Case Report

Restorying Self-Identity in a Changing World

Carolyn Mamchur*

Department of Education, Simon Fraser University, Canada

*Corresponding author: Carolyn Mamchur, Department of Education, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, B.C.Canada V5A 1S6. Tel: 778-782-3661; Email: carolyn_mamchur@sfu.ca

Received Date: 04 May, 2020 ; Accepted Date: 03 Jun, 2020 ; Published Date: 12 Jun, 2020

Abstract

This research is based upon a unique curricular event designed to develop an understanding of relationality, or the call of the other, in a group of 38 student teachers enrolled in a professional development program at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. Particularly relevant to the challenges brought about by the present Pandemic, the paper consists of three components: a theoretical basis for interspecies communication and its power to enhance the ability to honor nature and life in a time of huge upheaval, a detailed description of the curriculum including, assignments, dialogues attached to authentic work experienced in a carnivalesque setting and concludes with two case studies which enrich the reader’s understanding of how this particular curricular event affected the student teachers’ thinking about their own self-identity and its impact on their student teaching.

Keywords

Curriculum Design; Animal Assisted Learning; Relationality; Teacher Training; Narrative; Case Study; Self-Identity; Pandemic; Globalization

Introduction

There are numerous theories and philosophies competing as the “right way” or the ‘best way” to deal with the impact of globalization on education around the world. There are challenges on all fronts, challenges and advantages.

Today’s Pandemic has created an even greater challenge for everyone. A deadly global threat, isolation, fear of the unknown is now a reality for all of us. Lessons learned in dealing with globalization can help us construct a powerful curriculum and pedagogy for teachers today. Students leaving home to find a new identity in a new country face the challenges of fitting in, of being able to navigate in a world basically foreign to them. Individuals facing an unknown present and future have to navigate in a new world where the invisible can kill.

This article cites case studies from a mix of national and international students in a teacher education program before the Pandemic. It describes a method used in face to face teaching but which is equally possible in e learning. Hopefully, this will become apparent as I suggest ways to adjust the curriculum to accommodate what happens during a pandemic, when e learning and social distancing become a necessity.

The term ‘border-crossing’ has been used to describe the kinds of experiences one has when you leave an environment (job, home, country, school, and faculty) for another. It can now be used to describe life in a Pandemic.

Border-crossings occur when you place yourself in unfamiliar places or situations. Such experiences with the unfamiliar ‘cultural’ characteristics of others often challenge and cause a person to adjust her cultural “standards” of thinking, perceiving, evaluating, and behaving. Culturally speaking, these are significant moments of enlightenment, which often happen when we visit other countries. We hope it happens when students enroll in universities “abroad”. Moving between life worlds is a process of educational metamorphoses. There is similar hope that such metamorphoses will occur when individuals conquer fears of illness and financial crisis and work together to help one another and keep the planet safe. The Pandemic provides opportunity for a new kind of awareness and appreciation of the other.

The provocative feminist and philosopher, Jane Martin in her book, talks about whole person transformations which she later describes as “culture crossings” and speaks of the gifts that culture crossers have as being their power to circulate to their cultures of arrival and departure. This process could have the “potential of causing cultural renewal” [1].

When a person or a group of people come to a new culture, they are bringing their gifts with them and the visited country is richer for it. The new country experiences new ideas, different food, interesting people, new skills, and new stories. But it isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. When one moves from one place to another, it is not a simple thing such as closing one door and opening another one. There is that dark and scary hallway in between. When you are in the hallway, you become aware that you will be leaving something behind. You know what it is you are giving up. But you are not sure what is ahead. You know what you hope for, but there is uncertainty.

Self- identity has been described as a sense of continuity of self across time and space – retaining its singularity, retaining a sense of one’s location in space, in spite of changing external and internal factors and the interaction between them. This epidemic has forced millions of humans across the planet to examine who they are and how able are they to cope with the unknown. It is our responsibility as educators to help with this coping.

I remember my mother telling stories of businessmen in the thirties jumping from tall buildings because the picture they had in their heads of what life would be without their fortunes was so awful, they could not face it. Today there is more support for people and so far, there have been no reports of attempted suicide. We are working very hard at a new identity, a new archetype, an archetype of caring.

An example of how quickly we can change is our present reaction to the wearing of masks. Traditionally, the mask has initiated a sense of fear, someone hiding, possibly someone who wants to rob or hurt us. Now, it signifies caring. In most cases, the mask does not protect the mask wearer. It protects the “other” from the virus that the person wearing the mask may unknowingly possess.

I am feeling optimistic about our ability to reform ourselves, hopefully, as one people in the world against one common enemy, Covid 19. Leaders have long known that nothing brings a group together faster than a common enemy. Tremendous energy is put into creating a shared vision of who that enemy is. Now, no enemy is pretended for economic gain. Today there is a common enemy and our lives depend upon overcoming it and creating a safe world for everyone.

This paper presents a practical curriculum to aid teachers and students in recognizing their personal power and to self-identify with honesty and excitement. The thing that has made transition possible for my students is that I work very hard at having students recognize that they bring themselves along with them wherever they go. And they bring stories along with them. Some of the stories are useful. Some are not. Recognizing those stories and their impact on what we do helps us to get rid of stories that limit or even harm us.

Sometimes, in a change, we forget who we are. We feel we are losing ourselves.

