the world of formal education to become a yoga teacher.

It’s Not About The Grades: Love for Learning Beyond Schooling is one product of my larger Landscapes for Learning project, which is my way of escaping the narrow confines of the high school classroom to begin a serious conversation with you and your parents and teachers about what I see missing from a truly complete education for teenagers— that is, teaching and learning about the wholeness and vitality of the individual human being, from the inside out. I hope to show you that a more conscious application of the principles of yoga can change your life, as they did my own.

Ironically, I quit my job to dedicate myself to yoga, writing, and more authentic forms of learning– that is, to continue to teach unencumbered by the inherent problems of a formal schooling environment.  My personal story about what I learned about myself from the experience of teaching inside high school and getting outside the confines of the classroom is meant to make you and other people think, mainly your parents, about the definition of education and its purpose and challenge them to rethink the “why” of educating you. I hope to encourage reflection from educators about their identity as teacher and the role they play in schooling as well as more authentic forms of learning. It’s also meant to positively influence you to be the best possible individual you can be which begins with encouraging you to look up from your phone and inward. Rather than aiming at a narrow definition of achievement in school prescribed by tradition or following the contemporary cultural narratives about material success continuously and relentlessly vying for and dominating your attention, which appears to be in ever shorter supply and severely limited, you need to focus more attention on what it means to simply be— be who you are, in each moment, rather than overly-anxious or “stressed out” about “finding your passion” or what you are supposed to do based on what everyone else thinks you should when you grow up. You have no idea who your future self will be if you don’t get to know the you of now!

The story of my travels both in the classroom and beyond school is about the journey of self-actualization that took place both geographically, around the world and back during my brief absences from teaching high school, and within my own inner landscapes through yoga. As an escaped teacher freely roaming the landscapes for learning, my story contains observations about what I learned about my own humanity and our shared humanity. Ultimately storytelling is about empathy, a shared experience between the storyteller and the listener, so in this respect, I hope that your experience with my story will inspire you (and your parents and your school) to find more balance upon the landscapes for learning, that is, to do more yoga in order to become more vital, more alive, and more healthy and well throughout your life. I will help you do just that, by example and through explicit instruction, as I lay out my experiences in the pages ahead.

Namaste,

Your Yoga Teacher

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Dear Dr. Jordan B. Peterson

Dear Dr. Jordan B. Peterson,

Thank you for being: Courageous, Informed, Logical, Intense, Persistent, and Passionate.

I suppose you could say I have deeply immersed myself in a self-made course called, ‘The life and times of Dr. Jordan B.Peterson.’ I have been reading your book, Maps of Meaning (Routledge, 1999), reading about you online, watching videos about you, listening to your podcasts and listening to podcasts where you are the guest (Joe Rogan, Sam Harris 1 & 2), and intently watching many of your videos about psychology, myth and narrative, maps of meaning, personality, and your position with regard to Canadian Bill C-16. I think you are brave to tackle the controversial issue of free speech and political correctness, especially as it applies to life at university and educational institutions, but I am even more grateful for access to your instruction about Jung, narrative, psychoanalysis, and the humanities in general.

My readers can inform themselves by listening to your videos and podcasts because I can’t quite do your argument about political correctness justice here, nor can I adequately describe the depth and breadth of your knowledge about psychology, philosophy, history, and human nature. All I really want to say is thank you— for making me think even more deeply and critically about myself and others, about the notion of identity and social groups, as well as the nature of good and evil, and the power and value of language. I especially enjoyed your talk called “The Necessity of Virtue” and both my son and I found your self-authoring program helpful.

One of the goals at Landscapes for Learning is to celebrate our shared humanity through storytelling and to spotlight all sorts of fabulous teaching and learning that occurs across the various landscapes of life (internal and external, near and far). The stories collected will not be limited  to academia or famous, “successful” people. I believe you are an ordinary person doing extraordinary things with your particular talents.

I have included a comment I found about one of your YouTube videos below because it articulates the importance of your voice in modern civic discourse today which is in desperate need of rehabilitation:

“The people who criticize Dr. Peterson in the comments below just based on what he’s expressing here would be well served to go to his channel and start listening to some of his lectures on philosophy, psychology, ideology, and how these ideas work in history and social contexts. His insights transcend the extremes of any ideology. The various polarizing extremes of ideology that are dominating modern civic discourse have deep roots in human and social group psychology, which has been a dominant theme in his various lectures, as I have interpreted them.

