Where is the body when students and teachers / professors enter the classroom?
As I write many ideas cross my mind… For instance the realisation that this disconnection between the body and the mind is strongly related to many other facets of learning and the biggest the separation between the body and the other dimensions of being, leaving it outside the learning spaces we have created for our young people, the biggest the shortcomings in education.
Despite being present in the classroom, reminding us about teachers’ and students’ identities (gender, class, race, geographical and economic background) and all the political connotations directly or indirectly associated to those the body is not seen and not talked, or either it is sexualised or demonised.
This absence / demonization of the body is the result of the Western philosophical approach that conceptualise the individual as a dual being: the mind-body dichotomy. Everything related to the body is normally hidden, not talked, and very often associated to basic animal instincts that are better part of the private life. In this context the connotation of the body and the senses to the sexual sphere needs certainly to be contemplated when trying to understand the place of the body in learning.
The body-mind split is harmful because it hinders learning to be guided by a more holistic approach. A learning achievement where the body also takes part is life lasting. I can still remember, and certainly my legs too, the moment when I failed to cross a high and movable bridge. My legs were shaking since the very first moment when I tried to cross it and until that evening, when I was trying to get some sleep, reminding me of my necessary failure that actually helped me to understand the importance of not making it all the time, that it is ok to fail and to be weak. How would I have learnt this with my brain only?
From another perspective and looking at the semantics of the body we can get a deeper understanding of the role and importance of the body in learning contexts. Thus, body and Eros are intimately linked and therefore to stop being disembodied beings in the classroom means among other things to be aware about the fact that attraction and sexual attraction can happen in learning contexts.
I invite teachers and professors (and other people engaged in learning) to look inside with honestly and without fear of judgement and review their professional life and the different feelings they had towards different students. I bet that many may find hidden in a remote place the physical attraction or some sort of attraction. Or they may even find a ‘love’ letter from a student in the drawer.
The fact is that traditional cultural values underlying teachers’ training, and that are the same values underlying teaching in the academy, taught teachers / professors to eliminate this kind of feeling, and made them to believe this is not even a possibility. It also taught feeling guilty, ashamed and to repress these feelings. As if teachers / professors and students could stop being human beings inside the classroom, as if their only identity in the classroom would be that of teacher / professor and student.
What is important here is to be aware and to accept this sort of feeling and work it out in an appropriate way, by talking with a trustful person and making sure this will not harm the student, the teacher / professor and the group. Also because this repressed thoughts and feelings can be affecting the relation with a certain student in a negative way by for instance being less attentive or supportive.
Lets now look at Eros from a different and wider perspective. Sam Keen reminds us that in its earlier conception (see for instance Greek mythology) “erotic potency was not confined to the sexual power but included the moving force that propelled every life-form from a state of mere potentiality to actuality” (cited in ‘Teaching to transgress’, p.194)(*). In this sense to bring the body-Eros in the classroom is to bring passion, love and energy into the learning process.
Every disembodied teacher is a teacher without passion, a teacher unable to love. Probably a bored and demotivated teacher, tired of school bureaucracy and of teaching the same topics years in a row. I wonder, why in first place did teachers and professors chose this professional path? Was it out of a true passion for learning and teaching? Out of the need for affirmation and control? Or instead was it an unconscious choice made too early in life? Or…?
In any case, I warmly invite teachers and professors to reflect on their motivations to become teachers and to start to work out their passion for learning, for a subject, for teaching, but to bring a passion, to be passionate with their whole beings (mind and body). This will bring energy and will inspire students, and this is what young people need nowadays, more inspiring figures, more reference points who can work as models for a wholehearted life.
On the other hand it is necessary to bring students’ passion into the learning process. In this sense it is necessary more than tablets in the classroom to motivate students I believe. It is essential to encourage them to connect to what they learn and to transfer learning to their real lives. Therefore to bring their whole beings -body, mind, soul- into the classroom and to go back to their communities with meaningful learning achievements to apply that will be useful.
The classroom and the school are one potentially powerful space to bring about change and to transform students’ lives, to improve their futures by providing them with the tools they need to be humans, to be citizens, to face the challenges of life. Otherwise why do we need to learn? To show off all the memorised knowledge we keep stored in our brains? What for? Learning is a tool for life, and it is more than a set of static knowledge. Learning is the way towards a better life, personal and professional.
I am convinced that all this entails teachers’ and professors’ self-actualisation, to fully know themselves and work to grow and to learn new things, new teaching practices, and new strategies.
Who we are and why we do what we do are two vital questions that cannot be dismissed in educational settings. Even if we don’t want, every day we bring ourselves into our learning settings, so how can we avoid knowing and understanding who we are? And how can we dare not to know why we do what we do?
This is not a personal choice, this is a moral issue, a matter of responsibility towards those we teach and guide every day in our professional life as teachers and professors (and other educational professionals). Why we chose to do it is not a secondary aspect and we should remind ourselves of it more often.
This is why I warmly invite all teachers and professors to refresh their passion and to fully assume their responsibility, therefore becoming authentic role models for the young people of today.
(*) hooks, bell (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of Freedom.
Endnote: This article was inspired in one of the chapters of bell hooks’ book ‘Teaching to transgress’. The chapter is called ‘Eros, Eroticism, and the Pedagogical Process’.