The Ecological Heart of Teaching

Radical Tales of Refuge and Renewal for Classrooms and Communities

by Jackie Seidel (Volume editor) David W. Jardine (Volume editor)
©2016 Textbook XV, 265 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 478


The Ecological Heart of Teaching is a collection of writings by teachers about their life in classrooms. Reflecting over three years of collective work, it illustrates how teachers, parents, and students can avoid some of the distractions and panic endemic to many schools, allowing them to focus thoughtfully on rigorous, beautiful work. It draws on ecological thinking, Buddhism, and hermeneutics to provide deeper, richer, and more abundant sources for teaching, thinking, and practice, and shows how these three lineages provide keys to decode the current malaise that surrounds schooling. The book will be valuable to beginning and experienced teachers and administrators, as well as to parents and anyone involved in stepping away from the exhausting industrial images and ideas that have turned schooling into an ecological and intellectual disaster. For those interested in interpretive research and life-writing, the book provides a wide array of examples; it is a valuable resource for undergraduate classes in curriculum and teaching, as well as graduate research methods courses interested in new forms of thinking and writing.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgments
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword: Not Just as We Please, or by Choice: A Meditation on What It Means to Make a Difference
  • Chapter One: Introduction
  • Chapter Two: We Went Once Around the Sun: Some Notes on the Origins and Organization of This Book
  • Chapter Three: From What Does Ethical Relationality Flow? An Indian Act in Three Artifacts
  • Chapter Four: Successful Assimilation
  • Chapter Five: A Pedagogy of Panic
  • Chapter Six: A Better Place
  • Chapter Seven: All Beings Are Your Ancestors: A Bear Sutra on Ecology, Buddhism and Pedagogy (1997)
  • Chapter Eight: Relearning Freedom: Advice to a New Teacher
  • Chapter Nine: Matches
  • Chapter Ten: A Modern Hunting Tradition
  • Chapter Eleven: “You Need Accuracy”: An Appreciation of a “Modern Hunting Tradition”
  • Chapter Twelve: Advice to New Teachers
  • Chapter Thirteen: Beckoning
  • Chapter Fourteen: Remembering Mr. Routhier
  • Chapter Fifteen: Teaching Everything
  • Chapter Sixteen: Blossom Everlasting: A Meditation
  • Chapter Seventeen: Timed Beings
  • Chapter Eighteen: In My Timid Voice
  • Chapter Nineteen: My Brother
  • Chapter Twenty: Advice to a New Teacher
  • Chapter Twenty-One: Meditations on Contemplative Pedagogy as Sanctuary
  • Chapter Twenty-Two: Thoughts and Aspirations for a New Teacher
  • Chapter Twenty-Three: Dear New Teacher
  • Chapter Twenty-Four: Henry
  • Chapter Twenty-Five: A Little Uprising
  • Chapter Twenty-Six: (Here Is) Where You Are Supposed to Be
  • Chapter Twenty-Seven: River Otters and Such
  • Chapter Twenty-Eight: My Teacher Supply List
  • Chapter Twenty-Nine: Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome
  • Chapter Thirty: Echolocations
  • Chapter Thirty-One: Chasing Calmness
  • Chapter Thirty-Two: Tortuga
  • Chapter Thirty-Three: Conversation
  • Chapter Thirty-Four: Dear New Teacher
  • Chapter Thirty-Five: Nani
  • Chapter Thirty-Six: On Witches and Kites
  • Chapter Thirty-Seven: It Is All Love
  • Chapter Thirty-Eight: The Typewriter
  • Chapter Thirty-Nine: Curriculum Artifact: Guided Reading Table
  • Chapter Forty: New Stories and Roles
  • Chapter Forty-One: Too Young for an Identity Crisis
  • Chapter Forty-Two: From Darkness to Light: Observations From Inside the Linoleum Cavern
  • Chapter Forty-Three: Hypocrite
  • Chapter Forty-Four: Two Young Fish
  • Chapter Forty-Five: Whisking Away the Table
  • Chapter Forty-Six: Spontaneous Learning
  • Chapter Forty-Seven: “I Love the Terror in a Mother’s Heart”
  • Chapter Forty-Eight: Dear Adam’s Teacher
  • Chapter Forty-Nine: Remembrances of the Land and Rocks in My Pocket
  • Chapter Fifty: Fish Bones in the Trees
  • Chapter Fifty-One: Let’s Take a Journey
  • Chapter Fifty-Two: Old Dog, Same Trick
  • Chapter Fifty-Three: Thoughts on Being Neither Finished nor Unfinished
  • Chapter Fifty-Four: There Is Only This Farm
  • Chapter Fifty-Five: How to Love Black Snow
  • Chapter Fifty-Six: Bee & Nothingness
  • Chapter Fifty-Seven: Turning In/wards
  • Chapter Fifty-Eight: Radiant Beings
  • Chapter Fifty-Nine: Additional Thoughts on the Terror in a Mother’s Heart: An Allegorical/Pedagogical Speculation on the Economies of Knowledge
  • Chapter Sixty: Josh
  • Chapter Sixty-One: Curriculum Theorizing
  • Chapter Sixty-Two: Interview With the Gym Hall Water Fountain
  • Chapter Sixty-Three: Beyond the Outfield Fence
  • Chapter Sixty-Four: American Dippers and Alberta Winter Strawberries
  • Chapter Sixty-Five: Advice to a New Teacher
  • Chapter Sixty-Six: Girls, Go Close the Doors!
  • Chapter Sixty-Seven: So Many Voices
  • Chapter Sixty-Eight: An Ode to Xmas Present
  • Chapter Sixty-Nine: Dear Cohort
  • Chapter Seventy: An Address
  • Chapter Seventy-One: Becoming Uncongealed
  • Chapter Seventy-Two: Ode to My Rabbit Teacher
  • Chapter Seventy-Three: School Storage Bags: Not as Innocent as They Seem
  • Chapter Seventy-Four: Teaching, Practice, Wisdom: An Invitation to the Banff Centre
  • Chapter Seventy-Five: “The Path and the Goal”
  • Bibliography
  • List of Contributors
  • Series index

