After a very long pause in blog writing we are hoping to take the keyboard once again in the coming weeks and continue writing our journey. Amongst the various things which have kept us from writing has been really immersing ourselves in the editing of our series of films of the journey and becoming first-time parents for the past 13 months! After many drafts, numerous conversations, tweaks and re-tweaks, we are really happy to say that we have finished the first film of the Enlivened Learning journey – Re-learning the Land: A Story of Red Crow College. We will be releasing the film online in June and are really excited to be presenting a pre-release screening and debate at the Modern Times Bookshop in San Francisco on May 4th. Want to come?Read More
Welcome to Enlivened Learning
A journey through education initiatives re-imagining what it is to learn
So… we decided to write from the present and share the journey of what it has been like to transform the materials from our year of visiting all of these amazing innovative places of higher education around the world into a series of films. We plan to continue writing about places further on in our trip that we still have not blogged about – to write about them as we are finishing drafts of films.
This ‘making of’ has been quite a ride in itself because of the breadth and amount of material: we recorded over 140 hours of film, with over 80 interviews, visited 21 places in 10 countries. But… it has also been an adventure because rather than editing this material just from our perspective we wanted to involve friends and kindred folk in the making of the films. We also really wanted creative input from people we visited and met along the way, to bounce off our experiences and interpretation of the places visited against the views and experience of those who founded them and of the young people who had gone through them.
We also want in this project to learn and experiment with a different way of creating knowledge and a story — together — that is collective, rather than so individually-focused. We felt that co-creating would mirror the learning that is occurring in each of the places to be represented in each film. We want to embody in the making of films some of the principles we learnt along our journey: mainly the power of openness, serendipity, co-creation and gift culture. We want to tap into the synergy of having diverse minds and hearts and eyes crafting together stories which are about learning and living and sharing in a different way.
We are now in rural southern Oregon, a dry region of high desert. It is the height of summer and a thunderstorm has just rolled by and breathed some cool air into the valley giving us some rest from the wildfire-induced smoky air. I look out of the window onto the garden where we have been growing some vegetables and herbs since we arrived. The garden keeps us connected to rhythms of nature’s growth and the life of plants are a nice reminder of the living things that are all around us — providing much –needed breaks from the screen and computer that are the tools of an editor.
Our intention is to make these films within a community of friends.
Nothing substitutes the power of face-to-face interaction when we make things together. We were lucky to have experienced this on numerous occasions during our journey – the intensity of being in the same place and intimately sharing ideas, feelings and intuitions, drawing and sketching ideas, building models and mindmaps, moving pieces of paper around, pointing at a screen or photo, sticking notes on a wall, going for walks, cooking and eating together.
But we ended up in a small rural town where Kelly was born, slowing down with the birth of our first baby —- the friends we met or re-encountered along the way are scattered around the globe.
So we devised another way of maintaining a creative community that would nourish each other and participate in the making of these films. Experimenting with various online tools and platforms we are navigating places of co-creation. Our friends from India, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, USA, Canada, UK and France have been participating in this co-creative process. A syncretic mix of emails, online meeting groups, Skype group chats, a vimeo page to host our interviews and work in progress and a website where we share transcripts, ideas and conversations – provides the architecture where we meet and work.
This has meant adapting a working environment and editing workflow so as to make it available online and distributed across people, places and timezones. It has also meant opening up the making process out of the ‘editing room’ so that others are watching, transcribing and annotating the interviews, and discussing early drafts of the films together. Beyond this, we have also become a creative community, making maps and images, animations and posters all which are further enlivening the stories we are telling.
Thinking about this process of editing and finding the threads significance across the range of materials – interviews, action sequences, shots of places, people, events, photographs and sound recordings – we came up with the name of the group as ‘Artisans of Meaning’. This name emerged because we are crafting and weaving the meaning of each film through the strands which stand out for each of us, which move us and which we all find significant. The films then emerge as a tapestry of this process.
