Process and Pedagogy
A Collaborative Approach
Note to Readers: This article, translated into Chinese and English, will appear in an anthology of essays from JJB called Replanting Ourselves in Beauty: Toward an Ecological Civilization, edited by Patricia Adams Farmer and Jay McDaniel, available in January 2015.
FEELS: A Process Pedagogy
Education in Service to Wholeness and Beauty
Bangxiu Xie, Jay McDaniel
If ecological civilizations are to emerge in our world, education will play a crucial role. Many authors in this book believe that Whitehead’s philosophy offers a general framework for thinking about education; and one of us, Jay McDaniel, identifies twelve ideas that are entailed in his philosophy. We will list these ideas and then develop one more: namely, a Whitehead-influenced approach to classroom pedagogy. Bangxiu Xie calls it FEELS: Education in Service to Wholeness and Beauty.
The Twelve Ideas
1. The Subject of Education. The ultimate subject in education is Life in all its manifestations: not only human life, but also the life of the plants and animals, the earth, and the wider universe. The whole of nature is alive.
2. Creativity. Creativity is an essential dimension of life and is found at every level of existence. The planets and stars are creative in their ways, and so are the quantum events within the depths of atoms. Animals are obviously creative in their capacities for innovation and adaptation. When educators stifle creativity, they are going against the very grain of the universe.
3. Collaborative Creativity. We are not skin-encapsulated egos cut off from the world by the boundaries of our skin; we are persons-in-community whose very identities are established in relation to others. Even if a person develops ideas in isolation, these ideas are a synthesis of countless forms of creativity developed by others.
4. Intellect and Feeling. The Western Enlightenment was mistaken to present the mind as if it were disembodied and disaffected, separable from feeling and movement. The intellect ought not to be separated from feeling. Even thinking is a form of feeling: a feeling of ideas. This includes even mathematical thinking. It is a felt exploration of pure potentialities.
5. Multiple Forms of Intelligence. It is a mistake to reduce intelligence to science and mathematics, or even to book learning. There are multiple forms of intelligence: kinesthetic, empathetic, mathematical, emotional, verbal, imaginative, and practical. All are important in different circumstances.
6. Aesthetic Experience. Aesthetic experience plays an important role in education because all experience is aesthetic. The very aim of education at its best is to provide people with ways of finding beauty in their lives and adding beauty to the lives of others. Even wisdom and compassion, even truth and goodness, are forms of beauty. Beauty consists of satisfying forms of harmony and intensity.
7. The Problem of Inert Ideas. The problem with education today is that it is focused on inert ideas. Inert ideas are ideas that are treated in isolation from their relevance to life and the world, and in isolation from their relevance to students. They are approached as commodities or as objects, but not as lures for feeling, understanding, and action. When ideas function effectively in education, they are alive with potentiality.
8. The Need for Romance. A good teacher must always remember that there are three phases to education: romance, precision, and generalization. The romantic stage occurs when students are introduced to ideas that engage them, that are interesting, that make them feel more alive. The precision can come later, but without romance there is no joy in education.
9.The Problem of Standardization. Education fails when it is locked into standardization when it should be focused on personalization. Each student is unique in his or her abilities, and in the particular forms of “intelligence” that bring him or her joy, and which can help the student contribute to the well-being of the world.
10. The Value of Learning by Doing. Education fails when it forgets the wisdom of the body, and when it forgets that, often, the most important kinds of learning occur through practice. Learning can occur from body to mind as well as mind to body. This does not mean that book learning is bad. To the contrary, it is wonderful. But it's not enough.
11. The Problem of Disciplinary Fragmentation. In higher education today, a central problem lies in the excessive specialization of academic disciplines. Often university professors assume that their primary goal is to introduce students into their academic guilds, forgetting that education is in service to life. While specialization can be valuable, it needs to be balanced by generalization and transdisciplinary studies.
12. Whole Person Education. At every level, education needs to be oriented toward the cultivation of whole persons who live satisfying lives and who, at the same time, can contribute to the common good of their communities and the world.
If education is to follow these twelve guidelines, it needs to have a practical, classroom pedagogy, one which brings it into the lives of individual students. Bangxiu Xie coins the acronym FEELS to name its components. The acronym is especially relevant because, for Whitehead, a chief element in all human experience is empathetic feeling: that is, feeling the feelings of others. Even if we do not feel compassion for other people, we have empathy with our own bodies. But Whitehead believes that, in fact, we often feel empathy for the subjective states of others–their joys and sufferings–and in fact feel their feelings. As we use the word “feels” in presenting the FEELS pedagogy, we have this empathy in mind, plus more.
