Explorations and Education

The question of awareness in curriculum theory 2011

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The Question of Awareness in Curriculum Theory Ashwani Kumar Department of Curriculum & Pedagogy University of British Columbia Abstract: In this paper I accomplish two tasks: 1) I discuss three ways—Awareness-As-Information Transmission; Awareness-As- Social Criticism; and Awareness-As-Self Reflection—in which the notion of awareness has come to be viewed in curriculum theory; 2) I propose a fourth way—Awareness-As-Meditative Inquiry—to understand, broaden, and enrich the existing meanings of the notion of awareness. It will not be inaccurate to propose that “awareness” has been a central concept in the field of education. While there exist differences over the meanings and significance of the term “awareness,” it would be hard to find an educator who would not place “awareness” at the core of educational theory and practice. As part of my research, I have identified three ways in which the notion of awareness has come to be viewed in curriculum theory: Awareness-As-Information Transmission; Awareness-As-Social Criticism; and Awareness-As-Self Reflection. In my understanding, while these three ways of looking at the notion of awareness are very important, they lack a deeper consideration of nature of self and its complexity as well as the possibilities of its profound transformation. In order to broaden and enrich the concept of awareness, I propose a fourth way—Awareness-As Meditative Inquiry—based on my study of the works of Jiddu Krishnamurti. More 1 specifically, I engage with three key questions in this paper: 1) What is awareness-as-meditative inquiry? 2) What inhibits awareness-as-meditative inquiry? 3) What facilitates awareness-as-meditative inquiry? Awareness forms the core of my research. To understand the meaning and significance of awareness, I draw upon the works of J. Krishnamurti who considers “awareness to be the greatest art.” Before I discuss the way I have come to understand and view “awareness,” which I would like to call Awareness-As-Meditative-Inquiry, I would like to very briefly discuss the three established ways of defining and conceptualizing “awareness” in curriculum theory. These three ways are: 1) Awareness-As-Information Transmission 2) Awareness-As-Social-Criticism 3) Awareness-As-Self Reflection Awareness-as-information transmission appears to be one of the most common and predominant ways of defining the meaning of awareness in academic as well as non- academic circles. It forms the core of behaviorist and positivist forms of thoughts and practices in the field of education. In this perspective, the main purpose or goal of curriculum is to transmit information to students in a behaviorist way, where the political, cultural, and subjective dimensions are completely ignored. In curriculum theory, awareness-as-information forms the core of the traditional paradigm of the field known as “curriculum development.” The “curriculum development” paradigm—that emerged with the publication of Franklin Bobbitt’s The 2 Curriculum and reached its zenith due to Ralph Tyler’s Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction (1949)—dominated the field of curriculum until late 1960s. As Pinar and his colleagues note in their canonical text—Understanding Curriculum (1995)—the field of curriculum experienced a reconceptualization or paradigm shift after the 1970s from “curriculum development” to “understanding curriculum.” Curriculum development is a positivistic-behaviouristic-administraive- institutional-managerial-technocratic-standardized-scientific notion, which reduces teachers, students, and education to the level of instruments needed to achieve the predetermined, standardized goals set by administrators, politicians, and industrialists. Understanding curriculum, on the other hand, is a creative, critical, and transformative process wherein teachers and students are autonomous and responsible—not “accountable” in the ugly neoliberal sense (Ross & Gibson, 2007)—subjects who study, share, and create knowledge. According to Pinar et al. (1995): The field [of curriculum studies] no longer sees the problems of curriculum and teaching as “technical” problems, that is, problems of “how to.” The contemporary field regards the problem of curriculum and teaching as “why” problems. Such a view requires that we understand what was before considered only something to be solved. Now, the contemporary field is hardly against solving problems, but the view today is that solutions to problems do not just require knee-jerk, commonsensical responses, but careful, thoughtful, disciplined understanding. (p. 8) While behavioristic and positivistic ways of thinking dominated the traditional field prior 3 to 1970s, the reconceptualized curriculum landscape experienced the proliferation of diverse theoretical viewpoints, which include critical pedagogy, critical race theory, critical feminist theory, auto (biographical) studies, postmodernism and poststructuralism, among