These are typical factors affecting identity change:

Level of network support

• Visibility

• Prominence

• Friend location

• Homogeneous connections

• Perception of living up to some standard [2]

It is important to think of gaining some of these factors when making a cultural move. Find friends, make connections with people who have interests similar to your own, join clubs, reading groups, be visible, avoid hiding behind the curtain of silence, and be vocal and visible through social media which suddenly has huge importance in our lives. There are also more specific opportunities instructors can invite their students to experience, more powerful, more provocative ones.

David Whyte a writer renowned for his ability to put heart into work writes of the courage it takes to make a change and to bring yourself into your world of work. In work, it has always taken courage to follow a unique and individual path exactly, because making our own path takes us off the path, in directions, which seem profoundly unsafe. A pilgrimage into the night and the night wind. The territory through which we must travel to make a life for ourselves is always more difficult than we could first imagine; it takes us to the cliff edges of life.

No one says it is easy. Two tools have worked well for me in helping students find voice and place in academia. Those tools are writing personal essays and animal assisted learning. Both are equally effective when used with domestic students and international students. The curriculum is the same. Both focus on real life and what is happening to us now, at this moment. What I am proposing is something [3] label as doing authenticity. Provide opportunity for authentic activity, in this case, an activity with animals, designed to allow a new vision of one to emerge through the process. What better place to start than with the horse, that ancient creature that has been such an important part of human life since we drew their picture on cave walls.

The Way of the Horse

“The animal is there before me, there close to me, there in front of me-I who am following after it. It surrounds me” [4]. It was my studies as an equine therapist that led me to incorporating animal assisted learning into a professional development program at Simon Fraser University. The relationship between animals and humans is not new. It is universal; known to all cultures, and is basically spoken in a wordless language.

Gittins [5] in her examination of the way ancient peoples understood their relationships to animals makes a very interesting case for the significance of animals on human history. Her study of the archaeology of the People of the Upper Paleolithic and their being socially linked to animals led her to claim that humans have been so dependent on animals that “it is difficult to say that animals could change history, could influence the outcomes of our lives now from their actions then, but I think it is at least possible to say that history would have been impossible without them”.

An interpretation of the tattoos of nonhuman animals etched upon the preserved human bodies from a Pazyrk archaeological culture of Inner Asia has led Argent [6] to suggest that to enlightened people, riding can be seen as an interspecies apprenticeship process, where both humans and horses pass along social knowledge as thoughtful actors with defined roles. From this perspective, the horse tattoos are presented as polysemic materializations of the bonds between particular Pazyryk horses and people, of blended identities, and of cosmological values related to time, memory, and belonging.

Ancient peoples and indigenous peoples have long recognized and cherished their relationship to animals and to nature. As scientific thinking and, even more recently, technology worked to move humankind away from its awareness of its essential link to and reliance on nature, many began to lose interest in nature except to exploit it for pleasure or profit.

Kahn, Severson & Ruckert [7] claim that our interest in and attraction to nature is a fundamental, genetically based human need and uses the term “biophilia” coined by E.O. Wilson in 1984 to discuss this need. If we lose this relationship, we lose part of who we are.

Rose [8] has discovered that biophilia and bio synergy (induced relationships) tend to produce different outcomes. Bonds formed through bio-synergy are likely to harmonize human/nonhuman cooperation, and lead to mutual satisfaction of human, nonhuman, and ecosystem needs. Biophilia motivates humans to bond with other animals principally for human satisfaction; this can lead to overlooking or dismissing the broader needs of the nonhuman animals and their ecosystems.

Corning [9] suggests that synergy is more than a driving force in the evolution of life, but is a crucial factor in assuring the fate of humankind. I certainly agreed. I had personally chosen to leave the city in order to live on a farm close to the horses I had recently rescued. Research would suggest that my desire to spend my golden years in the presence of animals, surrounded by nature was a need to retain my humanity. Loyal, courageous, telepathic, loving, horses form relationships that we tend to forget about as we go about buying and selling and even rescuing them. I had a lot to learn and these magnificent creatures were willing to teach me. Critics, often of the scientific world might at one time, mocked this description, insisting that I was making up the story rather than consider the possibility of this kind of communication being a reality.

“Quantum physics research during the last 20 years has discovered that physical objects are not as separate as we once thought they are. At the quantum particle level, all separateness disappears and everything is connected. SchroŐądinger described this process as ‘entanglement’” [10].

When two systems, of which we know the states by their respective representatives, enter into temporary physical interaction due to known forces between them, and when after a time of mutual influence the systems separate again, then they can no longer be described in the same way as before, viz. by endowing each of them with a representative of its own. I would not call that one but rather the characteristic trait of quantum mechanics, the one that enforces its entire departure from classical lines of thought. By the interaction the two representatives [the quantum states] have become entangled. [11].

In physicist David Bohm’s [12] concept of the implicate order, connections are possible here that transcend space and time; for Bohm, the implicate order is where entanglement occurs.

Today knowledge of quantum mechanics has fueled so much literature on such experiences as “entanglement” that whole journals are committed to its study. The scientific discovering that a proton could be a particle or a wave changed the way we look at the world. It is what Einstein called “wacky” science. As a result, scientists and laypersons are looking at the relationship of things and people and all creatures differently. ‘Entanglement’ has come to be an important word in understanding how we connect in powerful unspoken ways, sharing emotions even when not touching or speaking. Those experiences we used to claim happened by chance are now seen as real and explainable.

