Ward Maillard: Yesterday we engaged in the call and we can see some of the artifacts. For those of you who just arrived, in the morning we spent some time making collages that related to the conversation that we had teased up around the call. We are going to actually work with that a little bit later on. We decided that the call, the journey, the return would be synchronous with the three days that this gathering. And so in the call phase, there’s the “call,” there’s the “resistance” to the call, there’s the vision, there’s the imagination of what it would be like. When we move into the journey there are some archetypal truths. This is nothing that we discovered that’s new, it’s something that’s in the human being, it’s in the human spirit, it’s in the human genome. And when we start the journey we may be prepared but never ready. and You can’t be because what we imagine the journey to be is never what it is. So that’s the realm of surprise, it’s the realm of disappointment, it’s the realm of expectations met or unmet, it’s the realm of making adjustments along the way.
And, as we have played out the experience of the learning journey in our trips to Washington and India and Africa and various places, I have been noticing that, it helps if we create some kind of framework for engagement to bring to awareness what’s happening during the journey. We need moments of reflection on the journey as well. There are moments when we have to realize where we are, how we’re dealing, how we’re responding emotionally to the situation. The experiential, affective, emotional phase of learning is in the journey because it’s a total body experience. It’s the relational experience of, “Who am I traveling with?” we heard Anneka talk a little bit about that last night in the Ubuntu documentary the journey was defined by her peers that she took the journey with, by the people she met on the journey and then in the return phase by the welcoming of the community from that initiatory experience in order to complete the experience and be witnessed.
So, today, we come with some level of expectation and what happens is actually what happens on the journey and we’re not always in control of that. One of the things that we do in the preparation stage, which I think the most profoundly affects us on the journey, is to get mentally prepared to deal with what happens, rather than what we expect will happen, to let go of expectation, and to show up, for example, when we set up situations like interviews with people and suddenly they’re called away and we are talking to their assistant. How do you handle disappointment? Do you pack it in? Or if there’s a relational issue along the way, what do you do? Do you implode and draw all that energy in with you?
[quote align=”right”]”it’s in those moments of challenge
that the new capacities emerge.”[/quote]
How do we manage surprise? That could be the fruit of transformation becauseit’s in those moments of challenge that the new capacities emerge. If we show up with openness, and if we actually bring the capacities that belong to each of us into those moments. The journey that we actually create is created in our minds as we are traveling, and the experience we have is the experience we create. Things don’t happen to us, we respond to things that happen. And so the question often in the journey of life, “Am I a victim and things are happening to me? Or am I taking the stuff of life and finding a way to respond to them even when my expectations have been dashed or when the vision I had wasn’t what happened? How do I live into my own life and the experiences happening right with me? These learning journeys that we take are sort of metaphorical preparation in some ways for the journey of life. To have an opportunity even when I fail, even when I blew it, In the reflective process, to realize that I could choose again and I could choose differently next time.
The value and one of the great lessons I’ve heard often from the students is, “If you didn’t give us permission to fail, and actually let us fail, we never would have known what we know now.” So when you force people into “what we have in mind for them,” what our expectation is, and we seek predictability on the journey, what we do is cauterize creativity, discrimination and confidence that I can make the adjustment. In the learning journey that we’re all involved in, in the different aspects of our education is the question, “how to open the field and how to prepare for response to what is, rather than what I expected?” How do we harness the surprise of the journey?
So today if you find yourself disappointed, if you find your expectations are not met, it you find yourself unhappy in the moment about what’s going on compared to what you thought would go on. That is the stuff of the journey. And if you find yourself delighted and surprised, count yourself lucky. We already had one small disappointment that we don’t have Angeles with us, and yet we know that she’s with us, you know that her spirit is there. So how do we honor her intention of being present with us and the lessons that so many of us have learned from her become the stuff of our own engagement and enlargement?
Vivian Wright: That was really beautiful. So to reconnect and weave together yesterday’s old news, the call, with what is fresh today, the call of now, we thought it would be good to reconnect with the collages. So if you weren’t here or didn’t make a collage, you’re still in. Participate, find some people who have there’s. Let’s take a fresh look at those and I was hoping that, Peter, you would help with some guidance at how to go at this from today’s fresh moment.