others. Based on my study of curriculum thought after reconceptualization movement, I have identified two significant dimensions of the concept of “awareness.” These two dimensions are: Awareness-As-Social Criticism and Awareness-As-Self Reflection. Awareness-As-Social Criticism can be defined as the ability to perceive and counter economic inequalities, gender and racial discriminations, religious orthodoxies, master narratives, and processes of normalization and regiments of truth. It forms the core of a wide variety of theoretical positions in curriculum studies, namely, social reconstructionism, reproduction theory, critical pedagogy, critical race theory, critical feminist theory, and postmodernism and poststructuralism. In no way, am I suggesting that these theoretical positions are identical. However, in spite of their distinct focuses, these all critique the nature of “school knowledge” and the latter’s unproblematized and passive transmission—the hallmark of traditional curriculum theory. Awareness-As-Self Reflection places emphasis upon developing the capacities of self-reflexivity and introspection in order to understand one’s psychological, political, historical, and social situatedness. The enhanced understanding of one’s self is also a step towards understanding the uniqueness of other individuals, their situatedness, and the resultant diversity of perspectives. Awareness-as-self reflection is the core of two major sectors of scholarship in curriculum theory: Reflective Practice and Autobiographical theory. 4 The former is primarily influenced by John Dewey’s ideas on the role of reflection, inquiry, and thinking in teaching learning processes. Michael Connelly and Jean Clandinin, William Schubert, and Donald Schon are the major proponent of this sector. These scholars emphasize, among other things, importance of teachers’ reflection on their practice. However, the reflective practice group does not delve into the complexities and conflicts of teachers’ subjective lives. Understanding the depth of the subjectivity forms the core of (auto) biographical studies, which are primarily influenced by psychoanalysis, phenomenology, and existentialism. The main proponents of this group are William Pinar, Madeline Grumet, Janet Miller, Ted Aoki, James Macdonald, and Maxine Greene, among others. While not against information and social criticism, the scholars I just listed criticize traditional curriculum studies, reproduction theory, reconstructionism, critical pedagogy, and postmodernism for undermining the significance of understanding the complexity of subjective consciousness and its relationship to social, political, and economic structures in educational inquiry. The final dimension—awareness-as-meditative inquiry—is the core of my research. Before I discuss what awareness-as-meditative inquiry is, it is important for me to point out that it is not opposed to knowledge, social criticism, and self-reflection. However, awareness-as-meditative inquiry points to something that is missing in these three existing conceptualizations. It is a well-established and understood perception among educators that education is not equal to information. While information is essential, its transmission does not ensure the development of critical thinking and self-reflexivity among students and teachers. Likewise, it is very important that children critically understand the nature of 5 knowledge—its selection, organization, and distribution—rather than accepting it on face value, social criticism is incomplete unless students also simultaneously develop the capacities of self-reflection and introspection in order to understand their subjective position in relation to the wider social, political, and economic systems. While information, social criticism, and reflection are important, I want to propose that awareness-as-meditative inquiry can help us to broaden our vision of what it means to educate and be educated. I would like to discuss three questions at argue my points: 1) What is awareness-as-meditative inquiry? 2) What factors inhibit awareness-as-meditative inquiry? 3) In what ways can the cultivation of awareness-as-meditative inquiry be facilitated? Awareness-as-meditative inquiry is the process of being attentive to the way one thinks, feels, and acts inwardly as well as in one’s relationship to people and nature. Consider Krishnamurti’s own words from his book Transformation of Man (2005): Is there an idea of awareness or is one aware? There is a difference. The idea of being aware, or being aware? ‘Aware’ means to be sensitive, to be alive, to the things about one, to nature, to people, to color, to the trees, to the environment, to the social structure…to be aware of all that is happening outwardly and to be aware of what is happening inside psychologically. (p. 215) Krishnamurti, in my understanding, is basically urging us to view the notion of awareness as an existential practice in daily life rather than merely an intellectual reflection or criticism. What are the factors that negatively influence our capacities to be aware? In my 6 research, I have identified four major factors that inhibit awareness: 1) Fear and insecurity; 2) conditioning influences; 3) becoming and psychological time; and 4) fragmentation and conflict. In this paper, I would like to discuss two very interrelated factors: conditioning influences and fragmentation and conflict. The process of conditioning implies incessant repletion of certain values, beliefs, ideologies, and attitudes that shape the way people perceive themselves and their world. Conditioning influences from states, religious organizations, media, and educational institutions, Krishnamurti points out, are very dangerous because these condition us to perceive things in a distorted manner.  