Dr. Paul-Antoine Moreau of the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics and Astronomy [13] unveiled the first-ever image of quantum entanglement thereby managing to capture an elegant demonstration of a fundamental property of nature, seen for the very first time in the form of an image. It is not surprising that scientists are intent upon measuring and proving the existence of entanglement. What this paper concerns itself with is creating opportunities for entanglement with animals. The science behind such connections makes it more difficult for the critic to mock thee phenomena of special communication as the “imaginings of the person longing for connection” for example.

There is a second aspect of animal knowledge that could deeply influence social interaction. Kathy Pike, founder of the Mind Body Method and leader of Equine Experiential Learning describes the stories of her life experience in equine facilitated workshops in her book, Hope…From the Heart of Horses. Those stories reveal something more and more equine specialists are coming to recognize:

Our thoughts, both conscious and unconscious, create a state of being in our bodies, and the power of being heart-centered. Since horses are finely tuned to the intentions, energy (or emotion), and thoughts that a person hides, they can reflect back to human’s state of being and offer opportunity for learning”.

Similar stories appear in the work of Mark Rashid, author of Horses Never Lie and Nature in Horsemanship. He explains the function in the brain driven by mirror neurons which permit the horse to reflect back to us the truth of what we are thinking and feeling.

These two aspects of the horse, their ability to communicate through telepathy and their ability to reflect the real thoughts and feelings that we are consciously or unconsciously experiencing triggered the idea to use horses in teacher training. How exciting. I was finding a way of communicating more powerful than words. It didn’t matter what language you used. It was your thought that counted when you were in the company of horses. It was who you are that matters. Today, during the Pandemic, my horses offer safe interaction for me and one by one, many of my friends and students.

Turning to the Other

For this part of their education as student teachers, student teachers were invited to engage with any “other” for one day on my animal sanctuary, Magic Horse Garden. The “other” consisted of four horses, twelve chickens, five llamas, six ducks, two rabbits and two goats. The relationship was not the usual one of humans using animals or controlling them. It was a dialogic relationship.

In preparation for the day at the farm, one of my formal doctoral students, and present colleague, Dr. Charles Scott, visited our classroom and introduced the students to Rice and Burbules [14] and Burbules [15] who argued the significance of educational relationships to human and social flourishing, and developed a neo-Aristotelian model of what they call “communicative virtues,” defined as “dispositions that enable communication, especially between partners who differ in terms of their linguistic styles, experiences, or beliefs.”

Scott focused on the need for real experience in alluding to the Aristotelian perspective out of which Burbules’ work emerges, reminding the student teachers that the ‘communicative virtues’ are pragmatic-they are not learned as principles or imperatives, but arise out of our efforts to establish a way of life. Scott further developed their work in analyzing Martin Buber’s work to discover seven dialogical virtues that form the heart of Buber’s model of dialogical engagement.

Student teachers in my module had studied the work of Buber and had practiced dialogic relationship as a way of commuting with secondary students. In me and you, Buber suggests we can have dialogue with nature, with other people, and with spiritual beings: “Form’s silent asking, man’s loving speech, the mute proclamations of the creature, are all gates leading into the presence of the Word”.

Buber [16] writes of a transformative dialogical encounter he had as a child with a dapple-grey mare:

For me this was not merely an incidental pleasure. On the contrary there was a great, indeed an intimate and deeply moving, sense of something given. The memory of what my hand felt remains fresh, and even now, if I am to convey the sensation, I am obliged to say that what I experienced from the animal was the other, the awesome Otherness of the other, which permitted me to approach and to touch her.... As I stroked that rich mane, sometimes so wonderfully smoothly-combed and at other times so wonderfully wild, and as I sensed her vitality under my hand, it was as if I by touching her coat I was privileged to be in the presence of the essence of life itself, and placed in the most elemental relationship between Thou and Thou.

As part of the farm experience, each student was instructed to select a creature and connect with it in some way. They were invited to be present and attentive. The farm, being a different setting from the traditional classroom in university or school, and the request to dialogue with the creature provided what Bakhtin [17] calls “carnival”.

Carnival is for Bakhtin [18] the place for working out, in a concretely sensuous, half-real and half-play acted form, a new mode of interrelationship between individuals, counter posed to the all-powerful socio-hierarchical relationships of non-carnival life.

It was my hope that the carnivalesque setting would encourage what is often called “a beginner’s mind.” A beginner’s mind would put us all on a level playing field. This preliminary study is easily done via e-learning. And certainly, the world we presently find ourselves in forces a “beginner’s mind”. No one living today as lived through the Black Plague, a period in history similar to the one we face today.

Dialogue is characterized by people who surprise themselves by what they say. They do not have all theory thoughts worked out in advance but are willing to be influenced by the conversation itself. They come with questions to which they do not yet have answers. And they do not demand answers of others [19].

During the connection in this carnivalesque setting, students played music, feasted on roasted meats and sweet potatoes and connected with one another and the many creatures on the farm. The rather raunchy nature of carnival, of course, was omitted.

Because students were being asked to engage with beings that do not use speech as a way of communicating, it was important that they be focused and present. Animals, especially prey animals, communicate with telepathy. Students were invited to walk silently about the farm, focusing on their breathing, to ready themselves for the engagement with the nonhumans. “Telepathic interspecies communication may be facilitated by utilizing specific meditation techniques to quiet the mind, slow the brain waves, and shift consciousness to a level outside of time and space” [10].

