Teaching and hospitality – pause for thought from Henri Nouwen

“When we look at teaching in terms of hospitality, we can say that the teacher is called upon to create for students a free and fearless space where mental and emotional development can take place…. The hospitable teacher has to reveal to the students that they have something to offer. Many students have been for so many years on the receiving side and have become so deeply impregnated with the idea that there is still a lot more to learn, that they have lost confidence in themselves and can hardly imagine that they themselves have something to give, not only to the ones who are less educated but to their fellow students and teachers as well…..”

Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out

The ins and outs of learning

It is important to recognize that mastering any of the disciplines requires effort on both the levels of understanding the principles and following the practices, It is tempting to think that just because one understands certain principles one has “learned” about the discipline. This is the familiar trap of confusing intellectual understanding with learning. Learning always involves new understanding and new behaviours, “thinking” and “doing”. This is the reason for distinguishing principles from practices. Both are vital.

Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline p 384. This quote from Peter Senge (picked up from Friday mailing) emphasises the ins and outs of learning. We can indeed take in many things in terms of understanding, but there needs to be outcome in terms of disciplined practice, through which we learn more and better.

Risking self in learning

“Learning is not a process from which the learner can stand aloof, remaining fundamentally unchanged, as the possessor of her knowledge.  Rather, learning – if it is true learning – is a process in which the learner’s present understanding, her present configuration of desire, her present way of being in the world, are at stake. It is a process in which the learner’s relation to the object of her knowledge, and so everything that she has invested in the present form of the relationship, are placed at risk.  Yet the Gospel proclaims both that the learner must take such a risk with herself, and also that she is safe enough to take it.  Held by God’s lavish mercy, the learner is freed to take the risk of an ongoing kenosis that is the form of her journey deeper into God’s own knowledge, and the proper form of learning.”
This is the quote which comes as the PS in Friday Mailing. Friday Mailing is a useful compilation of resources for adult education produced by Joanna Cox and Tim Ling at the Education Division of the Church of England. (Contact Joanna Cox if you want to subscribe). This quote is from Mike Higton’s A Theology of Higher Education,  (OUP 2012), p 158. It applies to all disciples. (The book may be out of reach cost-wise. £71 at Amazon. OUCH).

It’s not just common sense

Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people. W C Fields

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Vladimir Nabokov

Ivonprefontaine has a nice phrase from his wife Kathy in a comment on my last post about telling the time when the clocks change. He refers to “uncommon common sense”, a phrase from Kathy’s farming culture. “Common sense” was a phrase I woke up with this morning. Such telepathy across the world. This stream of consciousness comes from my having to justify the value of the common sense of a group of highly intelligent people (and the knowledge and understanding that their common sensing has developed over a period of time)  against inflexible bureaucratic procedures.

I grew up in a house of common sense. My questions were often answered with “it’s just common sense”. That is a frustrating answer for someone too young to understand how common sense is developed and who wants to question cultural forms.

Common sense approaches are developed from evidence that reaches beyond proscribed data bases, that are pre-conscious, sub-conscious and conscious; from our gut, our core, our thinking; from all our senses and sensing; from our relationships and our timing.

Common sense may often defy logic and challenge reason because it draws on deepest seated learning. It grows through communities of practice and cultural interactions which sometimes transform common sense out of all recognition.

I suggest that there is a common sense about common sense.

  • it makes sense
  • it frustrates the young
  • it builds intelligence
  • it represents a practical wisdom
  • it networks
  • it represents more than words can ever tell
  • it has its own ethic which is to be always open to learning (that is what senses do: they learn and sense)
  • its capacity for learning is infinite – each and every sense has mind blowing intelligence gathering capacity
  • it is the culture of community and home
  • it makes community wonderful.

The image is via Gail Bottomley

Lousy leaders

Dan Rockwell has posted a list on what makes lousy leaders.

Lousy leaders:

  1. Need to know more than others.
  2. Can’t explore for fear of being wrong.
  3. Won’t ask obvious questions for fear of looking dumb.
  4. Need their egos stroked.
  5. Wonder who’s out to get them.
  6. Fear high performers; they need the spotlight.
  7. Struggle to collaborate.
  8. Won’t change their minds.
  9. Feel isolated and alone.
  10. Sacrifice long-term success for short-term profits.

Lousy leaders can’t serve others because they serve themselves.

I call them “mis-leading”, and that is the point Vicki Davis makes in her list of 10 terrible traits of lousy leaders.

