Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's the Questions that Bring us Together

Well, i'm well into a new season of teaching and work and, of course, baby-raising (Oy!). And this year, in addition to the Popular Education for Social Change graduate class that i teach at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University i am also teaching an undergraduate class called Perspectives in Environmental Studies. It's a very popular class that my colleague Peter Timmerman has been teaching for several years and is currently on what i'm sure is a well-earned sabbatical (thus the contract work for me).

I design and write and/or c0-write a syllabus every year that i produce as a 'zine. This year i collaborated on the syllabuzine with Tina Lopes, an educator with whom i worked in the Doris Marshall Institue for Education and Action. Unfortunately, the enrollment numbers were unusually low this year and FES had to cancel the section that Tina would have taught. Alas. Tina and i decided that this year's theme would be "The Arts of the Self in Culture, Classroom and Community" and i had looked forward to exploring the many meanings that this could have with Tina. Now i'm on my own with it - albeit accompanied by 22 graduate students. You can download of PDF (2.6 megs) of the syllabus here: http://www.web.net/~story/RC/syllabuzine6150-2008.pdf (send it to your printer for double-sided copying and you should end up with a foldable booklet.veb

As for the undergrad class, one huge challenge for me is how to practice some of the ideals of popular education in an environment that is designed both in form (line-of-sight lecture hall, 500 students, one weekly two-hour lecture plus a one-hour tutorial) and expectation (of the 500 learners) to practice authoritarian pedagogy. Ouch! Not that i haven't got a lot to say that is worth listening to. But i wonder skeptically about the quality of learning in such circumstances. Thus i have discussed with the TAs how we can design an asignment that pushes students to learn to think critically, creatively and transformatively. We've come up with an assignment based on questioning. Not unlike this wee tale that i posted her a while back.

One of the course TAs found this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters To a Young Poet:
Try to love the questions themselves, as if they were lock rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don´t search for the answer, which couldn´t be given to you now, because you wouldn´t be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer


And i found a translated edition of Letters to a Young Poet here. I highly recommend this work - one of the great (and modest) 20th Century works on creativity and writing.

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