On the Heart of Education: An Introduction

Cristina Perea Kaplan

Art by Julia Kate

In order to set the wider context for the perspectives offered in this issue, I provide here a critique of the loss of heart in our mainstream educational system, along with examples and suggestions for how the heart-centered can be recovered and infused into teaching and learning. 

The Metaphorical Heart

The heart of education—what does this phrase imply? Is it merely a metaphor for speaking of the crux, the essence, or main task of education? When speaking of education here, we speak in particular about public education including the charter school, rather than private or religious schooling. When speaking of the heart, we speak of it in the classical sense as a place of more than emotion. James Hillman (1981/1995) tells us “One turns to the heart because here is where the essences of reality are presented by the imaginal to the imagination” (p. 28). 

In addition, the heart may be seen as a metaphor for education that is holistic. It is four-chambered, muscular and powerful, in continuous polarities—activity and rest. It is part of an integrated system that works with many elements: air, liquid, mineral, electro-chemical. Yet, as a historically metaphorical organ, it has also been seen as the seat of emotion (Hillman, 1981/1995), the central place in the body: the heartfelt as essential, but also the antithesis of the rational. But Hillman further shows us that the heart is more than just the heart of personal feeling, the heart of Augustine (p. 26). It is the seat of imagination, of thought (p.6). 

It is with and through the imagination, “the thought of the heart”(Hillman, p. 3), that we can reclaim, fashion, and hope to manifest broad goals for public education that are holistic, that do not divide, but connect students, teachers, and parents, to what can be known and experienced about the bodily, psycho-emotional, rational, social, mythological, and historical self, and its place in the world. Connections can be forged through education to the natural, and the constructed world, to culture, to literature, to ancestral knowledge, to one another. Marion Woodman (1985) distinguishes between solar and lunar consciousness and speaks of the heart in this way: “Heart thought incorporates past, present, and future. It moves in Time out of time….The heart knows what is real” (p. 144).

Cristina Perea Kaplan, M.A. in psychology, has been teaching middle school English to immigrant students for over thirteen years. Previously, she taught elementary school in a bilingual setting for twelve years. Her academic interests include hybrid identity, education, and rites of passage. She writes book reviews, poetry, and authored a mythic story that has recently been illustrated for publication. She belongs to a long-standing dream group with other students of depth psychology. Her hobbies include gardening, hiking, collage, sketching, knitting, sewing, and taking photos of the natural world. She plans to enter a credential program in school administration in an effort to help bring more balance to education.

Origins of This Issue

At a panel discussion on education at a conference on indigenous and shamanic traditions, Lucy Lewis (2014) proposed that: “The ‘heart’ of education must include some direct relationship to the health of earth, which translates directly into our own health” (p. 6). Hillman (1981/1995) made a similar statement on this connection: “the evisceration of tradition takes place when the heart loses its relation with organic nature, its empathy with all things, when the core of our breast moves from an animal to a mechanical imagination” (p. 21). Glenn Aparicio Perry (2015) echoes this idea from an indigenous perspective: “The Western worldview, which psychologically separates us from both other humans and from all of nature, is ultimately untenable. To the extent that we succeed in separating ourselves from nature we rupture our soul” (p. 225).

So it is the mending of this rupture or split that must belong to the heart of education. I believe that education must do its best to be more psychological–that is soul-and heart-centered—and less sociological or centered on the needs of society. So, what are practitioners and proponents of a holistic, or as Arthur Combs (1981) discusses, a “humanistic” public education, to do? As teachers, parents, and engaged others seek to educate children, adolescents, and young adults, what skills, values, and latent talents, do we wish to impart, or draw out of them? And do classroom teachers still have choices about what, how, when, and if to teach subject matter or provide experiences for students that they find useful and beautiful?

Combs (1981) says that humanistic education “fosters acquisition of basic skills necessary for living in a multi-cultural society including academic, personal, interpersonal, communicative, and economic proficiency” (p. 446). John Miller (2007) believes that “Holistic Education attempts to bring education into alignment with the fundamental realities of nature. Nature at its core is interrelated and dynamic” (p. 3). If such an education is possible in the present political, and technological moment, could it not then situate the student with feet planted squarely in the earth below her, connected to those around her, and tied to sky dwellers, and to the cosmos? This issue explores how with and through imagination, creativity, and empowerment of students and teachers, this split can be repaired in teachers, school staff, in the students that we teach, and ultimately in the culture. 

