yoga & changing paradigms

The latest RSA Animate video has taken the interwebs by storm and is turning up all over the place. Rightfully so ~ Sir Ken Robinson‘s talk on changing education paradigms is inspiring and persuasive. He calls for reforming the public education system for economic and cultural reasons. Clearly, the current paradigm, which is based on the intellectual culture of the enlightenment period and the economic model of the industrial revolution, isn’t applicable to our world. Inherent in these structures are also assumptions of social standing and capacity.

So basically, the education system, which is modeled on the interests and images of industrialism, continues to meet the future by doing what’s been done in the past. He illuminates how the current education system results in conformity and standardization, instead of creativity and “divergent thinking” (to see lots of possibilities). He also reveals recent research which indicates that we are all born with the capacity of a genius, and this is smothered out of us by schooling. Sir Ken calls for changing the education paradigm because it has and will continue to cause chaos in people’s lives. But before change can happen, we have to think differently about human capacity and recognize that collaboration is the stuff of growth.

As I was watching this, I thought about the system for educating people about yoga teachings in North America, and how this is based on a model that often serves economic interests (ie, keeping a studio in business, training more teachers to teach in one’s studio, etc). And I wondered if the  North American yoga community is also meeting the future by doing what’s been done in the past.

Yet, I also see how the way that yoga is often taught (and this speaks to my experiences studying at Yasodhara Ashram and in the Anusara teacher training) speaks to Sir Ken’s suggestions for adopting a new paradigm. Most yoga training happens collaboratively, in groups, and lacks rote learning and written exams (which some people are calling for in yoga training programs). And at the heart of yoga is the belief that human capacity is infinite and limitless.

What does yoga have to offer a new paradigm? How is the current paradigm distorting or not serving yoga in North America?

  1. you might be interested in this link….I posted it to my FB wall and Charlotte B. and I had a discussion about it….there is a video regarding teaching (not yoga.)

    can’t say that I disagree very much with the points made.

  2. Interesting – I don’t believe the educational system is very different in Europe and North America, the same principle apply.

    However, from a very egotistical point of view of someone currently training in Europe, there is still a difference in yoga teacher training it seems. Ok, I can only speak for myself here, but trust me I have a fair share of written exams in my curriculum: a short test at the end of every TT weekend (we call that a review of what’s been covered during the weekend, to find out the areas we should be working on), 3 book reports, 1 final essay. That’s only part of the assessment, of course we’ll be assessed on teaching too, and have a final interview.
    We also have a day dedicated to business skills, because, yeah, at some point we will have to teach somewhere.
    Yet as you said, everything is done in a collaborative way, we create a satsang. And the tests, reports and essays are first and foremost a way to express our creativity and personality, our teacher isn’t necessarily asking for a regurgitation of something we’ve learnt by heart, but for an explanation of the way to apply what we learn to our practice and the way we tie everything together.

  3. Roseanne. Thanks for sharing this video, it really speaks to my (and most of us) experience of schooling. On the same line of what you were saying, I think I learned more about myself and the way in which I relate with the world living at Yasodhara Ashram. Living in community, practicing collaboration and extensive self-study just aren’t things that are part of our education model and yet they are crucial elements in our process of growth as people.

    My friend Debbie recently wrote a blog post about schooling and socialization which I found really interesting and thought you might also:

  4. Thanks for posting this!! I’m too new to yoga to remark on how its best taught, but I connected with the way kids’ ability to “live in the moment” is being stripped away in schools amidst standardized, boring curricula. The digital devices can overstimulate and lead to poor attention as well I’d think. Yoga – for me and my kids – has become a great antidote to these trends. The stillness, the time to meditate and use our imaginations and our shala has a great kids teacher who is also an artist and incorporates this into the classes. I wrote a blog post on this topic in reference to a recent NYTimes article on this same issue.

