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De-professionalizing – stepping out and beginning the reflective process

De-professionalizing – stepping out and beginning the reflective process

Posted by on Apr 15, 2013 in all posts, on the road | 0 comments




Around the year 2000, I moved to the UK and began navigating down the open and unchartered waters of my post-graduate degree (it being a self-created research project). A few months into the degree programme, I dove deeply into a great sea of literature that engaged with critiques of education and international development.

During this phase of literary free-diving, many new worlds of thinking, acting and living began to open for me. I found it simultaneously thrilling and disorientating. Yet, the direction it has led me to, this journey of enlivened learning we are on now, feels exactly right.

Since that time in the early days of living in the UK, I have often encountered three terms that are expressed in overlapping ways – de-colonization, unlearning and de-professionalization. It has taken me a long time to understand what these mean and I am still learning, particularly along this journey we are on now. I feel that I can grasp the logic of these terms, intellectually, but it has taken me much longer to be able to grasp what it might mean to experience them.

These last several months, I have noticed many, many different things that are causing me to pause and reflect on how my mind and body have been conditioned and colonized through my education and social upbringing.

As Udi finishes a series of posts on Brazil, I am going to finish a series of posts that explore de-colonization, unlearning and de-professionalization, as I have not only come to understand them, but as I have come to experience them more fully along this journey. The pictures you will see in this post I have taken straight from the internet – images that come from googling ‘unlearning’. I thought this would be an interesting way to represent how others have represented what this term means through imagery. I will put in my own images in future postings on this topic.

This post here is a beginning – that I hope will help to open a series of windows to reflect on how, during our enlivened learning journey, I am unlearning and relearning much of what I was educated to believe, to think, to do and to live — how I am ‘deprofessionalizing’ myself, and how I find that I am becoming increasingly ‘de-professionalized’.

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This image comes from a consultancy-related blog: http://franklincovey.com/blog/consultants/durelleprice/2009/02/21/unlearning-101/ — I found it interesting that the first lines of this post use Einstein’s famous quote and how ‘unlearning’ is imperative in the university context: “Albert Einstein, icon of intellect and insight, said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Universities are focused on higher learning when perhaps they should promote a course entitled Unlearning 101.”

First, a little bit on colonization….

The words ‘colonized’ and ‘colonization’ are often reserved for, and orientated towards, different indigenous and minority ethnic groups. During my own schooling, for example, the word colonization was used in ways that referred to the taking over of people, communities (most often indigenous or other minority groups) and land by another outside, foreign force. In other words, we (sort of) learned about the physical aspects of colonization. I say sort of here because our learning exploration on colonization, even as a physical force, was very limited and almost entirely one-sided.

Being taken over by physical force is violent – where the perpetrator and the victim experience violence. During school, I do not remember any point in time when we critically considered the colonization processes, the unjust forms of violence, that Native Americans endured (and continue to endure today). It was something of an inevitable fact that was going to happen, that was meant to happen. It was always downplayed, minimized and cushioned into a formation of knowledge that somehow (implicitly) validated and legitimized the violent taking over, the colonization, of all of the United States of America and the genocidal impacts on the many hundreds of indigenous communities that once covered these lands – that emerged from these lands. The many forms of violence, associated with colonization, that I have learnt so much more about on this journey, is incomprehensible.

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This image was used several times in the film ‘Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden’ to help understand the multiple processes of colonization and the dominant understanding of ‘American Progress’ – see other images used in the film here: http://schoolingtheworld.org/film/presskit/photo-gallery/

Since my initial literary free-diving phase when I first came to the UK, I have come to perceive and understand colonization, and the processes of colonization, as not only something that is physical. I now see colonization as mental, emotional, cultural, spiritual, ecological… I also understand colonization as long-lasting, inter-generational – and continuously masked in new forms (I will discuss this more later – but an example of this is the ‘Empire of Money’ phase that the Zapatistas describe and I discussed in a previous post).

Colonization is violence in multiple forms – violence that does not disappear, that has not disappeared and continues to be deeply and traumatically experienced – in North, Central and South America, in Australasia, South Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, Africa, Europe and the Arctic…

Each of the educational initiatives we are visiting along our journey are directly facing previous and continued forms of violence associated with colonization — but, significantly, aside from just facing them, they are creating ways to move beyond them.  This aspect to me – this moving beyond is what is most important.

 

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This image comes from Jack Uldrich a ‘global futurist’ blog called Unlearning 101 — http://www.unlearning101.com/fuhgetaboutit_the_art_of_/unlearning-curve/

What moving beyond does is to not only perceive places, other people and ourselves as in deficit, but instead focus on possibility, healing, compassion, community, creativity and imagination. I feel this moving beyond is what we can all learn from, no matter our own background, cultural context, social and educational upbringing.