We also see and have experienced the group as a way to learn together through the materials. Again we took on board a lesson from our journey of the importance of creating situations whereby we can learn together whilst connecting this learning to real issues happening in our lives. We saw the wonderful opportunity of learning together around the making of a film, as well as learning of the topics that the film covers.
For Kelly and I this community has been invaluable. It has been a tremendous source of nourishment — rather than a typical editing process that is often quite lonely and isolating as editors, writers, filmmakers and many others with a ‘making craft’ may recognize. But much more than that, co-creation has often opened up many wonderful new avenues and perspectives on these stories we are telling, helping us to shape them in a way that is more clearly expressed and relevant.
Now we have been some 10 months into this process. We are about to finish a draft of our fourth short(ish) film. We still have some way to go, we plan 6 films of 6 of the places visited before tackling the feature film which will be a story of the whole journey. And this is before the second stage of editing next year which will be on films of the places we visited that are focused on arts and cultural expression.
I think back to something I wrote some months ago under the title ‘Meeting Hospitality and Friendship on the Road’ (https://enlivenedlearning.com/2013/01/06/). This post was an expression of gratitude for the generosity, hospitality and friendship we met along the journey. I also described here an experiment of the open sharing of ideas amongst academic friends whilst living in the UK, in the ‘amateur academic adventurers club’. Amateur because we were engaged in something we loved and enjoyed, as the Latin roots of the word imply, an adventure’s club because it sounded fun and suggested that the pursuit of ideas and social inquiry can have the quality of an active running forth, an investigation and act of discovery. As I also wrote, the group was an attempt to create a place outside the atmosphere of institutional and often interpersonal toxicity that haunts the walls of the academy, to cultivate the opposite, an environment of hospitality, friendship and the nurturance of ideas. Something that would enrich our own enquiries and enliven our sense of possibility of making, relating and thinking. The Artisans of Meaning has also been an extension of this beyond the world of film-making. It has been an exploration of a way of making a film beyond an industrial model of filmmaking to one whereby the making is also an opportunity for learning together and cultivating relationships as a priority, rather than a by-product. As a friend once put it ‘making is connecting’.Read More
I have been thinking a lot about hope these days. Reflecting on the places we visited on this journey and the people we have met, one of the most noticeable qualities we encountered along the way has been the experience and expression of hope.
Despite the adversity encountered by First Nations peoples’ in Canada or indigenous communities in Mexico who suffered the violence of colonialism, dispossession of their lands, repression of their culture and way of life or else by favela residents in Rio de Janeiro facing prejudice on a daily basis on top of the challenges of poverty and inequality, we met hopeful people and places.
People who were creatively engaging with the challenges imposed by the conditions they faced in the present and the legacies of the past by building and living alternatives. This in stark contrast to the discernible absence of hope we seem to be submerged in through the dominant mass media that inundates us, and the academic and institutional environments we are educated in.
I have been reflecting on a quote Gustavo Esteva, founder of Unitierra in Oaxaca, Mexico, related to us during one of our conversations. Quoting Czech novelist, dissident and former president Vaclav Havel, Gustavo described the notion of hope Unitierra was using. This notion of hope, I believe, gave coherence to their autonomous and collective forms of learning and engagement with the challenges faced by urban and indigenous communities in the Oaxaca region. I recently traced the source of the quote by Havel:
Hope is not a prognostication — it’s an orientation of the spirit.. […] Each of us must find real, fundamental hope within himself. You can’t delegate that to anyone else.
Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy when things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
It is this hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.
(The quote comes from an article he published in Esquire magazine in 1983 – available online – and is also found in Havel’s 1991 book. Disturbing the Peace.)
This existential, embodied and non-future oriented understanding and experience of hope appears honest, empowering and appealing to me. It also resonates with the practices of Unitierra, as well as other places we visited, and the attitude they are living by.
By contrast ‘hope’ is not a word you often hear in the corridors of educational institutions. In my 20 + years in such places of higher education I do not remember ever having really encountered it, either as a topic of learning or a focus of discussion. No doubt it has similar ‘fuzzy’ connotations as ‘love’, ‘compassion’, things seldomly considered as worthy subjects of inquiry or conversation in institutions concerned with ‘knowledge’.
