Contemplative pedagogy: Disrupting time

This is one of an ongoing series of posts on contemplative pedagogy. It focuses on lack of language rather than on language itself.

One of the bugabears of essay writing is making too many assumptions, from “everybody” thinks this, to “My father never uses swearwords.”  One of the challenges of the writing teacher is to lure students into a new context so that they can look at issues and experiences with fresh eyes. Their customary patterns must be disrupted and perhaps turned inside out. That will not dislodge the truths inside them, but should strengthen them.

Exercise: Since contemplative practices are, among other things, aimed at disrupting the sense of time, I chose a time exercise as the beginning of our class contemplative practice.

“Raise your hand when you think a minute it up.”

The students looked around shiftily, watching how others were reacting.

No hands went up. Good.

Still no hands up. Good.

Then I looked at my watch (I was, after all, the timekeeper), and followed the second hand to one minute, then looked up, and hands shot up.

I asked what method they had used to determine when we had reached a minute, and it turned out that all the students were watching for my reaction, not concentrating on time. They could tell by my body language and facial reaction that I was following the second hand.

We had a laugh over that.

So that exercise was a failure.

Later in the semester I’ll try again, and will be more sly. I will turn off the lights and ask them to close their eyes. I will place my cell phone on the desk and will spend the whole minute looking at it, rather than checking the class from time to time.

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