The use of education as an “ideological state apparatus”—to borrow Louis Althuser’s (1971) phrase—is well researched and documented. In addition to the general ethos of schooling, History and Civics education have played crucial roles in cultivating nationalistic identities, which are more often than not in conflict with one another. I have recently submitted an invited essay review of Education As a Political Tool in Asia (2009) to Asia Pacific Journal of Education. In this edited volume Edward Vickers and Marrie Lall, professors at the Institute of Education of the University of London, have collected invaluable case studies from nine Asian countries to show how education is used as an ideological instrument to meet political ends. Likewise, Professor Krishna Kumar, an iconic contemporary Indian educator, has shown through his remarkable studies—Prejudice and Pride (2001) and Battle for Peace (2007)—the vicious role nationalist propaganda or conditioning influences play in shaping the perceptions of children in schools in India and Pakistan. Conditioning influences obviously are responsible for the fragmentation and conflicts we see in the world. Racism, casteism, discriminations based on gender, 7 religious antagonism, and conflicts between nations are, no doubt, created and sustained by conditioning influences among other factors. How can these conditioning influences be understood to have a wider and deeper sense of perception? While Krishnamurti encourages questioning, criticism, and reflection as important intellectual processes that can help us understand and counter conditioning forces, he thinks that these are incomplete without a deeper, existential awareness of one’s self and one’s relationships. Krishnamurti suggests three arts as part of the process of awareness-as-meditative inquiry: 1) Listening; 2) Seeing; and 3) Dialogue. What is listening? According to Krishnamurti (1954): There is an art of listening. To be able really to listen, one should abandon or put aside all prejudices, preformulations and daily activities. When you are in a receptive state of mind, things can be easily understood; you are listening when your real attention is given to something. But unfortunately most of us…are screened with prejudices, whether religious or spiritual, psychological or scientific; or with our daily worries, desires and fears. And with these for a screen, we listen. Therefore, we listen really to our own noise, to our own sound, not to what is being said. (p. 10) What is seeing? Have you ever experimented with looking at an objective thing like a tree without any of the associations, any of the knowledge you have acquired about it, without any prejudice, any judgment, any words forming a screen between you and the tree and preventing you from seeing it as it actually is? Try it and see what 8 actually takes place when you observe…with all your being, with the totality of your energy. In that intensity you will find that there is no observer at all; there is only attention. It is when there is inattention that there is the observer and the observed. When you are looking at something with complete attention there is no space for a conception, a formula or a memory. (Krishnamurti, 1969, p. 90; Emphasis added) It is essential for profound listening and observation that they happen without any form of interpretation, judgment, condemnation, or appreciation. The moment conditioning interferes with the acts of listening and observation, there is a psychological barrier between oneself and others and phenomena, which obstructs intelligent perception into the nature of things. In other words, for such observation or listening—the core of meditation or awareness—it is essential that we give our full attention to “what is.” When the two arts—listening and seeing—function together, they bring about a meditative state of mind in which the art of dialogue can flourish. What is dialogue? I feel it will be worthwhile if we can, in exchanging words, see clearly the pattern of our thinking; that is, if we can expose ourselves, not only to another, but to ourselves, and see what we actually are and what is inwardly taking place. To be worthwhile, a discussion should serve as a mirror in which we see ourselves clearly, in detail, without distortion, taking in the whole picture and not merely looking at one