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Not Just as We Please, or by Choice: A Meditation on What It Means to Make a Difference


Insofar as one might have a historical materialist view of the human condition, and perhaps even if one doesn’t, three points from Karl Marx (1852/1978) still bear consideration:

[People] make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past. (p. 595)

In a way, the words serve as a warning. When it comes to meaningful and lasting personal, social, political or cultural change, don’t indulge in any fantasies about pure autonomy or perfectly free action, because the real work to be done always entails dealing precisely with what one has been dealt, what one has received, be it from family, tribe, language or nation. Why? Because “[the] tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living” (p. 595), and unless one penetrates the veils of one’s receipts, reproduction of the old life in new forms is the inevitable result. Marx took as his example the so-called French Revolution of Napoleon Bonaparte when land and property were divested from the monarchy, with its feudal social and political arrangements, and taken over by a new bourgeois class (> O.Fr. borgois, town dweller c.f. peasant) made up of new property owners, financiers, industrialists, the army, universities, churches, courts and the press, all of whom had become within one generation under Napoleon’s nephew Louis the chief operatives of the new national republican state. In Marx’s view, in a single generation the state had become a latent embodiment of fascism, since for most people (peasants, in the French case) “the duties of feudal obligation are replaced ← xv | xvi → by the mortgage,” (p. 597) with people forced to sell themselves as labour to service their debts to the state. The new state was so confident of its revolutionary merit that it established a new calendar to mark the beginning of a new epoch starting on November 9, 1799, when Napoleon first seized power. November is the month of fog (Fr. brumaire), so Marx titled his essay from which the above quotes are taken as “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte.” Unfortunately, this history is all but forgotten today, which of course was precisely Marx’s point: forget the past, or better, just pick and choose what you like about it, and you’ll simply repeat it with all of its blindnesses and forms of foolishness. Napoleon saw himself as a new Caesar, just as George W. Bush conceived the war on terror as a Crusade.

Another insight from Marx may be relevant here, one articulated in the book Grundrisse, a German word meaning “comprehensive outline,” in this case Marx’s Outline of the Critique of Political Economy, not published until 1939. It is estimated that originally only three or four copies of this book were ever made public in the West, and the work was not translated into English until 1973. Such is the fear in the West of a comprehensive critique of its own operating assumptions. In Grundrisse, Marx (1858/1993) described his fundamental method of analysis as involving an “ascent from the abstract to the concrete.” There is something lovely in the image this phrase evokes, of a kind of clawing one’s way up from the depths underneath the concrete, material world to eventually see that world as it actually is in all of its historical and existential depth through the traces that have brought it into being. But why “from the abstract”? Here Marx is employing the dialectical method of one of his earlier philosophical compatriots, G. F. Hegel, to note how our very ideas and abstractions of the world are created through the world itself. Ideas never exist in a vacuum, or on their own, so that people can “bounce ideas around” in a game of intellectual chess. Instead, when we take up our ideas, expressed primarily in language, as objects of contemplation we can begin to see the concrete world out of which they have arisen. Similarly, when we contemplate the material, concrete world right in front of us we can begin to see into the very shape and character of our intellects, of how it is we think about the world in the ways that we do. All this, in turn, can provide insight into the real work that needs to be done in order to live more freely and openly, no longer chained to the dead weights that have constructed us without our being aware of it. It is in this sense that the basic human project becomes a spiritual endeavor, one of emancipation from the endless rounds of personal, social and political reproduction that have haunted revolutionary movements in the past.