As part of their previous work in writing, they had practiced imagery, focusing on specific intentions. “The ‘meaning’ of images is the simplest kind of meaning, because images resemble what they mean, whereas words, as a rule, do not” [20]. Animals, who do think in images, are known to tell the truth. It was my intention to prepare the students for possible communication in a new and powerful manner.

Though students were instructed to be present in their “turning to the other”, they were also asked to leave their minds open to a flood of memory. I asked them to notice any memory that came to them during their experience with the farm animals. I did this in the belief that dialog with the ‘other’ promotes memory. “At any moment in the development of the dialogue there are immense, boundless masses of forgotten contextual meanings, but at certain moments of the dialogue’s subsequent development along the way they are recalled and invigorated in renewed form (in a new context) [17].

Toni Morrison [21] beautifully describes this process when asked how she knew the emotions of her ancestors as depicted in her novel, Sula. Morrison said she opens herself to a flooding of memory. She says it is like the Mississippi River. You damn it up, but it floods. That is because it is remembering its past and repeating the journey. So it is with writers, they remember their past and write with a flood of emotional memory. ”If writing is thinking and discovery and selection and order and meaning, it is also awe and reverence and mystery and magic”.

Memory from the past comes into one’s consciousness as implicit memory, the emotions, sensations, perceptions that come from the past.

Siegel and Bryson discuss creating cohesive narratives by integrating implicit and explicit memories and shining the light of awareness on difficult moments from your past, thereby gaining insight into how the past is impacting your relationship with your children (and in this case, with students). They recommend bringing one’s former experiences into the present and weave them into the larger story of your life.

Each student was invited to write a three-page narrative of the memory that had flooded while engaging with the nonhumans. The narrative was to focus only on the memory, not the event at the farm that had prompted the memory.

It was my belief that narrative would reveal some elemental and important aspect of identity that would influence their teaching practice, which in my mind, is all about relationship.

Contemporary critics across the board are now, in effect, urging the adoption of a new paradigm which understands that the discourse of a reductionist approach to “science” has erected a false god; their growing concern with moral questions leads them to re-evaluate the methods via which we discover “truth,” and chief among these is a return to narrative as a fundamental activity of the human race [22]. Whether spoken or written, narrative has been championed by scholars as a means of developing awareness of self, others, and the world by particularizing one’s physical, interpersonal, sociocultural, and historical situatedness [23-26]; thus working with one’s own narrative is seen as a legitimate form of inquiry for university students. Narrative has been recognized as a legitimate and particularized form of scholarly inquiry with its own rigors [27-29]. Narrative has further been advocated as a means of developing reflexive educational praxis [30-32].

Narratives, or personal essays, were sent to the professor for evaluation. The narratives were powerful and personally meaningful and deserved careful attention. They served as an opportunity to develop skill in improving writing as well as provide a level of awareness of self and one’s way of being with others. The narratives were returned and the students met in class. Several students were invited to share their narratives. After we had enjoyed the stories as compositions and discussed ways to write effectively, we then turned to the event which had triggered the memory.

It was a bit surprising to me that no one student had the same trigger as any other student. Each was unique. Some were very subtle. The events could not be predicted or arranged. It became clear that the process had to be natural and you had to trust it.

The next task was to write down for private viewing what you learned about yourself from this combined event (being with the animals and writing of the memory) and the reflection of it. Students were invited to look inside to learn what this might mean to them as teachers. Would the way they were with non-human creatures represent something about how they might be with students? Would the memory that had been triggered reveal something important about them as teachers?

Though students were not required to read their reflections, we did have a discussion. The discussion was so rich, it took several days to give ample time for all the students who wanted to share their narratives to do so at their own pace. This was not a process to be hurried. It was a time for patience and acceptance and understanding. As students were learning about themselves, they were learning about one another and developing a deeper connection to the group.

The following week, student teachers went out into the schools for a week-long practicum. They were expected to do some observations, some one on one engagement with students and to teach a few lessons. One of the “assignments” student teachers were given was to journal any thoughts they had concerning their experience on the farm, their narratives, and the ideas they had about their own way of being with others.

Upon return to the university classroom, student-teachers spent another two days sharing any behaviors that reflected how they had been on the farm and/or had been influenced by their remembered past experiences.

Case Studies

Several students have given me permission to share their experiences, narratives, and self -discovery as a result of the farm, the writing, the practice teaching and the follow up reflections and discussions. A young man wrote about a time in the eighth grade when he had joined a group in mocking a classmate from Peru who had learned to speak English by watching television and had confused the words ‘constipated ‘and ‘anxious’.

Afternoon Television and the Delicate Art of Language

I was raised on TV. No, not literally. I didn’t, you know, grow up as the precocious young son on a CBC sitcom circa 1987. But you know what I mean when I say I was raised on TV, don’t you? I bet you do. Language is funny that way, isn’t it? We take it for granted sometimes too, language. It’s a bit like oxygen, no? I figure that as a kid, I probably absorbed the language of TV as easily as I absorbed the English language that I had heard from every member of my family and my friends’ families and my teachers and my coaches and my corner store owners and, well, you get the idea. Communicating has always been so easy for me, and I would venture a guess that, outside of my French classes in school, I have spent exactly zero days and zero hours and zero minutes struggling to understand or be understood by others.