Editor’s Connections to Public Education

I have been a part of this densely woven and somewhat tattered educational fabric for twenty-five years: twelve at the elementary level—mostly in a bilingual setting—and thirteen at the middle and high school levels. I have taught multiple subjects in Spanish and English to elementary students, English Language Development (ELD) to newcomers to the United States, grade-level English, History, and Spanish to middle and high-school students. I have also studied psychology at the graduate level in part to bring rites of passage and connection to nature to my school and district. Yet, at least for now, these efforts have borne minimal fruit. I might ask myself, why? One partial answer might be this: public education in the United States takes place, according to Peter McLaren (1999) and Cheryl Craig (2009), in a “contested” space. Many voices from inside and outside the classroom and even outside the educational establishment, vie for influence. And those outsiders, especially from within the business world, says Diane Ravitch (2014) contest for power in that space and continue to expand their reach into the classroom and influence the educational mission.

I believe that education must do its best to be more psychological—that is soul-and heart-centered—and less sociological or centered on the needs of society.

One way in which business interests influence the mission of educational scholars, experienced K-12 teachers, administrators, districts, and involved parents is with their participation in the creation of “Common Core State Standards (CCSS).” These standards, a recent educational reform, which appear progressive and initially garnered broad support nationwide from states, do not sit well with many. These include parents, teachers and now, a group of researchers from top universities, according to Valerie Strauss (2016). They flatly state that CCSS, when coupled with “high-stakes testing,” diminish the quality of education. Says Ravitch (2014), a long-time historian of education, that the standards have “something about [it]…that reeks of early factory-line thinking.” She goes on to say, “Stop the testing. Stop the rating and ranking. Use [CCSS] to enrich instruction, but not to standardize it” (p.18).

Common Core swept into my district approximately four years ago along with computer-based testing that required schools to scramble to acquire computer hardware at the expense of other educational priorities including arts funding, class size, and teacher training (Strauss, 2016). As business interests and leaders played a large role in the creation of the standards, they share in the largess from it. According to Ravitch: “The Pearson Corporation has become the ultimate arbiter of the fate of students, teachers, and schools” (p. 5). This situation is not a new one, but an iteration of a historical tendency.

Roots of Modern Public Education

Some would say that public education in the United States over the past hundred or more years has been shaped to an industrial model, the school as factory turning out identical products—in this case capable and compliant future citizens and workers (Cozolino, 2014; Freire, 1998; Postman & Weingartner, 1969; Robinson, 2015). This model is the counterpart to the mechanistic view of science that has prevailed and been explored in this journal (ReVision, 1999). In this model, standardized testing is mandated as a way to hold schools accountable, to maintain quality control of their outcomes, while giving teachers a template with which to mold students: school as factory, teacher as assembly-line worker, and students as products. This cannot be seen as the heart of education. So, the industrial model, despite its original goal of bringing equal outcomes for all students, has been discredited, according to Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner (1969). 

To use a common metaphor, education seems to alternate, in pendulum fashion, between conservative impulses that wish to preserve time-honored content and methods of teaching, and more creative ones, which aspire to include new technologies, methods, perspectives, and curriculum based on educational research, social justice agendas, and culturally pluralistic awareness. Clifford Mayes (2005) deems that both of these impulses have a place in education (p. 118). In fact, according to Craft (1984), as cited by Bass and Good (2004): “the English words ‘educate’ and ‘education’ have two roots: educare, which means to train or to mold, and educere, meaning to lead out” (p. 162). So, the training function—imparting a set of skills and competencies to students—must clearly remain a part of the curriculum, while inborn or acquired talents and interests must only be drawn out and nurtured to ground students in their wholeness as soulful and even spiritual beings. 

Let us look at another metaphor that may shed further light on the problems of education and point to possible solutions. Perhaps, as Ken Robinson conjectures, education has been more like “industrial farming” (2015, p. 41). In this analogy, large yields are produced, but at the cost of imbalance, degradation of the land, water, flora, and fauna. Education too has had much success in educating large numbers of students in basic skills such as literacy and numeracy, but also at great cost. “No Child Left Behind,” a Bush administration “reform,” pushed many schools to pour massive amounts of fertilizer on English and math classes—as if monoculture crops—while taking away space allotted to heirlooms like art, music, and even science and social studies if and when they were not tested. 

In addition, social and emotional skills have been largely ignored as in industrial animal husbandry, to continue the metaphor, beyond the primary grades. In the early grades, children are taught to take turns, respect boundaries, share space with a large group of age-mates. Teachers, at this level, too may feel that their curriculum is more balanced and heart-felt. Access to the outdoors for science, art, and other activities may be more available and encouraged. Yet, even here unrealistic standards not tied to developmental norms have begun to prevail and testing has been introduced. Free-range children may be as rare as free-range chickens!