Finally, in the opening paragraph of his greatest work, Capital, Marx (1867/1990) addresses the question of where one should start in trying to understand the world in which one finds oneself. His answer was to look at “commodities,” or even a single commodity. This is because all commodities are produced through relations of production and when we examine those relations, what ← xvi | xvii → becomes apparent are the moral and ethical valences in them, their relative justice or injustice, and their connection to broader global orders. I was thinking about this just the other day, while driving by a day-care centre close to my home. Contemplating day-care as a commodity, I started to ‘see’ things that until then had escaped my deeper consciousness. Children start arriving around seven in the morning, usually brought by their mothers who drop them off on their way to work. According to one of the day-care workers, most of the children come from single-parent homes. Children are accepted at the centre at the age of two. On some days, children are still at the day-care at six o’clock in the evening. I leave it to the reader’s imagination to ‘deconstruct’ this scenario through Marx’s theory of the relations of production, but here is a long starter question: What are the relations that make this kind of child care ‘necessary’—not just parent-child relations, but also proprietor-parent relations, proprietor relations to the owners of the building from whom they need to purchase a lease, relations of building owners to banks and financial institutions, relations of banks and financial institutions like J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs to cultures of militarism and war—that in turn produce immigrant and refugee populations who produce children needing special care as their parents desperately try to make a living in their new land? Wars also necessitate higher taxes on citizens, so paychecks gradually decrease in value, necessitating working longer and harder to make ends meet, to the neglect of one’s own children.

I was thinking about all of these things while reading the manuscript of this book, which is a remarkable collection of writings from a remarkable gathering of teachers brought together by Jackie Seidel and David Jardine. These are stories and writings of people who are trying to heal themselves of the cultural maladies of the neoliberal state, especially as those maladies find expression in the protocols and practices of public education today. Here are teachers doing the hard philosophical and existential work of clawing up to the concrete of their material conditions from deep within the caverns of lives in the process of being reclaimed from cultural and historical amnesia. It is very exciting to bear witness to this alternative kind of pedagogical exploration, and credit for this must surely go to Jackie and David, who have dared to claim that this kind of reclamation project is both possible and capable of bearing significant revolutionary fruit. I have seen this work in action at one of their special retreats, with one of the most impressive features being the degree to which the people involved had bonded together, across many potentially difficult divides of race, gender, age and experience. By laying themselves open to a fully collaborative consideration of the problems we collectively share as people living in deeply troubled and troubling times, this amazing group provides an example of what can be produced when the relations of production are based on mutual respect, patience, generosity, authentic listening and speaking, and a certain kind of hope shining forth from nascent senses of empowerment. ← xvii | xviii →

My reading of the manuscript also took me back to my own earlier years as an undergraduate in the 1960s. Those were times too of new forms of gathering amongst people determined not to simply, mindlessly reproduce what they had inherited, especially in view of the pervasive, malignant war culture created by and through those inheritances. Perhaps the most fecund gathering place of the time was Greenwich Village in New York City. There, artists of all stripes—writers, painters, musicians, philosophers—would gather in coffeehouses and bars not just to present their work but also to discuss the world that was making their work seem a profound moral obligation. Poet Allen Ginsberg might read from his long poem Howl!, a deeply moving rant against the assumptions of the military corporate state. Bob Dylan might sing his revolutionary song Blowin’ in the Wind. Joan Baez would inspire with her haunting rendition of the call to action, We Shall Overcome. All of this work fed the dreams and aspirations of a whole generation of young people, especially on college campuses even in Canada, which became centres of revolutionary ardour. We know how the story ended: police action. In the United States the National Guard shot students in cold blood.

As Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke (2004) have revealed in their book America Alone: The Neo-conservatives and the Global Order, when the neo-conservatives and their neoliberal siblings were plotting the takeover of the Anglo-American political system through the likes of Margaret Thatcher in England and Ronald Reagan in the United States, they vowed that never again would university campuses be allowed to become centres of political revolt and unrest. Such is the condition of our own time. Through strategies of surveillance, often masked as “accountability measures,” professors and students who dare to question dominant narratives, narratives saturated with state propaganda, especially regarding the events of 9/11 and the War on Terror, face ridicule, censure and counter-accusation. A culture of fear has produced an erosion of intellectual courage; timidity has replaced honesty and forthrightness.

There is nothing new about all this, of course, as history tells us. However, each generation bears responsibility for upholding principles of justice, fairness, openness and hope in its own time, not for the past, nor for the future but for today, and the responsibility may fall in unique ways on the shoulders of educators. What will the enactment of such responsibility look like, and how shall it be cultivated? There is a hint of an answer in the ancient Greek term parrhesia, which literally means “to speak everything,” implying speaking boldly, freely, frankly and without guile. It is the form of speech which characterized that of Socrates during his defense against charges of corrupting the youth of Athens by encouraging them to ask questions, and for his refusal to bow to local gods. One can read his speech in Plato’s Apology. More recently, Cornel West (2015) in Black Prophetic Fire has invoked the term to describe the work of African American intellectuals like W. E. B. Du Bois, Ella Baker, Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X who ← xviii | xix → directly and courageously confronted the systemic racism of American life, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. Michel Foucault (2001) discussed parrhesia in his book Fearless Speech, making the important point that such speech is linked to truthfulness in one’s own life, as well as in the taking of risk and the acceptance of moral duty. Again, I think one can glimpse nascent signs of all of these characteristics in the variegated writings of this book and for that I applaud Jackie and David’s courage in making it possible.

In closing, I note two other aspects of parrhesia. One is that in Greek philosophy it is counterpointed to the use of rhetoric (Gk. rhetor). The teaching of rhetoric as the art and practice of persuasive speech, speech intended to persuade hearers to a particular point of view, was part of the core curriculum for students in classical Greece and it remained so in Europe generally until the late Middle Ages. Rhetoric fell out of favour, however, because it was recognized that self-consciously mastering the techniques of persuasive speech easily led to the more craven arts of manipulation and verbal fraud. Today, rhetoric serves the lords of advertising and the macabre interests of propaganda. Conversely, parrhesia is unself-conscious speech, not a servant of the will or ego but simply the stating of the truth of things no matter what the cost.

In the ancient Hebrew tradition, the capacity for plain speaking was often linked to the word dimus, meaning “free inhabitants of the land.” It shared an understanding with that of “the commons,” understood as a kind of ownerless wilderness, an understanding to emerge from the early Israelite experience of wandering in the open deserts of the southeastern Mediterranean. In the true wilderness nobody owns anything because openness and sharing are the necessary conditions of survival. So it may be in our own time. Our capacity for new formations of community based on honesty, openness and sharing may depend first and foremost on a recognition that indeed we are living in the midst of a wilderness, a cultural desert, a time of great moral corruption through the rule of Mammon. It is so easy to get lost. To survive, we must depend not only on one another but also on people who have journeyed through wildernesses in the past and lived to tell about it. Most principally, though, to acknowledge the moral desert of the times is to acknowledge, in the same breath, one’s own freedom, the freedom to speak and act freely, without fear. There is nothing to fear because the essential truth of life simply is what it is, not a possession in any conceptual sense, or even possessable, only lived as a manner of being, and joyously too because it is indestructible. The gates of hell cannot prevail against it. Read the chapters in this book and you’ll get a sense of what I mean.


XV, 265
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (July)
Teaching ecology classroom practice communities parents teachers curriculum hermeneutics qualitative research life-writing
New York, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XV, 265 pp.

Biographical notes

Jackie Seidel (Volume editor) David W. Jardine (Volume editor)

Jackie Seidel is Associate Professor in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Alberta and is the co-author of Ecological Pedagogy, Buddhist Pedagogy, Hermeneutic Pedagogy: Experiments in a Curriculum for Miracles (Peter Lang, 2014). David W. Jardine has retired from his position as Full Professor of Education at the University of Calgary. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and is the author of Pedagogy Left in Peace (2012) and co-author of Ecological Pedagogy, Buddhist Pedagogy, Hermeneutic Pedagogy: Experiments in a Curriculum for Miracles (Peter Lang, 2014).


Title: The Ecological Heart of Teaching
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288 pages