In-built learning dynamic of church – or not

This quote from Roger Walton about Christian education landed on my desk today. I thought it was worth sharing because it says well that the organisation, system and church of which we are members is already a learning and teaching organisation before any training courses are ever thought of. We are learning all the time. We flourish and engage if the organisation is working well, but we shy away or shrink in an organisation that is not working well at a relational level. Some estimates suggest that as much as 80% happens informally, and that only 20% occurs through formal training. Canadian researcher Allen Tough uses the idea of the iceberg as a metaphor about learning. The bit above the surface is the formal training situation in which some learning happens, but the rest is under the surface. “You just don’t see it. You could forget it’s there unless you keep reminding yourself that it’s there.”

“Stanley Hauerwas once wrote: ‘The church does not “do” religious education…..The church is a form of education.’  Because it is a group of people in relationship with God through Christ, because it tells a story about how the world is, based on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, because it is engaged in living together as a radical new and alternative community, it has a built-in pedagogical dynamic…….
This is not an excuse for not planning or running programmes or courses…..It is important, however, to make this broader claim about Christian education before turning to specific suggestions and ideas or we may miss the most critical aspect of Christian education.  Before any Alpha course is put on, small group is formed, or Lent programme devised, Christian education is operating in a church, either attracting, forming and transforming people or leaving them untouched, unengaged or even driven away…
In its practice of gathering together for worship and ordering its life, in its people and their relationships with each other, in its simple routines for sharing bread and wine, welcoming newcomers or using its financial resources, in the quality of spirituality and its expressions of compassion, forgiveness and delight, it offers a potent learning environment.”
Roger Walton, The Reflective Disciple (2009, Epworth) pp158 – 9

learning organisations

learning organisations are “organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to learn together.” (Senge, 1990, p.3). 
Senge, P.M.    1990    The Fifth Discipline     London: Century Business

Lines of Thought

Circular Tire Tracks on Highway 9

“I really don’t see the point of reading in straight lines. We don’t think like that and we don’t live like that. Our mental processes are closer to a maze than a motorway, every turning yields another turning, not symmetrical, not obvious. Not chaos either.”

Jeanette Winterton, 2001, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Vintage – quote picked up from Friday Mailing

>9/11 #9

>Maggi Dawn’s blog led me to Charles Strohmer‘s excellent piece on the contorversy surrounding this year’s 9/11 anniversary. News coverage has been centred on the threatened Qur’an burnings – which has taken over from this solemn time of remembrance.

Elsewhere, Strohmer draws attention to Greek theatre and the development of theory. he writes:

“in the theatrical culture of ancient Greece, … their words for theater and theory meant very nearly the same thing. Theatron (our theater) meant “the seeing place,” or the “place for seeing” or “viewing” the performing arts. (Similar meanings are found in the Latin and French for theater.) Theoria (our theory) meant “looking at,” “seeing,” “viewing,” which for us today has come to indicate speculation or contemplation as opposed to action.”

This is a good way to look at learning. When we see “interplay” and “interaction” we draw conclusions – or formulate theories – which then inform our responses. In the UK we have a strong tradition of “Remembrance” to remember those who have lost their lives in war. There is great theatre attached to Remembrance, with veterans parading and showing their respect, the wearing of poppies, and the re-play of wartime experiences. This helps us “to see” and “find meaning” and shapes our responses.

Imam Rauf

The media have been sucked in by Rev Terry Jones’s stunt for his planned Qur’an burning. The real action for spotlighting is the thing that Jones is complaining about. He has missed the plot – and the reality is summed up by Strohmer who describes the real purpose of the project Jones is re-acting against. That purpose seems to me to be a really faithful attempt to make sense of what is happening based on the theory that “a broad multifaith coalition can help to repair the damage that has been done to Muslim-American relations over the past fifty years.” (from What’s right with Islam by Imam Rauf)

Here’s what Strohmer says:

The Park51 project is somewhat modeled after the famous multi-use 92nd Street Y. The wide-ranging programs for their proposed community center would include recreational facilities, such as a swimming pool and gym; exhibition space; conference rooms for education and forums, such as about empowering Muslim women; space for weddings and parties; day care and a senior center; areas for interfaith activity and prayer spaces for Jews, Christians, and people of other faiths; and cultural spaces, including a 500 seat theater for the performing arts. In other words, the center will be open to everyone and anyone.