Peter Block: So I think Angeles not being her is a huge disappointment, not a small disappointment, so I’m in recovery. Here’s one thought is that the work is to, like traditional education is to produce meaning, predict meaning, lay out a curriculum and a design and say “Here’s what you’re going to lead with.” And so the whole patriarchal version of education as I have experienced it is to put us in competition with each other. For me to get my “B” somebody had to get a “D” or an “F.” I needed part of the community to fail for me to be successful. It’s the normal curve, that’s not even subtle.
As Ward says as soon as you become a performer your humanity is stolen from you. The other view, the reform of education, the conversation that you’re part of by being here says that, “everyone has the assignment to produce their own meaning.” I call it a narrative.Some people call it a narrative, which has been an interest to me over the last year. It is called “Social construction.” It says that my story is something I made up. Now I like my story, I identify with my story, I have many elements and if we had the time I could cover them all. And it would take me as long to tell my story as it took to live it so we could be here for a really long time. (lalughter) But I like the idea that maybe my story is an act of fiction. I was born and all the other meanings that I have accumulated over my life. I have constructed, which means that education reform is the reconstruction of a narrative that’s mine and ours.
I also was thinking that everyone says it all begins with me and inside out and all this kind of stuff, “be the change you want to see in the world.” I was thinking lately that it might be useful to invert that and say it doesn’t begin with me it begins with us. It’s the community, the communal possibility that I’m a part of, the culture that Ward has succeeded in creating. What you are doing is trying to produce a culture of learning as opposed to a practice in teaching, which is what most of us are used to. And maybe I need you in order to find out what’s inside, in order for me to reconstruct this narrative, this story that I’m living into.
“Reform can’t happen without art”
So the collage is a tool for that. So that’s what art does for us. Art presents a vision of the world that’s always ambiguous. Ok? If its clear its not art. It’s just imitation. If it’s clear, you may see art with enormous skill and it doesn’t touch you because it’s all clear. So the purpose of art is to document the nuisance of experience. And what’s radical in this construction is instead of having people who are good at us drawing for us, like she is, (Avril, Mariah, Mary) we say well so maybe the community needs to create the graphic display and the people who have expertise in art are guides, the messengers. And I think its wonderful. Reform can’t happen without art.
As Ward says, reform is all about valuing ambiguity, valuing failure. I was thinking as he was talking about the journey. The call is about the vision and possibility of a life. The journey is about the tragic nature of experience. If you can’t see or let in the tragic nature of being a human being you’re missing it. You’re denying it. You’re riding on a little life preserver of joy and the first little pin that comes along is going to send that to the bottom and you’ll be pissed. Now this is how Jews talk so I have to… And so I like the tragic nature. That’s why all of the statements about the journey was how do you deal with disappointment, the world didn’t turn out the way I wanted, my parents made me a promise that was a lie, they told me my daddy was rich and my ma is good looking. This is my father’s singing to me as you know, summertime, you’re daddy’s rich. So I like that notion so the collage you did yesterday as your act of participation in bringing the art, the unknown, the intuitive into being in the room. And then you look at the art and you say well what do I now construct of what I produced yesterday? This is the opening to a different narrative.
So we thought that would be a great conversation. Its different than reporting on what’s happening. Ok, I’ve declared a moratorium on all small group and individual reports cause they’re always boring even to the people making them and we do it out of some obligation. So it’s a masquerade of sharing, it’s a masquerade of intimacy to report on what happened to me yesterday. Instead you say, “well let me reflect on what meaning that I today want to construct in hat thing that was produced yesterday.” To me that’s the role that art plays, that’s the role that community plays. Now I have to say it other people, “I don’t know who I am without you, this is the Ubuntu notion.” The small group is always the vehicle where this happens. Otherwise we have to slog around the room and here everybody and it just takes too long. So that’s the construction that we thought we’d move into now. It’s the notion that you produce something.
And it’s like the call, friend of mine’s a nun, and she said that the call came from a place that she did not know. And I like that notion. Where did the call come from? I don’t know. And she said if she knew what the call of being a nun demanded of her she never would have said yes. So that’s why the source of the call is always hidden from us. Otherwise we would refuse fifty times instead of only three times.