My friend Pablo hasn’t been so lucky. Pablo, like me, was raised on TV too, but the TV he was raised on was of the Spanish language variety. Pablo’s family came to Canada from Chile during the summer that he and I were 13. I can imagine that TV probably started to get confusing for him after his arrival. All of the faces on TV, even the familiar ones he might have known from his favorite American shows like “Family Ties” and “Growing Pains” were no longer speaking Spanish, they would now be speaking English. I bet it was strange seeing Michael J. Fox use unfamiliar words in a voice that seemingly didn’t belong to him. I wonder if people on TV seem less ‘real’ and kind of puppet-like when you hear them speaking an unknown language.

When I first met Pablo, I had no idea that his family had had some trouble with a sticky red bureaucratic substance. When they arrived in Canada, which meant that Pablo wasn’t allowed to enroll in school for close to six months after he arrived in Vancouver. When I asked him about it recently, Pablo claimed that those six months were the best part of his first year in Canada.

When Pablo’s family first arrived in my neighborhood, I was excited to finally have a kid my own age living right next door. For the first part of that summer, my new neighbor and I would spend countless hours on our respective athletic training grounds that, if you are familiar with athletics, or have eyes, would recognize as nothing more than the shared covered garages of our parent’s “Cedar Village” duplexes in North Vancouver. I would often see Pablo outside perfecting his soccer skills, which would then make me feel guilty about not practicing my hockey skills (if you could call them that).

Seeing Pablo out there, tall, strong, ridiculously agile, and already growing into a man’s frame at thirteen, inspired me to venture outside and at least make a small effort at improving my wrist shot. Or what I thought was a wrist shot anyways. Looking back, I can imagine that we were quite the pair. Pablo, taking shots on a “net” drawn with athletic tape onto the faux-wood aluminum siding of his home, and me, flailing away at an orange street-hockey ball with a stick whose blade had been ground down to something more akin to a battered shoe horn than any sort of useable piece of sporting equipment.

Pablo and I maintained this routine of ‘dry-land’ training for the entire summer before I, or we actually, were supposed to start grade 9. Early on, during that summer, I had tried talking to Pablo whenever I saw him in his garage or anywhere else around our housing complex, but it never got beyond one or two simple questions. As the summer wore on I gave up. It was too much work for me, trying to pull one word responses from this kid, especially when the responses were never more than a series of things like “noh” and “jess.” And besides, he looked happy enough, wordlessly banging that soccer ball off of his side of the garage wall. Who was I to trouble him with a conversation he wasn’t going to understand?

Little by little I stopped going outside to play with Pablo. I don’t remember seeing him at all in August of that year, and I definitely don’t remember talking to him until the day he showed up in one of my drama classes halfway through the school year.

I politely nodded to Pablo when I saw him, which was something I had seen grown-ups do when meeting fellow acquaintances. Pablo returned my nod with a huge smile and a gregarious wave. He came over to me and said with a grin, “yo, how come you don’t play hockey any more outside your house?” I couldn’t believe it. This kid could speak! Were we about to actually converse?!? And why didn’t I play hockey outside my house anymore? I didn’t have much time to ponder this question, or process Pablo’s miracle of speech, because our teacher, Mr. Broughton, had just entered the room.

Bill Broughton was, in the kindest way I can put this, Sutherland Secondary’s requisite weirdo drama teacher. This guy looked so much like a drama teacher that it bordered on sarcasm. He had a beard and wore denim overalls with strategically and artfully placed paint splatters. He sported elaborate scarves and odd hats year round, and was fond of storming out of classes and play rehearsals in fits of demonstrative-script-throwing emotional trauma stemming from his students “refusal to emote like real-live-actual-human-beings!” Mr. Broughton was great.

Even though Pablo was new to our school, he didn’t seem to have any trouble fitting in. I was kind of jealous of him. As I said, he was tall and athletic and, well, the fourteen-year-old me would have never admitted it, but Pablo was (and still is) downright dreamy. None of those physical qualities, though, could stop Pablo from suffering through a terrible embarrassment in those first weeks at his new Canadian high school.

As much as I was impressed with how much Pablo’s English had improved since I had first met him, I was still a little surprised that he had wanted to take part in our school’s Spring Break Drama Club presentation of Twelve Angry Men. For the two weeks leading up to our auditions, I rarely saw Pablo without a copy of the script in his hands. I would see him on the bus, eyes closed in deep concentration, mouthing the lines of the ‘Juror number five.’

I can remember now, on the morning of the auditions, seeing Pablo clutching a script that looked less like something that was once paper and more like a wrinkled and tattered scrap of a treasure map from the prop department of a cheesy made-for-TV pirate movie. I laughed when I saw Pablo in the drama room that day. He came in full costume, a grey suit with a white shirt and a cornflower blue tie. He even wore a Twelve Angry Men-ish fedora. He must have really wanted that part. I teased Pablo about his suit. I asked him if his dad was going to notice that it was missing from his closet. I also joked about Pablo’s script. I asked him if his mom had put it through the washing machine or something. Everyone laughed. Pablo laughed, too.

The real laughter in the drama room that day, didn’t take place until rehearsals were well underway. I read my part, ‘Juror number 7,’ with ease. I had only started studying my lines two days before. Pablo read shortly after me, and it didn’t go so well. He kept getting flustered and forgetting his lines. He kept getting stuck on the line that was easily confused. It went something like, “maybe they learned something we don’t know.” But the line just wouldn’t come out right. The angrier Pablo got, the worse his memory seemed to be. Finally, mercifully, Mr. Broughton put an end to Pablo’s suffering. He asked him, “Pablo, what’s wrong? You seem to be having a hard time there, is everything alright?”

