“The university is well-practised at educating the mind for critical reasoning, critical writing and critical speaking, as well as for scientific and quantitative analysis. But is this sufficient? In a world beset with conflict, internal as well as external, isn’t it of equal if not greater importance to balance the sharpening of our intellects with the systematic cultivation of our hearts?”
This quote comes from Dr. Arthur Zajonc, a professor at Amherst College in Massuchusetts, but I found it in a reflection by Dr. Janna Rosales on the importance of balancing critical thinking “contemplative practices” in learning, published recently in University Affairs.
Dr. Rosales’ article is full of incredible insights, and it contributes to a growing internal dialogue about the nature of attention and its role in teaching difficult, abstract topics (like “leadership”, for example). She — as part of the “contemplative education movement” — is advocating for the use of a variety of techniques and approaches that allow students to really connect to the lesson at hand. In our modern world of multitasking and constant distraction, as Dr. Rosales suggests, the ability to truly focus is an integral skill.
This “internal dialogue” of mine began with an article on paying attention to insights as our best method of teaching and learning difficult concepts, such as “leadership”. Rock & Schwartz’s article recognize “attention density” as the mechanism that makes an insight — a sudden realization or understanding of a topic — become an actual change in behaviour. Rosales and the scholars of contemplative education advocate for techniques that heighten attention, emphasize self-reflection, and develop personal connections to what we’re learning. It strikes me that there’s an important crossroad here, between attention density and the techniques of contemplative education.
There are some inspiring examples of these approaches in the article. I can also recall a few that I’ve been taught to use, without realizing the fell into the category of contemplative education. “Inkshedding” is the act of just putting a pen to paper and writing out everything and anything that comes to mind, sometimes in response to a particular topic, sometimes not (e.g., 750words.com). “Empathy walks” are a technique of inciting one-to-one social bonds at retreats, while at the same time emphasizing quiet dialogue on a particular topic with a single partner.
So, my mind jumps now to application in content programming. For instance, how can we make use of contemplative education mechanisms in the design of the Global Leadership Certificate, where we have already emphasized the importance of self-reflection? This is something I hope to explore in the near future!