People, as a general rule, have almost no understanding of basic psychology, and by extension, have no real control over themselves and what they think. And I would suggest that people are already at a point in social conditioning that they have been wired to act in an dictated manner, without even realizing it. And since they act in a way that they have been programmed to feel is “doing the right thing”, it’s an ego reward and feeds that behavior to react. And that’s a big piece of what is going on in modern discourse, the majority are acting as reactionaries. They are actively seeking things out to react to, typically in a negative manner. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s not only extremely unhealthy for social systems, it’s likely just as unhealthy for the individual.

I’ve said it over and over, if people want to improve the world, or political systems, or whatever, the best thing they could do is get a basic handle of human psychology and their own psychology. Until people understand how their own mind works, they can never solve anything outside of it, and will continue to be manipulated by insidious external forces they aren’t even aware of.

Dr. Peterson analyzes philosophy, psychology, history, social systems, etc, and the ways they intersect with critically deep insight. Before you dismiss him based on one lecture, do yourself a favor and listen to more of his work. The best lectures on philosophy I’ve listened to are by Dr. Peterson…”
—-Strangersound, Youtube, March 28, 2017

Your work has reaffirmed and positively contributed to the way I teach my high school students to be heroes in their own lives. By trying to understand their human nature through the examination of archetypal stories as these pertain to their own personal psychology, I think they may be on a path to awakening and finding real meaning in their young lives, rather than blindly adhering to the cultural values of overconsumption, narcissism, and extreme egocentrism. Also, your comments about writing have been added to my repertoire in helping young people understand the value of lifelong learning, precise language, the power of logical argumentation, and writing skill.

You have an amazing ability to articulate your interpretation of the human psyche and the world and its contemporary array of problems and suffering in the context of your knowledge and understanding of history and psychology. Even if people disagree with some or almost all of what you teach, they cannot possibly deny that you are informed, articulate, and dedicated to the service to something much bigger than yourself.

I happen to think your voice is exactly what is needed right now, particularly in this time in history. I am glad people are listening. 

Sincerely,

A Concerned Educator @ Landscapes for Learning

 

 

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Dear Mr. & Mrs. Know-it-all

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Know-it-all,

In The American Scholar, his speech to Harvard graduates, Ralph Waldo Emerson proclaimed, “Life is a dictionary!” encouraging Americans, especially the young scholars in front of him, to trust their own experiences: direct, sensory experience in nature, if they truly wanted to live a life of learning. You can read all you want and spend all your time in the library, blindly accepting the dogma that’s been handed down to you by rationalists who supposedly know better than you, he said (in so many words), but that will never substitute for discovering the world, nature, and your own inner nature, through personal experience. It was unconventional back then and sadly still is today.

In our Information Age, we can know just about everything, everyone, and everywhere. That’s how you became the Know-it-alls! We spend far more time in front of screens, typing and clicking, safely in our minds (often completely unaware of our own bodies), safe from nature. It’s “out there” and we are “in here,” separate, unequal.

adultsiphoneskidswalkingwith-iphones

The library of Emerson’s time is the Internet of our time. Young “scholars” today look at almost every aspect of their lives: the world, nature, and themselves (selfies) through the lenses of their iPhones.

 

According to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (2008), our disconnection from nature causes a shrunken sensory world, impoverished experiences, and a sort of “cultural autism” which include  “feelings of isolation and containment” (p.64). We are literally trapped indoors, inside our own minds, as we surf the Web, thinking we are “everywhere” yet sadly, not anywhere at all, not even in our bodies. Knowledgeable, but not. Connected, yet disconnected.  

girlat-computer-silhouette-2Louv quotes Daniel Yankelovich, a public opinion analyst, who says, “What I see in America today is an almost religious zeal for the technological approach to every facet of life…It’s a value system, a way of thinking, and it can become delusional” (p.65).

Ah, Ya think?

