The Heart of Learning

I just finished “The Heart of Learning: Spirituality in Education”. It is the first book I’ve read since stopping the bike ride and man, it feels good to be back into a reading routine. Audiobooks did a decent job when I wanted to listen to fiction, but I found them lacking with non-fiction. I just couldn’t concentrate or retain information as easily with Audiobooks.

So, “The Heart of Learning” is a collection of essays based on speeches from conference at Naropa University, and it is one of the recommended readings for the grad program at Naropa that I’m considering. It is hard to summarize a book of collected essays because the authors all have different, and sometimes opposing, viewpoints. Overall, the book is calling for reform in the education system away from testing, structure, and stuffy classrooms where children are molded into obedient cogs to fit into corporate wheels. They call for an educational environment that works to build up the entire student and help shape them into a person instead of just throwing facts at them to be memorized on one day and forgotten on the next. I don’t think I could be much of a teacher but my father and one of my brothers are both teachers, and what they talk about this book sounds a lot like the Canadian schools my brother teaches in… and very different from the schools here in the States that my father teaches in.

Due to the nature of this book there were things I agreed with and some things I disagreed with. It certainly had an economically “left” tilt and the aversion to the free market seemed to be based on a different definition than the one used by true free market advocates (this does not include shitty crony capitalists who make up much of the political power in the US). There almost seemed to be a distrust of science in some places, which bothered me a little bit. I don’t have a problem with my spiritual beliefs intermingling with science or free markets. I think a lot of people end up unnecessarily tangling together their political, economic, social, and spiritual viewpoints. Sure, I think people should have a basic foundational belief system that all of these can spring from, but that shouldn’t be along the shitty “left v right” paradigm that dominates American culture.

But, to be honest, I am guilty of putting people in these boxes too. I hear that someone is conservative or traditional or whatever and then I am shocked when they are an atheist, like recreational drugs, or go to strip clubs without any guilt or shame. I gotta work on that and start treating people as individuals instead of categorizing them based on a few bits of knowledge that I gathered from third party sources and made assumptions about.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, even if I did not agree with many of the authors. This book, like pretty much all I have ever read, can influence the way I view the world and I find it to be one more tool in my tool chest to better the world and give myself a better life. Education and spirituality are linked to philosophy, politics, religion, and my views on sex, relationships, recreational drug use, and everything else. It has encouraged me to think deeply, argue my views, and see the world from a different perspective. So, instead of doing a real review of this book I think I’ll share sections that I highlighted (unfortunately, I didn’t start highlighting stuff until partway through the book because I am a ding dong).

The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies. You may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins. You may miss your love. you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it, then: to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you. – Merlin, “The Once and Future King”

Appreciate time, the sacredness of time, moments in time. Appreciate place, or space – place is the reality of space. Appreciate passion – whatever your passion, whatever you love. First find what you love; and then do it, whatever it is. You won’t harm anyone or anything if you actually love. Find your passion, express it, and that way you will attract the muses, the gods and goddesses of creativity. – Jeremy Hayward.

When we encounter the “other” – that which we have ignored, excluded, or just not known – we have the opportunity to question our conventional minds, expand our horizons, and go deep. The “other” is our greatest teacher. – Judith Simmer-Brown

There is an example that has been used a great deal: if we want to go deep spiritually, we can’t go around and dig lots of little holes. We need to find one place and dig a deep hole. – Judith Simmer-Brown

Conventionally, when we study for achievement, we penetrate only the words, the literal or explicit meaning of that which we examine. We learn theories, memorize facts, regurgitate bodies of knowledge without reflection on the deeper meaning toward which this knowledge points. – Judith Simmer-Brown

One of the things a culture of domination does to all of us – irrespective of our class, race or gender – is make us ashamed of our pain. In claiming our pain as a space where we can work alchemically against the forces of domination. We move against the forces of fear and shame. In fact, we discover that it is precisely our pain that intimately connects us with others. – bell hooks

Of course learning happens within schools too; learning, however, does not require – in any way, shape or form – the institutions of learning – Steven Glazer

