Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Cultivating Awareness in Honors: First-Person Noting and Contemplative Practices

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Cultivating Awareness in Honors: First-Person Noting and Contemplative Practices

Article excerpt

In her compelling case for liberal education, Martha Nussbaum emphasizes the nuances of the examined life and in particular how essential the narrative imagination is to "cultivating humanity" (9-11). While Nussbaum is advocating for liberal education in general terms, her call is particularly suited to the mission of honors education and its mandate for "broader, deeper, and more complex" learning experiences (NCHC Board of Directors). Nussbaum's conceptual scheme encourages education in support of openness, intensity, and breadth, in particular urging approaches that require an ability to acknowledge and reconsider one's own culture, traditions, and ways of thinking. At times, this task seems particularly challenging in the early adulthood of a traditional undergraduate. Most students--like most human beings--struggle with how to enact the educational processes of critical thinking and critical examination, even in the case of honors, which tends, as a cohort, to be particularly rich in students who think in questioning ways and which often includes a greater proportion of students and colleagues who have multiple heritages and broad ranges of experience. These composite heritages create for the student a situation that is "peculiar rather than privileged" and, potentially, a special role "to act as bridges, go-betweens, mediators, between the various communities and cultures" (Maalouf 5). Honors is thus a particularly opportune educational site to cultivate the thinking and critical examination fundamental to this special role.

The conventional tools of academia--in particular those in Nussbaum's area of emphasis, the humanities--work to foster such critical skills, as recent research by Maja Djikic and Keith Oatley, for instance, suggests. Literature, history, and philosophy encourage students to look outward to other sources as the essential method of uncovering themselves in the commonalities and diversity of humanity, building over time the scaffolding of liberal education.

While traditional practices of critical reading, writing, dialogue, and discussion are no doubt essential inputs and outputs of higher education and a means of achieving critical thinking in college students, recent science and pedagogical innovation can help us develop additional, unique methodologies that can have more immediate significance for learners. These tools are especially useful for honors students. One such device is First-Person Noting, a technique that not only furthers general educational goals but also may advance honors distinctiveness and learner-oriented experience that is cross- and multi-disciplinary. Through First-Person Noting, students observe and acknowledge the subjective elements of their academic experience, in particular the thoughts, sensations, and feelings that occur while they read, write, listen, discuss, and reflect. This focus on the subjective is a useful way to approach human limitations, the "failures of perception and recognition" that relate to our often overlooked internal processes or what Nussbaum calls our "insides": the "desires, thoughts, and ways of looking at the world" that shape individual thought and experience (85-7). First-Person Noting is a fairly simple technique to learn and practice, but it has strong potential to enhance critical thinking, promote understanding of self and one's own traditions, develop a stronger narrative imagination, and nurture the little-discussed educational virtue of intellectual humility.

CONTEXT: CONTEMPLATIVE STUDIES AND MINDFULNESS IN ACADEMIA

First-Person Noting draws on traditions in mindfulness meditation, a broad collection of practices that are attracting interest in American society. In the United States this movement is strongly associated with the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn although it also appears commonly in yoga, retreat centers, medical treatments, and, most recently, loving-kindness meditation practices known as Metta. …

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