Academic journal article JCT (Online)

Touching the Inexplicable: Poetry as Transformative Inquiry

Academic journal article JCT (Online)

Touching the Inexplicable: Poetry as Transformative Inquiry

Article excerpt

TEACHING IS A COMPLEX PROCESS BRIMMING WITH POTENTIAL for ansformation, engagement, and change. Along with these possibilities, every learning environment holds underlying, often hidden, issues of power and inclusivity that influence learning. Teachers must continuously negotiate the diverse learning needs of students, be accountable to an externally mandated curriculum, and facilitate a fair and equitable environment. To add further complexity, teachers typically enact their own personal beliefs around what they feel is most true and important for students to learn despite what is prescribed in curricular documents. The incongruences between these realms can lead to disruptive encounters that shake our epistemological and ontological beliefs. Rather than ignore or diminish the tensions inherent in this milieu, Aoki (1985/2005) suggests educators must constantly endeavor to "dwell aright" in the intricacies of their teaching practice (p. 163) to manifest the potential held within each day.

Disruptive encounters are common, yet are all too often swept aside within the unrelenting demands of teaching practice. In this article we bring forward two such encounters that we have dealt with personally as educators: Michele conveys an experience of her own layers of homophobia and Vanessa, an exploration of her privilege in cross-cultural contexts. Despite long term efforts of educators and communities to make schools more equitable, just, and inclusive, disruptive encounters around these issues are still very much a part of most educational contexts. For example, related to Michele's topic of homophobia, we see that hostility towards LGBTQ students is rampant in schools and can have devastating effects in terms of suicide rates, substance abuse, dropout, etc. (Holmes & Cahill, 2004). Vanessa's topic of privilege is negotiated in classrooms as different cultures hold varying beliefs around definitions of wealth, mobility and success; teachers need to continuously navigate relationships with each learner across these potential similarities and/or differences. These brief descriptions of homophobia or privilege that disrupted our beliefs are, of course, only the tip of the iceberg. Our purpose here however, is to focus on how a particular process of creating poetry influences such disruptive encounters, while at the same time, they work to alter our long held patterns of bias.

As educators we, Michele and Vanessa, attend carefully to our personal beliefs so that we might lessen our role in the perpetuation of harmful norms that occur in schools and schooling. Chambers (2004) suggests that to understand such pedagogical intricacies, we must dwell in that which is not right, including our own faults. Here, dwelling is about a commitment to attention, to taking time; it is an act of showing up and staying with. Congruent with Chambers (2004) description, we are learning to dwell as an act of living in places that are not always comfortable to us; to hold gently the suffering that exists around us in all its many forms, and that we are a part of. Chambers reminds us, "dwelling has a bad name in our ahistorical, pleasure seeking, and time-crunched society" (p. 11). We live in a pervasive culture of efficiency (Stein, 2002) where speed and productivity trump stillness and contemplation. However, by dwelling mindfully with what is not right in our world and within us, we become better educators amidst disrupting encounters that are often both common and the same time, inexplicable, Inexplicable is that which "cannot be unfolded, untwisted, or disentangled" (Oxford English Dictionary). It is not that the phenomena of privilege and homophobia are obscure, but that there is no way to fully understand them.

Within this act of dwelling, how we attend is also very important. We use the phrase holding gently because our intention is to stay present with all that is revealed within a given topic. We are not seeking to oversimplify, make formulaic sense or ultimately "fix" these issues. …

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