And so that’s the thought and so the notion is that somehow what this process is about is creating a culture of learning where people can reconstruct the narrative called a life that they’re living in. This is a communal strategy verses a patriarchal strategy. The patriarchal strategy says we need to be producing and we have people say, “Kids are products.” And so the high school says, “we’re not getting the product I wanted from the grade-school we gotta do something about that.” And the business community says, “We’re not getting the product we want from the public schools we have to do something about that.” As if education was résumé building. And in higher education, same thing. We’re résumé building. So this is trying to reform that. Re-invert, invert change and direction that. So all these little pieces are the methodology.
If you say how do I apply this when you get home? That’s the wrong question. You know exactly how to apply when you get home. You get a piano in the room. You get someone who can sing. You sit in a goddamn circle. You put a flame in the center. You put an empty thing on the wall and pass out markers and drawing things. You break into small groups once and a while. You have food that’s a little bit healthy; tasteless but healthy. This is methodology. These are tools.
Alright, when people ask questions you don’t answer them and when you produce questions they’re always ambiguous. What do you mean by that? Exactly! Confusion is the mask of resistance. What do you mean by that? All these are doable they don’t take training. All they take is faith, and courage. And so that’s in a sense what you’re here for you immerse yourself in this methodology long enough to realize that it’s simple, it’s just hard to do cause you’re going in the face of what the cultural expectation is. That’s why you can’t do it on your own. And so that’s what I love about this.
And the song! Alright you can bring song in. The music. When Michael played music this morning the sun rose. It wasn’t complicated. I was standing there thinking I was in the room. I was mistaken because as soon as the music started I came in the room. Ah now I’m here I’m alive, I’m awake. I don’t know where I was before that. I thought I was fine. And so you say “We’ll every time we enter in the room we have to welcome in the music.”
Black Orpheus, if you’ve ever seen the movie. It begins, I love that movie, with the sun rising and the guy sitting on a hill playing the guitar. It is the life of a fool. And the kid walks up and says, “What are you doing?” He says, “Well I have a job to do.” He says, “If I don’t’ play this guitar the sun won’t rise.” And in the movie is his life. It’s a mystic movie, and in the end his descent into hell. And so the next morning, 24 hours later, the guitar is sitting there on that hill and the kid sees it and says, “Holy shit I’ve got work to do.” And the movie ends with this kid picking up the guitar and playing a day in the life of a fool.
So that’s true. Whose gonna argue with that. And so you say, “well every time we enter the room we’ve got tot have music. Every time we come together with more than 8 people somebody’s a poet.” So we’ve got 10 or 15 people in this room right now who’ve got poetry in their heart and the capacity to express that. So all of this to me is the methodology of a culture of learning, which is an alternative to the culture and practice of teaching. I think that’s what Ward has beautifully given form to. He found his voice about that. That’s what the “Ah” was after you speak. You know three years ago when I joined in it was kinda, “Well there’s the call, the journey, and the return.” That was his presentation. Now you can’t even shut him up, you know. I’m going like this. Ward it’s nine at night can you finish with the call for god sakes. So just wanted to say that. So, men are strange creatures.
So the other space of a culture of learning is the space for reflection. Which is like the Greek statues, which have no irises in the eyes, which means their facing inwards. The reflection is a political stance in the world that creates space for me to learn from my own experience. Whereas “imitation and response” is my learning from other people’s experience, which is very, very narrow. Other people’s experience gives me hope, they don’t give me methodology. We thought we’d give you ten minutes to find your collage, if you weren’t here yesterday you can either make one really quickly or you can bear witness and act really interested when other people talk about theirs. Which is how you spend most of your days anyhow. So why should this day be any different than any other.
