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Re-Envisioning Higher Education: Embodied Pathways to Wisdom and Social Transformation


reviewed by Anne E. Wagner & Riyad A. Shahjahan - June 04, 2015

coverTitle: Re-Envisioning Higher Education: Embodied Pathways to Wisdom and Social Transformation
Author(s): Jing Lin, Rebecca L. Oxford, & Edward J. Brantmeier (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623963974, Pages: 386, Year: 2013
Search for book at Amazon.com


Readers interested in engaging with ideas about higher education beyond ubiquitous contemporary neo-liberal discourses will be heartened by Jing Lin, Rebecca L. Oxford and Edward J. Brantmeier’s book Re-envisioning Higher Education. Eschewing solely “a rational, scientific, individualistic, and materialistic framework for higher education” (p. xii), this edited collection delves into the ways “we are moving into a new era of cultivating whole beings and wisdom” (p. xiii), a project less often explored in higher education literature. Explicitly challenging dominant ideologies and mainstream practices in academia, the authors collectively invite us to imagine how we may center relationality and embodiment as central components of education.


Re-envisioning Higher Education helps answer the following questions:


How do we envision and develop higher education with the new mission for cultivating “new human beings, new realities, new, more peaceful, and more sustainable future” (p. xiii)?

Why and how do we engage in contemplative, pedagogical practices that “cultivate authentic, embodied learning” (p. xiii)?

What are the similarities and differences in terms of engaging these above questions across disciplines and types of higher education institutions?

What are some rationales and possible sites of resistance to incorporating contemplative practices and nature-centered learning?


This volume addresses these answers through an introduction and twenty chapters divided into four parts. The editors’ introduction provides a rationale for the importance of these new missions, arguing that the higher education community needs to pay more attention to “their own inner and outerselves, people around them, society in general, nature, and the universe” as they are “inextricably linked and looped” (p. xi).


Part One articulates new paradigms for Higher Education. For instance, Bai, Cohen, & Scott (Chapter One) suggests an expanded framework of learning that embraces the interconnections between out-self to inner-self, from self to others, and from humans to the Earth. Similarly, Culham (Chapter Three) suggests rethinking Higher Education learning from an ethical decision making standpoint by arguing for an embodied approach that interconnects the body, emotions, and the unconscious mind.


The second section of the volume is noteworthy due to the inclusion of breadth of approaches designed to promote transformative and embodied learning. Beginning with London’s (Chapter Five) attention to granting students in an education class the opportunity to “experiment with pedagogy and nourish their inner lives” (p. 89), each chapter in some way explores concrete strategies designed to “tap mind-body connections to help students see themselves as agents of change rather than passive recipients of knowledge” (p. 108). As Finley succinctly explains in Chapter Seven, traditionally “we are taught in ways that emphasize our separateness—our body from our minds and spirits, ourselves from nature, each one of us from each other” (p. 112). Each author in this section sets out to challenge these dominant practices, using examples drawn from diverse contexts (educating practicing teachers in California, service learning in the U.S., to preparing educators in Aotearoa, New Zealand) and using a variety of methods (pedagogy of vulnerability, and mindfulness-based stress reduction). Overall, these chapters serve to stimulate our imaginations, detailing the value of embodied learning approaches and offering concrete suggestions about implementation.


Part Three of the book, examines the role of yoga and meditation to reimagine and address pedagogical practice and student development in higher education. Of the four chapters in this section, some of them were more conceptual and argued for the importance of yoga as an important entry point for embodied pedagogy (e.g., Chapters Eleven and Thirteen). Those interested in pedagogical practices will note Chapter Ten and Chapter Twelve highlighting the feasibility and challenges of introducing yoga, meditation, non-judgmental listening, and journal writing in the classroom. Chapter Ten is particularly striking, as Fran Grace highlights the nuances of implementing tonglen meditation (a Tibetan Budhhist practice) in a Compassion seminar course. The students’ narratives regarding their initial resistance and transformation are tied to the fear of embodying the suffering of others, and the preference for suffering analysis, rather than embodiment.


