Week ONE: Spirituality of Coffee
This is how I began my class: with my vintage, glass, Pyrex Percilator Coffee shop. I used this prop strategically on day one to achieve a lot of things.
- It helped me explain and introduce what IDEAS and Democratic education is and how it can be different from a normal class setting becasue of the peer to peer learning platform.
- It helped me represent how I want the demeanor of the class to be: like a coffee shop. A space where interested interesting people can relax and talk about the the things closest to our hearts. The kind of thing that regualar classes seem to get so close towards touching but usually miss the bullseye.
- Finally, I used it as an activity which we jumped right into. On one hand it, it represented the different ways of education which IDEAS gets to be creative with. On the other hand, it was the perfect activity to orient the group towards the type of activities that were to come ahead, as well as get us thinking on the topic, as well as engaging with the topic not just intellectually, but physically.
The Directions were simple: write down the Spirituality of Coffee.
- The purpose of this activity was to get the student to start getting used to quiet, reflective mindset; a place which we don't usually enter into. Without them knowing it, they are already partaking in the way art functions and with the inner life. There was no right answer to what the spirituality of the coffee was. To complete the activity successfully, one must be honest and sensitive to the feelings and images that emerge in them when being confronted with the images and sounds (jazz, projection of fire place) which I offered.
We wrote on the board the words and images that came to us when reflecting, and discussed how in paying attention towards any experience, however small, one can have a spiritual experience.
Here is an example of one students reflection below
Week TWO: Knowing Beyond Knowing and how to get there
The Artwork: Ludovica by Bernini
The Reading: "Knowing Beyond Knowing" by Peter Kingsley
The Film: "Dead Poet Society"
- The picture presented here is a statue by Bernini called "The Ludovica". It rests in St. Francis' Church in Roma, Trastevere. What it presents is a woman going through Spiritual Extacy. We examined the art and the feelings which she seems to be going through and wondered is this even a good thing to experience? She seems rather uncomfortable, yet there is an unmistakeable bliss about her.
- The reading discussed this experience from a hermetic tradition of achieving spiritual extasy. In the reading is a narrative of the relationship between the student and the teacher and represents how the teacher helps the student arrive there.
- This also offered me a chance to explain my role as a peer teacher. Just as the teacher and student relationship is in the reading, the way I am to teach is not by imparting knowledge of how to achieve spritualality(the teacher doesn't know himself). The teacher's job is to cultivate an experience to help the student get there on their own, and teacher is going through the same journey right their beside them.
- To help explain this, and many more themes of spirituality through art, I assigned the "Dead Poet Society" movie as homwork. The clip below, I showed in class, and it represents the same teacher student relationship I described above, only it is compeletly outside the realm of religion and it is in the world of art and emotion.
Finally, we gave the whole thing a try and put our study of art, literature, and film to work and I had lead the class through an almost hour long meditation to help them be in touch with the images that emerged from their subconscious.
Week Five: "Harold and Maude" (Finally)
"Harold and Maude" is a 1971 cult classic which tells the journey of a deeply depressed young boy who comes from a very rich family. While the boy is attending a funeral(a hobby which he does for fun) he meets a 79 year old Holocaust survivor who is happy-go-lucky and high off of life and owns little of anyting. He finds solace in her friendship and meaning in their rendezvous. Through their adventures (accompanied by the glourious sound track of Cat Stevens) Harold discovers a sense of meaning and vibrancy in life as Maude shows him how to engage with life at the deepest of levels.
Why this movie?
This movie might as well be the Bible for my class. This is the epitome, in my opinion, of a representation of what post-modern spirituality is. It shows Maude, a deeply spiritual person, as the teacher of the un spiritual person, who guides him through an experience which helps him understand deep connection with life. This spirituality represented in this movie takes place complelty outside the realm of religion. I showed this so that the students could witness what it might look like to have a spiritual life compeletly outside of any religious practices.
What was also a perfect parallel of this movie to my class, was that Harold takes up a project as he is on his journey towards a spiritual, deeper life. He learns how to play the banjo. In the final scene he walks away from the camera, towards the sunset playing his banjo as he has confronted the most difficult of challenges of all: living itself. This movie shows how taking up a creative project can help tune us in towards the spiritual life.
Below are some of the "Harold and Maude" student reflections which I assigned for homework.
Week SIX: Engaging Art (My Favorite Class)
(Art work by Jen DiPersio)
At this point in the semster, the class had chewed on a lot of material. They have watched two movies, and read almost half a book called "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield. This book is a creative process book which I assigned to help inspire students to kickstart their passions for their semester long project work. I found the book to be a perfect fit for the class becasue the author begins right in the intro of the book, that he believes writing, or what ever creative project one is passionate about, is a spiritual engagement which he invokes the Muses to fill him with divine creativity every time he writes.
