Teaching Across Borders

SAMSUNG CSCThis morning I have been considering the challenges of teaching. Now, as I look out my window I can see that most of the snow is gone from our front yard. Hopefully this means early spring flowers will soon appear on our south-facing neighbors’ lawns. Given our house is north facing, our flowers usually appear a couple of weeks later. Teaching so often reminds me of spring’s uncertainty: we do not know when, or even if, our best efforts will eventually flower in the lives of our students.

I have spent most of my life teaching. I have taught undergraduate and graduate students, friends, and others who have asked. I have educated clients and their families, and of course my own children. I have taught academic courses, the arts, and traditional ways of knowledge about life and the world. It used to be that I saw all of these as distinct disciplines, but those days are long gone.

When I was in art school at university I was discouraged from crossing disciplines. My teachers saw writing and painting as mutually exclusive, and theater was completely outside the preview of the visual arts. Even though the divisions between the arts have long since broken down, I have struggled throughout my life to rid myself of the nagging voices of those teachers, to make room for the multivalent forms of storytelling that demand my attention.

Not surprisingly, I have always gravitated to multimodal, interdisciplinary forms of teaching.  Border crossings in academia are often viewed as suspect, as somehow less demanding and rigorous than the study of clearly defined disciplines. Yet my experience has been that such expeditions are both crucial for understanding the human experience, and immensely demanding of the student. After all, we, and the rest of Creation, are unimaginably complex; this renders one-dimensional models of our lives both false and unsatisfying. Thus I find myself continuing to seek maps that allow some feel for the actual terrain they are describing: messy, porous, thickly described, complexly storied descriptions of life and the living world.

I am told this search is a preoccupation of many Native academics, an almost genetically driven, cultural imperative. Of course, this approach to teaching and research is not uniquely Native, although I imagine the ever-present threat of erasure gives our efforts great impetus. Perhaps this is even more true for me, a person neither settled firmly into tribal identity nor thoroughly assimilated. I seem to live in a world where I fit in nowhere, straddling and crossing innumerable boundaries. I have come to see this fate as both a hardship and a blessing, and opportunity to develop empathy and, hopefully, rich vision.

Do you live and teach across borders? How do you navigate this rich and perilous territory? Where do you feel at home? I hope you’ll share your learning with us.

 

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19 thoughts on “Teaching Across Borders

  1. How sad to think your teachers discouraged interdisciplinary arts. As I see it, they nourish one another.

    It seems to me that, while the first part of my life was focused on the role of a healer,teaching has always been a part of me and, as I’ve aged, has become my primary role in life. The years give us unique perspective on life and I believe that elders are called to be Wisdom Keepers.

    • Victoria, It is sad. It was, I believe, also the norm. I survived all that, for which I am happy. I have found ways to do much of the work I want, although it has been a challenge,and I have not always been up to it. As I age,my focus has also been drawn to healing. As I wind down my teaching (formal anyway) I look for ways to allow teaching to be healing. This seems to be an increasingly subversive activity, abet a rewarding one, especially when students are able to let me be useful to them.

      I like that you are committed to being a hearer.

  2. I am a trained scientist, but have also been teaching and initiating people in energy healing for a long time. You quickly find out which people at work you can talk to freely about these things and to whom you can’t. But even though the practises of science and spirituality couldn’t be further apart, I’ve never hidden the spiritual aspect of my life from others. I’ve always stood firmly rooted in authenticity and when they ask me “How does it work, what is your explanation of this phenomenon?” I would be honest and say “I don’t know. But what is the harm if it helps people?” Not shying away from any conversation and quickly diffusing confrontational energy with honest answers and keeping an open disposition often results in really interesting, deep conversations with the harshest critics.

  3. Michael – this reminds me of a fascinating man, Ivan van Sertima, who wrote the book “They Came Before Columbus” (among others). He gathered evidence through archaeology, egyptology, African history, oceanography, astronomy, botany, rare Arabic and Chinese manuscripts, the letters and journals of early American explorers, and the observations of physical anthropologists to claim that Africans navigated to Central and South America at least 400 yrs before Columbus and brought seeds and technology (pyramid building, stone head carving) that was adopted by early Central/South American cultures. Of course, he was viciously attacked by the traditional anthropologists…
    Unfortunately, Van Sertima passed away in 2009. But he left an intriguing legacy of cross-boundary research that few people are capable of. I met him once during a lecture he gave in Tobago, West Indies. He was originally from Guyana, then lived in the US and was professor at Rutgers Univ.

