Ward Mailliard: We have a tradition, ‘Stone Soup.’ Stone Soup has turned out to be one of the more interesting stories because it has morphed over the years. I think we are ten years into Stone Soup at this point. And I had this wild notion. I was thinking. You know, the science fiction books that are like, there is book 6,7, and 8 and so on. And then they do the prequel. I was thinking what is the prequel to “Stone Soup.” Why was there was a famine? And what was that all about? Why were people starving? For those of you who don’t know, the story starts out there was a village and the people were starving in the village. And I thought what was the prequel. What happened?
So if we are using education as the metaphor. What has happened in education and what are we starving for in education? What is the famine for education? What is it that we are yearning for in education that’s not present, and why is that, and who created it and so on? So, the prequel needs to be written. I think that there is a lot of material there. So in Stone Soup while this village is starving, a shaman comes, I was also thinking it could be a ‘sha-woman’ too.(laughter) So, I figured to go gender neutral it would be a ‘sha-person’ showed up, and one of the prerequisites to learning is to welcome the stranger. The stranger is what is not present that needs to come into the community for the community to transform itself. And so, this stranger shows up in the community noticing that everybody is starving, and comes into the center of the village and says, “I know how we can feed everybody.”
Paula Marcus: I was moved to share a story that comes from the Jewish tradition but since the Bible is such a core text for so many, I thought it would be worthwhile sharing this story of transition that helps build my faith and helps me understand some of the contours of what we could be experiencing during times of transition and how in fact it is better to have vulnerable opportunities than to shut down during times of transition, which is I think, for many of us counterintuitive. So it took me back to the time in my people’s history, when we were wandering in the wilderness. Forty years. God forbid it should always be that long. But forty years in the wilderness and the people had just come through a very foundational time enslaved in Egypt, just free, passing through the dry land of the Red Sea. The sea opened and there they were spit out on the shore. They had achieved freedom. They were trying to build community. So here were these folks who had been scarred by all those years of slavery and they had been thrown together in this place, the word in Hebrew for wilderness is ‘Midbar’ and it is related to the Hebrew word ‘Midabare’ which means “to speak.” So we think of the wilderness as this place that speaks a lot of voices.
Right. How did they find the ability to become a community? How did they become a people when they had just been freed and they were surrounded by conditions that, let’s just say, that are not always very forgiving, the wilderness. They want autonomy because they have been oppressed. Think of all the times in our lives when we have been oppressed. What do we want? Right. What’s the first thing when we leave the house when we are young and we go off? We want to be able to be in control of our destiny. As slaves that’s what they would expect. But also having been slaves, are dependent and who are they dependent upon, their leader, Moses.
Larry Inchausti: When we were talking about the themes for this conference, they said, “Well you know you got a lot of stories in your books about what do you do when the leadership is gone, or when the leaders are absent or the leaders die. Then how does the community reconstitute itself?” And then, the other side of this that we are also going to talk about improvisation as one of the responses that people have to do when they are suddenly thrown in positions that they are not prepared for, or they hadn’t thought they were prepared for, and they have to get the courage to rely on their own internal resources rather than their mastery of a program or discipline or an ideology or something. Usually when this happens, their most creative work emerges or the unexpected emerges and you find that you have a subversive within the orthodoxy, or you have an orthodox within the subversive. And the order and the change turn out to not be as antithetical as people maybe, once thought.
So I thought through the books, a couple of stories that illustrate this, but before I get to what I think as a good story, I was listening to –NPR, a little while ago and I was thinking about this problem and they had a little feature about this book on the Spanish Civil War and it was women’s accounts of their experience on the Spanish Civil War, and I thought this fits right into Chautauqua. I don’t know how! (laughter)But it is a perfect story just to put on the table and we can come back to it after I give you my little riff. It turns out that this woman was in a cadre of revolutionaries on this mountain fighting Franco’s soldiers, and they were getting strafed by these airplanes, and they lost their leader. And the leader had the map as to how to get down from the mountain and so they gather together and say, “Ok, so we can’t stay up here because you know, the light is going to change, and we are going to be sitting ducks, so we have to get down the mountain and but we don’t have the map. So what do we do?”
Vivian Wright: So with that inspiration, I’d like to hand it over to Ward, to say a few words about his wild hair about the implicit curriculum. This might be more than a thought-chicken.