Nothing of value comes from compulsion. – Plato

Going to college can help you be knowledgeable, but it cannot make you wise. – John Taylor Gatto

Children resist teaching, as they should, but nobody resists learning. – John Taylor Gatto

Schooling is about creating loyalty to an abstract central authority, and no serious rival can be welcome in a school – that includes mother and father, tradition, local custom, self-management, or God. – John Taylor Gatto

When you can’t fully trust yourself or even like yourself very much, you’re in a much worse predicament than you may realize because those things are a preamble to sustaining loving relationship with other people and with the world outside yourself. Think of it this way: You must be convinced of your own worth before you ask for the love of another or else the bargain will be unsound. You’ll be trading discounted merchandise unless both of you are similarly disadvantaged, and perhaps even then your relationship will disintegrate, usually painfully. – John Taylor Gatto

The best lives are full of contemplation, full of solitude, full of self-examination, full of private, personal attempts to engage the metaphysical mystery of existence. – John Taylor Gatto

The need to die and be reborn, the need to be renewed, the need to encounter profoundly life’s mystery, the need to engage the imagination – these arise for every living person. But where are the rituals in our culture that donate and valorize change? Where are the rituals that open us to not-knowing? The rituals that grant us the space, freedom, and encouragement to grow or change? Almost absent. – Joan Halifax

So there it is in a nutshell, the disarming, defeating voices that we all carry around in our heads at least some of the time. Are you really what you profess to be or are you a fraud? Have you earned the right to exist? And who cares anyway? These are the voices that push us into defensiveness, disclaimers, and apologies. – Diana Chapman Walsh

Where does my deep gladness meet the world’s deep needs? – Diana Chapman Walsh

Without the space to grow, it will shrivel and die.
When is it that I know I have to go someplace?
When I have to grow or die. – “Potbound” by Diana Chapman Walsh

Now, as I look at you, and as you look at me, it’s clear that a significant part of where we go from here must be toward a disciplined and intentional search to understand why we are so overwhelmingly white here. We cannot simply accept this: we cannot simply be content with platitudinous statements like “Why, of course, we’re in Boulder,” or “We’re Buddhists.” No, this is not sufficient – not if we are serious about our spirituality and our teaching.
Where we go from here is to be deeply, painfully, embarrassingly honest with ourselves, and ask, “How could we have this conference on spirituality in education, when a whole sector of our nation – who have created great traditions of spirituality, and have believed in the power of education more than anybody else in the country – are not centrally present? – Vincent Harding
 (This section immediately made me think of libertarianism and how we libertarians should ask ourselves some hard questions about our demographics. It also made me think of W.E.B. DuBois and his love of education)

What are the actions I will concretely do today to manifest the community that I seek? I have come here in search of community. What am I going to do to build it? – bell hooks

We need to remember that this is why we take refuge in the Buddha, or in Christ. Not to make the path easier but to make us stronger. – Vincent Harding

If you’re not going anyplace new, strange, odd, or uninhabited, you don’t need anybody to take your hand! You just skip along. But to where we never dared to go before, on the rough, rough road, then, precious Lord, take my hand. – Vincent Harding (I don’t think that hand needs to be the Lord or something supernatural, it can simply be community or some sort of philosophical foundation)

Things I had to wiki or Google:

  • dakini
  • Padmasambhava
  • The Raft is Not the Shore by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • The Salem Procedure
  • Anabaptists
  • sui generis

Here is a full list of the authors. I only recognize two names (bell hooks and The Dalai Lama), but maybe educational experts will be familiar with them.

  • Steven Glazer (editor)
  • Parker J. Palmer (note: this was probably my favorite author in the book)
  • Rachel Naomi Remen
  • The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
  • Jeremy Hayward
  • His Holiness the Dalai Lama
  • Judith Simmer-Brown
  • bell hooks
  • David W. Orr
  • John Taylor Gatto (note: this was probably the author that I disagreed with most)
  • Joan Halifax
  • Ron Miller
  • Diana Chapman Walsh
  • Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
  • Huston Smith
  • Vincent Harding
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