Archive for June, 2012

I recently was part of an art talk with two other artists, Natasha Henderson and Heather Boyd. In the video I show some of the process behind my ceramic tiles that were in the exhibition “Cross Pollination” at Fleurbain in Montreal, June 3, 2012.


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Montreal statue Mont-Royal

Teaching the body, heart and mind of knowledge.

When we are discussing the nature of education and what is valuable about education, we do not have to leave out a spiritual dimension to the practice of it. After listening to a discussion about incorporating Islamic Education into the West by scholar Tariq Ramadan, I was moved to reconsider my own purpose as an educator and as an artist. I would like to transcribe his ideas to text and share them with you in more general terms so that we can all benefit from his disciplined arguments. And although, Ramadan’s talk was directed for a religious group, I am certain that even if we have absolved our participation in organized religion we can still live a life that is wholly, or in part, a spiritual one.

The first concept to tackle is to decide what exactly the objectives of education are to be. What are the principles, the framework and the system of an educative practice? From there it is important to see that education is not a means to conform or to integrate into a society in which we find ourselves. A more valuable idea is to want to contribute in order to reform the system for the better once we have had an education. In this way, no matter the context of where we live, we can develop a philosophic and spiritual approach to the process of learning. In discussing the principles of education, Ramadan lays out three guides to consider.

Knowing the oneness of God. ~ If we are to accept the spiritual concept of an all knowing, omnipresent force or power then it follows that that is our most certain source of knowledge. It is what will, as an educator, take us onto the road of truth from the place we are now to the place we can be. And in this connection, it is crucial to see the many levels of knowledge available to us. There is the knowledge we get in the process of learning, but of this getting, what do we actually understand. There rests the dimension of deep knowledge, a level of knowing where we next understand how to implement basic knowledge into our place and time, therefore into a specific context.

Knowing with the heart. ~ Understanding and education are capacities of the mind and of the heart, and deep knowledge resides in both of these aspects of ourselves. Also, there is always a better knowledge when the learner loves the teacher. The heart that is capable of opening to love leads to a mind that opens to respect. This is a key component of the lineage of many educational traditions.

The body can also be taught. ~ Modern day behavourists and psychologists have confirmed that the body can also learn knowledge. That the way one uses the body is how we are also getting knowledge. If we respect our body, how we treat ourselves, how we treat others and how we physically approach our life, we have learned an essential step towards having a spiritual instruction. It is only by connecting the mind with the heart and the body, that education becomes a holistic practice.


We can learn to get it right by looking outward as well as inward. Just as we have to connect the mind, heart and body, we need to give to every dimension of a person’s needs and rights. We need to develop balance and that means that all of our needs must be met. When the body is hungry it needs to eat, when we are lacking we need to be taught, and no less important, the heart needs to be loved. This is the meaning of dignity, that there is food for the body, food for the mind, and food for the heart. These are our basic rights. Educating means knowing the answers to what all these needs are and how to provide them, and this is, in my opinion, the basis for truth.

Teaching with these principles allows a person to develop autonomy. And the value of autonomy is that we will all face God, or a challenge, or the world, completely alone at some point in our lives. The teacher needs to be able to teach the student to be able to think, but even more importantly, to be able think without the teacher. We must be equipped to face our reality independently. By becoming autonomous we can make the right decision and be strong enough to face life’s challenges. And the knowledge we have must become a deep knowing that we can implement in the context of our own location, time and culture.

Another result of education is value. The knowledge we have gained is what we need in order to have a value in our society. And to hold a value in our society, we need to have the courage to be a someone based on our own values. Freedom is not so much about speech or movement but about being. Spiritual strength means knowing who you want to be. We also need to be able to ask questions. A student can listen, but at some point, needs to be able to ask. We are, as Ramadan describes himself, ‘colonized with thoughts.’ It is not right to feel it is wrong or bad to have questions. It is normal that we would want to ask if things could be better. We need to see that it is the normal state that leads to the sacred state. From natural we get spiritual, there can be no other way. It is not from bad or faulty that we then need to try to hide everything. It is not right or natural to pretend, to be silent, to not use words, to not ask questions. Education needs critical thought, as much as it needs writing and reading. We learn to read and to listen so we will then be able to write and to speak.

Spirituality is meaning in action. In spirituality, the right action is to serve people. “Pray during the night, to serve people during the day.” Education is about love. Loving only from the mind still allows for a capacity to see the world as us versus them. Loving from the heart and the body as well as the mind inverts this sentiment and we can then learn to love our parents, our children, our neighbours and even our society. While we are talking about loving, one segment of education needs a lot of help in modern schools. According to Ramadan, the four disciplines of education are: History, Philosophy, Religion (the study of one’s own religion and the religion of others) and Arts and Culture. He stresses the importance of the Arts because poetry, beauty, grace, devotion, music are all deeply seated in affection. We need to teach Arts and Culture for they are of the non-verbal dimension and are an essential part of translating the very meaning of loving. “The more you celebrate beauty, the more you celebrate the Creator of beauty.”

The overall importance of education, according to Ramadan, is to teach and educate courageous people who are free because they are ready to speak out, they are ready to be assertive and because they can say wholly “This is who I am.” They are people who are courageous enough to be able to show to the people around them their needs, people who are assertive with their words and in expressing their needs, including their need for love. To say I love you is to say I need you.

This is in brief, a short synopsis of the essence of spirituality in education from the perspective of Ramadan. Now try to imagine the schools that house such teachers and students!

(Original talk: A Conversation with Dr. Tariq Ramadan at Zaytuna Guest Lecture Series April 2012 ‘Islamic Education’ (University of Oxford) – Tariq Ramadan 14 March 2012)

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