Louv goes on to write in his chapter subsection entitled “Losing our Senses,”

“Today, the life of the senses is literally, electrified. One obvious contributor is electronics: television and computers. But simpler, early technologies played important roles. Air-conditioning, for example…Few of us are about to trade our air-conditioners for fans. But one price of progress is seldom mentioned: a diminished life of the senses…as human beings, we need direct, natural experiences; we require fully-activated senses in order to feel fully alive (my italics).

Twenty-first-century Western culture accepts the view that because of omnipresent technology we are awash in data. But in this information age vital information is missing. Nature is about smelling, hearing, tasting, seeing below the ‘transparent mucous-paper in which the world like a bon-bon is wrapped so carefully that we can never get at it,’ as D.H. Lawrence put it, in a relatively obscure but extraordinary description of his own awakening to nature’s sensory gift. Lawrence described his awakening in Taos, New Mexico, as an antidote to the ‘know-it-all state of mind,’ that poor substitute for wisdom and wonder:

        ‘Superficially, the world has become small and known. Poor little globe of earth, the tourists trot round you as easily as they trot round the Bois or round Central Park. There is no mystery left, we’ve been there, we’ve seen it, we know all about it. We’ve done the globe and the globe is done.

        This quote is true, superficially. On the superficies, horizontally, we’ve been everywhere and done everything, we know all about it. Yet the more we know, superficially, the less we penetrate, vertically. It’s all very well skimming across the surface of the ocean and saying you know all about the sea…

        As a matter of fact, our great grandfathers, who never went anywhere, in actuality had more experience of the world than we have, who have seen everything. When they listened to a lecture with lantern-slides, they really held their breath before the unknown, as they sat in the village school-room. We, bowling along in a rickshaw in Ceylon, say to ourselves: ‘It’s very much what you’d expect.” We really know it all.

        We are mistaken. The know-it-all state of mind is just the result of being outside the mucous-paper wrapping of civilization. Underneath is everything we don’t know and are afraid of knowing.’” (p.57-59)

nddevolution

And, so here you sit Mr. & Mrs. Know-it-all: efficient, progressive, high achieving, American travelers and patriots, with the world (of information) at your fingertips sitting on chairs in your air-conditioned schools and cubicles Googling away for answers. 

Sincerely,

A Little Birdy
p.s. Here’s some food for thought:

  • Might an antidote to the “know-it-all” state of mind be Shunryu Suzuki’s Beginner’s Mind?
  • Where does “schooling” fit into such delusional thinking amongst our young people?
  • Why are kids locked up in the institution of public school all day completely disconnected from more direct, sensory experiences?
  • Has the institute of American public education actively supported a disconnection from nature and instead promoted the values of technology and utility to ensure a dumbed down work force so numbed out and disassociated from their true nature that they won’t ever revolt?
  • Do you think about nature as something “out there,” separate from you?

For Further Reading:

Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, (2008) Workman Publishing, N.Y..

Shunryu Suzuki’s, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

Leo Babauta’s Zenhabits post for further reading on the concept of Beginner’s Mind.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s The American Scholar

John Taylor Gatto’s Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Complusory Schooling

Zachary Slayback’s The End of School

Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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Dear Efficient Utilitarian Student,

Dear Efficient Utilitarian Student,

It’s not your fault that you were raised with the great American values of utility and efficiency. These values are enacted and followed by virtually everyone around you– your parents, your school, your government; they’ve been enacted throughout most of American history, especially in the Industrial Revolution, in the world of corporations, and throughout most of modern and contemporary society. And, the invention of the internet along with new information technologies has exponentially accelerated and reinforced these values (and created so much distraction that you have no ability to sit quietly long enough to reflect honestly about values).

It’s not your fault that you have been influenced by these external forces. You never really had a choice. These values, on the surface, are fairly important, but, unfortunately, when these two values become an approach to learning, their effect is devastating. If utility and efficiency are intrinsic to how and why you learn, there’s probably not a whole lot of room for mindfulness or appreciation.

If your goals are expediency and efficiency when it comes to learning something new, whether a concept or a skill, you’ll miss the pleasure of authentic learning, the appreciation of the subtleties of that concept, idea, or skill. If it’s all a hurried process of finding what you can use, you may miss developing an appreciation for language, numbers, angles, the concept of infinity, the way your body works, or F.Scott Fitzgerald’s writing style. Again, not your fault, as we “educators” have invested in this thing called “time on learning.”

