Dreaming : An Educational Resource and Philosophy for Teachers.
I would like to make three disclaimers. I disagree with education as it is today. For anyone who feels strongly about education this essay might cause unpleasant emotions to read a critique of your livelihood. I would caution readers to be aware of emotions that arise, observe them, and try to mine them for learning.
Secondly I consider my life experience as layered works of literature. This means that the ‘research’ has already been done by simply living in this world and exposing myself to a myriad of experiences. The sources that I draw upon wish to avoid the ‘academic way’ which I consider to be a homogenous voice that can stifle innovation. What you are reading is not ‘facts’ backed by the academic way but a collection of stories, ideas and valid (close your eyes for the word following these brackets if your name happens to be Kurt) opinions.
Thirdly, this is meant to be a guided meditation where you can observe if these ideas resonate with your own. If they don’t, it can provide an opportunity for you to clarify your own position. You can choose to use these ideas in your life or completely discard. It’s as much your choice as you wish to make it.
When I approach this project I am coming at it from a very particular perspective. I see education as broken. I hold it responsible for current world events such as war, poverty. It is critical to look at the focus of education. In many ways education places importance on achieving an A. This has been written about often. For example, a book like: Punishment by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and other Bribes. By Alfie Kohn Or in our most recent Big Ideas unit: The Seven-Lesson School Teacher by Gatto, John Taylor.
Grammar and punctuation are graded in almost every assignment because it is considered to be part of good communication. Ken Robinson in his Ted Talk claims that education prepares children for ‘low grade clerical work’ (minute 5:03, Ken Robinson) The system is designed so that, even if greater values are the ‘objectives’ of a course, the reality is the students main concern is how to ‘succeed’ via a narrowly focused grading system. There is no or little validation given to students who learn a lot but are failing every subject in terms of grades. Validation is given to those who meet the learning requirements designed and chosen by someone else. These are a few ways that I would describe the broken system.
Feedback is an important part of education. It has a very powerful effect. The errors that one chooses to acknowledge take a student in one particular direction. So as teachers we must be conscious of the direction we are sending that student in when giving feedback. As well, I would like to see students giving themselves feed back. Or being part in choosing the kind of feedback they wish to receive from teachers and peers. (summative, formative, positive, errors focused, grammar or ideas or both)
So how do we change this? My solution is to change the focus of education. Literacy is important but what about reading ability as secondary to ‘literacy of a ‘good life’? I see the function as being a good person. While the form is being able to read. In this case I believe the form should follow function. Right now Education has form as the main course of education while function is assumed that it is intrinsically there and often it isn’t.
I think the focus and function of education should be to learn how to beomce a better person, to learn to create better communities and to create a better world. What if literacy meant that you knew how to understand yourself deeply? What if strong literacy was to navigate the complexity of communities and build them using the power of your mind? What if a literate world was a world striving and moving towards utopian ideals? This shift in the purpose of education, in the both the legislation and in the practice, I feel, is what the world needs at this particular point and time. Its one thing to believe this but is another thing to put it into practice.
It is this perspective that has lead me to my topic. My topic comes from a desire to teach people to dream. When I say dream, I don’t mean to become aware of the pictures and images moving through your mind at night when you go to sleep. I mean to visualize a way of life, or a world or a time or a place: The way that Martin Luther King used ‘dream’ in his famous speech, “I have a dream”. It is not only about having a dream but taking steps towards making a dream a reality. This technique of dreaming is more than just goal setting. It involves a spectrum of emotions and spiritual needs. It is a skill that, if mastered, leads to a sense of control over ones life as well as happiness.
Dreaming in this way is often overlooked in education. The phrase, ‘follow your dreams’ is abundant in North American society. However, the meaning and the ‘how to’ aspect of following dreams is not part of the curriculum. It is replaced by more solid and quantifiable subjects. But it is dreaming that we need right now.
Perhaps education shies away from dreaming because the language of making dreams is closely tied to aspects of the spirit. By asking questions like ‘who am I?’ ‘What can I do in this life and who can I be?’ teachers tread into a the taboo land of religious practices. The danger is the fear of an education that is non-secular. That said, I still think it is important to use indigenous technology, healing processes as well as methods from eastern philosophies, such as meditation, as tools we can borrow for use in secular education. As individuals, as communities, as a globally connected community, we need to build up these dreaming skills in order to make it through the challenges we are about to face.
Step 1: Dreaming for Individual Growth.
The skill of dreaming should begin with the self. You must know yourself in order to be attune to the better choices in dreams. Paradoxically there is no better way to get to know yourself than having a dream and making it a reality. One example that I could take from my own life is the time I chose to hitchhike to Halifax during my exams with no money. What I learned about myself is that it is easier to run away from problems but that running away comes with consequences. I also learned that I was able to learn more in those five days than in an entire semester of intense reading and essay writing. The dreams we choose to live can have both positive and negative consiquences. The process of imagining an experience and fulfilling it, is a powerful way to learn.
The consequences of this experience were, as one can imagine, that others graded my performance that semester as very low. My own understanding was that I had taken a huge risk and the payoff was a wealth of learning. However what I learned was not considered or validated by formal education.
