What are possible solutions to the issues I’ve been discussing?  How do the teacher and teaching matter?

If you are a teacher, consider the classroom or classrooms in which you teach and the learners you see before you each day.  Do you stand in front of them or with them?  What do you know about them?  What do you know about their goals and aspirations; their dreams and their fears?

What control do you have over what you teach each day, according to the curriculum?  What do you know about how to expand upon it, exchange items within it or make choices?

Are the desks in your classrooms bolted down or is it possible to set up the class as you wish?  Can you move your chairs around?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but it is crucial that we each examine our own teaching contexts as we explore the various possibilities inherent in the important role we play as teachers.

Humanism, as an approach to education, is not a new idea.  It had its last resurgence in the 60s and 70s, as a reaction to other ideas and probably as an outgrowth of that time in the world, especially the west, when many outmoded ideas were being challenged.  But although the ideas seemed new at the time, many were borrowed from other traditions that had long-preceded the turbulent 60s in the United States.

One key image from humanism and from many of the traditions that I think bear re-examination is the idea of the community of learning formed as a circle.  We know that many indigenous groups in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific saw the circle as an important phenomenon in that those circles were inhabited by real people, sitting together talking, listening, learning from each other and from the stories being recounted.  The circles were also, however, an image that would represent the importance of being able to see every other face in the group; not the backs of heads but the faces and the hearts of friends, neighbors and fellow learners.  These circles are still common in places where people live together and share their common humanity.  They are an image and a metaphor that we can all share.

The individual can see her or himself at two healthy and comforting places potentially on the circle and one devastating one.  The most comfortable spot, for most individuals, is on the circle in an equal place with peers.  No one is higher or lower; all faces are visible; every voice has a chance to be heard.  In some native traditions, the individual is viewed as inhabiting the center of the circle.  This view sees that every individual inhabits that place as their birthright.  In the center, all directions are available; the individual becomes the source for their own journey and for their own story.

O’Reilley talks about it this way, “We began to discover that as teachers, one of our jobs is to help a student find her ‘sacred center’ the place where she stands at the crossroads of human experience.  Beyond that, we needed to help her see that she exists within another circle:  a community.  To find voice and mediate voices in a circle of others is one of the central dialects of the peaceable classroom”. (p. 40).

What are the other dialects of the peaceable classroom?  More thoughts on that coming soon.