Weather our class cares if creativity is divine or not is not the point. What Steven Pressfield understands is that engaging creativity is to engage the deepest parts of ourselves which are usually hidden away and invisible. He understands that when deep creativity is engaged and unhindered, it is like going through what religious language calls spiritual extasy: a moment where your deepest, realist, inner self is connected with everything.
For this class, I thought it was time to try to engage and explore those inner realms through the creative act of painting. But not just any sort of painting. To begin explaining, I showed this artwork that you are looking at now, and told them about my process. I didn't go in thinking that I was going to paint anyting in particular. Rather, I went in just being senstitve to color, not caring if it looked objectively good or not. The activity was for myself only. This type of painting should be a time of quiet. It should be a time where one can complelty clear there mind of thought and be sensitive to the emotions and images that come to their mind. Then when they feel a particular color, image, or season erupt in them, he or she can run wild with color and see what comes out of it.
This is what I encouraged everyone to do for one hour. What was so wonderful for me was that I never asked anyone to stay quiet, however everyone just became silent, focused and excited to work all on their own accord. I couldn't help but to get my stupid grin off my face as I knew everyone was excited to engage with the activity and explore their inner worlds which are so hard to get to, through color and quietness.
Finally, when the hour was up, I instructed everyone to drop their paint brushes and close their eyes immediately. I then walked them through a guided meditation, where I instructed them to continue to picture the colors and the world they had been painting for the last hour. I guided them to walk through that world and be sensitive to those feelings they experience, positive or negative, loose or tense as they may be, when the encounter different persons, objects, or things with in this world of their subconscious imagination.
This was one example of the types of experiences I try to cultivate as the teacher so that they can learn and get closer to their spirituality, and inner life all for themselves. This activity stems from my philosophy that spirituality cannot be taught, it must come from personal experience. All of my activities reflect this philosophy as I try to cultivate experiences for my students.
Week SEVEN : Class canceled for Weekend Field Trip
A few of us made our way to the Fuller Craft Museam in Brockton. Now that we had experienced creating an art work from our inner world, now the next step was to experience what it is like to deal with other's inner worlds.
This was a contemporary craft museam which means that the type of art we were dealing with was not the conventional paintings but rather really funky sculptures of all shapes and sizes made of materials you woul never think to use to create art. CREATIVE, the Museam was. However it actually made for a rather strange experience for both myself and my students to deal with.
This was the first time I had been to the museam for myself, so I didn't really know what to expect either. I think my students enjoyed it however it took a while to understand how to enjoy it. It is not that the art was not of high quality, it just didn't really speak to any of us. However this worked as a spring board for my lesson of how to understand art. I talked about how art is reflective. So when we see something beautiful in art, we are really recognizing something beautiful within ourselves. When we are disinterested in something in art, it might mean that we are being confronted with a theme in our subconcious that we are too afraid to touch and would rather just walk by it.
Overall, the Museam experience was fun one. We all had a good time taking the trip and experiencing the beautiful grounds, as well as being exposed to some really funky, out of the ordinary art.
Week EIGHT: Continuation of Understanding Art
For this we continued to deepen our understanding of how art works, especially the language of art. To help with this, I assigned an essay that I have written to help summarize the difference between "aesthetic" and "artistic" beauty which is why art is almost more beautiful. This is becasue art comes from a human and therefore has meaning in it, becasue the artist had some sort of intent. Therefore art has beauty of the spirit where nature does not have spirit innately in it.
In this class, I gave a lecture (a little change in the pace of our class) of how western society has manifested the complexity of their inner worlds through visual art. We tracked how expression has changed from the Classical period, Rennisanse , Baroque, and then through the impressionist and avant-garde movement all the way to contemporary times.
After my lecture, we then watched a video of an artist named Barnett Newman (which I have attached above) where he talks about his experience painting. Then from inspiration from this artists' experience, we then engaged in our next interactive painting activity.
Our last painting activity was very peaceful. This one, I wanted to make a bit more uncomfortable (in a fun and safe way of course). I had everyone write quietly. I instructed them to not even think or worry about what they were going to write, but rather be more focused on continuing to keep the pen moving and creating on the page. This was to help connect them with their inner world through writing. Then, when they didn't expect it, I went up to them and sprayed them in the face with water from a spray bottle. As they found themselves a little flustered and confused, I told the person I sprayed to now take that feeling, be aware of it, and paint on the canvas I had set up. Then when I sprayed the next person in the face, they would go up and paint, and the other person would go back to writing.