  4. On another note, when I was in grad school for psychology, I looked for courses in other departments (African-American studies, Multi-cultural education) because I just couldn’t find the cross-cultural focus I wanted in my own deptment. As far as I know, I was the only student in my cohort who ever did that. For me, any discipline by itself is much too limiting. By cross-referencing with other disciplines we learn so much more and see connections that wouldn’t be available if we stay within the constraints of our (one) chosen field.

    • Annette, I discovered, in my wanderings, that many disciplines become self focused, and ignore information from others. They also become rigidly determined to uphold cuktural beliefs that are narrow and often hurtful of other groups. I imagine that the big ideas come from sojourners who travel between these universes.

      • That role of cultural mediator is a tricky one, filled with conflicts and confusions. I strongly suspect it is an almost impossible role to fulfill, given the complexity of most cultures and those who live with. Then, as I believe you are suggesting, there must be a welcoming audience…..

  5. As you know I live in Spain now and I haven’t been working while I have been here. I have been working as a teacher in Denmark for both kids, youngs and adults. I used most time for educating the adults. Many of these people were foreigners, who needed to learn the language and culture, so a kind of educating with borders it was. I learned a lot from them and I hope that I gave more back. At least they were happy for their teacher, this I was told by the school managers.

    I would like to educate again, maybe teach some kids in English here in Spain. But my Spanish is not good enough yet.

    I don’t feel at home unless I’m together with my kids. Then it doesn’t matter where we are, just we are together. I just live, where I am and try to accept my own choices. Without living out our dreams we never find out, what is important in our lives.

    Thank you for sharing this interesting post Michael 😀

    • Irene, I have come to deeply appreciate your posts from your life in Spain. I wonder whether perhaps you are still teaching, only through your blog.

      I would love to live in another country for a year or two, once again. It has become much more challenging to do as I’ve aged, yet the desire remains. So there is a dream I hold dear.

      • I’m happy to read that you still are dreaming Michael 😀
        Everything is possible, if we have the will to do so and sacrifice what is also needed and missed. We pay in several ways for our choices, but mostly I think it is important to follow our dreams, so we have nothing to regret, when we leave for this time. Maybe our experiences will be different from what we were dreaming about, but they don’t need to be bad anyway.

        If I’m still teaching it might be by my life experience as I try to write a bit about. When we have been through many things in life, we have a chance to share our taught knowledge, so others maybe don’t need to go through the same as we have been through.

        Thank you for your kind comment Michael 😉

      • Irene, yes, the chewing over of things, the thinking about our lives is crucial for gaining some sense of perspective, maybe for finding inklings of empathy. Speaking of dreams, my dream life has been very active for the past few nights. I find myself waking up and thinking about whatever subject the dreams seem to be addressing. I feel a bit like a dog gnawing on a juicy bone. Anyway, I am delighted you find time to both make beautiful art jewelry, and write blog posts that show and tell us about your life.

      • Thank you Michael. I find it as a healthy proces, that you are chewing over the things and did not give up your dreaming either.
        Not this Full Moon as we had Saturday, but the last in March was a very special one, where the Moon came very close to us at the Earth. Things has for me since that Full Moon been a little weird. My sleeping has not been deep, I have been waking up in the night many times, which gives a bad quality sleep, but I have been thinking about, why my reactions has been so strange. And this time up to this little Full Moon my sleep has been even worse and I know that I can have troubles before Full Moon, but not always so many. My sleep have been in max. 3 hours then awake for a while, then more sleep and awake again.
        Maybe something special has been going on in our Universe, as at least I don’t understand, but need to learn about.
        Never stop dreaming Michael 🙂

  6. In the Renaissance period it was considered an ideal to have a broad range of learning in many areas – it’s a shame that it’s more lately been viewed as a negative. I think curiosity is the best motivator to live a fulfilled life and it shouldn’t be limited by artificial boundaries.

    • Andrea, yes, there doses seem to be a squashing of passion, curiosity, and wisdom seeking in our educational systems. Perhaps this reflects the need governments and businesses see to have minions who cannot think creatively or critically. Sadly, the outcome is misery and suffering, and terrible risk for the planet and our children.

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