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I really like this quote by Arundhati Roy – it was used on the facebook page of ‘Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden’ — Roy now publishes a great deal of social and eco-justice related writing that is as poetic and engaging as her first (and only) work of fiction, ‘The God of Small Things’

For any of us to move beyond, from what I understand, we must go through de-colonization processes of unlearning and re-learning much of what we have been taught.

My own process of de-colonization is about going to the core of my own assumptions of what I think is true or ‘right’ — for example, about the stories through which I was taught in school (particularly with reference to ‘history’ that is often incredibly one-sided and narrow) and all sorts of aspects of my life, or how I have chosen and will continue to choose to live my life (what is important to me and what I value), particularly my so-called ‘professional’ life.

All of us have to learn to ‘be professional’ to be absorbed into any working system. To get to the point that I was working as a lecturer in academia, I had to unsurprisingly jump through all sorts of professional hoops.

Within the walls of the university, I have often sat through long departmental meetings and reflected on the communication structures that are in place during those hours – how we communicate, the words and the tones that we use, who dictates the flow of communication, the minute and mundane details – typically around illogical administrative expectations – that occupy hours of discussion, the context of where we are actually sitting (inside plain, institutional walls). The air is stale. There is no fresh breath of creative life during these hours. Yet, this is the essence of professionalism. The conduct and criteria carried out during these meetings.

My quest to de-professionalize my so-called professionalized self came long before leaving the institutional halls of academia. I have always pushed boundaries, this is part of who I am, and I am highly sensitive to structures of power and authority. I am sure my parents have much to say on this topic! :)


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This wonderful book, along with several others related to unlearning, is published through Shikshantar: The Peoples’ Institute for Rethinking Education and Development and is freely downloadable here: http://www.swaraj.org/shikshantar/stories_resistance.html

My sensitivity to power also led me to my post-graduate studies which were essentially a critical exploration of power structures within the education and international development fields.

How we each experience and ‘exercise’ power – on each other and on ourselves — and why we do so as well as the effects this (can) has – have been burning questions and interests that have consumed many hours of my life.   I use the term ‘exercise’ here as I feel that we all are constantly receiving and exercising power. It is what makes us human. Explorations of power are not only an intellectual exercise for me — in fact, it has been a passion of ethical, moral and even spiritual belief.

There is much about leaving my academic work in the UK and embarking on this journey that is to do with ‘de-professionalizing’ myself, to somehow disconnect with the hierarchical structural centre of academia, whilst still staying connected at the margins.

I want to disentangle myself from the constraints of rationalism that comes through forms of institutional power and authority that I experienced during my time in studying and working in academia.

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This logo comes from the ‘Institute of Unlearning’ website: http://www.unlearning.org/home.htm

I want to unlearn the hierarchies of power and legitimacy, particularly around leadership, knowledge and relating, I feel that I placed on myself to be able to survive within the institutionalized system.

I want to experience and learn more about how generosity and hospitality can be a central priority (how it can be offered) that has often been devoid within the academic system.

I want my learning to be transformational, not imposed.

Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educational activist (whose writing is accessible and inspirational) wrote in his most well-known book Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the young generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

In the academic environment, as in many institutional working environments, leadership decisions, ways of relating and professional conduct most often take rational forms for efficiency and accountability. And, being rational tends to be driven mostly, if not almost entirely, by ourheads. In other words, our hearts tend to be marginalized, if not silenced.

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This image comes from the blog ‘All things learning’ — http://allthingslearning.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/unlearning-teacher-learning/

Rather than working only through our heads (as is the dominant form of learning in the educational system, including academia), Udi and I have both struggled to continue allowing our hearts to lead our work, our ideas, our relationships – with students and staff within and outside the walls of the university.

As the university becomes increasingly bureaucratized and corporatized, there is very little space for anything beyond teaching-learning relationships that are based on efficiency. Thus, teaching-learning relationships that are based on co-creativity, generosity, curiosity, hospitality are becoming increasingly rare.

When we each learn through and make decisions with our hearts (rather than only our heads), there is more life. What I have experienced in each of the places we have visited over these last 7 months – is that learning, relating and leading is prioritized as much with the heart, the hands and the home —- as the head. This is because learning is about connecting first and foremost – connecting between theory and practice, connecting to a deep sense of self with community and the land and all of its beings.

It is a somewhat brave step for me (part of the de-professionalizing process I think) to open up personally on this topic. I feel slightly timid, like I am about to jump into cold water. I know the water will be refreshing and rejuvenating, but it is still somehow intimidating. However, I feel it is important for my own un-learning.

