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Evolving Systems and Education

Paul Grobstein's picture

Teaching Shamanism:
A Conversation About Education, the Unconscious and Stories,
Community Dynamics, and Life

For a session of a two week K12 summer institute workshop on inquiry, Paul created a "lesson plan" building on the idea of education/understanding as involving three conflict resolution loops, and asked Bharath and Alice to be involved in the in-class conversation.  Wil was involved as well, as the organizer of  the inquiry workshop.  The intent was to create experiences that would encourage discussion of the notion that both intra and interpersonal conflicts were to be valued rather than avoided.  The session in turn triggered further discussion/looping about both the intent and practice of "open-ended transactional inquiry." 

In one subsequent conversation, Bharath wondered whether Paul was functioning as shaman rather than as an educator.  Paul's response was that he was actually trying to empower everyone to function as a shaman for themselves as well as for each other. 

As a contribution to further exploring open-ended transactional inquiry (and shamanism), in the classroom, in evolving systems, and in life in general, provided below are excerpts from some email exchanges among Paul, Bharath, Alice, and Wil as well as an on-line forum for continuing looping/discussion.  Additional reactions to the session from other participants are available in the on-line forum at the end of the "lesson plan." 

Paul to Alice, Bharath, Wil prior to the session

Some thoughts about thursday am.  See /exchange/brainedloopssocialdynamics.  What I'd like to try and do is focus attention on the problem of interpersonal dynamics together with the issue of what constitutes a good "base story" and whether it is or is not necessarily something without an answer (issues that have in my mind at least emerged as central in the institutes this year and are, of course, also relevant to the evolving systems conversation).

With that in mind, I've suggested to Wil that teachers have a look in advance of the session at the forums at /exchange/brained3loops and at /exchange/bbi09/19 and have a look at Bharath's essay at /exchange/node/4582.  My plan is to do a quick reminder of the "Three loops idea" and the resistance issue, as per "Background" at /exchange/brainedloopssocialdynamics and then, as there, to do a sudoku "lesson,"  with the second half of the morning devoted to discussion of "Broader Issues."  My hope/guess is that the lesson will expose significant differences among teachers (and ourselves) in what we think is important in both educational practices and educational objectives, and so the REAL lesson starts there.  Can we get beyond both arguing for our own positions and "agreeing to disagree" and make something new out of resistance/conflict? 

Hope this makes sense/intrigues you.  Suggestions of course welcome.  Very much looking forward to seeing what we can make out of this together.

Paul to Alice, Bharath, immediately following the session

Thanks both of you for joining in this morning.  Enjoyed working together even though the morning didn't play out quite as well as I had hoped.  My fault, not yours.  Am still learning.  Should among other things have devoted more time to your thoughts/papers, as per several comments at /exchange/brainedloopssocialdynamics#comment-109341 and /exchange/wfrankli/ii09/preassignment.

Alice to Paul subsequently

It's good to share hopes/plans and then to work through their working out, and to look forward to the next try (one of the gifts of teaching: repetition/revision/crack-at-redemption).  For my part, I don't see an apology as warranted, though I appreciate your concern.  What I like in your note is a marking of directions to head in for the future. I could have taken a more proactive (pushy ;)) role in working through questions of facilitation (who would do what when, with reference to what texts, interactions, goals, etc.) with you ahead of time, but I didn't, because I was content to come along and see where things went, because we were doing other work together at the time, because Bharath, too, in his affirmation of the plan didn't press for this; in part because I don't know enough about the overall Institute. 

Bharath to Paul subsequently

For my part as well there is certainly no need for an apology. I had a great time in the meeting and learnt from it, and feel that the other participants did so as well. I think what we talked about over coffee yesterday was itself only possible because of the openness you in general make possible and that you in fact did make possible in all the discussions yesterday.

Paul to Alice, Bharath, Wil subsequently

Thanks for this.  Bears on our lunch conversation about whether one needs to be more deliberate about creating community "structures" in the classroom ... and in life.  Yes, as per our own ongoing conversation, I could usefully learn to pay more anticipatory attention to interpersonal structures. Bears too on the continuing conversation Bharath and I had after we dropped you off.  So copying to include him, and Wil as well.

Bharath's concern was that I flip unpredictably between conscious/analytic/organized and unconscious/intuitive/spontaneous modes and that in so doing I tend to lessen rather than enhance interpersonal exchange.  Lots of interesting issues here.  It is, I think, true that I am interested in and place particular value on the interplay between the analytic and the intuitive, both in my own mind (the personal) and interpersonally.  And so part of my neglect of "questions of facilitation" has to do with a wish to not only leave room for the intuitive/spontaneous but to encourage its expression in/by other people.  Some times this play out well, people feel freer to make use of their own unconscious because they see me doing it. Other times it play out less well because, as Bharath characterizes it, I end up filling the "collective unconscious" space with my own unconscious and there's no room for others.

There is an interesting set of complexities here at the interfaces of personal/public (individual/social), conscious/unconscious, and individual story/group story loops ... and in the relations among them.  To think more about.  As always.

Alice to Paul, Bharath, Wil subsequently

Glad to be in this conversation, I wonder if one way to think more about these questions is to look into what kinds of artful designs tend to enable people working in groups to be open to generative conflicts within and between them and able to move from these generative conflicts in thought and action, and in shared space.  To me there is something here about the "open-endedness" in "open-ended transactional inquiry."  The structures (enforcements, in Bharath's terms?) have to facilitate, even quicken, the openings.  So: planning to thicken up and move between layers of interaction (example: small group work) and registers of thinking (example: reflective writing, done solo then shared) is a direction; so is engaging in the kind of reading that brings about encounter with strangeness; so is working together to make something or to make something happen, if it's accompanied by reflection/sense-making.  I also think surprise is an important resource, and I think in this lesson you were working to realize surprise.

My tendency is to believe that certain kinds of "anticipatory attention to interpersonal structures" facilitates people in groups feeling "freer to make use of their own unconscious."  It may be that the question of group dialogue vs. dialogue between 2 people is salient here.  Maybe for group dialogue to be generatively open-ended and conflictual, it needs more of this designing.

For example, in my own experience, purposeful yet informal writing as part of classroom conversation, writing that everyone including the teacher does and shares/in, is a useful way into this.  It's not a precursor or a concluding move only -- it can be part of the process.  The question of what the teacher is doing is key -- as you say, Paul, things change when people see you modeling using your unconscious. So an example might be that in the Sudoku exercise, it's interesting to consider what would would have shifted had Paul and Wil done puzzles, too, along with the group, and then everyone had taken 7 minutes to write informally to a prompt such as, "How did you work on this challenge?" (metacognitive)  or "Tell lies about the experience you just had doing Sudoku" (thinking via opposition and humor) or "If Suduko is a metaphor for something in your life, what is it a metaphor for?" (thinking via analogy, inviting life experience not necessarily yet conscious) and, of course, "What kinds of help do you need, and what kinds of help can you give, in the challenge of getting better at this activity?" (thinking via practice and collaboration).

Then you could hear these (a few in the big group) all in small groups, then draw on them to shift into questions by which everyone is newly engaged, together, with practices/tools around to pursue the engagement.

Of course informal, probative/reflective writing isn't the only tool available.  Drawing, modeling with physical movement, dyadic talk are some others.

Continuing conversation/looping ...


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