The Naropa Bow honors the qualities of warriorship: bravery, gentleness, and wakeful intelligence. Photo by Claudia Lopez.
The “Mindfulness, MOOCs, and Money in Higher Education” Conference explored core issues about the role of the university in contemporary culture. Hosted this March by Naropa’s Center for the Advancement of Contemplative Education, the conference included a number of keynote addresses. Laura I Rendón examined how contemplative education serves culturally diverse students, especially those from low-income backgrounds. Following are some excerpts of her speech.
Laura Rendón: Toward a Contemplative, Culturally-Validating Pedagogic Imaginary
How do we help students to really attend to both their intellectual capacities as well as their inner lives? How do we connect contemplative education to students from culturally diverse backgrounds? And how do we connect contemplative practice to social justice issues in and out of the classroom setting….
Rumi talks about two kinds of intelligence.
There are two kinds of intelligence, one acquired, as a child in school, memorizing facts and concepts from books and from what the teacher says. Collecting information from the traditional sciences as well as the new sciences. And with such intelligence, you rise in the world. You get ranked ahead or behind others in regard to your competence in retaining information. You stroll with this intelligence in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more marks on your preserving tablets. But there is another kind of tablet. One already completed and preserved inside of you. A spring overflowing its spring box. A freshness in the center of the chest. This other intelligence does not turn yellow or stagnant— it is fluid and it doesn’t move from outside to inside through conduits of plumbing and learning. This knowledge is the fountainhead from within you moving out….
As we begin to think about how we bring these two tablets to low-income students and to communities of color that are struggling, I think that two things need to happen at least. One is that we need to better understand these students. And second, we need to understand and to work with contemplative practices, and not just any contemplative practices, but those that are aligned with a culture of these students.
So what does contemplative engagement mean for students that have been oppressed? For students like me who grew up in poverty? What does it mean for students that have been invalidated in the past? Who have been told “you are not smart enough.” Who haven’t done very well in school, who went to low-income schools with not the very best teachers. Not the best libraries. Not the best laboratories. To students that feel that maybe college is not for them. And who have been treated as the other.
Rendón addressed the gap in graduation rates, both at the high school and college level, for low-income students. While agreeing that student support systems are necessary and beneficial, she believes the real work needs to be done in the classroom.
Students will drop out if they are not excited about learning. If what they see in the classroom is not related to who they are. If they feel they have no voice…. They want to find a deeper meaning in what is being taught. They want to gain insight. They want to release pain. They want to find voice. They want to heal. They want to come to terms with the anger in the shadows of their lives. They want to connect with others. And they want to express love, joy, passion, and compassion.
Another thing that faculty need to know about these students has to do with this whole notion that regardless of whether the student grows up in poverty, regardless of whether the student is first in the family to go to college, these students have assets. They have cultural knowledge. They have cultural intelligence. They have strengths that we have not paid attention to. This is a study that I did with my colleagues at UT–San Antonio, where we identified some of these strengths that these students have. One of those strengths is that they have aspirations to do better for themselves and for their family. They have linguistic strengths. Social strengths—they are able to form networks. Navigational strengths. They are able to move from the world of the ghetto to the world of college that is very different from their home realities and often they do this with very little help. They have resisted capital. They can overcome hardships and micro-aggressions. They have perseverance, determination. They have ethnic consciousness—this whole notion of wanting to give back…. This isn’t an education just for them. It’s an education to help their communities. They have spirituality and faith—a belief in a higher power and a sense of meaning and purpose.
Rendón gave practical advice for integrating culturally validating contemplative practices into the curriculum.
Autoethnographies. Contemplative photography. Journal writing. Slam poetry. Music. Dance. Community-based theater. Drumming. Guided imagery. Art-based projects. Working on assignments involving films and documentaries and service-learning activities with a reflective component. All of these are examples of powerful activities that low-income students of color can relate to, and they’re the kinds of activities that I feel need to be in place for students to become excited about learning. For students to feel, “Oh, I can find myself here.”
Laura I. Rendón, PhD, is Professor Emerita at the University of TexasSan Antonio, and served on the Naropa Board of Trustees from 2003 until 2011. Rendón is credited with developing the theory of validation, which colleges and researchers use as a framework for working with and affirming low-income students. She is the author of Sentipensante (Sensing/Thinking) Pedagogy: Educating for Wholeness, Social Justice, and Liberation. She’ll be returning to Naropa for a two-week residency with CACE in spring 2017.