Ward Mailliard: I was also surprised by the end of the day, I was just like “oh”. You know, but the day was so uplifting and then coming back in here today and feeling the energy of everybody was kind of like, yeah we can do this again. I was thinking…one of the things I do in my career is state the obvious. And one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot that Chautauqua’s always been about is the implicit curriculum. And now that term’s becoming popular so I’m gonna have to find something else.
Audience: Copyright it.
Ward: Too late. Yeah, and then it becomes a thing then it starts to get subverted. Once it becomes too orthodox, we need to find new subversions I guess. But the implicit curriculum is in every class. Humberto Maturana, who has been one of my great teachers, he’s a neurobiologist, wild thinker. He says a child doesn’t learn math, they learn living together with a math teacher. And it really occurred to me very strongly this year that the processes that we use in the classroom, the processes of engagement around learning, and the relationship between the teacher and the student, and the students and the students, the classroom in the context of the larger school, and so on. The processes and relationship are what produce the human being and the content is an excuse to be together. And I think Chautauqua in a lot of ways is a model of that; is that we have conversation starters but the real action is in being together. And the process of small group in it’s various forms, and the relational field of learning. And what Firehawk said to me is actually in some ways, the essence of it, is I asked a question that I didn’t know I had when I showed up. That, to me, is original medicine showing up. And so the unexpected, unpredictable learning that comes out of a field in which process and relationship are the key elements…so that content is in the service of process and relationship. And that’s in the service of our humanity. And then I was realizing from something that someone said yesterday, was just the word ‘humanity’, we also need to contextualize that a little bit. Which has to do with the inclusive nature of that word, that it’s not just about human beings, but it’s about everything that human beings are connected to. We need to look beyond the boundaries of this, out into that other, the everything – other. To realize that the very foundation on which we stand is all of that. And so our humanity doesn’t exist except in that inter-relatedness with nature: animals, insects, microbes, and so on. So I don’t know, maybe there’s another word – so much of this is about the language that connects us with the essence of what it is we’re trying to name.
Larry Inchausti: One of the things that struck me yesterday was all these images about water, and how the water goes underground. So you have this underground stream but it finds its own limit. It got me thinking about a person that I wrote about in my book, and I teach Dostoyevsky whose great metaphor is the underground and later in his life they asked him which novel he wanted on his gravestone as his lasting contribution to the world and he said, “I don’t want you to put the names of any novels. I want you to describe me as the discoverer of the underground, of the psychology of the underground.” And so, I thought I would tell you a little story about the underground and what Dostoyevsky meant by the underground as a way of talking about some of these problems that we are going to deal with today. For Dostoyevsky the underground was the source of all human irrationality, violence and cruelty in our world and in ourselves.
It is a little bit about him and I think. When he first started out, he majored in engineering in school and he wanted to be a great writer. He translated Honorè de Balzac from French into Russian. And he wrote a kind of a breakthrough novella called “Poor Folk,” and “Poor Folk” was kind of a description of the “Ignorant Perfection of Ordinary People.” It was, what they called in the day, ‘sentimental naturalism,’ which was a kind of a celebration of the goodness of the working people and the struggling Russian underclass. And this novel made him; it opened the door to him to belong to the writer’s circle of anti-Czarist Russian activist. And so, he would go to this circle and he would read his, stories and he would also read other great Russian writers that spoke for the need of social revolution. What he did not understand, what he did not know that the group had been infiltrated by Czarist informants and they were reported to the Czarist police as traitors to the Russian government, and brought up on a treason trial.
Ward Mailliard: I noticed yesterday for me there were some teachings and so I woke up this morning going, “I am not really feeling complete,” and I checked in with Jordan and Jessica and because often as teachers something happens in the room that you don’t understand and you misinterpret, and what I have learned to do as a way of surviving inside my own skin is to reflect and then come back. Because you don’t always get it the first time and sometimes in the “crying out” especially those of us who work with kids, it may come out in a way that the articulation isn’t something that you can fully hear. Larry really evoked something yesterday with the story of the underground and it just kind of bubbled up into the room and then Roxanne and Jessica and David and Jordan and so it was like all of these things stacked on top of each other and I am looking at it and I am like, “That’s a complexity I am not sure I can hold.” And so I am going to avoid that for this moment, but it always catches me about 3 a.m. Whatever I try to suppress or avoid and it is like “O crap, I have to deal with this.” There is a moment of holding the group, holding newness and the part of inviting the stranger and the stranger is going to bring something strange and new. And that newness is actually the opportunity; it is the seed of an opening for a community.