“Yes, I’m okay, but I’m just feeling really constipated and I can’t get these lines.” Now, even the most respectful adults would have had a hard time stifling a laugh at this line, but in a room full of grade eighth and ninth grade students? Forget about it. People were on the floor. They were laughing in that way that actually makes your sides hurt. I laughed with them. My sides hurt. Pablo laughed too.

Mr. Broughton tried again. “Pablo. You can’t remember the lines because you are constipated?”

“I’m sorry Mr. Broughton, I’m just so constipated, it makes it hard to remember everything.”

Again, much laughter and even some pointing. After the rehearsals, word of Pablo’s medical condition travelled the hallways pretty quickly. Kids were calling him “Ex-Lax” in Gym class, and in the cafeteria, a bizarre chant of ‘Pab-lo Prune Juice! Pab-lo Prune Juice!’ started when he walked in. I didn’t join in, but I didn’t exactly stop anyone from doing it either. Pablo wasn’t laughing anymore.

Many years later, over dinner with Pablo and his wife, he brought up the audition story. He said, “do you remember that time I said I couldn’t remember any lines for that play because I was constipated?”

“Sure,” I said. Hoping that Pablo had forgotten, or was, at least, not going to remind me that I hadn’t stuck up for him all those years ago.

“Well,” he said. “All that time during my first year here, maybe you remember, I wasn’t going to school. My mom and dad were at work, and I had nothing to do and no one to hang with, so I just sat in my room and watched TV all day. That’s actually how I learned to speak English so quickly. Anyways, I would see these ads for laxatives that asked ‘are you constipated?’ and they would play sad music and show people who looked totally stressed out and, like, rubbing their temples, and scrunching up their faces and stuff. So, I though, constipated had to mean stressed out, so when Broughton was like, ‘Pablo, why can’t you remember your lines?’ I thought I was telling him that I couldn’t remember them because I was stressed out, not because I couldn’t take a crap.”

What on the farm had triggered this memory? I was surprised when the student teacher shared that his memory had been triggered by his failure to engage. He simply was unable to find any creature on the farm willing to relate to him. His fellow student teachers were having success and he wasn’t. He did not connect with anyone. The creatures either ran away or ignored him no matter how much he coaxed or threatened.

I was very proud of his analysis of the situation and of his narrative. He recognized that he was demanding that the creatures meet him on his terms. He wasn’t putting energy into seeing the world from their point of view; only from his own and his desire to “does the task”, rather than a real desire to engage with the ‘other’. And the ‘other’ knew it and refused to play the game.

How did this play out in the classroom during his practicum? When he went into the classroom, he had similar challenges with secondary students. When the supervising teacher left the room, the class began to take advantage of the situation and he became angry and scolded them. He realized he had lost an opportunity to create a connection; instead he scolded and they all waited in silence for the ‘real teacher’ to return.

He realized he had to put his own narrow expectations aside and enter the world of his students with a more appreciative and flexible attitude. This triggered a constructive conversation on expectations and communication with children and with animals. Students recognized that often classroom students are communicating with us in ways we do not notice or understand because they are different from us. The young man related how when Twilight, the mare, had come up to him and sniffed him, it frightened him. He thought she might want to bite him and he abruptly backed away, frightening her and he lost a chance to connect.

Famed horseman, Rashid, says he always looks for an “opening”, a chance to relate to a horse, especially if the horse is difficult. The student recalled a story I had told them about a time I was doing research on using Jungian archetypes to motivate reading literature in a middle school. The students were supposed to be working on a computer program I had created to examine archetypes in art, music and literature. But a group of pre-teens at a table were pre-occupied with passing around a book. The teacher came over to the girls, rapped hard on the table, and scolded them for being off task.

I made my way over to the table later and looked at the ‘forbidden’ book. It was a book of ‘American Dolls’ – a recent craze amongst this age group. The dolls represented a great variety of professions and races. I thumbed through the book and the girls shared nervous glances, expecting more reproach.

But I saw an opening. “These dolls are really expensive,” I ventured. They nodded that they were. One offered that her mom had bought her one for her birthday. “Imagine how popular they’d be if you had archetypal dolls. Archetypes are pretty universal”. I had their interest. We began to dialogue on how the various archetypes might be represented. What would an Orphan Archetype American Doll wear? What expression might she have? If she could talk, what might she say? What adventures might she have? Which of the archetypes would they enjoy playing with? When I left the table a few minutes later, the girls were buzzing with excitement and ideas.

I had counseled my student teachers to look for an opening. They’ll give it to you. Did I care if they talked about archetypes looking at the program I had created? No. My objective was to introduce them to the idea of archetypes. If I could use something THEY were interested in, that spoke their language, the entire better.

My student teacher had realized that in chasing the chickens, in moving away from the horse, in admonishing the students, he was doing everything from his point of view, his needs. He was the primary concern and missed the opportunity to engage on an equal level, a level open to who they were, what they needed, and how they might prefer to engage.

It was a hugely important lesson for this particular student. And it was learned in so short a time – a day at the farm, a day writing a narrative, a day of reflection, a day of teaching and a second day of reflection. Some teachers take years to learn this lesson. It can’t really be learned from a lecture, or from a book. It needs to be experienced and examined for deeper understanding. That way, the learning can be transformative.

A second case study I was permitted to share presents a narrative of a woman from India who was flooded by the unhappy memory of being “paraded” as a prospective bride when she touched my elderly thoroughbred who had been brutalized in her early days as a race horse.