The things I learned was so powerful it lit the fire for another dream, and this dream was to change the way that students are evaluated in education. I believe that self-directed growth is almost completely absent from the highest validated forms of education such as University. Despite the claims (by academics) to the opposite. This is what dreaming can do for a person. Teach them to understand what the self needs in order to grow.
Each student should be taught to meditate in many different styles and methods. Each individual person will appreciate a different way. Different times in one’s life call for different meditative practices. They should learn techniques to calm the voices and directions of the mind. The point of these meditation techniques should be ‘how to focus’ and ‘how to gently reflection on ones life’. These skills are invaluable and provide life long learning consequences.
Its important that this meditative practice is gentle and kind to oneself. The critique, the idea that you can focus on what is wrong with something in order to make it better, can undermine this practice of meditation. We are trying to make it better by acknowledging that the self is good enough. Instead of looking at how it is wrong, we look at how we feel about something. Negative emotions are tools telling us that we need to change something. To understand, accept and, be ok with change is the meditative practice of kindness to oneself. Self-care is so important and more info can be found here.
As a yoga teacher I learned many techniques in my certification process for practical lessons on meditation. You can use the body as a tool to help the mind meditate. My favorite form of meditation is walking meditation. You go for a walk try to focus on the present moment. You try to pay attention to your breath, the soles of you feet as they hit the ground. As you move you practice mindfulness. If thoughts come to you from the future, from the past then you observe them and return your attention to your breath. Similar principles apply to sitting meditation. The Internet is full of guided meditation options.
I feel teachers should teach this practice to students for the sake of the discipline it teaches. This is in addition to the physical and mental health benefits of meditation and mindfulness. Meditation is a quiet place one can go and paradoxically it is in this silence that a person can begin to discover the self. A strong connection to self will help with individuals build dreams for their own education.
Step 2: Community dreams
Community is defined by Google as: A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common, OR a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. Community therefore is not a static entity. Communities often change with time, as do community dreams. The purpose of teaching a community to dream is that these visions give a community power. They give communities a sense of agency and solidarity. Dreams are used in self-advocacy and ways of striving towards social justice. Without the process of dreaming, the possibilities for a community to enact their dreams get lost and swept under the rug of inattention. Collective visions for a future are vital to thriving communities.
We can look at education as one type of collective dream. It is a system designed by a number of people. Unfortunately, the foundation was designed during an age of industrialization, mechanization, and alienation. This dream serves specific people in our society, but it is far from accommodating the unique wishes of the majority. It focuses on uniformity and serving the needs of authority. It is a system where you have to follow the rules. (I am sure Ivan Illich, Pierre Bourdieu, Paulo Freire, Bell Hooks, and a thousand other dreamers would agree with me.)
Breaking the rules becomes a form of resistance to the system.  Resistance is sometimes the only option when you wish to change a collective dream. In this system students have to spend so much of energy just trying to do what is expected of them, that there is no energy left to do what they are really good at. This is why this dream about education is broken. Even if the works for some, for the majority it has failed.
The ways in which education has been imagined, reminds me of this popular meme about education. Whereby all the animals of the animal kingdom gather at the bottom of a tree. They are then asked to reach the top of the tree. The one who arrives there the fastest receives an A+. All the rest of them are graded in accordance of when they arrive there. If we use this as an analogy for the way education works, the eagle and the sparrow and most birds receive an A+. Most monkeys get an A. The raccoon and squirrel don’t do badly. The dog starts learning to climb to the hilarity of his peers. The Elephant knocks the tree over but is disqualified. But the Salmon will never get an A unless he bribes the eagle, he will also put himself at a lot of risk to do something like that. The Salmon who can do accomplish things that the eagle could never dream of, but education is asking him to do the thing he was not designed to do. I.E. sit down, sit still, have no extremely angry emotions, and write a 3500 word paper.
This way of viewing education means two things. First, survivors need to receive healing for the violence of such a system and, secondly, we as a community, need to shift the way that we view education. We need to dream different dreams about what is possible in education. For this to happen, there needs to be an activity and lesson about communication. We need a way of listening to each other. Thankfully there is a brilliant indigenous technology for this. It is called a Talking Circle.
Listening to each other is crucial to creating a collectively designed dream and a vision serving all of the communities members. Talking circles allow all voices to be heard and can be done in different styles, traditions and ways. For the purpose of the formal education situation I imagine the kind where you set up chairs in a circle is like more suited to the current education environments.
There are a number of ways to organize a talking circle. Some guide lines to follow come from First Nations Pedagogy Online: “It is respectful to introduce oneself. It is important that the circle of people listens respectfully to the person speaking. The person who is speaking should ‘speak from the heart’. Shared communications should be kept in confidence, especially if personal.” The process of a talking circle requires participants to trust each other but it also builds that trust.
I think one of the key points and benefits of the talking circle is “Circle processes are based upon equality between participants and the principle of sharing power with each other instead of having power over one another” (pbisnetwork). This way of forging collective communication (without the power dynamics of a lecture style format) is what will help build strong communities. Eventually that will lead to a better world like a ripple on the surface of a glassy pond.