What about slowing down to savor all of your learning experiences, even the painful and boring, for no other reason than to remain open to learning itself and to learn for the sake of learning? What about lingering over a piece of art, wrestling with a difficult mathematical concept or skill? You don’t have to “do” anything with these learning experiences except experience them, and they will benefit you regardless of your desire to utilize them in your own pre-planned way. Please, slow down, and just enjoy learning, without expected payback or any added value beyond mere appreciation and present moment awareness. This approach may affect you in unanticipated and sometimes unwanted ways, but it will lead to the best sort of growth.

growth

Think about meeting a new student in your school, a stranger. If that person doesn’t fulfill a social or other goal for you, will you tend to, because of efficiency and utility, ignore that person? If you do actually meet this person and efficiency and utility are at the forefront of your mindset, are you narrowly fixed on only the aspects of this person that will potentially benefit you? Are you contemplating how this person can potentially help you in achieving your individual goals?

Can you consider the possibility of slowly and mindfully taking in everything about this person, thinking about him as a fellow human being who suffers and loves and hopes and wonders and experiences loss and smiles and cries and puts on his socks and shoes everyday, just like you? Can you take the time to focus— to appreciate the details of her face, her eyes and the contours of her cheeks and jaw line? Are you interested in this person as a person, or are you only focused on how useful she may be to you; what he may be utilized for? And, are you dismissing this person too quickly  (using stereotypes) because you can’t waste your time getting to know them beyond a surface introduction? Or are you deeply engaged and intrigued as if your were looking at exquisite art?

student-thinking

Are you, Efficient Utilitarian Student, while in your classes, thinking to yourself:

“Hurry up and get to the point.”

“How can I use this information, this experience, concept, idea, skill to get an A ?”

“Is this going to be on the test?”

“I wish the teacher would just hurry up and tell us what we need to know for the test and forget all the other extra or irrelevant stuff.”

“I hate working in groups with other people because it negatively affects my grade.”

Efficient Utilitarian Student, you are missing so much beauty and joy in your life! You are missing out on how deliciously long a moment can feel and the way life can unfold before you within each and every one of these precious moments! And for this, I apologize. We have steered you wrong for too long. But, it’s not too late!

mountain-flowers2

Now that you are more aware, you might try to approach your learning the way you might walk along the beach and enjoy a sunset, or the way you might climb a mountain and survey those tiny flowers that make you question how they could stay alive so far up amongst nothing but rock, or how you might fish on an enormous lake where the water looks like glass and everything around you is still and quiet.  Live out that sense of wonder, curiosity, openness to experience, where likely the last thing you are focused on is expediency or how any of these experiences, these moments, may be utilized.

If you took the time to read this letter, I hope you found something useful in it.

Sincerely & Apologetically,

Your Teacher

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A Note to the Spiritual Academic

Dear Spiritual Academic,

According to the super cute monk, Thich Nhat Hanh,

“Insight can’t be found in sutras, commentaries, or Dharma talks. Liberation and awakened understanding can’t be found by devoting ourselves to the study of Buddhist scriptures. This is like hoping to find fresh water in dry bones.

Returning to the present moment, using our clear mind that exists right here and now, we can be in touch with liberation and enlightenment, as well as with the Buddha and all his disciples as living realities right in this moment.” *

So, put the book down. Stop reading. Stop searching for just a few moments. Stop the analysis. Realize that what you are looking for is with you, wherever you are, wherever you go, whatever you do. Stop hiding in the library and get out there and live.

And, by the way, you don’t have to put “finding enlightenment” on your To Do List or compartmentalize it into blocks in your schedule labeled “yoga, 5-7 pm” or “meditation 6-7am” either.

checklist-cartoon

Wash those pans, walk that dog, kiss your kid, teach your students, eat your lunch, take that poop (yeah, I said that), ride that bike, turn the key and drive, and in all of these moments, BE there.

Sincerely,

A Recovering Spiritual Academic

*The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh. Shambala Pocket Classics, 2012, p.99.