Part Four takes us beyond the anthropocentric realm and engages with the plight of ecological wisdom in higher education. In this section, the first two chapters (Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen) direct our attention to reconnecting students learning with the Earth and nature in general. In the most poignant chapter of the section, Sachi Edwards centers the indigenous epistemology of hula dancing as a means to integrate the body, mind, and spirit in the classroom. Using examples of Hawaiian higher education institutions, she argues that indigenous knowledge systems of embodied pedagogy can be incorporated “by any college or university anywhere in the world. Indigenous peoples and communities are everywhere, and they all come with their own knowledge and wisdom over several millennia and rooted in the natural elements of their surroundings” (p. 278).


Exploring the context of service learning specifically, the fifth section considers the opportunities for infusing the learning with self-reflection (Zhang, Chapter Seventeen) and mindfulness (Featherstone, Chapter Eighteen). Each explicates their vision for academia beyond contemporary neoliberal paradigms to consider approaches that move beyond solely preparing students for the marketplace. Instead, Zhang emphasizes “positioning students as agents of positive and socially beneficial change” (p. 294). Another theme throughout the chapters is the value of discomfort. In Chapter Nineteen, Meixner presents a less familiar perspective, focusing on faculty perceptions, noting that participation in service learning allowed educators to often “delve deeper, unveiling a complex labyrinth of insight into who they become in communion with students and the community” (p. 328). Ultimately, it is “only when we embrace discomfort do we grow, change and develop” (p. 332). Throughout this section, each author presents unique insights into how students can be encouraged to “see themselves as agents of change rather than passive recipients of information” (p. 108).


In the concluding chapter, Eppert presents a broad vision for engaging with “contemplative practices, pedagogies, and wisdom… [which] can open up meaningful pathways to significant personal, social, and ecological renewal” (p. 349). Challenging us to resist contemporary North American propensities to “dilute” and “commodify” contemplative practices, Eppert explores how we may instead integrate these approaches to unsettle current instrumental educational methods and seek to nurture the spirits of students. Ultimately, the collection ends with a sense of optimism, inviting readers to imagine the ways in which they can contribute to co-creating a more socially interdependent and ecologically conscious world. Simply by challenging pervasive neo-liberal thinking and offering an alternate vision of Higher Education, this book makes a significant contribution to the field.


However, we were left with the following questions: How does the new revisioning of higher education implicate the working and personal lives of other staff within higher education, such as student affairs personnel, administrative staff, and librarians? Furthermore, how do the trends and processes discussed in this collection play out in the context of higher education institutions that are not public universities (e.g., community colleges) and/or online settings? These are critical issues for higher education scholars to consider today. Finally, the collection remains mute about questions of intersectionality and interlocking systems of oppression. Overall, this collection is an excellent read—certainly, it has inspired us to see the transformative possibilities for changing the neoliberal academy—and we would highly recommend it to audiences that include faculty and graduate students in the fields of higher education, curriculum studies, and foundational studies in education.





Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: June 04, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17981, Date Accessed: 12/3/2021 2:51:42 AM

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About the Author
  • Anne Wagner
    Nipissing University
    E-mail Author
    ANNE E. WAGNER is an Associate Professor at the School of Human and Social Development at Nipissing University (Muskoka campus). Her research interests anti-oppressive social work practice, social justice, critical approaches to higher education, neo-liberalism in academia and critical pedagogies. Her recent publications include Centering embodied learning in anti-oppressive pedagogy, Teaching in Higher Education (co-authored with Riyad Shahjahan), and Re-Imagining the (Un)Familiar: Feminist Pedagogy in Rural Spaces, Gender & Education.
  • Riyad Shahjahan
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    RIYAD A. SHAHJAHAN is an Assistant Professor at the Higher, Adult and Lifelong Learning (HALE) program at Michigan State University. His research focuses on the globalization of higher education policy, teaching and learning in higher education, equity and social justice education, and anti/postcolonial theory. His recent publications include: Centering embodied learning in anti-oppressive pedagogy, Teaching in Higher Education (co-authored with Anne Wagner) and "Being lazy and slowing down: Toward decolonizing time, body, and pedagogy" in Educational Philosophy and Theory.
 
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