In all of the work I have done as a sustainability/transformative educator in the past 12 years, what resonated most was the situated learning that we (my students, colleagues and I did) with people-place. We were being in relationship with – there was a sense that we were co-creating a sense of belonging and stewardship for country. The deepest and most profound exploration my year 9 students engaged in (from both their perspectives and mine) was a living histories project. Students would find an elder in their community (somewhere in south-west Gippsland) and interview them about how their place had changed over time; what life used to be like growing up as a young person in the area; places they felt the greatest connection with. I have thought a lot about what it was in that experience that engaged my students. Seeing this exploration happen over 4 years on reflection I feel more and more that it was this same process of coming into relationship with people-place, which deepened our sense of connection.
Something I longed to initiate during my time at the Year 9 Centre were relationships with traditional owners who might share their stories of connection with our learning community. Whilst we got the ball rolling, it is only now (4 years later) that these relationships have begun to form; things take time. There had been non-Indigenous people on Phillip Island who were offering a perspective on Indigenous knowledge and practices on country, but from a very different place; there was no relationship or authority.
Having the autonomy to generate a sustainability or place-based curriculum without huge constraints was a very liberating experience and offered my colleagues and I the opportunity to be creative in our design, experimental in our approach and tap into local issues and possibilities. An aspect of sustainability education that was being widely practiced which I reacted strongly to was the focus on resource consumption. For me this represented a discourse on maintaining the status quo and responding to critical issues from the same paradigm that conceived excess consumption and unlimited growth. The curriculum resources ‘out there’ in the educational realm reflected this conservative approach and … worldview. What motivated me to become an educator was primarily to facilitate learning that cultivates critical engagement, creativity and connection. I was not interested in working to a mandate of maintaining the status quo, hence the resources we used as a learning community needed to reflect this. A documentary that resonated with my transformative agenda, and challenges the dominant paradigm of how we relate to resources, was ‘Waste Equals Food’ (http://vimeo.com/3237777). The founders of the Cradle-to-Cradle approach explored in this documentary, chemist Michael Braungart and the architect William McDonough, seemed to open up a fertile space for learning that fostered critical engagement, creativity and connection. On watching this documentary both our students and we as educators felt a shift and sensed a space of possibility to think and work from. I feel compelled to describe the quality of this space, as it was distinct to others that we had been operating from in the past. It felt as though we had fewer constraints, more freedom to explore and create… access to greater possibilities and access to a real means of generating transformation. Perhaps it was around this time that I sensed what transformation education is and can be and began to speak differently about the type of learning spaces I wanted to generate.
Having my own and supporting students to have a strong sense of agency has always been of critical importance to me in my work. Seeing ourselves as generative participants (Addelson, 1994) in collective action and the performance of the social, rather than passive consumers of ideas and the material. For me this need for us to define and locate ourselves in the collective ‘we’ and as active participants in the society and place goes beyond having an identity as a global citizen with far reaching responsibilities; there is a deep listening and being in relationship with that I feel is trying to call itself into our collective action and consciousness.
For the first eight years of my being an educator, I only ever felt on the cusp of acting from a place of deep listening within my self. A catalyst for leaving full time teaching was a seeking to dedicate greater time to and reflection in my learning. Acts and processes of bringing greater self-awareness into my practice have been many and varied. What is emerging for me is a shift in the quality and depth of listening that I have for people-place. Coming across the work of those who are exploring the generative spaces and acts facilitated through deep listening (Brearley, 2010) and presencing (Scharmer, 2009) is both affirming and exciting.
M passed on a book she thought I might like to read. She said that it reminded her of the exploring I’d like to do in my masters research.
The comfort of water: a river pilgrimage is a story about a woman and her three friends walking Birrarung (the Yarra River) from the Neerim (Port Phillip Bay) to its source. Just before the four set off, Maya, the writer of this story, speaks an affirmation…
‘May I breathe through my feet, lay my skin open, and be there to meet it all. All that is left and all that is new’ (p.44).