In schools today the teacher is responsible for dreaming up experiences for the students. I would like to see this process inverted. Where the students make the curriculum and teachers provide support and techniques used. 
When imagining ways that individuals and communities can learn to dream it is important to consider the conditions needed for this activity. Participants of imagining, creative expression or roleplaying need to have a sense of safety. To have a dream where you radically express different selves is a risk. For an example if a student stood up in class and told everyone that they were the reincarnation of Maria Montessori, there would be no or little place in that class for respect of that person. From that point forward, that person would be framed as too radical or even mentally ill. The credibility of someone who says something that a community deems too far in any direction is immediately undermined. This is despite the fact that such roll playing can be rich a source of learning.
This attitude towards difference is what makes having dreams unsafe. Dreaming cannot take place in a space where ‘being weird’ is not understood, accepted and valued. Dreaming requires specific conditions. Just because the world we live in on a day-to-day basis struggles to accept difference, doesn’t mean it is impossible. Some individuals have the capacity to make their crazy dreams a reality under these conditions such as the creator of ice instruments. Also Burning Man is a good example of a space with the conditions for dreams to thrive.
Burning Man, a festival that takes place once a year in the Nevada desert, is an experiment in ‘temporary community’. (Goodell) It is a place and time where dreams have immense power to transform the space and lives of the people who attend.
The structure that allows people to create this world is a set of ten principals. One of them is Radical Self-expression. “Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should also respect the rights and liberates of the recipient.” (Burning Man) This principal makes it an obligation to show your difference and it is framed in the sense that this is sharing of your radical self expression is a gift. This principal means that you are expected to be radical forms of yourself. People dream and live crazy things at this festival and the consequence is profound learning.
To recap on the ideas that I have presented; dreaming is the process of imagining different experiences in order to live them and gain wisdom from those experiences. It is a skill that can be developed through individual and group exercise. The benefits are the shift in how we manage our selves, communities and the world at large. My argument is that we will need the skill of dreaming to be able to face and be successful with the futures challenges facing humans.
In conclusion I would happily throw the curriculum out the window as a symbolic act of resistance of the low-grade clerical work expected of those in education. The replacement would be, to follow a more intuitive sense of what is needed here and now of these particular individuals. 
Goodell. (2015 Aug 19). Burning Man Could be moving to Utah. Burners.Me: Me, Burners and the Man.
Ken Robinson. (May 2013) How to escape Education’s Death Valley. https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley/transcript?language=en
I Have a Dream. (2015, October 27). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:10, December 3, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=I_Have_a_Dream&oldid=687663511
First Nations Pedagogy. (2009). Talking Circles. Retrieved December 8, 2015, from http://firstnationspedagogy.ca/circletalks.h
Google. Community definition. Retrieved December 6, 2015, from https://www.google.ca/search?q=community&oq=community&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.1514j0j7&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=91&ie=UTF-8#q=community+definition
Kurt Thumlert. In his original critique of my jigsaw resource. December 2016
All photos sourced from google images March 2016
 I recognize that that idea is both very abstract and in some sense a cop out – which I am more than willing to take a severe grade reduction in exchange for the opportunity to find my voice and a way to be a more authentic me.
 While I think grammar and punctuation are important they should not be the focus of good communication. (Though I must surrender to sense that this idea has been debated since the time of Plato.) The anxiety of losing marks because of misspelt words is a side effect of the current system. For me, a useful lesson on communication, allows students to talk about their own difficulties and feel safe in doing so.
 I am not alone in these ideas. The practice of putting these thoughts into action was absent from my formal education.
 The ‘dangerousness’ of non-secular education is a topic for whole other essay.
 For example not citing or using “a more sophisticated discourse/language of critique”. (Kurt Thumlert 2016) Good marks or no, if you feel that your integrity depends on your resistance to the rules… you must validate yourself in following that dream. Accepting fully the consequences of refusing to use academic voice in an academic institution.
 Like Maria Montessori! No need to reinvent the wheel.
 Just for the fun of it. Here is a lesson plan that inverts teacher centered testing Designing your own test: Students have to make up their own questions. Each student makes a multiple choice question. Then they submit it to the teacher. If the teacher likes the question they will put it on the test, if not then they will choose their own question. The question has to be hard, and relevant. The benefit to the student to make a good question is that they can then potentially, through collaboration with peers, know all the answers to the test. If they are organized, and all of the questions are accepted by the teacher, then technically 100% of the students can get 100%. This is teaches engagement for the sake of collaboration.
 Burning Man attracts a number of highly privileged individuals, and the decommodification principle helps to create powerful transformative experiences.
 I realize that attitude pretty much disqualifies me on several levels from being accepted to any school board – possibly even graduating. But I am a student, imperfect and embarking on a journey of growth. There is time to learn and correct my ways. This is part of my individual dream, to allow myself to preform these behaviors. I preform them so that when I encounter them as a teacher I will have the empathy required to understand them.