As with the force-feeding of geese for fois gras, Postman and Weingartner (1969) might say, students have been force-fed “facts,” rather than allowed to inquire, debate with classmates, and wrestle with problems, ideas, or stories of interest to them, that is to engage in “meaning making” (p. 91). They speak of the many metaphors for learning such as: “The ‘garden,’ to be cultivated, the darkness to be lighted, the foundations to be built upon, the clay to be molded” (p.91), which seem to imply that students are each just the same and merely require skillful manipulation to learn. Clearly this is not true. Theories of multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1993) and Carl Gustav Jung’s ideas of typology (1971), which have found their way into personality inventories, are just two ways of looking at potential differences in styles and modes of student learning and engagement.

Art by Carson Stringer

Problems in the Garden

By the middle school years, most students move between six or more compartmentalized classes where creativity and imaginative assignments may take second-place to the acquisition of testable knowledge and skills. Especially for students who find their skills lagging behind age-mates due to learning disabilities or second-language acquisition issues, elective classes such as art, drama, music, and more may be eliminated to allow for a double period of math or English taught through standardized and potentially arid texts, a paucity of interesting fiction, and zero or little opportunity to write creatively or for real-world audiences. Clearly this has a negative effect on student motivation and outcomes. And what about teacher engagement?

What happens when the teacher’s heart is not in their work? What happens when a teacher or student becomes disheartened, discouraged? Teaching suffers, students suffer from the inauthentic investment, the half-hearted attempts of the teacher to teach a packaged curriculum that does not engage the heart of the teacher and thereby the hearts and minds of the students. It can take a long time to realize that a curriculum that seems balanced and effective for a time no longer bears fruit. Gradually, it runs off the rails due to withdrawal of energy, or loss of faith in its effectiveness by the teacher who teaches it. How to re-engage the teacher, and thereby the students? Leaps of faith may be in order, and teacher empowerment that upends, remakes, or even invents a better curriculum. 

Continuous efforts have been made to reform this system, such as the introduction of Whole Language, a philosophy of reading instruction, which removed phonics education from the elementary classroom in an effort to be more holistic, but which, in many cases threw the baby out with the proverbial bath water. The reading fluency of a generation of students may still be impacted. Eventually, phonics, and phonemic awareness were reintroduced, but—in the case of my former school district—with helpful components of kinesthetic learning, and personification, that is, “Zoo Phonics.” This was an improvement with its multimodal and storied approach where each letter had a corresponding animal and hand motion.

What happens when the teacher’s heart is not in their work? What happens when a teacher or student becomes disheartened, discouraged?

Also, in my practice as a teacher and in my role as a parent, I have seen that thematic, or integrated-learning, which uses a theme, such as dinosaurs, continues to enliven elementary and secondary classrooms. It then integrates this theme into reading, writing, math, science, and art assignments. Project-based learning, or PBL (Grant, 2002), which seems to originate as far back as the early 1900’s with Dewey’s “learning by doing,” also often includes cooperative or collaborative learning, which lends itself to relationship building—a social-emotional and practical outcome. So much that is positive and nurturing does exist, if not always thrive, in the seemingly fallow spaces in education.

The industrial farming metaphor can also be helpful in viewing the experiences of students who come to this country with their parents and who must navigate a system that is alien to them. Supports of many kinds, including specialized English-language development (ELD) courses are in place, but as with the industrial farm, the emotional welfare and cultural fit of students often goes entirely unaddressed by the system, and potentially by teachers as well.

Photo by Kaplan

Cultural Competence and its Absence

English Language Learners, or ELL’s, face even greater difficulties fitting into a system that values curriculum and acquisition of facts over student-centered and more holistic ways of learning. They may face the issues of mismatch between their culture and language of origin, and potentially a conflict between the values of the country of origin and this country’s current—and rapidly changing—sets of norms, values, and technological innovations. In addition, curricular objectives that tend toward the nationalistic or that look at ancient histories may be seen as completely outside of the students’ current frames of reference. Also, they may struggle because of challenges and lack of competency in the new language and culture. 