If you are still reading at this stage, thank you! I’d love to hear comments and feedback — and even more, to hear about your own experiences of resistance in your professional life, or your own un-learning, de-colonizing or de-professionalizing processes!

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This image comes from a blog – ‘artsyville’ — posting March 23, 2009 ‘an odd kind of math’ — http://artsyville.blogspot.com.au/2009_03_01_archive.html

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Development = Cosmovision and Crianza… Learning from PRATEC

Development = Cosmovision and Crianza… Learning from PRATEC

Posted by on Feb 1, 2013 in all posts, Peru, PRATEC | 0 comments

We are sitting in the beach-front barrio of Barranco under a once again grey Lima sky relaxing in a cafe after another danger-taxi-ride through the aggressive traffic. We have just had a 90min meeting and interview with Grimaldo Rengifo Vásquez one of the founders of PRATEC (Proyeto Andinas de Tecnologías Campesinas) a grassroots network of organisations working with indigenous communities throughout Peru through a perspective that values and seeks to strengthen Andean knowledge and practices. The organisation was started in 1986 by Grimaldo Rengifo Vásquez, Eduardo Grillo, Francois Greslou and Marcela Velásquez development and agronomy professionals who were dissastified with the development models that had were being unquestionably applied across Peru and elsewhere.

As Frederique Apffel-Marglin wrote in a wonderful article about PRATEC in 2002.

In the course of their professional activities they eventually came to the conclusion that development itself was the problem. This realisation did not come swiftly; it emerged slowly after a lifetime of professional activity in the service of development. At first they thought that things were not working because the methodologies that they used were faulty. They worked hard to devise better methodologies. They lived through many phases and fashions in development: community development; participatory development; appropriate technology; sustainable development; women and development. They tried everything available, always striving to capture the reality of Andean peasant agriculture and of peasant life in general. At long last they came to the conclusion that no methodology would ever deliver and that the problem lay in the very idea of development. It is at this juncture that they left their professional activities and their secure jobs and founded PRATEC, a non-governmental organisation. In other words, they deprofessionalised themselves. They had come to the realisation that development had failed. The evidence lay scattered throughout the Peruvian landscape in what some of their colleagues have called ‘the archaeology of development’, namely ruined infrastructures, abandoned to the elements after the project officials had left, uncared for by the peasants for whom they were intended and left to deteriorate. The evidence also lay in their experience of repeated efforts to devise better methodologies and the final realisation that within their professional perspective and constraints it was impossible to approximate peasant reality and therefore make development relevant to their lives.

From Fieldwork to Mutual Learning: Working with PRATEC. Environmental Values 11 (2002): 345–67

I especially like this image of an archaeology of development, the ruined traces of failed schemes dreamnt up elsewhere with different visions of the good life, now scattered across the landscape overgrowing with plants and home to birds and insects.  I guess that the PRATEC team considers the landscape of development ideas to be similarly littered with half-baked schemes, now laying useless on the ground at the mercy of the elements, designed in the distant offices of some large organisation far away from the day to day lives of the peoples here in Peru. And in the picture below, just how many different cosmovisions, different models of how to develop towards the good life!

An indigenous map of Peru found in the offices of PRATEC in Lima, photo by Udi

In our meeting with Grimaldo he conveyed to us the story of the emergence of the organisation in the mid-1980s amidst a climate of violence and conflict in the country following from the guerrilla uprisings. Decades of development projects, the effects of this conflict and of state-supported neoliberal encroachment on indigenous lands and resources had left these populations in a desperate state, destroying the cultural base or social fabric that had sustained these communities for thousands of years. The conflict with the guerrillas alone, Grimaldo told us, had killed 70,000 people, the majority indigenous.

From this period of the 1980s on, Grimaldo said that a new period of rebuilding had started amongst these groups and PRATEC had been a partner in this process. In Grimaldo’s case, and in the trajectory of PRATEC, this has involved coming to understand a different culture and cosmovision (a way of seeing and being in the universe) from his own. For Grimaldo the cosmovision of the Peruvian Andes was different to the  Amazonian campesino culture where he was raised but also from the academic agronomy in which he trained in university. The fundamental and sustaining base of this Andean culture is agriculture and a cosmovision of crianza or nurturance that characterises people’s relationship to nature.

Choba choba, or communal work at the chakra, Lamas, photo by Kelly

We often came across this word crianza, we heard it in the town of Lamas, where the local project Wama Wasi, part of the PRATEC network, works with Quechua Lamas communities in this upper Amazon region. We heard it in our conversations with Elena Pardo in Cusco, from CEPROSI (Centro de Promoción y Salud Integral), also a part of the PRATEC network, which works with Quechua communities surrounding this region of the high Andes.