particular fragment (Krishnamurti, 1962 in Boutte, 2002, p. 56) Dialogue defines human relationships. We could not possibly imagine any human system or relationship including education in the absence of communicative action. Yet, it is communication with each other that has, in many ways, come to signify a pedagogical 9 challenge. It is the absence of pure observation and listening that brings about relational problems, personally and socially. In the absence of clear observation and careful listening, what we see and hear reflects our own projections about people and phenomena, based on our conditioning, fears, desires, likes, and pursuits, all of which inhibit authentic relationships. For dialogue, communion, conversation, and authentic relationships in classrooms and other life situations it is essential that there be meditative listening and observation. It is important for me to acknowledge that while I am, perhaps, the first scholar to investigate Krishnamurti’s ideas in curriculum theory, his work has had a long presence in philosophy of education in North America. As an example, C. Han (1991) did his doctoral dissertation, which compares the work of Krishnamurti and Dewey, under the supervision of Maxine Greene at Teachers College. L. Kobbekaduwa (1990) did her doctoral dissertation, which compares Krishnamurti’s educational ideas with R. S. Peters (a renowned philosopher of educator from UK), under the supervision of F. N. Walker at the University of Alberta. Moreover, Krishnamurti’s work has also been incorporated in the holistic education. Professor Jack Miller at the Ontario Institute of Education has lectured at Krishnamurti’s school in UK. Moreover, two of his doctoral students are conducting empirical studies of Krishnamurti’s Oak Groove School in Ojai Valley California. At UBC, Dr. Karen Meyer—a member of my supervisory committee—has employed Krishnamurti’s thoughts in developing a graduate level course called “Living Inquiry,” which she has been teaching for almost a decade. In this course her focus is to encourage students to develop and apply the arts of listening, seeing, and dialogue in their field-work. Inspired by Dr. Meyer’s scholarship, two scholars have undertaken research 10 work in this area. One master’s student—Misty Ann Paterson (2010)—has recently submitted her MA thesis based on her research that reports middle school children’s favorable responses to the pedagogy of living inquiry. Another master’s student—Saira Devji—is in the process of writing her thesis based on her research work with elementary students wherein she is underscoring the extraordinary significance of the “pedagogy of listening.” In conclusion, in my presentation I discussed four dimensions of awareness: Awareness-As-Information Transmission; Awareness-As-Social Criticism; Awareness- As-Self Reflection; and Awareness-As-Meditative Inquiry. While information, social criticism, and self-reflection are very important, the concept of awareness is incomplete without consideration of meditative inquiry. It is my contention that considering Awareness-As-Meditative Inquiry can broaden the horizon of educational theory and pedagogy. References Althusser, L. (1971). Lenin and philosophy and other essays. London: New Left Books. Bobbitt, F. (1918). The curriculum. New York: Houghton Mifflin. Boutte, V.  (2002). The phenomenology of compassion in the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press. Han, Ching-Chun. (1991).  Comparing the "educated person" conceptions of Dewey and Krishnamurti: Implications for the Republic of China. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Columbia University, New York, USA. Kobbekaduwa, L.A. (1990). Education and the educated person: A comparison of J. Krishnamurti and R.S. Peters. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of 11 Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. Krishnamurti, J. (1954). The first and last freedom [foreword by Aldous Huxley]. New York: Harper and Brothers. Krishnamurti, J. (1969). Freedom from the known [edited by Mary Lutyens]. New York: Harper & Row. Krishnamurti, J. (1979/2005). Transformation of man. San Francisco: Harper & Row. Kumar, K. (2001). Prejudice and pride. New Delhi: Penguin. Kumar, K. (2001). Battle for peace. New Delhi: Penguin. Lall, M., & Vickers, E.  (Eds.). (2009). Education as a political tool in Asia. London & New York: Routledge. Paterson, M. (2010). Living inquiry as pedagogy. Unpublished Master’s dissertation, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. Pinar, William F., Reynolds, William M., Slattery, Patrick, & Taubman, Peter M. (1995). Understanding curriculum: An introduction to historical and contemporary curriculum discourses. New York: Peter Lang. Ross, E.W., & Gibson, R. (Eds.). (2007). Neoliberalism and education reform. Cresskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press, Inc. Tyler, R. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum construction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 12


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