Back in April I posted here about skimming surfaces in eduction and the imperative to go deeper. I’m still thinking about the need for a shift towards depth in education:
I go down.
Rung after rung
I go down…
I came to explore…
The thing I came for:
The wreck and not the story of the wreck
The thing itself and not the myth
This is the place and I am here
We circle silently
About the wreck
We dive into the hold
I am she: I am he
We are. I am, you are.
As I said, I live on an island, and, after ten years, finally, with the encouragement of my teenage son, have purchased a small used sailboat. Together we have been looking at our first nautical charts as we are trying to navigate through the waters of our new hobby. Bodies of water on these charts are covered with numbers, depth of water, measured not in feet but fathoms. The fathom seems such an odd and esoteric unit of measure, as well as a word with several meanings. It turns out that the origins of the word fathom are from an Old English word meaning to embrace. The unit of measure was derived from the distance a man could reach out and thus embrace (this later became standardized as a length of six feet.) And the meaning of fathom: to understand, as in “I can’t fathom what you mean by that” also comes from this concept of knowing or understanding as an embrace of the subject. Could we conceptualize a vision of education where the unfolding of the learner and the process coming into knowledge invokes both these meanings of fathom. It is an embrace, and it does require depth of experience.
On my literal and simultaneously metaphoric island I have helped to found a small independent school for kids ranging in age from age 3-12 called Salmonberry School. Over this decade of teaching and working to realize a humane and inspiring child-centered model of education, I have gradually evolved a personal pedagogy, which I have often called “holistic.” But when I reflect now on what truly differentiates my practice in the classroom most from a mainstream approach, it is this quest for both embrace and depth.
I was in a meeting with a school principal last week and had the most surreal moment. We were surrounded by so much that was familiar, new math books, school furniture, the language of the educational profession, but something was so off. When the principal said, “we’re really all after the same goals, aren’t we?” It reminded me of the planet, Camazots in A Wrinkle in Time, where everything is so normal, it’s somehow freakish and not right. And, “No!” I want to scream, “we are not after the same goals at all!” The feeling I have is is like that of realizing the façade here. It is like lifting a thin veil which has been covering “it” (the evil brain-being in Wrinkle) and masquerading as education.
So what is “deep education?” What would it look like if depth were a real goal in our work with learners? I believe it would include an emphasis on Bloom’s higher level thinking skills as a starting point, with which many of you will be familiar. However in many ways I believe in addition to “higher-level thinking” deep education would include “lower-level” feeling, experiencing and knowing. Lower level in the sense that it is “radical” or at the roots of this education. A deep education would include a sense of celebration at times, and a sense of despair at others. It would include laughter as well as tears.
Deep education would involve cognitive knowing, but it would importantly it would apply this knowledge to both a very personal sense of self, one acquired through experience and reflection, and to an insight into the universal. So that cognitive knowing would be a window to connection to the cosmos. Deep education would endeavor to encourage the learner to “see the world in a grain of sand.” Like eating an artichoke, as depth educators we would patiently and diligently peel off the outer prickly leaves of living subjects as we move towards the tender and tasty heart, and in so doing we would also become ourselves.
Deep education would have much to learn from the deep ecology movement from the 1970’s: The phrase “deep ecology” was coined by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss in 1973 who helped give it a theoretical foundation. Næss, was frustrated by eco-science which refused to and, he maintained, was in fact unable to answer ethical questions about how we should live, since it rested on the modernist premise of scientific detachment. He launched a movement which reached not just towards ecological knowledge but rather ecological wisdom. Deep ecology seeks to develop this by focusing on deep experience, deep questioning and deep commitment. These constitute an interconnected system. Each gives rise to and supports the other. Similarly deep education would also be about deep questioning and deep commitment rooted in deep experience. Like deep ecology, it would also be about being and acting as well as thinking, more interested in the goal of wisdom than the goal of knowledge. And like deep ecology, deep education would have a strong ethical and moral point of view. It would not only see accumulation and unbiased analysis of facts as the primary goal, but would encourage and nurture the capacity for realizing right ways of being and acting.
What do you think? Could and should depth, measured in fathoms, or embraces, be a goal for education? What could that look like? And what conditions might support deep education?
(For those who are interested I have been corresponding a bit with the one other author/educator who is writing about “deep education,” Craig Chalquist at the California Institute for Integral Studies. Here is an intro. to his work.)