The Bridal Bridle

“You may be sizing up my haunch, pal, just do not slap my ass.” The words streaked unbidden across my mind as I walked past Xxx, my potential groom. I had to fight to keep my thoughts in check so I could keep the smile off my face. My parents’ presence in the room served as my mental bridle helping me to keep focused on my goal for the day: “demure”.

The tea tray assigned me was heavily laden with my mother’s best tea service, white Corelle with peach flowers. I will never understand my family’s fascination with Corelleware. Granted that it is practical and well-nigh indestructible, but it’s certainly no Royal Doulton. The rattle of the cups and saucers seemed uncomfortably loud, forcing me to move more slowly across the silent, watchful room.

I tried to steal a glance at my potential mother-in-law, but this proved a difficult manoeuvre to navigate while trying to maintain my demure-eyes down, definitely no eye contact. I didn’t want her to think anything bad about me. She, however, boy, I felt her eyes boring holes through the top of my head. As though that would somehow let her read my thoughts or gaze directly into my soul. Good luck with that, lady. My act was way too good for that.

I could sense Xxx’s eyes on me though, carefully assessing my slow walk, maybe my looks, who know. I felt like a heifer at the auction block and was reminded of my cousin Gurdip’s wedding when I was 15. My aunts tried really hard to get me to weave a colorful tassel which matched my fancy new salwar kameez through my braid. I might have if it hadn’t come with a bell in the middle of it. I wanted to feel pretty, not like Bluebell the cow.

Maybe I should have worn one that day for my own personal inside joke, but the mental image created made me more depressed than amused. And after my walk across the room, that was it. I went back to the other room, and if Xxx and his parents liked what they saw, Xxx would be along presently to talk to me in private; to continue his assessment, no doubt.

I sat quietly at the kitchen table, waiting. Even my dog-eared copy of Pride and Prejudice couldn’t quite get my mind off the other room. The sound of the polite chatter buzzing on the other side of the door made my chest tighten and my stomach drop inside me. I felt as if I’d been sitting there for ages, but in truth it was only 15 minutes before a silence fell, and I heard footsteps coming down the corridor.

One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, I counted in my head. The footsteps paused. A voice in the hallway. Not my mother or sister, “This door here, Auntie Ji?” Four one-thousand, five one-thousand, six one-thousand ... and the handle turned.

Xxx, or Balbinder, as his mother called him, stood waiting at the door. He was of middling height, dark skinned, a little soft around the middle. And he looked bored. I had dressed quite plainly that day and kept my head covered with my scarf, both at my mother’s insistence. But despite that, I had taken some care with my appearance. Xxx looked as though he hadn’t even bothered to tidy himself up.

“Hi”

“Hi” I replied. “How are you?” How are you? Of all the things I could have said, I came up with how are you? Great! The humor seemed to escape him though.

“I’m good, I - I’m good”.

Our conversation that day was brief, and mainly one-sided. I told him all about myself, good things and bad, because I thought I should make some effort to make my mother’s hard work pay off. You see, for her, to arm and prepare me for survival in the adult world was to train me to be a good housewife. Xxx told me he wasn’t much of a talker, and that his parents had pressured him into coming. I did a really great job of holding on tight to my demure face that day. For the most part.

If I am honest with myself I would say I was surprised and even offended by his words. There he sat clearly measuring me up and judging my worth with the rest of them. And I had really tried hard that day to fulfill what was required of me and to share what I could of myself. And he didn’t want to be there? I guess I had just assumed that only a person who had a vested interest in meeting me would have shown up. Had he decided he found me wanting after all?

The appearance of my mother with yet another cup of tea, her kind, bovine eyes full of her Bollywood-fuelled dreams of a happily ever after, did nothing to help my frame of mind. Her smile tightened the knot into my chest, which was starting to feel like panic. My smile for her was a tight grimace, my demure facade now slipping.

Pretty soon the talking was done. Xxx stood up and cast a very appraising look over me, than went back to staring at his thumbs. That look made me feel as though I had been stripped bare. I felt the judgement of a farmer’s stare at a cow he is considering for acquisition. And he said, “We’ll see”.

Rage and humiliation boiled through me in that moment. “We’ll see?” Really? On the auction block of matrimony I had laid bare my underbelly. Apparently only a man who didn’t even want to be there was present. I’m sure the look I turned on his already receding back showed that he had failed my assessment, and then some.

As he walked away, all docility was gone. The weight fell away; the heat of my anger burned my fear and lifted me up light as air. Or at least, it lifted my right arm. I wanted to strike out and push him out the door as if he were the animal at the auctioneer. “We’ll see” infuriated me.

My family watched me from their positions at the other end of the hallway. A moment of silence. Looks of horror. Seeing they caught me off guard and stilled my hand. Xxx knew nothing. I lowered my hand and told his receding back, “yeah, maybe.”

What incident at the farm had motivated this flood of memory? I could never have guessed. I had made available carrots and apples and crackers for students to share with the horses if they so wished. This Indo-Canadian woman had never fed a horse. She picked up a carrot and proceeded to offer it to the old race horse, Emily.

“I think I’ll feed the old gentle one,” she said, adding with a nervous laugh, “better chance of not getting bit.”

“Actually, that’s not true. She is more likely to bite you then Twilight, my high strung young mare would”.

