Expanding the focus of education

On the final day of the workshop on Cultural Studies of Science Education in Luxembourg, June 19, 2014, my role as a keynote speaker was to synthesize what had come before in the previous days of the workshop and look ahead. The title of my presentation was: “Step forward or step aside: Challenging times necessitate bold visions and practices." During the presentation I had spoken about the necessity for science educators to expand their roles beyond the tight focus on education in the formal schooling years and in- and out-of-school settings such as museums, zoos and nature parks. As I had done in recent publications I advocated a birth through death focus on education throughout the lifeworld – with a focus on producing literate citizens in regard to goal areas associated with wellness, sustainability, and harmony. The project included a stern endeavor to broaden what is meant by science in the lifeworld. In draft manuscripts and oral presentations I had often use the term pre-birth through death to describe the focus for science education. The inclusion of pre-birth was not intended as a gimmick since I have read numerous pieces that have described benefits of providing a nurturing prenatal environment to kickstart life after birth. Also I had considered autiobiographical accounts by high performers such as Yan Pascal Tortelier, who spoke about the influence of his home on his education which he described as starting prior to his birth.

Tortelier explained that his mother and father were professional musicians who exposed him to classical music prior to birth and through his childhood and adolescence. His father withdrew him from formal education so that he could concentrate on learning music and it is no surprise that he became a professional violinist and then a conductor with many orchestras around the world. When he speaks of his education he acknowledges the importance of being exposed to music, virtually from conception through to the present time. A key point to ponder is that learning is not only agentic, butalso is passive, occurring because Tortelier was in a field, with his parents, when they were practicing music. Through exposure to music he developed substantial knowledge, including dispositions to enact what he knew, in an ongoing way that was extensive. In this scenario the knowledge learned might be represented in numerous complementary ways that would include body movements, sound productions involving body parts such as the larynx, tongue and lips, images, and words – including prosodic features such as variations in intensity, frequency, and timbre. As Tortelier learned to play the piano, violin, and other musical instruments the repertoire of tools available to represent what he knew expanded, and when he learned to compose, he was able to represent his knowledge in even more expansive ways. To fully understand Tortelier's education and professional life as a musician it is apparent that history matters and that in his case knowledge and high valuing of music are historically constituted.

Even though I am committed to the idea of learning more about educating pre-birth embryos, my knowledge of how this might be done is practically nonexistent. For that reason mainly I did not use the term pre-birth in my presentation in Luxembourg.

After 45 minutes of presentation there was equal time for conversation. Questions and comments were slow in forthcoming but gradually there was a steady flow. I was amused by the question – "I am surprised that you spoke about birth through death and did not address education after death." I thought the implied question might have been asked tocatalyze humor and I addressed the issue in a less than serious manner. Essentially I stated that the question surprised me and reiterated that I had thought more about pre-birth but had few ideas about how education might occur in a pre-birth context. One participant in the workshop, with a strong background in religion and science, hadfrequently addressed the desirability of connecting beliefs about religion to the learning of science. Although there is a tradition in public schools of making sure that teaching of science is secular, there is good reason to connect what is being learned to what is known and believed – especially if learners have salient differences between religious beliefs and scientific knowledge.My colleague spoke about the desirability of connecting knowledge about science to beliefs about life after death. As I listened to his contribution I was relieved that the question had been taken up seriously, even though I felt that the question, as asked, was somewhat different.

In my view teaching about aging and death are important parts of education and discussing different standpoints on life after death, or existence after death, especially in relation to science and religion also makes sense. Indeed, I think there is a strong case for people having an understanding of the different stances adopted by science and myriad religious groups including those within the Judeo-Christian cluster and other major world religions such as Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists. There is no doubt that a focus such as this would be an important component of understanding different ontologies withinheterogeneous groups experienced directly and vicariously in themedia (e.g.,globally and within countries, constituent units such as states, and local communities“here and elsewhere"). I acknowledge the impoprtance of people understanding the extent to which knowledge of science and knowledge of religion are complementary and different (personally and for others). Furthermore, most of the effort in meeting goals such as this could be conducted out-of-school contexts and in the years beyond formal education. Institutions like the media and those associated with religious practice would be major players. Ongoing programs of research that explore common ground and differences, such as the work undertaken by the Dalai Lama and scientists from different parts of the United States, would be salient components of a program that would address this issue.

As for educating spirits, or people who have died already, this is not something I have dealt with in any rigorous way. Since the Luxembourg conference concluded I have thought about this from time to time and in each case my mind returns to more familiar ground – educating the living. In making this comment I am aware that some have argued that birth and death are not useful categories, preferring a continuum that has no beginning and no end. If this stance is accepted than the possibility of educating along the continuum can be considered, plans drawn up, and efforts be made to enact whatever is planned. Suffice to say, what might be possible depends very much on standpoints that (for me) are in uncharted territory.

I did attend a seminar offered by Brian Weiss on past life regression.The content for the day paralleled his provocative book, "Many lives, many masters." The seminar was attended by more than 2000 people. According to Weiss the gender split among participants was something less than 80% female compared to a little more than 20% male.I found the meditations interesting as activities but did not access anything I considered to be a past life. Certainly I did not connect with“ angels or masters." My experience is in contrast to the large majority who claim to have accessed a past life during the session. When asked for a show of hands almost everybody seemed to have experienced something that they equated with accessing a past life.

When a colleague died back in 2009, one of my doctoral students, who is a medium, claims to have contacted him "on the other side." For more than a month he conveyed messages from my colleague and it created lots of uncertainties about my own spiritual standpoints. When the medium provided information that he could not possibly have known in advance it really made us take stock of what was happening. At the very least this example serves as evidence of significant diversity in what people accept as reality of what happens aftersomeone“dies.”

So, in the spirit of seriously considering questions that arise in a professional meeting, I acknowledge that science educators might expand their foci to address a continum extending from pre-natal through death. Beyond this, takes me far beyond my personal experience and professional knowledge. I cannot comment professionally and have liitle to support speculation. However, for those who want to go down this pathway, the first steps might entail using activities such as meditation and efforts to dialogue via a medium. Perhap critical hermeneutic-phenomenologcal projects could focus on seeking answers to questions of the type that are usually associated with interpretive research— including what is happening, why is that happening, and what happens when seemingly stable equilibria are disrupted in an ethnomedodological project.Until more is understood about such issues it is folly to consider educating those who have“died."

Kenneth Tobin 2015