This was a collaborative exercise to put the students right at the center of all types of experience. There was calm when writing, confusion and anger when sprayed, freedom when painting, sadness when leaving their work and knowing that someone else might change what they had already painted. This ended up as an incredibly fun experience for everyone, where emotions were running wild in the sensitivity and halarity of the activity.
Week NINE: "A Single Man"- Spiritual Moments
For this week I had my students watch the movie "A Single Man" starting Collin Firth, for homework. I used this movie to show what spiritual moments, as seen on Bernini's sculpture of Ludovica's face, might look like in normal, every day life. Spiritual moments are everywhere, usually in the smallest and most noticeable niches of our lives. We just need to pay attention and focus of the small pleasures in life. This movie is all about representing the main charachter's "Moments of clairity" in just one day of his life. These moments of clairity is what I told the class to look out for when watching the movie, and reflect on, as they are what I see as moments of spiritual engagement, or rather deep engagement and awareness of the experience of life.
In this class, I didn't have any acticities to help the energy of the class. I really wanted the class to revolve around great conversation. In my reflection below are some of the ways I was able to facilitate incredible conversation which excitedly lasted the entire class.
(Peacefully) Combating Passivity
Sometimes, focusing on a topic can encourage fear. Students come into a class and despite their hot interest invested in the topic that is being studied, they remain hesitant to talk or voice his or her ideas or feelings about a topic. Questions can run through their minds, wondering if someone else knows more about a topic or came up with a more interesting idea when doing a reading or engaging with a particular assignment. No matter what kind of intellectual high or wonderful experiential phenomenon of revelation that might occur in the quiet quarters where a student has engaged with a work, it seems that it very often happens that when it comes to the class room, a quietness, indifference of emotion, and seeming passivity hushes amongst students’ faces. I notice this. I am subject to this and have experienced it in myself and in many classrooms before. So I tried something in my class to address it and see if I could get the student in my class more proud, open, and excited in their class participation.
This fear seemed even more real to me as I was walking with a student who is taking my Ideas course. I asked her what she thought of our last class and she said that she really loved it. She said what she liked about it was that it was nice to be able to run free range with topics that the class was interested in rather than having the weight and direction of focusing on a single topic that I present to the class. Little did she know that every theme that I wanted to address in class that day was talked about, examined, and analyzed deeper than I could have ever originally expected the class to achieve.
So what did I do? For homework I had them watch a movie called “A Single Man” which is based on its namesake novel by Christopher Isherwood. Instead of opening class presenting the movie title as the topic we were to look at for the day, I instead engaged in a more organic human dialogue with the class about the day, about the Spring, and gave my somewhat professorial theatric bantering about my observations about internal and external life. Yet hidden within the stories and life observations were all of the themes I had wished to talk about for the Class.
After doing that for about 15 minutes I then changed the pace, had everyone sit in a circle, and reminded them, and myself, what the original goal of the class was that I presented to them during the intro class. I said that ultimately, I wanted this to be the space to talk about those moments of life which seems that classroom discussions almost always get to but never quite touch. I asked of the group what personally excites and terrifies them. I asked, more importantly, what are those tiny things that you experience during the day that causes you to wonder; the things that you might bring up to a friend at a coffee shop that you wish could be analyzed and given the more worthy attention space that a class room offers which you never do because it seems like not the right place or the right time. I invited all of those things into the room. And by first offering some of my own, the students then cautiously and suddenly all at once opened these things to the opinion, critique, and advice of each other. What began on the surface as conversations about Spring, Dolphins, Mermaids, and Tinder, became a much deeper, and even at points heavier range of life themes to discuss.
I did not have to teach, I could just watch and listen. As much as I wanted to pop up and speak from how excited everyone was making me, I had to force myself not to and just let the organic conversation happen. I contributed to the conversation along with everyone else, though what I was able to do was direct and point to attention the themes that I wanted to discuss which were already erupting out of them. My questions would recognize the deeper points that the students were bringing to the forefront of their interest.
Eventually someone brought up the movie as they saw how it related to the topic which we were discussing (without me saying a word about the movie) and the conversation about the movie continued from there with an excited and invested feeling that I couldn't have asked for in the beginning. The themes were already within everyone, they just needed a quiet prick to let the walls of their balloons pop open and let all of their vibrating air diffuse with everyone else’s. It felt like one of those classes where life is really explored has a feeling of Spring to it. The deepest learning takes place in experiences like this, and myself, and I think I can speak for my students as well, cannot wait to go back for more. The class turned out to be a representation of the main theme we were exploring during the class which was, as Christopher Isherwood puts it, “a moment of clarity, when all at once, the world seems to come into existence.”