According to Carola Suarez-Orozco, Desiree Qin, and Ramona Amthor (2009), “without a sense of cultural competence, control and belonging, immigrants often feel disoriented” (pp.53-54). However, this effect may not be universal; the above authors go on to say, “immigrant girls are less likely to perceive and internalize racism from the dominant society than boys [who] are likely to develop an oppositional relationship with the educational system” (p. 58). This has been my experience with students, especially those brought up in a male-dominated culture and household. In addition, the authors (2009) discuss how immigrant youth “are constantly exposed to two sets of norms—those of the country of origin and those of the receiving society…” (p.55). 

Some of my students, those who have spent most or all of their childhoods in the United States, seem to choose the route of acculturation, as I did, rather than retain a strong connection to their parents’ culture—or in my case, grandparents’—of origin. In this instance, they may lose a sense of rootedness, connection to ancestors, culture, and history because they may not have the ability to root easily in this foreign soil. What would it take to allow students to maintain connection to and adherence to diverse norms and see themselves as bicultural—that is rooted in two cultures? Can teachers and parents value both sets of norms and cultures and acknowledge their place in setting boundaries, and caring for students?

What would it take to allow students to maintain connection to and adherence to diverse norms and see themselves as bicultural—that is rooted in two cultures?

However, norms may be seen as merely ways to control, not to empower students to moderate their own behavior. As Paulo Friere (1998) says, issues of control, freedom, and authority have not yet been resolved for many students. There is a marked tension between the top-down authority of school systems and classroom practices and the freedom and level of autonomy that students require to become responsible, whole people and leaders. 

Issues of Control

Aparicio Perry (2015) conjectures that teachers “do not realize how the system is set up primarily to control children” (p. 218). And by control, I believe he means, regulating of thought, behaviors, and ways of learning. I would add that the system is also largely set up to control teachers in similar fashion. Their competence, that is ability to think, plan, and act according to stated systemic educational goals, has repeatedly been called into question (Ravitch, 2014, Postman & Weingarten, 1969). According to Aparicio Perry (2015), students are “the wild card”—and I would argue teachers too—that can lead to “subversion” of the system. While no minder may be watching the teacher daily, once she has been told repeatedly to teach with fidelity to a given curriculum, even a rigid one, she may feel incapable of straying off the mandated path. But, might straying off that path be the better option if fluidity and student empowerment can be woven into that otherwise inflexible curriculum?

Photo by Kaplan

Rightly, Robinson (2015) argues, “If you’re a teacher, for your students you are the system” (p.xxxv). He calls for transformation rather than mere “reform” of the system (p.41), as does Edmund O’Sullivan (1999). In Robinson’s view, a teacher must have the freedom, the sense of agency to affect transformation as s/he sees the need to do so, and as the results in student learning, motivation, emotional, and social outcomes dictate. Where teachers fail to interrogate or question the educational agenda and instead deliver its mandates to their students whole-cloth, then teachers and students may be caught up in an inauthentic web. It may be the students’ acting out behaviors to free themselves from this perceived control that will initiate any move on the teacher’s part to transform that clutching and doctrinaire environment. In this environment, can a connection to nature be established, much less, thrive? 

Must these transformations, of necessity, involve reinventing the wheel? Or can recent, or past examples of pedagogy serve as ideological models? Many (Hillman, 1981; Ravitch, 2014; Aparicio Perry, 2015) seem to think with Jung (1954) that the “school curriculum should…never wander too far from the humanities into over-specialized fields” (p. 51). Teachers and students may be required and may wish to make use of new technologies to enhance learning or access information, but these need not preclude timeless, holistic, and even transpersonal ways of learning and knowing. New technologies can be used when feasible and advantageous to learning, to student freedom, and engagement and in ways appropriate to students’ developmental readiness. 

Reform Education, or Transform It 

Aparicio Perry proposes two popular, yet historically distant alternatives to our current bifurcated system of education: “In Waldorf and Montessori schools…the system is considerably better. There is an awareness of the value of learning directly from nature about the interconnectedness of all things” (pp. 218-219). Perhaps for this reason, Waldorf-methods public charter schools have become increasingly popular around the U.S. (Pappano, 2011). Waldorf schools can be seen as holistic and heart-centered, but somewhat rigid about avoiding the use of technology and adherence to the methods created by 19th century Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. These schools include the teaching of music, art, “handwork,” and writing as a later path to reading. Montessori education gives students a great deal of autonomy to choose their daily topic of study, including exploration outdoors (2018). It achieved great success in the U.S. when first introduced here by the Italian educationalist, Maria Montessori, but then declined for a time. Montessori education has seen a resurgence, of late, especially in the lower grades (2018).

Where teachers fail to interrogate or question the educational agenda and instead deliver its mandates to their students, whole cloth, then teachers and students may be caught up in an inauthentic web.

