On November 27th, the Fall 2017 Jeanne Sauvé Forum Series on Social Connectedness and International Development continued with its 11th weekly seminar of the fall series: Connectedness in the Classroom and Beyond: Holistic Approaches to Education.
The Sauvé Series, created by Professor Kim Samuel in collaboration with the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation, explores the root causes of social isolation, along with strategies for building social connectedness through international policy and program development. It began last fall with weekly discussions at the historic Jeanne Sauvé House in Montreal covering a variety of topics, from the UN Sustainable Development Goals to refugees and human rights. The Series is also closely linked with Professor Samuel’s fourth-year seminar course on social connectedness at McGill University, the first of its kind.
Speaking on a subject dear to her heart, Professor Samuel reminisced how one student in her class last year commented that “our classroom was a real community – where we were all engaged with each other, teaching, learning and sharing together.” However this is not the reality in most classrooms, Professor Samuel pointed out, as “too often, education is formulaic and leads to too many young people disengaging, feeling isolated or disconnected.” This is particularly prevalent in universities, where the “loneliness epidemic” has swept across campuses.
Professor Samuel remarked that “when we nurture creativity and connection, when we create dialogue and learning opportunity grounded in respect, recognition and reciprocity, we empower young people to lead in building a more connected and compassionate future beyond the classroom.” This is vital for all education systems, especially for Indigenous communities where education is playing a powerful role in reclamation of culture and language, reconciliation and resurgence. Furthermore, reflecting on connectedness provides an opportunity for all of us to connect education with personal growth and community, harmony and wellbeing.
Ian Skelly, a BBC Broadcaster and Writer for His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, shared a personal story about his education and how he came to understand the Principles of Harmony. He recounted how he met a beautiful painter and teacher named Jon Nappa, who introduced him to the philosophy of the interconnectedness of all things. Nappa painted the same natural background in each of his paintings, reminding Ian of the presence and continuity of nature in his life. With this perspective, Ian went on to work closely with The Prince of Wales in writing a book on Harmony, which examines how some of the most dire challenges in the world are rooted in disharmony with nature.
Ian also mentioned other painters and philosophers who espoused unity and the Principles of Harmony, highlighting how these individuals had a greater sense of imagination, something undervalued in our modern world and especially in his own education. Overall, Ian set the stage for considering how imagination and nature can play a greater role in our lives, and in our education.
Following Ian was Richard Dunne, Principal of the Ashley Primary School in Walton on Thames (a 500 student school in the southwest of London, UK) and creator of the Harmony Education Project. Richard noted that there are many problems in our current education system: “We’ve become obsessed with the idea that we need to put knowledge in children, rather than focusing on drawing out their knowledge and capabilities.” Richard also stated that education should be designed to develop leaders both in the present and future, but this is not happening.
Richard emphasized that we need to start sharing values with children from a young age because this helps them to build their own sense of the world they want to live in. Drawing on learnings from the Book of Harmony, Richard developed seven principles that guide his school’s curriculum, which are meant to cultivate leadership in both students and teachers. He outlined various characteristics of a leader, including that they listen well, create beautiful work, never stop learning, know how to be and not just what to do, and can develop leaders out of learners. This method, according to Richard, is “active education,” not passive. In closing, Richard left the audience with a powerful quote by John Schaar: “The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made. And the activity of making them that changes both the maker and the destination.”
Next, Jeremy Monk, a masters student in international education development and policy at Columbia University’s Teacher College and Social Connectedness Fellow 2017, talked about his research on how communities are being involved in the implementation and measurement of the 4th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), Quality Education. Jeremy remarked how the predecessor of the SDGs, the Millennium Development Goals, placed an emphasis on universal primary completion, but neglected the assessment of the quality of education. Today, he explained, there is growing consensus around the importance of measuring the quality of education, rather than just quantity.
Despite this shift, Jeremy criticized large scale international assessments, which compare countries and often exclude local communities. He argued that citizen-led assessments, which are done in households by families, can increase awareness of low-learning outcomes and stimulate community-led action to address learning gaps. Furthermore, when local people are involved, he said, it can help develop a sense of ownership.
Jessica Meirovici, Social Connectedness Fellow 2017 and a current masters student in education at McGill, began the discussion portion of the evening by reflecting on her research on barriers to inclusive education in Quebec. She noted that there is a need to redefine the meaning of “inclusive education” in the province and that more resources and bilingual training for teachers are necessary to reform this vision. She asked the panelists how each would make the case for implementing their respective values on holistic education into education systems worldwide.
Jeremy responded that community engagement is key to advancing holistic values in education. Ian stressed the importance of imagination in communicating ideas. Often, “wisdom cannot be found in books but in action,” Ian added. Richard emphasized the idea that learning always has to do with the journey, and that children must be involved in the outcome.
A student then raised the issue of the disconnect between teachers, students and administration. Richard remarked that the language that we use in education with terms like “teacher”, “school” and “class” is problematic. If we reduce education to just these three words, that excludes all of the learning that can and should occur beyond the walls of a classroom or a school. Jeremy added that this disconnect increases once students get to university. “When you’re a child, you look up to your teacher, not just because of their knowledge but because of their care. When you get to university, professors shut their doors; they lose sight of what it means to be a teacher.”
Another student asked whether it is more important to focus on reforming top-down policy within school boards or whether teachers can lead the change from their own classrooms. Drawing on his own experience as a principal of a public school working with an administrative board that is often rigid, Richard responded: “You have to work within the system. You have to go to this risk-taking environment. At the end of the day, it’s about the children and that’s what I think of. Often school administrators don’t know what the students are experiencing, so you have to push back. My message to teachers is to keep things simple. Our curriculum has become complicated and heavy, and we need to cut back the curriculum and leave space for action.” Ian added that we need to create environments where both students and teachers are empowered to take risks.
The final Sauvé Series event of the Fall 2017 season will feature a discussion on the visible and invisible barriers to accessibility that still persist for people with disabilities, in spite of national and global legal frameworks. The panel will feature William Alford, Chair of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability and Vice Dean for the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies; Michael Stein, Executive Director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability and Extraordinary Professor, University of Pretoria Faculty of Law; Simone Cavanaugh, Founder and Executive Director, Pivot International; Member, Prime Minister’s Youth Council; OceanPath Fellow 2017; and Stephanie Chipeur, Doctoral Candidate, Faculty of Law, McGill University For more information and to register for this event, please visit socialconnectedness.org/sauve.