I think it would be useful to, now in the forming of small groups, which is the space where intimacy can arise where learning everybody’s voice is heard. So in the construction of the small group I need a microcosm for the larger world, and so last night in the film we realized that like-mindedness is a prison. And one of you said that, “Caught in my own world it’s to small.” So when I go if I go to Africa, if I go to India, if I got to Watsonville I don’t’ know. You don’t have to go that far you can get there on a bus if you can’t afford a plane trip. Alright, I need to be with, I need to break down the like-mindedness that dominates my culture. Cause we re-segregate it. So every time you create a small group you have to be with the three other people that you know the least in this community. Every time you sit in this circle you should be near people that you know the least. Even if you have nothing to say to them.
So I’d like you to first form groups of three or for with people that you know the least, the third tenet of a small group is don’t wait to be chosen cause that’s the source of your loneliness. I spent my life waiting to be chosen. I always say well, “I don’t dial the phone, I answer it.” Ok and so in some ways we’ve been waiting, so don’t wait to be chosen. Find people that you know the least, form a circle of three or four people. Five and six is too many. The larger the circle the easiest it is for voices not to be heard. Now everybody have to do this but every time you form a small group you create space for refusal. Not to, not join the group, but to say anything. So if you want to sit there and you say, “I have a collage and I don’t’ want to say anything about it” and the group says. “Thank you. Cause we were afraid you were gonna fake it.” Got it? So that’s the notion. And sit close to each other.
The other tenet of the small group that changes the world, is “Don’t’ be helpful” to each other. Don’t give advice, don’t give interpretations, don’t’ give your own meanings to somebody else’s collage, even though you’re probably right. It’s all projections and sometimes your projections are accurate. So the question to substitute for help is, “Why does that matter to you? What does it mean to you now?” And that’s the deal. So form the groups, find your collage, form the groups and then just sit for five or six minutes and just give yourself and give yourself space to think, “Well what’s the meaning that occurs to me today as result of a night intervening between now and when I made it?” Which means I’m always capable of reinterpreting my life despite the certainty of yesterday. I know exactly what this meant yesterday and now here I am today. That’s what the night is for. The unconscious goes to work. You wake up at three in the morning. You’re supposed to be awake between three and four fifteen in the morning. If you’re not you’re choosing safety over adventure. Shame on you.
All of these pieces are answer to the question of “how?” So every moment is a mixture of metaphor and methodology. And so you say, “we design, we decide how to structure an hour, a day, a lifetime, three days, so that each piece is useful in itself, it takes us somewhere.” In Ward’s terms it functions to restore our humanity. It functions to restore our connectedness in our community. Because, whatever the problem is, its a symptom of the breakdown in community. In an individualistic society that’s a radical thought. All the words with “com”, community, communism. We’re afraid of the collective, We’re afraid of the communal. So this to me is a methodology of communal transformation. And so all these little pieces are structures. They’re pieces of social architecture. And there’s meaning in the detail of it. That’s why you need an artist in the room because they understand the nuance of experience and so how you set things up matter.
When you say break into small groups I know the small group is the unit of transformation. This is where humanity gets restored. And you’re careful about it. You see find people that you know the least. You don’t say go find somebody who’s a stranger. Cause then people can say, “Well I can defend against that, I know everybody in this room, there are no strangers, I can go with my buddies.”
So find people you know the least. Don’ t wait to be chosen. These are all metaphors for what a restored humanity looks like. These are people who are choosing their lives and not waiting to be chosen. That’s why you never go around the room when you break into small groups. You never count off. The problem with that is it’s efficient. So humanity is stolen by efficiency. It’s stolen by performance. So all these little things matter. So then you go off into groups, and you “un-facilitate” groups. You don’t want the small group to be facilitated because then it might go well. And if it goes well then, now I need a facilitator every time I break into a small group. So if you’re not rich you’re screwed. Cause I can’t afford a facilitator in every small group, and I can’t afford facilitator training. So I want un-facilitated small groups.
But you give them some ground rules and number one is don’t be helpful. Cause help is the form that colonization takes in a modern society. So the notion that I know what’s best for you is a colonial act. Globalization. It’s intimate globalization. It’s the export of democracy, “The American way.” Nothing wrong with the American way it’s just not ready for export. So you inoculate people against helpfulness and you substitute curiosity. So I spend my life trying to find out what the world means to you. And that’s where humanity, adversity, intimacy. And you give that to the small group and you don’t know what the hell happens in a small group, and you don’t try to manage.
