“Grasp” is a metaphor used in many languages to describe learning—in all nine of the languages one of my polyglot colleagues knows. This verb conveys the physicality of learning. Learning activates body, mind and spirit in a labor of love. We are all learners and teachers, sometimes the leader and sometimes the follower in the dance of education. We dance to a multi-voiced choir, tuned to the keys of mindful listening; collective inquiry; rigorous play; collaborative dialogue; delight in difference; critical, yet compassionate reflection.
My teaching has been shaped by the faculty at The Evergreen State College, where I first understood what it means to be a co-learner. I learned from the philosophy of Donald Finkel, author of Teaching With Your Mouth Shut, and to be more often a facilitator of learning environments than a “sage on the stage.” Some other great teachers to whom I am indebted are Paolo Freire, bell hooks, M. Jacqui Alexander, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, and Shawn Wilson. I rely on the wisdom and practices of community-organizing to build trust among learners, and to help each student identify their own strengths and challenges. If I'm asked to teach in a classroom, I approach it as a laboratory or studio, where co-learners practice with a range of tools—story circle facilitation, oral history interviews, Boal's theater games, concept-mapping, as well as the tools of the media. Questions are also powerful tools; Eric Vogt's work on the art of powerful questions provides excellent scaffolding for students designing their own learning plans. Big questions such as “who gets to dance?” (Liz Lerman and the Dance Exchange) can lovingly nudge students to venture outside the boundaries of “school” to engage their learning in the beautiful, wide webs that make us who we are.
I believe collective knowledge-making and inquiry serves to counterbalance the ideology of individualism that pervades the Western, capitalist world. In this era of global change, we cannot afford to continue perpetuating the separation between humans and “nature,” or divisions between self and other. In a culture that so highly values individuality, artists, writers, media activists, and musicians need to cultivate the relational, social, and ecological dimensions of identity. Instead we need to cultivate what Mitch Thomashow calls “ecological identity,” an awareness of self in relationship with the bigger "we"--the communities and collectives to which we are obligated.
As Program Director of the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts (MFAIA) program at Goddard College, I have had the extraordinary privilege of working with artists in a diverse range of art practices, including social practice, community-engaged art, activist art, ecoart, performative photography, community poetry, queer theater, and community storytelling. The new concentration in Indigenous and Decolonial Art is one of the first academic initiatives in the United States designed to bring together Indigenous, settler and forcibly displaced non-Indigenous artists expressly to expand practices of Indigenous resurgence and solidarity practices. My co-author, Devora Neumark, and the faculty of the MFAIA view this initiative as a significant step in the decolonization of higher education.