FEELS stands for five essential features of classroom pedagogy: Flexible objectives, Engaged learners, Embodied knowledge, Lively interactive learning, and Supportive teachers. The purpose of these five features is to help students understand their own capacities for wholeness. Wholeness is beauty – that is, harmony and intensity as enjoyed in felt relations with their pasts, their futures, other people, the natural world, and the world of intellectual objects, including those “lures for feeling” which form language.
1. Flexible Objectives.
In a pedagogy with flexible objectives, curriculum is currere, a verb rather than a noun, a process of seeking in conversation with others in a learning community. Here Bangxiu Xie borrows William E. Doll Jr.’s term “richness” to refer to the depth of the curriculum, the levels of meaning, the multiple possibilities within it, or the diverse interpretations about it. For students and teachers to be transformed, and be transformed creatively, there must be, in curriculum, the “right amount” of uncertainty, abnormality, invalidity, ambiguity, imbalance, dissipativity, and vivid experience. But it is impossible to pre-determine how the curriculum can reach this “rightness of amount” in both form and state while simultaneously arousing creativity in teachers and students. This problem needs to be tackled through continuous coordinations and interactions among students, teachers, and texts.[i] The curriculum must be rigorous with flexibility, seeking different options, relations and contacts; it must search consciously for various assumptions we and others hold, as well as for the channels needed to coordinate between these assumption in a meaningful and transformative dialogue. The dialogue between a reader and a text is a two-way process, with each party having its own voices. Certainty and uncertainty are mixed together in the dialogue.
When a teacher sets up objectives for a class, the objectives can change with the progress of the teaching-learning process, for the classroom is a dynamic learning community. The objectives of curricular design must be flexible. Some of them emerge in the process of interactions between teachers and students, among students, and/or between teachers, students and texts, rather than prior to the interactions. The curriculum is not merely a tool for delivering knowledge, but also a tool for creating and re-creating self and culture.
[i] William E. Doll, Hongyu Wang. A Post-Modern Perspective on Curriculum. Beijing: Education Science Press. 2004: 250-251.
2. Engaged Learners.
In a pedagogy with engaged learners, the learners are engaged as participants rather than spectators. In ancient Greek, the word “theoros,” the root of “theory” and “theorist,” refers to those who participated in the Olympic Movement as spectators rather than participants of the games. As applied to education, the student is seen as a spectator of transcendental knowledge, a recipient of the information delivered by the teacher or sent from texts, positive only in the narrow sense of keeping “on track.”.
In contrast, with the idea of engaged learners, everyone is a participant of the curricular reality; no one is a spectator. The curriculum is not a package of knowledge or information, but a process based on interactions in local contexts, a process of dialogue and transformation. A learner is already involved with the subject being studied, adding interpretative frameworks of his/her own, and approaching the subject, not simply as a learner, but as a whole person: that is, as someone who is interacting with the subject cognitively and emotionally. With regard to the relationship between the learner and knowledge, there is no changeless knowledge or absolute truth. A learner is not a passive recipient or slave to the given knowledge, but rather an active creator of new knowledge, a flexible transformer and employer of knowledge learned, and a creative seeker of wisdom.
3. Embodied Knowledge
In a pedagogy with embodied knowledge, knowledge is embodied as a kind of wisdom in which the learners are engaged in the process of learning. The classroom is a public place to openly analyze and transform the existing experiences, where students and teachers explore various options, consequences and assumptions through mutual cooperation and interaction. This public exploration in the learning community takes place in a critical, serious, yet empathetic manner. Points of view, proposed for the purpose of exploration, are components of the recursive process of the curriculum. The curriculum is not simply decided by authors of textbooks, but is rather to be created in the classroom community.
It is unnecessary to teach too many subjects; instead, it is important to teach whatever is taught as an organic whole. As Whitehead put it in his The Aims of Education, “Let the main ideas which are introduced into a child’s education be few and important, and let them be thrown into every combination possible. The child should make them his own, and should understand their application here and now in the circumstances of his actual life.” [i]
Knowledge is not wisdom, but it offers the basis for learners to seek for wisdom. Wisdom is the mastery of knowledge or the means of mastering knowledge. Wisdom and knowledge are not always in positive correlation with each other. “In a sense, knowledge shrinks as wisdom grows: for details are swallowed up in principles.”[ii] So when a learner gets rid of the textbooks, burns up the notebooks, forgets the detailed knowledge he/she is familiar with for the sake of examinations, he/she will still be at home in venturing and creating new knowledge in the experience of learning based on the few principles. This is the time when the learner has finally owned wisdom.[iii]
[i] Alfred North Whitehead. The Aims of Education. New York: The Free Press. 1967: 2.