Instead these institutional learning spaces have excelled at developing and imparting the very useful (and valued) skills of empirical inquiry, analytical thinking, and – though some would argue decreasingly so – critical thinking.
In the social sciences in general (and I am not even speaking here of the humanities and natural sciences too, where this also applies, but that is another story), the tools of critical thinking and empirical enquiry have been sharpened for generations, with methodological developments and morphing theoretical paradigms. But the conditions within which such developments take place are rarely examined in any depth, let alone challenged. Can critical thinking apply itself to itself?
This question has haunted me for years, as has the sense that there is a largely unarticulated and un-criticized set of assumptions, habits of thinking, practice, belief and social organization, that are a part of disciplinary ethos and institutional life. Beyond that still, there is an unquestioned and unchallenged set of assumptions, practices, values, beliefs and social organizational norms surrounding our system of higher education (or more broadly education). If these disciplinary, institutional and educational systems where to be considered a society and culture of their own, social scientists would be investigating them, also challenging claims to universality and so forth.
My restlessness and increasing unease within the academic contexts I taught and researched in then came from this sense that the conditions within which I was working, thinking, researching, teaching in, where shaping my practices, values, beliefs and how I related to others and to the place I lived in, but in ways that were both taming and at the same time part of a larger and deeper logic I did not fully understand.
I could also sense how this taming, reproducing a logic, set of values, ways of relating, acting and believing was also affecting students. Students, like all of us, are bombarded with the negativity and sense of hopelessness of the mass media. But their capacity for critical thinking is also, hopefully, sharpened through the course of their studies.
Across the social sciences students learn about countless injustices in the world today and in the past, and to critically engage with various modern institutions from a perspective that also points out the adverse effects of these: government, corporations, the economy, development, technology and so forth.
This is a hugely important part of a modern education, the capacity to also understand the horrors of the world and carefully consider the causes of these. At the same time, given the triumphalism of neo-liberalists across the political classes, business and academia, there is also the sense that we are at the end of the road for any further experimentation – that the battle of big ideas and for the organization of society is over. Whether fully conscious of this or not, this has bred a cynicism in the corridors of academia, a cynicism and sense of hopelessness that is also transmitted to students.
This has made me wonder how academic institutions reproduce hopelessness by the taming of imagination, thought and learning, which at the same time devalues and delegitimizes other aspects of our human experience and capacity to learn. Aspects which have to do with the other ways by which we are in and learn in the world not only by critical thinking, empirical enquiry, analysis, but by feeling, doing, valuing, relating to others and place.
This journey has been for us in a large way about re-learning hopefulness, in the sense quoted above by Havel, learning that what we are doing can make sense even when other things in the world (media, political, corporate and academic consensus and its legitimized cannons of knowledge) appear to point in the opposite direction.
It has also been a learning and unlearning journey, in the deepest sense, with both happening simultaneously. Unlearning in as much as layers of habits, beliefs, ways of thinking, relating, valuing are brought into consciousness and, at least to an extent, let go of in the face of new possibilities.
I have always liked (Deleuze and Guattari’s) expression of how thinking, or rather new thoughts, emerge from a situation of shock with the world, when something new is brought to awareness, provoking us to try to make sense of it in a different way. Instead of falling back to habits when faced with the new, or taming it into an academic logic, through this journey we sought to embrace this shock of the new, explore it, open ourselves to it. In many cases the new happens to be really very old!
Unpeeling an ingrained logic and habit of thinking and the emotional tone of hopelessness is not easy. I think for us it has been gradual and is ongoing.
At this point of the journey – and looking back at what we have written up in these posts since October 2012, we can see some contours of what we have been learning and some key ideas and experiences that have crystalized, configuring what might be described as enlivened learning. That is, a learning that is not tamed, reduced or reductive, abstracted or detached…. Rather, a learning that takes place from our whole being and within our network of relationships with others, humans, non-human beings and things.Read More