Transcendence and Education

Matt Orourke Blog Catalytic Conversations

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During one of the catalytic conversations I often hold during consulting visits at colleges, we started talking about transcendence and education. One teacher commented that, for a minute, she thought we were going to start chanting. Sorry, no soft music and mantras on this one folks. However, what we were opening our minds to in this conversation was the importance, process, and challenges of transcendence in education—for all of us. Transcendence is about “taking it to the next level,” as one student put it. She was right on. Much of education is about helping students transcend their current state. Sometimes it’s their financial state—helping them leverage education to move from working poor to credentialed professional. Sometimes it’s their state of knowledge—challenging them to move from curricular beginnings to more nuanced and full understanding of content. Sometimes it’s their state of mind—helping them move from having unquestioned belief systems to embracing critical thinking and problem solving. Sometimes it’s their state of ability—assisting them in their progression from fumbling nursing student to well-trained clinician, from frightened med student to a quality doctor. However, arguably one of the most vital transcendence challenges for students involves their state of belief. Do they believe that they are capable of going to the next level? Do they believe they deserve it? Do they believe it’s worth the effort? An important part of breaking this boundary is overcoming a fear of the unknown. Research is pretty clear that our students’ internal homeostatic psychological systems—systems that try to keep things at their current pace and place at all costs—are not all that cooperative about this “next level” stuff. Indeed, student self sabotage is one of the key barriers to student transcendence. Great educators understand these transcendence journeys. Indeed, their work often revolves around being the instigators, guides, cheerleaders, and celebrators of and for student transcendence. One of the great psychic benefits of being an educator includes watching students of all ages and stages take their steps along this journey to move up and on. It is always inspiring to see a student overcome internal fear, to break old borders down, and move beyond where he or she even dreamed possible. What came out of our discussion next was an interesting and ironic turn. Because we as educators know the power and promise of transcendence, why aren’t we embracing it for ourselves more—particularly in areas like brain research, technology tools, and a host of other possibly transformative education topics? Are we really challenging ourselves to do the work necessary to transcend—go to the next level—as educators. Can we do more to transcend our state of knowledge about brain research? Can we work more with each other and our students to improve our state of ability in using learning management systems, e-portfolios, blogs, podcasts, social networking, gaming, and analytics? And, most important, can we overcome our fears about the new and novel (particularly regarding technology) to ask the hard questions about whether or not these intriguing theories and power tools might take our teaching and student learning to a new level? Are our own fear-based homeostatic systems keeping us stuck? Or are we on the move? Physician heal thyself is the phrase used in the medical community. It was a phrase used in this conversation as well. Put simply, not only should we be energetically encouraging our students toward transcendence, we should be willing to take the transcendence journey ourselves. The students in our group assured us they would be just as joyful in watching our move to the next level as we are in watching theirs 🙂
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