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Reconstructing 'Education' Through Mindful Attention: Positioning the Mind at the Center of Curriculum and Pedagogy

reviewed by Shelley Thomas - April 04, 2018

coverTitle: Reconstructing 'Education' Through Mindful Attention: Positioning the Mind at the Center of Curriculum and Pedagogy
Author(s): Oren Ergas
Publisher: Palgrave/MacMillan, New York
ISBN: 1137587814, Pages: 343, Year: 2017
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Oren Ergas' Reconstructing 'Education' through Mindful Attention explores the notion that "as much as 'education' is a mind-making process, our minds can be an 'education'- making process" (p. xi). He argues that contemporary thinking around the concept of education has, in fact, expelled the mind, resulting in an incomplete understanding of education. Thus, the premise for his exploration of or attending to 'education is that the mind should be at the center of such considerations. Tapping into his experiences lecturing on campus, Ergas uses conversations, interactive experiments, and illustrative examples to engage with the reader, drawing upon concepts and perspectives from neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, pragmatism, and phenomenology to reposition the mind at the center of education. By considering the universals of the mind as well as the particularities of a mind and shifting between third and first-person methods, Ergas recursively works through questions of curriculum, education, and the potential of contemplative inquiry.

Historically, western perspectives on curriculum studies and educational philosophy have been interdisciplinary. Ergas situates his contribution within that foundation, revisiting writings from John Dewey, Elliott Eisner, and Parker Palmer, among others, to introduce the notion of the inner curriculum, "the narrative that runs in your mind throughout your day" (p. 3). In the chapter aptly titled, Introduction: The Problem of Education is Education, Ergas explains broadly why he takes this approach and recommends readers participate throughout the book in an experiential process and consider insights from his body of work and those he cites. He explains that he is intentional with the use of different discourse styles and varying perspectives, inviting readers to respond to or critique his approach and the content of his messages as he explores the possibilities and limitations of mindful attention to reconstruct education.

Ergas divides the book into three sections with chapter titles that simultaneously preview upcoming discussions and reflect back on prior arguments. Following his introduction, in Part One: Fundamentals of the Mind, Fundamentals of Education, Ergas establishes the fundamental structures and definitions central to his reconstruction. These include the matrix of the mind, or Ergas' structure for how the mind experiences "in here (in my mind-body)" and "out there (in the world, so to speak)," (p. 33). Part Two: The Expulsion of the Mind from 'Education': A Diagnosis of the Current 'Educational' Construct, applies the matrix constructed in Part One to analyze and assess how current curricular approaches shape the mind. Next, Ergas uses the chapters in Part Three, the Inner Curriculum: Positioning the Mind at the Center of Curriculum and Pedagogy to explain the circular, self-perpetuating processes employed by both our minds and society that result in expelling us, or our minds, from the curriculum. In his description of the inner curriculum, Ergas explains the possibility of returning the mind to the curriculum through awareness of reflective practice and contemplation, ending with a pedagogical perspective. In his final chapter, Conclusion: The Reconstruction of Education and the Contemplative Turn, Ergas positions his work within a literature review. He reasons that it was necessary for him to first engage the reader in opening the mind through the processes in the text before turning to the literature at the end.

Ergas uses a conversational writing style infused with examples from his teaching and personal life. He poses questions and proposes answers, reconstructing education through the chapters of book while also instructing, or at least suggesting, that readers reflect, react, and test their own contentions. Different elements of his argument may seem reasonable or familiar to some readers, while other elements may be unfamiliar, confusing, or even at odds with readers' understandings and experiences. Throughout, Ergas insists that in attending to their minds, readers' reactions and emotions are encouraged and necessary components of the process of self-experimentation. Further, these practices are positioned as transferable as he urges readers, now as participants, to continue the discussion beyond reading the text, whether that discussion is with him, others, or within one's own mind in the service of resolving the problems of education and the society in which its carried out.

While the obvious audiences for Reconstructing 'Education' through Mindful Attention include curriculum theorists and those engaged in contemplative practices in education, others may find that Ergas' topics, arguments, and discursive style enhance their understandings of curriculum and pedagogy through a more holistic inclusion of the actual learner. By recognizing "worthy knowledge" and "elevating the inner curriculum" (p. 109) of the individual within the educational process, Ergas speaks to potential audiences from teachers to policy makers. His message to acknowledge, understand, appreciate, and advance the inclusion of the mind in a reconstructed education respects the learner as an agent in their own education. For example, using this framing, he reexamines perennial challenges and universal experiences in the classroom such as boredom, disengagement, and inattention by centering the minds of the student and teacher involved in the typically conflict-ridden scenario. His examples are relevant and worthy of further thought because each can contribute to discipline disparities and underperformance. Implied in these examples is the message that addressing problems of educational inequities and countering practices that do not serve diverse students must involve the inner curriculum, which is at play in constructing the perceptions and actions of those involved.

Ergas' text provides the reader with a great deal to think about and act upon. Indeed, his work is not an exhaustive, complete exploration of education or mindful attention, nor is it intended to be. Rather, Reconstructing 'Education' through Mindful Attention initiates a line of inquiry. Indeed, given the emphasis on self-experimentation and contemplative thinking, readers may be likely to raise questions and identify Ergas' omissions, affirming the notion that curriculum need not be fixed nor monolithic, and that it both shapes us and is shaped by us. That is, "schools need to teach us to live in this world, but we also need to learn to live with ourselves" (p. 247) and, ultimately, with each other by enacting a "meta-pedagogical turn" that is both reflective, contemplative, and impactful.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 04, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22323, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 8:37:06 AM

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About the Author
  • Shelley Thomas
    University of Louisville
    E-mail Author
    M. SHELLEY THOMAS is an associate professor of middle and secondary education at the University of Louisville. She studies transdisciplinary social justice approaches to pervasive challenges in education and the impact of social justice perspectives on teachers and teacher candidates. She is PI for Transforming Learning Communities: A Multiyear Project Supporting Teachers of Adolescents, and her chapter "Enacting Culturally Responsive Pedagogies: A Multicase Study of Middle Level Teachers in Urban, Priority Schools" will be published the upcoming Equity and Cultural Responsiveness in the Middle Grades Handbook in 2018.
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