We loved this term crianza, it has a depth and beauty to it conveying the heart of this cosmovision that is widespread in this region. It also has deep resonances with Kelly’s previous post on Maize and milpa in Mexico, and on the buffalo in Alberta. In our understanding the term crianza means that people help create and sustain, or nurture, nature whereas nature in turn helps to create, sustain and nurture people. The relationship is one of kinship, of the same family, and as such quite different from a habitual way we have come to understand ‘agriculture’ where crops are ‘produced’. For here in ‘agriculture’ there is no sense that the ‘agri’ the crops, are also ‘producing’ us. This relationship, practice and understanding of ‘nature’ being outside of us and manipulated by us for our our ends, and increasingly purely commercial ends, is replaced by a sense of mutuality and reciprocity. I help the plants grow because they help me grow, and we are both part of a larger life collectivity which is, in this cosmovision, our mother earth, a living being that keeps us all alive.

The uniqueness of PRATEC has been to practice a deep listening and learning from the indigenous communities they work with. Rather than begin with the view of ‘experts’ schooled in a particular cosmovision with keywords such as ‘progress’, ‘development’, ‘poverty-reduction’, ‘increasing yields’, ‘growing GDP’, ‘crop production’, PRATEC has instead payed attention to the values and cultural practices that have sustained the life of these communities in these places for thousands of years. Coming to know these values and practices, such as that of crianza but also those surrounding the chacra, the actual field or place where the nurturance is practiced and which makes up most of the community’s working life, was the first step in the trajectory of PRATEC and its founders. We will write more on the chacra in a later post though just briefly we could observe how central this was for the Quechua Lamas communities we came to know and how similar to the Mexican milpa this was (see Kelly’s posts on Maize and Milpa).

PRATEC’s next stage, as Grimaldo narrates in our interview, involved disseminating this particular understanding of close listening and knowing to others. To this end they spent a period of over fifteen years conducting courses across Peru to different groups of professionals and students. This gradually led to a consolidation of a group of people across the country, development and agriculture professionals, teachers and community activists, who were keen to practice this alternative approach to development. PRATEC’s next phase of work has then been guided to strengthening these local practices and systems so as to fulfil not an external expert’s conception of the good life, or of development, but to actualise what this means for the people themselves.

All of this has involved a great deal of unlearning and of re-learning from the people who work at PRATEC, comprised amongst others of university educated agronomists, agricultural engineers, educationalists, and others. Like Grimaldo, others we talked to in PRATEC describe this process of questioning the assumptions they learned in these academic and development institutions and in the cosmovision that sustained the forms of knowledge and values that were reproduced here.

So pervasive and powerful has been the force of this cosmovision promoting a particular kind of technology-driven and market-oriented development and progress, that one important strand of PRATEC’s work with local communities involves redressing the de-valuing of indigenous ways of life which has been happening since the arrival of the Spanish five hundred years ago. What has been interesting to note is that though many of PRATEC’s founders and those they work with now started in the field of agronomy most of them now are actively involved in working in the area of education. As Grimaldo says the latest stage in PRATEC’s trajectory has been to work with schools and with education policy as a way of strengthening local ways of knowing. Important in this shift is also the work of Elena Pardo in and around Cusco, someone who does have a background in education and worked for many years in the Ministry of Education before starting CEPROSI. Here in Peru, as in Mexico and Canada, we found the school as a key institution for the dismantling or the reproduction of a particular cosmovision. How PRATEC and its affiliated organisations work with schools is the topic of the next few posts.

Network of PRATEC projects across Peru (from http://www.pratecnet.org)

PRATEC’s approach to development, some label it ‘post-development’, is both well-known across Peru and internationally and is both respected and controversial. It challenges thinking about who the experts are, who should have the right to impose development (particularly with certain ideas of progress) on a community, what kind of development or conception of the good life ought to underpin these. When we visited one of PRATEC’s many umbrella organizations (this one called Waman Wasi) in the upper Amazon region of Lamas, we were told how the area is filled with different development initiatives by numerous organisations, each with its own set of experts, advice and models. Some offer incentives for the Quechua Lama to grow coffee or cacao for export. The rationale is that the Quechua Lama ought to enter into the global monetary economy to meet their needs, as they are money poor. For Wama Wasi, whom we spent time with, this approach does not recognise the self-sufficiency of these communities and the food security they already have, nor how the chacra embodies a cosmovision that sustains a whole way of life, not only materially, but also culturally, in terms of family roles and relations, and spiritually. Though they are money poor their sense of the good life, buen vivir, is found not in having and owning stuff, but in relation to crianza, to the chacra, and to other elements of their cosmovision that supports their being in the world.

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