Now you bring people back, in this case, we created space so we could mush back together. Until Vivian complained that this might be a ten bell reconvening and the thought of that was so frightening that we all sat down and started paying attention.
Small Groups Convene
Peter Block: Now when we come back together we have to do something otherwise well stay in the small groups. And if you leave the small groups together too long they get tribal. Even when you try to break them up they say, “Leave us alone we’re not finished.” I don’t care if you’re finished, the community needs you back, sweetheart, this is not about your needs. So there’s a- now when you come back you have to remind the community of what it has in common. The methodology for that is to ask the question, “What struck you.” So the question what struck you brings lightning into the room. I like lightning. I need lightning to wake me up. All other means are too mild. I’m to armored. I’m to anesthetized. I need lightning, heart attacks, divorces. This is what middle aged white men need to wake up. (laughter) Ok, not ghosts whispering in the night. The feminine can hear that. Not me. I need something cataclysmic to get my attention.
So now the other thing is that if you’re not careful what worked yesterday becomes habit. And the space matters. Not only art; but the space. And so Ken, wherever he is, says, “Could we open the blinds.” He says, “I’m missing nature.” We have nothing to hide. We didn’t come here to film. We came her to wake up. So that was an amazing gift he gave us. Now I know where I am. Now the other thing is space, so I want you to feel how we are and now together cause we’re blind to the power of space. We’re blind to the power of a room.
So here we are. Now what I’d like everybody to do is move wherever you are two inches forward and see what happens to our community. Got it? Feeling anything shift just a little bit? So you say a part of this task of popular education, this is what I would call what’s happening here, so popular education says that the purpose of education is for people to discover what they already know. It is a radical thought. So if communities within the space matters, you start paying attention to that. And you don’t leave it to chance or to vote. If people are left to vote, most of the time they will re-create patriarchy, just in a way that is more favorable to their situation. And so this is not about voting, this is not about having people being customers. You are not our customers. Because customers breed entitlement, so I’m not interested in customer service. You say well this is the creation of citizenship, which was part of the purpose of education to start with.
So now that we’re closer let me ask you, the conversation you had in the last session, “What struck you?” “What struck you?” So it’s not a report I don’t want to know what happened in your group. I do want know what meaning occured. So tell me. Let’s collect six. Now if you ask people what struck you and you go on too long, then it’s too long. That’s the theory of “too long.” So we’re in to he theory of just right. So part of what you’re doing is sustaining the energy of the community. This is part of what music does. What Michael does, what Barbara does, what an artist does. It keeps the beat going. So if you let the things go to long, as soon as the energy drifts then you stop. And that’s true in a classroom, if you’re giving a talk or presenting a material and there’s no energy flow then what are you talking for? What’s the point? Cover the material? You can do that alone. Don’t inflict it on a classroom. You want to cover you’re damn material go off and cover your material and come back when you’re done. So that’s the thought about just right verses too long. So how about what struck you about the conversation you just had.
Chautauqua members talk in small groups.
Peter Block: So got that. So that’s a little piece there. Took about fifteen minutes and it did something to the social fabric of the room. And seven, eight people, enough. If you wait too long then people will feel they should say something. So the essence of popular education or an educational classroom that restores humanity is that you want to drain out as much of the coercion from that room as humanely possible. Now there’s still the world to deal with. At the end of the day he’s still going to give a final exam. He’s gonna grade people. But you say well for the pieces I can control let me get out of even the subtle forms of coercion, which silence can become. And so that’s a thought.
So I thought, we’re gonna move to lunch, so there’s something incomplete about the small group that we just had. So partly the small group comes together with an ambiguous question. Alright? When people ask for clarity you refuse it. You say thank you for your question. And they look at you with some irritation. Say, “What kinda leader are you?” and you say, “How do you think I feel? You think I like not answering your damn question?” And so you live with that. And then the group meets we come back to reconnect ourselves and realize what happened in the other groups also happened in mine. So it doesn’t matter who I’m in a small group with there is something that connects us all. That is community.