So, I could see spending a lot of time unpacking this narrative of the underground and I think that could be the subject of an entire Chautauqua, and we are moving into the completion today and I think that is going to be a part of the completion story and I am going to trust that that will be held in the completion story, but I wanted to acknowledge the cry and Walter Brueggemann, who, if ever you really want to “get” the Old Testament, read Walter Brueggemann I never thought the Old Testament had anything to do with me. And one time when I was going to Cincinnati, Peter said we are going to have lunch with Walter Brueggemann and I had no idea who he was, and he says, “he is an Old Testament Scholar,” so I better read one of his books so that I know something. We did not talk anything about the book, I think it was much more mundane like about tuna fish sandwiches or whatever it was they were having for lunch. But in that, in that Exodus story, and I think this is a perennial story and Rabbi Paula touched on an aspect of the story, that if we understand that when we are laboring in the land of Pharaoh, which he qualifies as the place of incessant productivity. This is because the way the Jews became slaves was in the time of famine, they had to sell first their animals, then their lands and then themselves to Pharaoh in order to eat, and when they finally reached a point when they had to leave, they had to go into the wilderness, which was the place with no support and all there was, was ‘mana’ (food) which was sufficient to the day and you could not pile up, you know it was only sufficient to the day. We just had each other. So when we leave the endless productivity of the land of Pharaoh, there we are in the wilderness and in some ways Chautauqua is a way to come together in that wilderness for support and inspiration and it is sufficient unto the day, the ‘mana’ is sufficient unto the day. One of the issues was that when they finally got to the promised land, they recreated empire under Solomon and so the form survived even though the personalities changed, and the question is how do we create the new forms, and one of the forms of education is the teacher as the ‘knower’ and the student as the ‘learner’ and in essence, that recreates the hierarchy of Pharaoh, the higher authority to whom we must all surrender, and what it does is that it absents the creativity of the community from the process. How do we bring that back and so connecting with the story this morning of the community rising, Shakti rising. Shakti to me is a term that is both feminine and universal. Because Shakti means energy, so the energy rising through the community to reinvigorate, re-instill the authorship of our own lives. It is a powerful thing when we suddenly take responsibility for what happened, and I think, taking responsibility for your response to what happened. Sometimes you have to say, “I don’t know. I don’t know what to do.” And that was the story that Rabbi Paula was telling and sometimes we have to listen to the stranger and the stranger may come from a totally different everything, you know.
Ward Mailliard: I’m curious if some of you who are the Mount Madonna student contingent, would actually feed back to this community of learners – what struck you, or touched you, or awakened in the process of the engagement of all of us together, and to maybe to take a sampling of that to help us understand what the heck we were talking about. But we want to hear your voices and hear – just hear the sound of the texture of your experience that’s been happening in the process of us being together.
Quincy Mitchell: I’d actually like to address what Vivian said to us this morning, if that’s alright – because I think what she said really spoke to my experience with this year’s Chautauqua in particular. Vivian refereed Angeles and Peter as the headliners – I had a similar word for them which is “Superstars”. And I think what happens in a community like this, where you find yourself suddenly without your superstars, I think there’s two things that have to happen. And the first thing is, the community has to appoint more superstars before they’re ready to make that appointment, and the superstars have to accept that appointment before they’re ready to. And I think, over the course of this Chautauqua we’ve built about 5-6 more superstars. So whether we’re hearing from Peter next year, or Gary, sign me up. Whether we’re hearing from Peter next year, or Jessica, sign me up. Whether we’re hearing from Peter next year or Beth, sign me up; because everyone here is a superstar and it’s just fantastic.
Larry Inchaushti: Ward and I have been challenged to come up with these anecdotes and these stories and I have got a short one today because I think it summarizes more of my response or how I feel a little bit about Chautauqua and ideas and my role is telling these stories.
