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Educator challenges methods of conventional learning

Date: 12/29/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- Westfield State College (WSC) history professor Elise Young is challenging the methods of conventional learning; rather, she is diving into the innovative system of contemplative education, which asks students to challenge their understanding of historical events.

Her study of this education model has earned Young the prestigious Frederick P. Lenz Fellowship for Buddhist Studies and American Culture and Values from Naropa University in Boulder, Colo. Young will use her time at the university -- a private, non-profit, liberal arts college dedicated to contemplative education -- during the fall 2010 semester to develop a teacher training module titled "History as Dharma: Teaching the Middle East and Africa."

"Bringing contemplative practice into the classroom directly engages and empowers students in learning processes," she explained. "We begin with the breath, which is where history lives. The chairs that students sit in inhibit the breath rather than opening up the central channels of the body to experience what we call 'learning.'

"Learning happens through a complex of mind/body/spirit processes that in the context of conventional pedagogies are not addressed ... This approach is so critical to the study of what we call 'history' because conventional approaches reduce history to dualistic/monolithic models of one versus the other, victor versus victim, etc.," Young continued.

"But through contemplative practices students come to recognize that we are all one -- that the globe turns because of interdependence and impermanence and that cycles of history are expressions of our humanness," she said. "When anyone on the planet suffers we all suffer."

Young explained she will use her semester at Naropa University to immerse herself in the institution's culture, which will help explore contemplative practices.

"The fine work of our faculty on an international scale supports the college's mission of preparing our students to be citizens of the world and encouraging global awareness on campus and in the broader community," WSC President Evan Dobelle said.

Young explained she will bring her knowledge back to WSC to design an enriched curriculum within the history department that expands students' world views.

"American education on the Middle East and Africa is central to world peace," she said. "I've been developing this [education] model in my core course, 'Introduction to the Middle East, Africa and Asia,' encouraged by the positive support and feedback from my students and the ever widening community of educators bringing contemplative practice into their disciplines."