What’s incomplete is that gifts were exchanged. So one of the qualities of community is its gift minded. Its not deficiency minded. So in Wards classroom and your classroom, failure is an option. Alright? We are not doing a guy adolescence thing, “Failure’s not an option. We want 100%” We’re not self setting bodacious goals. If anybody came to me and tried to set up a bodacious goal I would need an anti-acid. If you don’t know what I’m talking about don’t worry about it, you don’t want to know. And so, the deficiency focus undermines popular education. I don’t want to know what my needs are. Even when we talk about poor countries we do them a disservice in that sentence. Cause that’s not who they are. They may not be rich, but it’s not who they are. When you talk about youth at risk, I don’t want to talk about that cause that’s not who they are.
So we need to complete the circle that you were in by talking about gifts. Now the gift conversation has to be done in a particular. It has to be specific and concrete. It can’t be abstract and general. Otherwise it has no power. So you can’t say, “this was a great group.” Useless! Or you can’t say, “I’ve got nothing to say to each of you because you were all so wonderful.” That’s just a way of staying distant. So what I’d like you to do is to reconnect in the group you were in just for about ten minutes on our way to lunch. You can either do it here or go walk your talk. And say to the people, “Here’s the gift I received from you in the thirty minutes we had together. Here’s what you did that touched me. Here’s what you did that allowed me to fall in love with you.” If you want to crank it up a notch, that’s what you’re talking about. You know?
And then when people say something nice to you, you just say, “Thank you I like hearing it.” You don’t give a little speech. You don’t say well I was lucky, or you brought it out of me. Alright? That’s a way of defending again my own divine, or the grace within me, or the gift within me. Whatever language you want to use, it’s all the same. Got it? So you say, “Thanks, I like hearing that.” And then if you’re courageous. If you’re as curious about learning as you claim. Got it? This is an assignment. You say, “Tell me more. Give me some details of what I did that was so useful to you. That allowed you to fall in love with me. What did I do? Was it the way I looked at you? Was it the way I sat? Was it the question I asked? Tell me I’ve got to know I’m running out of time.”
So you initiate in the world a conversation of gifts that has the texture and thickness that you’ve been doing with the conversation of deficiencies. Cause when people give you feedback, which you should always refuse, anybody says, “Would you like some feedback?” you say, “No thank you.” Because it’s never going be good news. If it was good news they wouldn’t need your permission. And so I say, “No. If you’re mad at me let me know. Don’t call it help.” Got it? So let’s do that. And so reform your groups. Find the other people, if you can’t remember who they were find a group, they won’t have the nerve to tell you, “you don’t belong.”
Basque Squares Exercise from Angeles Arrien
Introduced by Patrick Oneil
Peter Block: So what Patrick did had enormous precision to it. So what we’re doing is creating a string of educational design pieces. We’re trying to say so if we get this popular education, or education, whatever your language is about it. And I just wanted to note that Patrick set up this exercise in a way that gave it a large meaning than just the doing of it. And the context he gave I thought was so beautiful, with just silence as initiatory as an opening. And that gave us a reason to do the exercise, maddening as it was.
So context counts. Otherwise it’s just an activity. You’re trying to make a distinction between education and entertainment and so we didn’t come her to be entertained. We came to learn something we couldn’t’ have learned in some other way. The other thing is that, as Ward says that the way we do education now steals our humanity cause we’ve turned it into a performance.
Same with art. I was told that I couldn’t draw, I couldn’t sing, I smiled too much, I was too expressive. It’s what my teachers told me. So I drew conclusions, I said, “This is not working.” And so you say, “Well if the restoration of our humanity is the purpose of Mount Madonna” or educational institutions you are a part of is to restore people’s humanity. This is a methodology. ‘Cause I don’t know how to defend against the art. And once it’s out there it’s visible and permanent. See, I can say “shit” and then deny it as long as Devin doesn’t have his video camera working. Where this you can’t deny so you get nervous. You say, “Well anxiety is a condition.”
The other thing Patrick was so beautiful about he says, “Look when things don’t turn out well, that’s it. Now what are you going to do? What are you gonna do when it doesn’t turn out well?” I just think, those are all elements of what great learning design looks like. And that’s all I wanna say. So Barbara?