ON THIS PAGE:
What is Experiential Education?
Why is Reflection Important?
Spiritual Grounding & Social Justice
WHAT IS EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION?
The UU College of Social Justice was founded in 2012 with the mission to inspire and sustain effective and spiritually grounded activism for justice. In order to live out this mission, the CSJ offered immersion learning, volunteer, and internship opportunities. With the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person gathering became impossible and so programming turned towards online workshops. Does this mean that the CSJ stepped away from experiential education pedagogy?
What is Pedagogy? Click here to learn more.
Pedagogy (/ˈpɛdəɡɒdʒi, -ɡoʊdʒi, -ɡɒɡi/), most commonly understood as the approach to teaching, is the theory and practice of learning, and how this process influences, and is influenced by, the social, political and psychological development of learners. Pedagogy, taken as an academic discipline, is the study of how knowledge and skills are imparted in an educational context, and it considers the interactions that take place during learning. Both the theory and practice of pedagogy vary greatly, as they reflect different social, political, and cultural contexts.
Pedagogy is often described as the act of teaching. The pedagogy adopted by teachers shapes their actions, judgments, and other teaching strategies by taking into consideration theories of learning, understandings of students and their needs, and the backgrounds and interests of individual students. Its aims may range from furthering liberal education (the general development of human potential) to the narrower specifics of vocational education (the imparting and acquisition of specific skills). Conventional western pedagogies view the teacher as knowledge holder and student as the recipient of knowledge (described by Paulo Freire as “banking methods”), but theories of pedagogy increasingly identify the student as an agent and the teacher as a facilitator.
Instructive strategies are governed by the pupil’s background knowledge and experience, situation, and environment, as well as learning goals set by the student and teacher. One example would be the Socratic method. Source: Wikipedia
An experiential education framework does not imply travel, meeting new people, or hearing something new. All these things might happen in an experiential education experience, but they are not required.
All that is required for an experiential education experience is reflection.
We are all having experiences all the time. Our everyday lives are shaped by experiences that are formed by the systems of power surrounding us, including systems based on race, sexuality, gender, physical ability, nationality, and roles we play within family and community systems.
Because so many of our experiences happen repeatedly, we can all sometimes fall into the thought of, “That is just the way things are.” This is why travel can help us realize the diversity of possibilities available to us – we can compare and contrast experiences and thus help ourselves understand how experiences show up in our everyday living.
But even without travel, speaking to someone new, reading a book with a new perspective, watching a movie, or major disruptions to everyday life, etc. can help illuminate the experiences we have everyday as just that – experiences. And once we reflect and learn from our experiences, we have entered into the realm of experiential education.
WHY IS REFLECTION IMPORTANT?
Reflection is an act of questioning. The questions we ask depend on the values we hold. As well, we can often learn more about the values we hold by reflecting on the values present in our actions.
To use an experiential education pedagogy for social justice education, we have to understand that the systems of privilege and oppression around us are more than abstractions – they directly affect how we are able to live in this society. Systems of power and privilege affect how we understand ourselves and the greater world, affect the ways we can provide for our families and ourselves, affect our emotions, and our physical, mental, and spiritual sense of safety and belonging. Reflection is how we align our actions with our values.
Without reflection, learning becomes a practice in abstraction with the goal being having the right thoughts. But our learning is disconnected from the work of social justice until it is actively tied to adjusting and readjusting how we show up in relationship with the movements, causes, and values that we care about.
With an active, grounded, compassionate practice of reflection, we can hold thoughts that don’t align with our values knowing that culture has placed those thoughts there. We become less defensive and more compassionate. And even as we work to unlearn the cultural logics that justify oppression, we can move in right relationship, adjusting as we go.
SPIRITUAL PRACTICE & SOCIAL JUSTICE
The core values of the Unitarian Universalist faith call for a world of justice, in which all people are accorded their basic human rights and our communities transcend divisions of class, race, nationality, and the many “- isms” that can separate us. Living up to this vision is a difficult challenge.
Our experience of injustice varies, depending on our social identities and daily lives. For those of us with target identities, our work is to find the way to sustain ourselves in the face of oppression and injustice. For those of us who navigate the world with privilege, the challenge is to stay awake and aware of how that privilege operates in our daily lives and in our institutions. Most of us have a combination of target and dominant identities, and we are called to make sense of that in a way that helps us feel empowered and able to contribute to the world of justice we envision.
To be effective agents of change and transformation in the long run, we must develop the ability to stay connected, even when uncomfortable, without jumping into our automatic modes of defense. This kind of personal work requires a high level of self-awareness, patience, and compassion, which are qualities we can cultivate through spiritual practices.
Spiritual practices are the habits in our lives that center us, open our attention more fully, and nurture our connections to something larger than ourselves — whether we understand it as God or Spirit, nature, or the interconnected web of existence.
We encourage you to choose for your practice something that warmly beckons you, something you love, that helps you quiet the noise in your mind so you can pay attention on a deeper level. Choose something that helps you to be in just one place for a little while, doing just one thing with your whole awareness. Whatever that is, if you do it with attention, intention, and repetition, it can be your spiritual practice – it could help you bring your best awareness to your volunteer experience.