I love the way she bears herself open to being with country, ‘speaking’ with country and co-existing. It is such an affirmation for me to find stories like this from people who are seeking to re-connect with place in a way that is deep, philosophical and spiritual and honors Indigenous stories and performance of place.
It doesn’t matter that it’s hot,
we’re making bow waves on our bikes,
cutting through the humidity and feeling some kind of breeze.
Sun’s nearly down,
a counter balance to the full moon,
springing up on the other side of the see-saw.
Delight! The tide is high,
the king has come to visit,
sooooooo high as it laps at the cliffs.
Slowly landing in this place.
Wind sounds though Sheoaks…
Mozzies dipping in for a drink…
Sea spray filling up my lungs.
I’ve been going back over Somerville’s writing in her Body / Landscape Journals (1999). My main question is why does Somerville frame her relationships as ‘body/place connections’? Is this the same as what others have framed as people-place? Is she responding to a dualism by not ‘perpetuating the Cartesian split between mind and body’? (Liz Ferrier, 1990: 182). S suggested that it might be a reaction to the dominant focus society has on the mind. A coming back to a different way of knowing that is not purely intellectual.
At one point Somerville (1999: 14) writes ‘I become so flat I am the rock, body blends into its surface, tufts of soft green moss around my edges and voices of children playing over me. I am the surface of the earth and they are playing on my edges.’ Not only does Somerville reflect on the experiences of her body, but she suggests through metaphor that body (her body) is landscape, drawing close the idea of expressing being through a non-Western metaphysics.
Somerville (1999: 5) draws on the work of Liz Ferrier (1990) who suggests that ‘Postcolonial transformations require new ways of understanding and representing ourselves in space… [these] involve, in part, inscribing the body in place.’ Ferrier (1990) seems to be pushing for the possibility of
‘body knowledge‘ which I interpret as a whole/integrated way of knowing which is intuitive.
Somerville raises some questions that have been dwelling in my mind space for a while:
‘What stories does mine make space for and which ones does it displace? There is still an overarching sense that all landscape is marked by Aboriginal stories and there has been no resolution to the questions whose land? and whose story can be told?… Does my story write out another story? Does it make room for multiple stories? Can your story be written in here? Is it a postcolonial space?’ (Somerville, 1999: 5).
There are some important questions that arise for me out of reading this, the first is about representation and the post-colonial politics/process of doing this with other people’s stories. Another centers on how I conceptualise the existence of multiple stories and how they interact; and/or whether I focus on stories that are created through collective acts. Also, I am not sure why Somerville has chosen to use the term landscape instead of country / place / land. I have a negative reaction to the use of the word landscape when talking about connection. Perhaps it is because I feel like the word itself detaches me from place – I look at landscapes, I am an observer, not necessarily a participant. I am aware that Somerville has tried to inscribe her body into the landscapes that she writes about, so she must have a more intimate relationship with this word/idea.