Vàclav Havel was the first president of the Czech and Slovak republics but before he became President of the Czech and Slovak republic, he was a dissident playwright, who was in jail under the eastern block soviet regime and he wrote all of his plays from jail and they were anti-establishment, attacks upon the Soviet occupation of the Czech and Slovakian republics. And then he became the leader of what we call the Velvet Revolution and became the President of the Czech and Slovak republic. And it was the first time you had a playwright or an artist as President of a major European country and when this happened, after this happened, he suddenly had writer’s block and fell into a deep depression because as long as he was under siege, he had access to his creativity and his purpose and he could write and he had lots to say and then he became President and he was just blocked. He could not write any more and he did not know what to say. It was sort of like I know what I have to say until now you have got the mike. What do I say now that the other people are listening to me?
This blog was created to share with you some of the ideas that stimulated our dialogues at Mount Madonna Chautauqua 2013. We have included transcripts and videos that will give you the flavor of the rich conversations that took place during or annual the 3 day gathering. We began with theme, “How our schools inspire the emergence of community builders?” Our deep appreciation to Angeles Arrien, Robert (Larry) Inchausti, Vivian Wright and the fabulous group of educational explorers who made this such a wonderful experience.
Ward Mailliard: I just want to say a couple words about the learning journey; because part of being the stranger, is actually taking the journey. There are three stages of the journey – This isn’t something I made up, this is somehow printed in our DNA. The “call,” which is the preparatory stage – The interesting thing to note is that in the “call” stage, classically the hero or heroine always resists at least three times. One of the things that I have discovered is how much information there is in the resistance – We are called, everybody in this room has been – will be – is called. To note your resistance to the “call,” and actually my students when we were having a discussion about this one day, really I was stunned at how quickly they came up with all the things that cause us to resist. “It might not be worth it, I’m not good enough, or I might fail.” You know, we all have a story going that keeps us often from taking the journey from answering the “call.”
The “journey” itself is what I would call the social, emotional learning phase. You know we talk about social emotional learning, well let me tell you, that it is a full body engagement. Mind, body, feelings, senses, and that’s where this unexpected process occurs, this alchemy of being on the journey, and meeting with strangers, and being the stranger, and being greeted at the margins of different communities, and how powerful that is, how life changing that is.
The part that usually gets left out in the educational experience is the return. We have diminished those to “exams.” You know, “Did you learn what we expected you to learn?” But the return – This is also from Sobonfu Some. Vivian and I were having dinner with her one night, and she said, “You know it’s the job of the village to welcome you back from an initiatory experience.” Otherwise what results are isolation, alienation, and depression.
So when you have gone through an experience, it is very important that when you come back and you get asked the right questions, “What did you do?” is not the right question, “What did you see?” is not the right question. So the questions, “How were you touched and moved? How were you delighted? Where were you challenged?” This is something we are supposed to do for each other when we note that somebody has gone through an initiatory experience, or we have been through one ourselves. These are the three basic stages of the classic hero’s journey, the call, the journey itself, and the return.
That process of being the stranger, of meeting strangers, and being welcomed by communities reorients ourselves to the whole notion of the stranger – A gift that might be coming in to the community through the stranger, including the gift that you as a strange are bringing to the community, that is not already there. So one of the questions that came up in the dialogue that we had prior to this was, “What are the stories that would allow me to reconnect my strangeness to the community from which I feel isolated?” That one just caught me.
“What are the stories that would allow me to reconnect my strangeness to the community from which I feel isolated?”
Now you are not supposed to do anything with that, I just thought that was such a cool question. (laughter) Going to my own experience from at times feeling isolated from my own community by my own strangeness, What are the stories that would allow me to reconnect my strangeness to the community from which I feel isolated? Then some other ancillary questions that you are also not supposed to do anything with, but I think are useful in the context of the learning journey are: “What is the question that is calling me? What am I really curious about? What’s my resistance?” There is so much information in the resistance. “What is the story that no longer serves me? What is the learning or the liberating conversations that would have the effect of reuniting me with my community? Finally, what is my value as a stranger?”
So the learning journey, this year for me, deeply connects to this notion of Stone Soup. The questions that are calling us, the questions that we bring in to the community, sometimes they are not accepted by the community. Questions are destabilizing. The village really represents stability. It is the status quo. As long as everybody is fed and feeling nourished, change is very difficult. It is only when we reach a point where we have hit a forcing function where things aren’t working, only then we open up to new possibilities. How could we actually have a community that has as part of its aesthetic, constant renewal and openness to possibility, along with the stability of a community that was viable, that was stable? How can we have both of those things working together? So that in brief moment is the “learning journey” to which I’m sure everybody could add many ideas.