Here are some reflections the students did on "A Single Man"
Week TEN: The Sublime
We took a mini field trip over to Cushing Martian this class. We went to experience the Professor Jared Green's interactive poetry exhibit showing with a theme of WALLS. This gave us a chance to experience art in a different way. It was a visual space with sounds and objects that you could walk through, speak in, and be apart of.
It offered a strange experience for my students. Many of them said they "didn't get it". This gave me the perfect opportunity to talk about the experience of the Sbulime in modern art. Most modern art intends to shock us and we aren't supposed to understand it. If we did, then we would be in control of the experience and therefore wouldn't be fully affected by the experience the art is trying to confront us with. I also told them to be sensitive to those feelings of apathy, and uncomfortableness in the face of art, becasue it is reflecting the inner worlds of ourselves which we don't really want to face.
I was very proud of my students who did cross the wall, sit down in the claustrophobic space with lights and sounds all around you, and being fully engaged in that experience. It was an excellent opportunity for the class to partake in.
Week ELEVEN: Outside Meditation
For this class we took an excursion on to the quad infront of Duffy. We tried an outside mediation as our last and hopfully best meditation yet. We all layed in a circle as shown in the pictures and for the first 20 minitues I walked everyone through a meditation to quiet our minds and be aware of our bodies and diminish performance anxiety from everyone walking by us. For he second half of the mediation, I played Side B of Neil Diamond's Album, "Tap Root Manuscript". It is a sporadic set list ranging from children angelic choirs to African sounding tribal drum work. The goal was to have the students imaginations run wild with with the accompaniment of the music. Hopfully they could see themselves in a movie playing behind their eye lids with the music playing in the back ground.
Week TWELVE: Final Projects
I decided to have everyone do all their final projects on one day so that we could have fun with what ever we wanted on the last class.
This day was when I really felt like I had made some sort of change or added some sort of benefit towards my students lives. I will admit, not all of them were perfect or met the expectations of what I had hoped, however during their presentations, the students explained their journey and hardships they encountered while working on their projects. And this is what I really expected from their projects.
I was not expecting a masterpiece for anyone's project. That is not what this class was about. Rather it was a kick start for trying out something that people have always been interestesd in trying but had never had the time to start. So whatever people chose to do, I was very happy with their final project becasue everything they did and said was honest and personal and reflected who they were and the honest struggles they faced in the act of creation.
As this Project Reflection shows below, creativity can manifest in many different ways. It is constantly changing and flowing and it is hopfully always beneficial for lived life. Even the smallest things like painting nails can help change for the better a mental state of being, like perhaps anxiety.
Week THIRTEEN: Lets Play
The last class was an opportunity to just enjoy eachother and have fun. I brought a game called Confessions by the company called "School of Life". We sat on the floor, and played the game, and laughed and reminisced and ate some snacks that I had brought in, and of course: coffee.
Portfolio Self Assesment
I am very very proud of how my portfolio came out. I am very excited about the platform I chose to use. It was a fun and easy way to tell a story, and if I may say so, rather visually stunning.
I guess I could have put in more activities, more student work, more readings. That could have been the only way that I can see that I could have done this better however I feel like I get the story across well the way I have it. I put atleast two different homework assignments, I think three. I told a few class activities, I gave many examples of material we used, movies, readings, conversations that we used in class, and I put two journal entries in, with my commentary weaving everyitng together. I had fun with it and though I guess I could have added more material, I think I put just enough in to really tell the story well.
Just a note- if you were to copy and paste my teaching Statment below into a word doc it would turn out to 3 pages.
Self Grade: A
Teaching Statment and Philosohy
To me, teaching is more of an art than it is a science. When looking at teaching this way, there are certain elements and attitudes that go along with the innate traits of the Arts that I have found affect the learning environment with the greatest outcome. Firstly, the front of the class room should be to a teacher as a stage is to an actor. In other words, a teacher is the focal point of all learning for a student; he or she is what makes or breaks a child's attitude toward school. Therefore, a teacher needs to lead every day by example; be excited and be passionate about whatever it is he or she is teaching; and needs to be as engaged with what he or she is teaching at the same level that he expects his students to be engaged. Secondly, a teacher must take the time to understand his student, as a painter or art admirer must take the time to understand, and not quickly judge, a work of art. Art, like a student, is a composition of many different colors and intentions that takes more than just a first impression to understand. There is no such thing as a black and white painting. Even if a painting is done in black in white, as students may also physically be, there is so much more color, emotion, history, and intention that is behind the outer image. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, do not let education kill the imagination. Learning of life should be the focus of a class room, not learning for tests. By cultivating our faculties of intuition, reason, will, and imagination a student should innately enjoy learning for the wonder of what it is. But when teachers make students memorize facts and black and white data, and do not show the wonder of humanity through the arts and humanities, then a student will surely be turned away from learning at a very young age, for they are being taught what learning is not.