  5. I wrote about this recently too, though I didn’t touch upon all the topics here. I only mentioned that I wish education were not so stock and limited, and that I was glad there were private schools where one could study whatever one wanted in whatever now they pleased. Whether cars, instruments, whatever. Whatever you want to learn, whenever you want to learn. Some people didn’t even learn to read until a very late age, but they do learn to read, and better than some kids I graduated with in public school. I agree with the video. We need to break education wide open. I’ll have to share this video too.

    And that bit about aesthetics and the present moment really speaks to me. I do feel like children are unnecessarily squashed there.

  6. Great teachers have always brought out the qualities Ken is espousing here, and great teachers have always been able to meet the individual needs and styles of their students. So the problem is primarily one of teaching quality rather than the education system in and of itself.

    Change the system without changing the current mediocre teaching standards and you will get the same mediocre results. On the other hand, raise the average quality of teaching and you will get excellent results, regardless of changes to the “system”.

    Excellent teachers create the qualities Ken wants to see in their individual classrooms, regardless of the education systems surrounding them. In fact, changing the “system” can be a distraction from progress if it does not have as its unequivocal centerpiece the development of great teaching.

    Bob Weisenberg

    • bob, i couldn’t possibly disagree with you more here. training “great teachers” is individualistic and simplistic ~ it’s not a solution. anyway, by whose standards will these teachers be “great”?

      creativity and divergent thinking are often the characteristics of exceptional teachers, and these qualities are unable to thrive in a system that values conformity and sticking to the status quo. this system stifles the potential of teachers as much as it does the students.

      my mother was an educator (i would say an exceptional one, and just not because i’m biased) and by the end of her 40-year career she was sick of the system and tired of being constantly discouraged by limitations she saw on her students. as well, my younger brother had ADHD and i witnessed how the system – not individual teachers, who were doing their best – screwed him over repeatedly (as did the mental health and judicial systems, but that’s another story).

      systemic change is the only way to bring about change, and it’s not a “distraction from progress.” sir ken points out that countries around the world are engaged in education reform, and i find this heartening. let’s hope these reform measures include the ability to be flexible and adaptable.

      • could not agree with you more, roseanne. while I don’t teach in the public school system, I know many who do and their frustration level is off the charts about the status quo where I live.

  7. just wonderin…. would the word conformity make sense if it weren’t for divergent thinking anyway? And what would that thinking diverge from, without there being conformity in the first place? sorry, I’m just waking up… with this picture of what would happen on a highway if a bunch of drivers decided all of a sudden to enjoy some “divergent thinking”…

  8. I think yoga teacher trainings need to have a few stages. The first resembles standard educational paradigms a lot, because we all need to learn what our own teachers do, how to do that, and how to do it well. The method (of learning to cue postures and other techniques; learning to convey the history, mythology, and philosophy; learning to observe and adjust students; etc.) is more collaborative than most K-12 classrooms, yes, but it needs to be essentially a training, so that we can know and do what has come before us. The collaboration rather than competition is an important difference, as is the reliance on listening, speaking, and doing–not just watching and writing. But essentially, we need to learn the rules and skills of someone else and duplicate them…at first.

    After that, we need to start asking WHY. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to do this at the same time as we learn HOW. I think we need some time to practice and teach the ways our teachers did it (making it super important to choose the right teachers and training) and then ask questions like, “WHY do I always say it this way? How do some of the students I teach have needs that I’m not addressing with the way I already do this? What happens in my own body if I do this a different way?” And then we really start to teach from our own awareness, which makes our training, and our continuing education, so much more effective.

    Maybe there are some people who can do all that simultaneously during their first teacher training, but I have found that most people need to digest and regurgitate the stuff their teachers feed them (in a pretty traditional “training” way) before thinking critically about it and adapting it.

    The key is observing one’s regular students over and over and re-thinking how you teach in order to reach them better, and it takes some time to do that. I think the best thing for yoga trainings is to add on apprenticeships that continue as teachers start to teach their own classes. And that is quite an old-fashioned idea!