Hillman (1981/1995) proposes an even more distant return to a pre-mechanistic and pre-industrial time in education as necessary to a heart-centered culture: “Humanistic education as conceived in Florence becomes a necessity again: differentiated language, fine arts, handwork, biography, criticism, cultural anthropology, manners and customs, life among things of the world” (p.113). Combs (1981), writing contemporaneously with Hillman on his perspective on humanistic education goes deeper. He says “[It] gives major emphasis to the freedom, value, worth, dignity, and integrity of persons” [italics added] (p. 446). This emphasis must cross the power differential between teacher and student, I believe, so that an empowered and free teacher shares these values with her students in an atmosphere of choice.

Jim Garrison (1997) uses the myth of Eros in his discussion of Dewey’s philosophy of education and equates it with an Eros that desires “the Good” for students without the need to possess the object of its desires. Garrison, a philosopher who writes on the relationship between Dewey and Plato, places the former within the heart of education. Garrison espouses, with Dewey, what we might now call Holistic Education: “A good education brings out the best in us. It holistically unifies our character in judgment, compassion, and practice” (p. 2). When the teacher brings Eros into the room, I believe that students see and feel it. Care and connection, are its hallmarks, yet startlingly, its shadow side can also have its place. Richard Frankel (1998) asserts that it has a “sadomasochistic capacity to intermingle pleasure and pain and in the process to create powerful bonds between people” (p. 141). This has been my experience as a middle school teacher!

Robinson proposes, and perhaps educators might take to heart, a new metaphor that he equates with organic farming, “organic education” (p. 44), which would operate from four principles: 

Health. Organic education promotes development and wellbeing of the whole student, intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially [italics added].

Ecology. Organic education recognizes the vital interdependence of all these aspects of development, within each student and the community as a whole.

Fairness. Organic education cultivates the individual talents and potentials of all students.

Care. Organic education creates optimum conditions for students’ development, based on compassion, experience, and practical wisdom. (p. 45)

This metaphor and Robinson’s elaboration of it strike a deep chord in me and seem to resonate with the ecological underpinnings that ground the heart of education.

Louis Cozolino (2014), whose book Attachment-Based Teaching: Creating a Tribal Classroom, is reviewed in this issue, proposes an indigenous and psychologically well-grounded framework for improving the connections between students to one another and to the teacher. As in the humanistic model, he says, “Creating a tribal classroom includes broad participation, respect, and democratic decision making” (p.19). He argues that our brains have not yet evolved to learn under conditions found in industrial societies. Instead we have “tribal brains navigating modern culture” (p.29). His insights and perspective situate him in heart-centered and timeless ground.

No less than the Dalai Lama (2018) believes that “Modern education pays little attention to inner values and yet our basic human nature is compassionate. We need to incorporate compassion and warm-heartedness into the modern education system to make it more holistic.” Now, more than ever, these values are needed in schools.

Photo by Kaplan

“21st Century Skills”

Robinson (2015) pragmatically adds, after proposing his organic model, “But there is no denying the economic importance of education for individuals, communities, and countries” (p. 45). Indeed, even as a middle school teacher, and to a greater degree, at the high school level, students’ future career goals and opportunities are not out of mind and can be one powerful motivator for student engagement and teacher focus.

Robinson (2015) also notes that the “The U.S.-based Partnership for 21st century skills” made up of state-level leaders and corporate ones “promotes a broad approach to curriculum and learning” that includes many kinds of literacy including environmental, health, civic, financial and “global awareness” (pp. 46-7). In addition, creativity, flexibility, “social and cross-cultural skills” as well as “leadership and responsibility” are listed. Robinson says that they “have always been important” and that “Many schools and educators practiced and promoted them long before the twenty-first century got under way.” 

But what will these future graduated citizens need to be prepared to do in ten, fifteen, or even five years as many jobs move off-shore or disappear to automation? An ecological competency, a connection to an “en-souled Earth,” (Abrams, 1996) has finally begun to break through to consciousness in the national debate on educational reform. It may be the singular competency that allows humanity to endure, through improving its interrelationship with non-human others, the biosphere. 

Howard Gardner (Louv, 2008), who proposed a theory of “multiple intelligences” in 1983, eventually added “nature smart” to his list (pp.72-73). He gave exemplars of this intelligence, including Rachel Carson, who envisioned a “silent spring” if pesticide use, especially DDT, was not eliminated. But staving off future disaster or longing for an idealized past are not the answers. David Abrams (1996) reminds us that this connection must engage with and exist in the present moment, and not harken to a future idyllic time:

A genuinely ecological approach does not work to attain a mentally envisioned future, but strives to enter, ever more deeply, into the sensorial present. It strives to become ever more awake to the other lives, the other forms of sentience and sensibility that surround us in the open field of the present moment. (p. 272)

I have seen teachers teach, and have taught at times myself from a deeply engaged and passionate center.