[ii] Alfred North Whitehead. The Aims of Education. New York: The Free Press. 1967: 37.
[iii] Alfred North Whitehead, Luzhou Xu. The Aims of Education. Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing. 2002: 66.
4. Lively Interactive Learning
In a pedagogy with a learning process composed of lively interactions, learning is not the passive reception of given knowledge, nor is it an isolated or procedural activity. Instead, learning is the most important and unique capacity of the human mind. The capacity of the mind represents the ability of a whole person with both intelligence and emotion to interact with the social surroundings in a reflective manner. The concept of social interaction, as well as the interactivity with others orienting to the self and community, is of great significance to learning.[i] People learn from others, learn through interactions with others, learn together with others, and learn mutually from each other.
Indeed, even when understood as the acquisition of knowledge, learning is an active process in which the learner creates and discovers new ideas in the process of interacting with other people and with texts. Adventures go hand in hand with creative activities. Learning, as a kind of creative activity, is never a mechanized, passive action of putting things into a container; instead, it is filled with adventures, enjoyment and freedom. Creation, adventure, enjoyment and freedom are so closely related that they are inseparable from each other. The process of learning and creating through interaction is simultaneously a process of making adventures, increasing enjoyment, and obtaining freedom.
[i] William E. Doll, Hongyu Wang. A Post-Modern Perspective on Curriculum. Beijing: Education Science Press. 2004: 170.
5. Supportive Teachers
In a pedagogy with supportive teachers, education is a kind of art, and the involvement of teachers is essential. The art of education includes inducing, convincing (in a non-coercive way), respecting differences, and honoring others. A supportive teacher does not naturally own the truth; he or she is also a learner. The teacher is someone who enjoys venturing and creating, who is rich in imagination, who is good at inducing and inspiring, and who is able to put forth original and alternative new ideas. The teacher can discover and select the propositions that are meaningful to students and stir up their interests; he or she can encourage students not to blindly accept knowledge in books, but to be adventurous and come up with new questions. The teacher’s role also lies in listening to, and hearing, students’ voices. The teacher must understand students’ needs, so that they feel heard and understood as individuals who are worthy in their own right, quite apart from how well they do or do not succeed in classwork.
Correlations of the Five Aspects in FEELS
Imagine a playground in which five children are playing together. Each “player” is influenced by every other “player,” and the play as a whole is dependent on all five interacting. These connections are not merely logical, but also experiential, involving emotion and feeling. And so it is with the five letters of FEELS.
Nevertheless, not all the five aspects of FEELS are equal. Among the five aspects, engaged learners should be central, with the other four aspects–flexible objectives, embodied knowledge, a lively interactive learning process and supportive teachers–all pointing toward engaged learners. This means helping and supporting learners to be truly engaged with the interactive process by adjusting the objectives of learning according to the specific situations and actual needs. All this is with the objective that students learn to embody knowledge and skills—and, as a result, enrich their experience, increase their wisdom, and find delight in heart and soul.
References (see Chinese Version)
6. FEELS 五者之间的相互关系
[①] William E. Doll, Hongyu Wang. A Post-Modern Perspective on Curriculum. Beijing: Education Science Press. 2004: 250-251.
[②] William E. Doll, Hongyu Wang. A Post-Modern Perspective on Curriculum. Beijing: Education Science Press. 2004: 200.
[③] A. N. 怀特海, 徐汝舟.《教育的目的》. 北京：生活 读书 新知三联出版社. 2002: 66.
[④] William E. Doll, Hongyu Wang. A Post-Modern Perspective on Curriculum. Beijing: Education Science Press. 2004: 170.
1. Alfred North Whitehead. Process and Reality (Corrected Edition). New York: The Free Press. 1978.
2. Alfred North Whitehead. The Aims of Education. New York: The Free Press. 1967: 2.
3. A. N. Whitehead, L. Xu. The Aims of Education. Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing. 2002.
4. Collins Cobuild. English Language Dictionary. London: HarperCollins Publisher. 1991.
5. Hongyu Wang. The Call from the Stranger on a Journey Home – Curriculum in a Third Space. New York: Peter Lang Publishing. 2004.
6. Jay McDaniel. What is Process Thought? – Eight Answers to Eight Questions and Eight Appendices on Special Topics. 2010.
7. William E. Doll, Hongyu Wang. A Post-Modern Perspective on Curriculum. Beijing: Education Science Press. 2004.
8. Zhihe Wang, Meijun Fan. Second Enlightenment. Beijing: Peking University Press. 2011.