a journal of analysis and comment
advancing public understanding of religion and education
Volume 32 Number 1
Recasting Agreements that Govern Teaching and Learning:
An Intellectual and Spiritual
If we can see it is our agreements which rule our life,
and we don’t like the dream of our life, we need to change the agreements.
Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements
In The Four Agreements2 Don Miguel Ruiz, a healer and teacher who studied the teachings of the Toltec in Mexico, explains that the mind dreams 24 hours a day. When the mind is awake, we dream according to the framework of what we have been taught and what we have agreed to believe. When the mind is asleep, we lack this conscious framework, and the dream changes constantly. In the awakened state, we function according to society’s Dreamfield—a collective, holographic reflection of our shared beliefs. Don Miguel elaborates on the concept of human dreaming:
The dream of the planet is the collective dream of billions of smaller, personal dreams, which together created a dream of family, a dream of community, a dream of a city, a dream of country, and finally a dream of the whole humanity. The dream of the planet includes all of society’s rules, its beliefs, its laws, its religions, its different cultures and ways to be, its governments, schools, social events and holidays.
Don Miguel provides additional examples citing that when we were born, we were given a name, and we agreed to the name. When we were children, we were given a language, and we agreed to speak that language. We were given moral and cultural values. We began to have faith in these agreements passed on to us from the adults we were told to respect and to honor. We used these agreements to judge others and to judge ourselves. As long as we followed the agreements, we were rewarded. When we went against the rules we were punished, and pleasing others became a way of life, so much so that we became not who we really are, but a copy of someone else’s beliefs. As we became adults we tried to rebel against some beliefs, which we began to understand made little sense or were inflicting harm. For example, some of us may have been told we were dumb, fat, or ugly. In our educational system, some social rules have created inequalities and injustices such as belief systems that view women and people of color as lacking in leadership, as well as having limited intellectual abilities. But many of us became afraid of expressing our freedom to articulate a different truth because we feared punishment for going against the prevailing belief system, even when we had no role in creating it. The dominant belief system is powerful, entrenched, validated and constantly rewarded by the social structure that created it—so much so that when even when we begin to see that some of the agreements in the belief system are flawed and in need of change, we find it very difficult to challenge them. Don Miguel notes that we need "a great deal of courage to challenge our own beliefs. Because even if we know we didn’t choose all these beliefs, it is also true that we agreed to all of them. The agreement is so strong that even if we understand the concept of it not being true, we feel the blame, the guilt, and the shame that occur if we go against these rules."4
Like Don Miguel, I believe that a group of people can theorize to develop a set of agreements to guide a transformational change. For instance, a core group of higher education faculty and administrators can consciously begin to hold the same thoughts that represent a newly formed vision of teaching, research, leadership and service. A small, but critical mass of individuals can create what Malcolm Gladwell5 calls a "tipping point," a boiling point when an idea, trend or social behavior, like an epidemic, bursts into society and spreads like wildfire. In higher education, our shared beliefs about teaching and learning constitute the agreements that guide our present pedagogical Dreamfield. This Dreamfield is fraught with some powerful, entrenched agreements that, though shared by many, are in need of revision because they do not completely honor our humanity and our freedom to express who we are and what we represent.
I write with three purposes: 1) to expose the privileged agreements that govern teaching and learning in higher education; 2) to provide an intellectual and spiritual framework for recasting the agreements in order to transform teaching and learning; and 3) to join the many existing voices of educational transformation to contribute to the generation of a new "tipping point"— a movement that wishes to create a new dream of education. The foundation of this dream is a more harmonic, holistic vision of education that honors the whole of who we are as intellectual, compassionate, authentic human beings who value love, peace, democracy, community, diversity and hope for humanity.
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