This ecological engagement can and must be made available for students inside and outside the classroom door as well as off-campus. Structured time outdoors has come to the mainstream (Posnick Goodman, 2016) as the “outdoor classroom.” But, unstructured time, e.g. mindful walks in nature, which have been shown to reduce effects of trauma, depression, and increase connection to the sensuous earth (Abrams, 1996) seem to be more rare, but not impossible. 

Kiri Manookin (2018), who teaches English language development, or ELD, at the college level in Utah, says of her adult English learners after spending days immersed in desert parklands: “Finally, inspired, taught, and humbled by the natural world, they experience a sense of biophilia and ecojustice and recognize their connection to and place in the natural world” (p. 23). And they write of their connections most poetically in nature journals—surely a practice that can be translated to the elementary and secondary setting. 

Teachers and the Heart of Education: An Archetypal Perspective

If students must be taught to build connections to nature in our ecological age, in addition to connections with classmates and teachers, what sort of teachers can help to foster those connections? I concur with others (Jung, 1954; Mayes, 2005) that one important answer is a teacher who is reflexive, self-aware, and has some knowledge of psychology amongst all of the other professional competencies that are required. Yet, teachers can never be seen as having arrived, but always as growing in the profession and as authentic human beings.

Photo by Kaplan

Teaching has been called an “archetypal activity” (Krop, 2017; Mayes, 2005). Joana Krop discusses five main archetypes that are present in the teaching relationship: The Mother, Servant, Instructor, Hero, and Wild Feminine (pp. 55-73). She speaks of these archetypes as “healing.” Clifford Mayes discusses five further archetypes “of spirit” that teachers may embody: the Philosopher, National Prophet (of “civic spirituality”), Zen Master/Therapist, and Priest (pp. 160-169). Here, perhaps we see a split between the feminine and masculine views of the teacher on the archetypal plane. But, is awareness of this perspective even partially glimpsed by most public school teachers?

In my experience, most teachers do not see themselves and their work in archetypal terms unless they have a depth psychological, religious, or spiritual outlook and felt called to the profession. Nevertheless, I believe that all of these archetypes may manifest despite the teacher’s lack of consciousness with potentially positive results for students and teacher. But without conscious awareness of these archetypal grounds—even with that awareness—the shadow side of these archetypes can enter and may predominate (Mayes, 2005, pp. 170-171). “Shadow,” a concept introduced by C.G. Jung (CW 9, Part 1), proposed that split-off parts of the personality, which are largely seen as negative by the ego, are projected onto others or remain hidden in the unconscious (par 44). These shadow projections often litter the middle school classroom and can wreak havoc!

Also, in my experience as a middle school English teacher of immigrant students, observer of other teachers, and a parent, I have seen teachers teach, and have taught at times myself from a deeply engaged and passionate center. This orientation feels larger than oneself, the terrain of the archetypes. When teaching from this ground, students seem to be drawn in and touched or connected to the archetype as well as to the teacher and subject matter. Guggenbul-Craig (1971) believes that it is the teacher’s “childishness” that constellates the student’s inner archetypal “knowing adult,” and that without this “dynamic childishness,” a teacher can only reach students through force, but not inspire a desire to learn in her students (pp.105-6). I find this idea intriguing.

In my own middle school years as a student, a sexually provocative female teacher seems to have lived out the shadow of both the Mother and perhaps the Wild Feminine archetypes as she taught while wearing immodest outfits and striking sexy poses. The subject matter she taught escapes me, while her confusing and untrustworthy behaviors remain fresh in my memory. When she badgered me into revealing the identity of classmates who had damaged the girls’ bathroom rather than appealed to my sense of fairness and justice, she flipped the archetypes of the Servant and the Instructor on their heads. In hindsight, she did not teach from, nor embody heart-centered ground, but rather operated primarily from shadow. Then, the effect disturbed and shamed me.

I bring curriculum to students, but I can only bring it effectively if I invest myself, my integrity into that curriculum.