I explained that Twilight was still wild and had never worn a bit. Her mouth was very sensitive, all nerves intact. She could pick a grain of sugar from your palm. You could grip a carrot and she’d bite right up to your fingers and never touch your flesh. Lady Rhythm, on the other hand, had suffered the ravages of cruel bits. The nerves in her mouth had been severely damaged. She couldn’t feel your fingers, and could easily mistake them for a carrot. It would be better to hold your hand flat and let her take the whole carrot from your outstretched palm.

Thinking of Lady Rhythm as a young mare, brutalized and hurt in a way which still affected her reminded my student of a period of her life when she’d been paraded in front of a man who wasn’t really interested in her. Though she’d pretended to have a lot of bravado, the whole incident was very demeaning and the pain of it still stung.

The student teacher placed the carrot on her palm and offered it to Lady Rhythm who gently took the carrot and stayed close while she crunched the orange goodness in her strong teeth. She stayed close to the young woman for a long lingering period, as if she were feeling the memory of something that had hurt the woman and she was wanting to comfort her. I am not sure the student teacher was aware of the comfort, as I watched the old horse stay protectively close, a look of sweet compassion on her beautiful face.

“What a graceful lovely horse,” the student said to me later that day. “I felt she was almost reading my mind.”

“She was,” I replied.

How did this relate to her teaching? She recognized how complex her feelings as a young woman had been. She was caught in a tradition that she felt compelled to follow even as she rebelled against it. She felt disappointed, rejected, even by a person she did not want to be with. This recognition followed her into the classroom in two ways.

She realized that she herself could feel rejected in a situation where she would not have expected that feeling. I had counseled the students not to take it personally if a student came late, or wasn’t paying attention, or wasn’t learning despite the student teacher’s best efforts. Students are like all of us, with full complex lives and many things besides the teacher will be influencing their attention or ability to learn that day. The Indo-Canadian student teacher was aware of this intellectually, but having recalled the complex, sometimes conflicting feelings in her narrative, she was more grounded in her understanding.

This is an important lesson, not one easily learned, especially in a young student teacher wanting so much to be accepted by students.

The second way her experience afforded her insight was in being aware of how students caught up in an institution which is, it self, very traditional, may be rebelling against it, even as they are wanting to succeed in it. The student teacher became sensitive to the duality of emotions a teenager might feel and therefore respond in what often seemed like contradictory ways.

For example, a rebellious student who pretends not to pay attention and who truly does not value an assignment, will, never-the-less feel defeated or hurt if not given positive feedback on the work done. The student teacher was determined not to jump to conclusions, not to look at student behavior from a narrow vantage point, and to give respect to all students, including the seemingly uninterested or those causing a disturbance.

To listen to this student teacher speak with such clarity and sensitivity about her relationship with students was not only a pleasure, it was a deep encouragement to continue with the work we were doing combining work with non-human teachers and with narrative.

Teachers as Model Global Citizens

Bratanova, Loughnan & Gatersleben [33] remind us that our planet is faced with tremendous moral issues around threats to our environment. Though governments are posing policies to reduce this global threat. They caution:

The success of such measures is largely dependent on public acceptance and support [34]. This support and public participation in conservation practices rely on individuals’ motivation to protect the environment (p. 539).

Televisions and newspapers around the world are giving us important information about the influence of air pollution on the health of people, especially during the Pandemic. We are more aware than ever of how cities with poor air pollution have more cases of deaths from the virus. Even before the coronavirus, air pollution killed seven million people a year. [35]. Pollution made the COVID -19 worse because most of the populations of the earth were already damaged by poluti8onn. Now lockdowns are cleansing the air. Will today’s cleaner air inspire us to do better?” How can we do better? It is up to educators to lead the way.

“How we think about and treat animals sheds light on general processes that govern human social cognition and behavior. Hence, we can learn about ourselves by studying our attitudes toward and our treatment of other species” [36]. This premise guided my work with student teachers.

Dr. Allan Hamilton, renowned brain surgeon who uses horses in the training of medical doctors, in his description of the evolution of the super-predator says, “We became a new kind of super-predator, an unimaginably successful killer species, playful without wits and lethal with our intellects, but, eventually no longer in touch with the secrets deep within our own hearts” [37].

The work we are doing at the farm is a pathway to keeping in touch with those heart secrets. Keeping in touch with heart secrets is a path to self - identity that knows no borders.

Whyte [38] speaks eloquently of the importance of identity and belonging in a sea of change. He warns us not to get too complex or too busy that we hide from the important discipline related to personal identity.

Writing our stories, remembering who we are, where we came from, and where we want to go happened for these students, domestic and international, in our simple day spent with animals on one small farm. It heightened awareness of us as a part of the entire world, with a responsibility to all of our plant and all of its creatures, two-footed, four-footed and feathered.

One of the great disciplines of any human life is the discipline of memory, of remembering what is essential in the midst of our business and busyness. The human soul thrives on and finds courage from the difficult intimacies of belonging. But it is almost as if, afraid of those primary intimacies, we have unconsciously created a world so secondary, so complex, and so busy and bullied by surface forces that embroiled in those surface difficulties, we have the perfect busy excuse not to wrestle with the more essential difficulties of existence, the difficulties of finding a work and a life suited to our individual natures, the difficulties that would lead us to an older, intimate and more human sense of belonging.

Citation: Mamchur C (2020) Restorying Self-Identity in a Changing World. Cur trnds edu: CTE-101. DOI: 10.29011/CTE-101.100001