Teaching Philosophy Expanded
- The front of the class room should be to a teacher as stage is to an actor. In my early ages of being a student, it was sad that it never occurred to me that a teacher was an important mediator of information. I dreaded reading, writing, learning grammar, and punching numbers. I didn't understand the purpose of this learning, it just always felt like a drag and waste of time. It took me all the way until the 6th grade to say to myself, ‘Wow. I have a great teacher. When she talks about science in front of the class, I really seem to be engaged, interested, and effectively learning.’ Then there was one more teacher that rocked my world and changed my perception of what a teacher could be. For an old man, he had the highest energy level I have ever experienced in a teacher before. He told life stories that got the students engaged and also conveyed life lessons. He brought math, history, religion, and literature to life through his story telling and exciting high energy. It was as if he was on stage, and he had his audience, his students, constantly on the edge of their seats and eager to want to come to class and learn. A class with him, was like a class with education pioneer and former Stonehill College professor, Albert Cullum himself. In his life documentary, Al said he wanted to be a stage actor but didn’t make it, so teaching was the perfect outlet for him! Jokingly he says he needed an audience that weren't allowed to leave at intermission! Seeing him work these beliefs into the manner in which he ran a class, was obviously effective, and because of this, along with my experience on both sides in the field, I have now come to this first philosophy of teaching. My experience being on the other side of the class room during my IDEAS course made me realize how important it is to have high energy infront of a class room at all times. If I dont have interest or energy in the classroom, why should the students? I experienced this first hand in my second class. I could tell some students didn't do the reading, and they were quiet cause they were worried they were going to get caught. Their quietness and lack of energy was sucking the energy right out of me. It probably wasn't that bad on their side of the experience, however I was ready to run out of the room from the tension. I thought on my feet about how I could change the energy of the room and tried a meditation which put them in a more centered, less worried mood. In the next class when I started to do engaged activities, I never had a worry of passivity again because the group was so excited to try different experiences out.
- A teacher must take the time to understand his student, as a painter or art admirer must take the time to understand, and not quickly judge, a work of art. As making my way through schooling from very young ages, all the way through high school, I constantly found myself asking, ‘Weren’t they (referring to the teacher) students once? How could they assign so much busy work when its only going to hinder learning than actually have us spend time with learning? How can they not understand my right intention and take into consideration the things going on in my life? I’m working my butt off, why am I being punished then just because I might not be able to understand as quick or as well as others?’ I hope that a student never has to ask the question about me, ‘Did he skip the whole kid/student thing?’ The point of this philosophy, which I have learned from being an honest student, is that you never know what a child’s life is at home. Home life, weather it is familial or friend based, effects importance of learning in big ways. Whether a student in a rich family is being physically or socially abused, or a child in a poor families father was shot in a rumble the night before, you never know what is going on in a student's life which they are not saying. For this reason it is always good to be patient with every student at any time, and never ever jump to conclusions or judgments about a student. This is how I have tried to run my IDEAS course. I never ever wanted to give busy work. I wanted to give the least work possible so that they could really have time engaging with the work I gave. This way, when they came to class they really had something to say instead of being worried that they missed something in the reading. I experienced this issue when I started out giving both a reading, a movie, and a reflection to complete before class and the level of class participation was low because people didn't have time to engage with all the material. This is when I really reworked how I wanted to facilitate the course by facilitating learning through cultivating experiences.
- Finally, education shouldn’t kill imagination, it should fuel it. Like Al Cullum said, “Learning should be enjoyable.” Al says if education can offer “early exposure to great art, great music, great literature, [they won’t] run away from it, ever in their lifetime. If you feed on it as a child it stays with you forever.” When you teach for the test, you are doing a disgrace to a students well being. In an age of the “self made man”, the imagination has been killed. Education must change and help foster this innate human trait. I hope my IDEAS course is a small step in fine tuning the focus of education where I beleive it is important: towards the nourishment of the human, to help cherish a love of humanities and art, and to promote a love for the experience of life. I have attempted to do this in my course through presenting my students with great film, poetry, and art and then taking it to the next level by putting them in the experience of art itself in order to reveal the beauty of the little things in life which we not often enough pay attention to.