In contrast, an earlier teacher, the aptly named “Mrs. Light,” was her opposite in almost all ways. A woman in her 60’s with many years of teaching experience, she read us a Psalm each morning. While perhaps not entirely legal, she did not do this in a zealous way, but rather as poetry and perhaps moral instruction. She also taught us square dancing, and all of the other subjects without flash, but from a calm, centered, and caring place. I recall her frustration with my academic shortcomings, but also the sense that she saw my potential and my strengths. She taught from her own evolved culture and integrity. When she died in a fire, a spark seemed to be extinguished for me. Yet now I see that her influence and care have never left me.

In my current role as a middle-school teacher, I must constantly monitor my “culture” (Jung, 1954). I bring curriculum to students, but I can only bring it effectively if I invest myself, my integrity into that curriculum. When control over, rigid adherence to, rather than a light and responsive attitude on my part prevails—perhaps a spontaneous childishness—then I teach from the shadow side of the Mother or Servant archetype. And students do not fail to notice this imbalance. Acting-out behaviors abound!

Art by Julia Kate

Frankel (1998) who brings a Jungian and Winnicottian perspective to the adolescent psyche offers astounding insights. He states:

The Hermes/Trickster archetype constellates in adolescence and is distinctly related to the manifestations of the persona and shadow…Adolescents test the strength and integrity of an adult’s character by knocking up against her shadow. They can sense those adults who possess a well-integrated shadow, for example, a teacher who does not need to yell or threaten punishment as a way of maintaining classroom order. (p. 151)

This testing can be painful, but can eventually yield growth towards wholeness and balance for the teacher who can withstand it and integrate its lessons. Others may arrive as more balanced individuals and thrive. As Mayes says, “…for a teacher to be all that he can be requires rigorous self-analysis, personally and professionally” (2005, p.115). 

When we, as teachers, miss an opportunity to develop students,’ identities through curriculum such as the reading of, and interaction with stories, then we function as mere technicians rather than servants of the Instructor archetype. When we miss the opportunity to connect students to the earthly, nature-based settings in literature, or the actual outdoors, in multiple sensory ways, then we do a disservice to the “anima-mundi,” or soul of the world (Hillman, 1981/1995). 

Yet access to the outdoors remains a knotty problem for teachers above the elementary grades. Richard Louv (2008) reminds us that:

Reducing that deficit—healing the broken bond between our young and nature— is in our self-interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demands it, but also because our mental, physical, and spiritual health depends upon it (p. 3).

Surely the health and wellbeing of young people and of the natural world are important motivators to change our current practices. Teachers, administrators and parents who agree with this perspective must put it at the center of their goals for our students for a shift to occur.

Charter Schools and Hopeful Trends

The charter school movement has opened opportunities to families who could not easily afford private schooling for their children, but who desire a curriculum more tailored to their child’s interests, temperament, and healthy growth (or towards the parents’ desires and strivings). Arts-based schools, dual-language-immersion academies, Waldorf methods schools, technology charters, just to name a few, all attempt to refashion the mold of standards-based education and standardized testing. Yet all must show that they can meet standards through their own means. But are charter schools inherently more connected to the heart of education? Robinson (2015) discusses a San Diego technology charter that breaks many molds and with measurable successes, which include ecological technology ones. However, many corporate, for-profit charter schools spend public funds with mixed results (Ravitch, 2014).

Surely the health and wellbeing of young people and of the natural world are important motivators to change our current practices.

In the case of the middle school where I teach, the district as a whole, and across the nation, indigenous, psychological, and psycho-spiritual practices have begun to be implemented. My northern California school district once suspended and expelled large numbers of students. Now, Restorative Justice Practices, based on the indigenous Maori of New Zealand and other indigenous cultures (Berkowitz, 2016) have diverted, and redressed some behaviors, and created more natural consequences. Mindfulness, based on transcendental meditation, and Trauma-Informed Care have been introduced, if not yet perfected or thoroughly internalized by all teachers nor fully accepted and practiced by all students. These practices can reconnect students and teachers with their humanity, their bodies, their breath, and with the consequences of their actions in the case of Restorative Justice Practices. But their introduction has put a greater responsibility on classroom teachers to deal with acting out behaviors of traumatized students in the classroom through restorative conferences rather than through removal and suspension. Kerri Berkowitz, Restorative Practices instructor, will discuss this topic further in an interview within this issue.

Response to Climatic and Natural Disasters

Lewis (2014) speaks of using art to “connect children and adults with their innate body wisdom” (p.6). The healing power of art became evident after the wildfires of 2017, and the trauma-inducing results of the 2016 presidential election upon my immigrant students. Coloring, drawing, and poetry helped to contain the fear, anger, and sense of powerlessness in the face of the unfathomable. Mindful breathing kept some students from panicking as wildfires glowed redly in the near distance, while also keeping my frustrations in check for great swaths of time as regressive behaviors began to manifest in many of my middle school students.