My parents migrated to Australia in the the late 1960s – 1970s from a Macedonian village now in northern Greece, Boshofski or Mavropigi. I can’t write about this place with the sentimentality that they might, I only visited once when I was 15. What I did get when I was there was a strong sense of my social interconnections. I am pretty much related to everyone in the village (2nd, 3rd, 4th cousins…). My maternal grandmother’s family and descendants have married into my father’s father’s side over many generations. My dad and Buba Ourania (mum’s mum) are even related through marriage… we always laugh about that connection. So what is left of the village? The creek that runs through the village that gave the place its name (Mavrogipi), black spring, well I’m not too sure about how its going. Whether it is still flowing, nourishing. In my grandparent’s living memory the country all around there used to be divided up into small fields, each owned by different families. Between each field were walnut, pear and other fruit trees. Each family might have half a dozen fields scattered around the area. I would love to have heard stories from my grandparents before they passed away on how this influenced the social fabric and relationships between families in the village. I’m not sure whose bright idea it was, but around the time my parents came into the world land was reassigned to families in big parcels. The fruit and trees made way for big fields and crops of tobacco. Wheat and other crops were still grown (the gypsies would come to town with their flour mill each year and receive payment in wheat), but tobacco was the main cash crop. Mum used to have to wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning to go and pick tobacco with her parents. When they returned home she then had the job of sewing the tobacco leaves onto thread. Back to the black spring though, because the name is important. The coal that makes the spring and creek black is a powerful actor in this story. Over the last generation the ploughing by hand tools, animals and tractors has been replaced by huge dredgers. Back in 1995 when dad took me up to the mountain near the village I had a sinking feeling in my heart. I had heard so many stories about this place, where my parents spent their first 23 years of life. I could see the village below and an ill-defined horizon, on which stood massive coal-fired electricity plants and open cut coal mines. Dad and I talked about the pollution and the threat that one day the village may not be here. That time seemed so far away and the concept of losing the place where my ancestors came from disconnected from my established sense of belonging. Fast forward to 2012 and the ‘creep’ of the coal mine has reached the outlying fields of the village. Every few months mum asks me if we can go onto Google Earth to have a look at whether the creep has gotten to the village yet. Komanos is gone, when you look on Google Maps the place name and streets are still there like ghosts, just raised ground. I think Kardia is gone too. Kardia means heart. Is there anything still there though? I know that the material desecration and social dispossession have transformed that place, but is there still something there that is deeper than the coal which can’t be ripped out by a bucketwheel dredger? When my mum arrived by plane in Australia in 1974, she and her brother went by taxi from Tullamarine Airport to their aunty’s house in Prahran. Mum says she still has vivid memories of that car ride through Melbourne, she said that she knew she had come home. I cry every time I think about that. For what it might mean about where we, I belong. Can you belong in a place which is different to where your ancestors walked the earth? As far back as both my parent and I can figure out, our ancestors are from the black spring. Yet, when I walked that country, I felt no conversation. The land was silent. Maybe it didn’t recognise me, maybe I had the smell of a different place.
I’ve come back to a discussion about hope between Belgium philosopher Isabelle Stengers and Mary Zournazi. There are some key ideas in this conversation that I’d like to unpack and explore, as they might open up my thinking on generative acts of being with.
Stengers (2002: 245) refers to Alfred North Whitehead’s idea of interstices (spaces between…):
‘life is always lurking in the interstices, in what usually escapes description because our words refer to stabilised identities and functioning.’
I often feel like there are palpable connections in places, but that language of the material (body- country) doesn’t adequately describe what I am feeling/sensing. Maybe there are some special glasses out there that I can put on which will make all of these felt things visible!
I like that Stengers (2002: 247) validates feeling in this next quote. Integration of thought and feeling, an intuitive knowing perhaps, seems to be a way of being similar to what Scharmer (2007) speaks about when he uses the term presencing:
‘You cannot have true thinking without feeling – and what that means is that true thinking is about transforming yourself. But the very fact that we can be transformed by what we encounter, or what we participate in, is a matter of hope.’
I’m still not sure of what Stengers’ definition of hope is though and I’m not too sure on what mine is either; something to contemplate. I want to really explore the idea of transformation and how it emerges. If I were to look more specifically at the transformation of a worldview, my worldview, I guess this whole process of exploration through ‘research’ (along with the ideas, experiences, events, places, relationships, …. which I’m interacting with) is facilitating some kind of Nia Evolution!
I’ve just been reading through Singing the land, singing the land and came across some great stuff on metaphors. I’d put my reading on metaphor aside, but something keeps calling me back to it.
Verran (1987: 7) writes about the ‘transparency of metaphors’ in the English language and suggests that the significance of their use is more profound than realised:
‘The English word ‘metaphor’ is derived from ancient roots: meta meaning change or transformation; phor meaning to carry. By carrying meaning into a changed context, we may construct new knowledge, think new thoughts.’
I would really like to explore this idea of metaphor being a vehicle for transforming thought… and does this extend to transformation of worldview and ways of being in the world?