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Curriculum as Meditative Inquiry

reviewed by John Quay - October 25, 2013

coverTitle: Curriculum as Meditative Inquiry
Author(s): Ashwani Kumar
Publisher: Palgrave/MacMillan, New York
ISBN: 1137320540, Pages: 224, Year: 2013
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Curriculum as Meditative Inquiry is a challenging book in at least three admirable ways. Firstly Ashwani Kumar introduces the reader to two notable but demanding writers—Jiddu Krishnamurti and James Macdonald—both of whom have much to say in a critical sense about the state of education. These writers frame the basic problem in education as a philosophical problem, specifically one of human consciousness. Secondly he undertakes to bring these two writers together around a way out of this problem, which involves changing the dominant form of human consciousness. This different form of consciousness is that of meditative thought. Thirdly Kumar challenges us to take on the task of engaging with curriculum as meditative inquiry; this is his proposed way forward for education.

At the heart of the works of both Krishnamurti and Macdonald, Kumar sees a way of thinking that is different to the thinking that characterizes much of contemporary educational discourse. This different way of thinking is a different form of consciousness—one which offers the possibility for reshaping the dominant form of human consciousness, for transforming it. Importantly, consciousness for Kumar is equivalent to thought; here he follows Krishnamurti. For Krishnamurti this contrary way of thinking is consciousness as ‘awareness’ (p. 8), while for Macdonald it is ‘centering’ (p. 106) or ‘meditative thinking’ (p. 108); this last mentioned notion is borrowed from Heidegger.

My reading of Kumar’s argument indicates that Heidegger is very important but he remains somewhat hidden in the background. Heidegger (1966/1955) contrasts meditative thinking with calculative thinking, which Kumar notes (p. 108). For me, it is calculative thinking which characterizes the dominant form of human consciousness that Krishnamurti describes via the factors of fear, conditioning, becoming and fragmentation (pp. 42–56). I suggest that each of these factors is concomitant with a calculative way of thinking, which for Heidegger (1999/1936–38, p. 44) is “‘thinking’ in the ordinary and long since customary determination … [as] the … re-presentation of something in general.” Here thinking re-presents rather than opening onto the present. In the terms of Heidegger’s (1996/1927, p. 88fn) “ontological difference,” this type of thinking deals with beings (noun), rather than being (verb).

Heidegger (1968/1951-52, p. 26) describes calculative thinking as “‘one-track thinking’” because it is commonly considered to be the only way of thinking. But there is another way, which is meditative. He stresses this by claiming that “science does not think” (p. 8), meaning that science does not engage with meditative thinking, only with calculative thinking. But this leaves us in a somewhat difficult position, as we are so used to understanding thinking as calculative, analytical, re-presentative, scientific—especially in schools—that when asked to embrace something different, we struggle.  

Kumar tackles this difficulty with the help of Krishnamurti and Macdonald, by referring to awareness and centering. Yet these notions have just as significantly troubled many who have followed in their footsteps. In his attempts to clarify what centering means, Macdonald (1974) highlights how the term is beautifully expressed in the work of Mary Caroline Richards. But Richards (1962) does not achieve this in a scientific way, by listing a neat definition. Rather her account of centering is poetic, it is aesthetic. And perhaps there is more to this than just the nature of her description. Centering is itself aesthetic, poetic. Here I see connections with Dewey’s (1934, p. 274) work on “esthetic experience.” Dewey’s references to “affective thought” (1926) and “qualitative thought” (1930) have similarly helped me in this regard (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Two different forms of consciousness differentiated across Heidegger’s ontological difference.


This notion of awareness or centering is difficult. But I believe that it is made more so because it seems to play within the distinction and connection between inner and outer, or self and social. Here awareness and centering are presumed to be inner or self orientated, in contrast to an outward or more social focus. Yet this is not necessarily the case. I would like to take up this issue briefly, in the spirit of attempting to advance Kumar’s ‘complicated conversation’ (p. 129) and I turn to Dewey and Heidegger for support.

Dewey’s esthetic experience, aligned with his affective or qualitative thinking, contrasts with his idea of “reflective experience” (1934, p. 179) and reflective thinking. So in Dewey there is, I suggest, a similar distinction to that within Heidegger’s work between meditative and calculative thinking. The distinction that Dewey and Heidegger make in this regard is between (1) a reflective or calculative way of thinking/experiencing in which the cause–effect relationships between individual entities is the main issue, and (2) an esthetic or meditative way of thinking/experiencing in which the meaningful (lived/living) whole is the primary concern, above any specific focus on a particularized entity or entities. Dewey argues that “all the elements of our being that are displayed in special emphases and partial realizations in other experiences are merged in esthetic experience” (p. 274); “and they are so completely merged in the immediate wholeness of the experience that each is submerged: it does not present itself in consciousness as a distinct element.” This submergence does away with any distinction between inner and outer, or self and social, in relation to consciousness understood as awareness or centering. In Heidegger’s terms this is Dasein. And similar to Dewey, Heidegger (1996/1927, p. 58) argues against any distinction, claiming that Dasein is not some “inner sphere”; instead, “in its primary kind of being,” Dasein is “always already ‘outside.’”

My point is that the change in consciousness that Kumar aims for is from a calculative to a meditative form, but not from an outer to an inner. And furthermore, if we understand the difference between these forms as the ontological difference, then we can see this change as reversible; a movement is possible between them. It is in this sense that Heidegger (1999/1936-38, p. 328) describes the ontological difference as a “passageway.” Engaging with curriculum as meditative inquiry is then to acknowledge the importance of both esthetic and reflective experience to curriculum, to education. We need calculative thinking, but if this is seen to be the only way of thinking then consciousness is unbalanced in all the ways that Krishnamurti has proclaimed. Meditative thinking is the other side of consciousness. In many ways it is more fundamental than calculative thinking because it is more commonplace. Not recognising its importance to a more complete picture of education is, as Kumar says, ‘unquestionably dangerous for the creative growth and development of children’ (p. 97).



Dewey, J. (1926). Affective thought. Journal of the Barnes Foundation, 2(April), 3-9.

Dewey, J. (1930). Qualitative thought. Symposium, 1(January), 5-32.

Dewey, J. (1934). Art as experience. New York: Capricorn Books.

Heidegger, M. (1966/1955). Memorial address. In Discourse on thinking (J. Anderson & E. H. Freund, Trans.) (pp. 43-57). New York: Harper & Row.

Heidegger, M. (1968/1951-52). What is called thinking? (J. G. Gray, Trans.). New York: Harper & Row.

Heidegger, M. (1996/1927). Being and time (J. Stambaugh, Trans.). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Heidegger, M. (1999/1936-38). Contributions to philosophy (from enowning) (P. Emad & K. Maly, Trans.). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Macdonald, J. B. (1974). A transcendental developmental ideology of education. In W. Pinar (Ed.), Heightened consciousness, cultural revolution, and curriculum theory (pp. 85-115). Berkeley, CA: McCutchan Publishing Corp.

Richards, M. C. (1962). Centering: In pottery, poetry, and the person. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 25, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17299, Date Accessed: 10/26/2021 2:33:41 AM

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About the Author
  • John Quay
    University of Melbourne, Australia
    E-mail Author
    JOHN QUAY is a Senior Lecturer in the Graduate School of Education at The University of Melbourne, Australia. He has recently published Education, Experience and Existence: Engaging Dewey, Peirce and Heidegger; and John Dewey and Education Outdoors: Making sense of 'the educational situation' through more than a century of progressive reforms, co-authored with Jayson Seaman.
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