With recent natural disasters—wildfires in California, hurricanes, and floods in other parts of the country—traumatizing both adults and children, the teacher as Zen-master/Therapist archetype may need to become more prevalent (Mayes, 2005). For there can be little teaching of an unresponsive curriculum until the effects of the disaster upon psyche have been digested or at least processed in a preliminary way. Acting-out behaviors by students as well as teachers are to be expected. Mindfulness, or attention to the present moment, can help.

Art by Julia Kate

Concluding Thoughts

It is within the power of all us to help empower students to take on their own learning in a way that authenticates who they are and what their concerns are: a responsive and holistic way of education. But it is incumbent on adults, and elders, to guide and nurture their discoveries by the settings we place students in and the subjects we introduce them to. We must respect their cultural, ethnic, linguistic and ancestral backgrounds and allow them to bring their subjectivity to the classroom, with the teacher cast in the role of guide, as they explore with their fellow students what they know, and how they know it.

And we must insure that we take them, and urge them to go, outside the classroom whenever and however we can. With nature journal in hand and one square meter of earth per student, observations can be made of squirming, fluttering, and waving life (Manookin, 2018). Nature games can be played, and art created. Stories can be woven, shared, and written down. As a wise person once said: What we notice, we may value, what we value, we may wish to protect. We can turn to many resources for ideas for making the outdoors an exciting place rather than a place of fear or boredom. Louv’s updated edition (2008) contains a list of 100 “actions” that can be taken to connect children to nature, and questions that can be posed about the natural world and thereby to the heart of education (pp.359-390).                           

Others take up these ideas with clear and lucid specificity and in eclectic ways, in this issue of ReVision.

In this Issue

You meet authors from the worlds of education, psychology, and academia who have made unique contributions to educational thought and practice on a local, regional, or even national and international level. Dr. Greg Sarris, professor of English at Sonoma State University and leader of the Graton Rancheria of Federated Indians, brings his perspective to the issue of colonization of ethnic and racial minority students and the need for students to be “empowered disputants” as well as his own experience of education as a former student in the public middle and high schools. He also discusses the controversial killing of a local Mexican-American youth, Andy Lopez, its implications and aftermath, in a dialogical format. 

Dr. Stanley Krippner, pioneer in special education, hypnosis, and much more writes primarily about the disconnect between current expectations of students and the need for more time spent in play as well as the connection between shamanism and education in “The Shamanic Heart of Education.” His late colleague and friend, Dr. Jean Millay, educator and author on the topics of parapsychology and biofeedback, writes on her pioneering use of, and success with, bio and neuro-feedback machines, used with high school students to regulate their emotions as early as the 1960’s, which she called “Self-Discovery Science” in her article “The Heart of Education: The Student as a Spiritual Being.”

The healing power of art became evident after the wildfires of 2017, and the trauma-inducing results of the 2016 presidential election upon my immigrant students.

Kerri Berkowitz, LCSW, brings her broad and deep perspective on Restorative Justice Practices, which she helped to pioneer in San Francisco Unified Schools. She first came to know of it as a young South African immigrant to the United States via her interest in the use of Restorative Justice after the fall of apartheid. She has since worked to integrate it with another system of behavioral expectations known as BEST and jointly called Best-Plus. These insights are brought in the form of a written dialogue.

A former Oakland science teacher, Juan Antonio Santisteban, describes how he connects his students to nature on his school grounds in an interview with Lucy Lewis—anthropologist, dancer, and artist—who inquires about his practices. Shamanic practitioner and psychotherapist, Jan Ogren, brings an article with exercises on positive self-stories as well as sharing an empowering and beautiful healing story of her own. She uses an experiential lens to first allow the reader to dwell upon negative self-stories, then later work towards re-storying their inner narrative to a more positive and nurturing pole. Together, they could act as potential rites of passage opportunities for adults and children.

Adult and youth poetry are also offered. R.L. Boyer, poet and scholar on mytho-poetic structure, presents three of his nature-inspired poems. Identity poems by 7th and 8th grade English Language Learners from Lawrence Cook Middle School are also included that allowed students to use extended metaphor and personification to explore their identities from a rich social and cultural perspective. Student art has also been featured on our cover and within the pages of this issue. Clearly, the heart of education requires more opportunities to explore in such realms if it is going to engage and empower the whole student.


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