Implicit Curriculum – Ward Mailliard

Vivian Wright: So with that inspiration, I’d like to hand it over to Ward, to say a few words about his wild hair about the implicit curriculum. This might be more than a thought-chicken.

Ward Mailliard: I was also surprised by the end of the day, I was just like “oh”. You know, but the day was so uplifting and then coming back in here today and feeling the energy of everybody was kind of like, yeah we can do this again. I was thinking…one of the things I do in my career is state the obvious. And one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot that Chautauqua’s always been about is the implicit curriculum. And now that term’s becoming popular so I’m gonna have to find something else.

Audience: Copyright it.

Ward: Too late. Yeah, and then it becomes a thing then it starts to get subverted. Once it becomes too orthodox, we need to find new subversions I guess. But the implicit curriculum is in every class. Humberto Maturana, who has been one of my great teachers, he’s a neurobiologist, wild thinker. He says a child doesn’t learn math, they learn living together with a math teacher. And it really occurred to me very strongly this year that the processes that we use in the classroom, the processes of engagement around learning, and the relationship between the teacher and the student, and the students and the students, the classroom in the context of the larger school, and so on. The processes and relationship are what produce the human being and the content is an excuse to be together. And I think Chautauqua in a lot of ways is a model of that; is that we have conversation starters but the real action is in being together. And the process of small group in it’s various forms, and the relational field of learning. And what Firehawk said to me is actually in some ways, the essence of it, is I asked a question that I didn’t know I had when I showed up. That, to me, is original medicine showing up. And so the unexpected, unpredictable learning that comes out of a field in which process and relationship are the key elements…so that content is in the service of process and relationship. And that’s in the service of our humanity. And then I was realizing from something that someone said yesterday, was just the word ‘humanity’, we also need to contextualize that a little bit. Which has to do with the inclusive nature of that word, that it’s not just about human beings, but it’s about everything that human beings are connected to. We need to look beyond the boundaries of this, out into that other, the everything – other. To realize that the very foundation on which we stand is all of that. And so our humanity doesn’t exist except in that inter-relatedness with nature: animals, insects, microbes, and so on. So I don’t know, maybe there’s another word – so much of this is about the language that connects us with the essence of what it is we’re trying to name.

SN talk

So in the Vedas – and we’ve talked about before – the sages sat in a circle to name the world into existence. And to name the world into existence, to name a thing, means to enter into a very intimate relationship with that thing. And from that sitting together to name the world, because we’re all seeing this world from our own angle – so the truth is really the aggregate of everything that we know and that we don’t’ know – that we need each other for. And what came from the sages sitting in the circle to name the world was friendship and community. And so that common inquiry that we have into the nature of what is so, to name things for what they are – and I think often we get off at too low a floor. I think what happens is, answers to complexity – you know there’s a masquerading that happens where there’s an under description going on and we get off at a language that’s convenient but not accurate. And I don’t mean accurate in the sense of being right, but it doesn’t actually convey. So we were sitting there in the conversation and someone says, “well does humanity include this?” and then you realize that that descent is creating the context in which we might need to re-language to name things more clearly. I think that’s part of this process that we’re in. There’s a work that goes on in the processes that we have of our engagement to continually help each other refine our awareness’s, through the dialogue. And to quote Quincy Mitchell, which I’ve done quite a bit in my life, in a surprising and shocking way…when he came to me one day and he said, “You know I like dialogue because I can change my mind without being wrong”. And also, Quincy, to give him full credit, I think he came up with a new one yesterday. What were you talking about, Quincy? You were talking about structured positivity. And what I loved was you said this wasn’t just structured positivity but there was something that went beyond that. You gotta give credit where credit is due.

Anyway, I think to realize that the implicit curriculum is in the classroom always, and what is the dynamic? Is it in the dynamic of dominance and submission? Which we know actually makes us dumber. You know, neurobiology is at least gotten up to that point. Or is it the dynamic of intimacy, trust, and cooperation that is the field in which we become smarter? Where risks can be taken, where we can make mistakes, and fail. Woo-hoo! Right? And just move on. And realize that life is an iterative process of constant refinement. Failure and learning. Failure isn’t failure. It’s just another step in the iterative process of learning. So the implicit curriculum is there. The relationship is there. But the question is how are we holding that relationship? And so thanks to the incursion of Maturana, my brain – I realized there was only one question I had as a teacher – is, “what was I conserving in my being when I stepped into the classroom?” Was it intimacy, trust, and cooperation? Or was it dominance and submission? And I have to say, honestly, sometimes dominance and submission wins the day, when I’m at a point where I’m out of resources, and it’s a fallback. It’s what we call a basin of attraction. It’s a fallback position. That yearning to be in a field of intimacy, trust, and cooperation to produce the electric nature of when learning actually happens. So I think our hope from the beginning for Chautauqua was that the processes and relationships of being together would be the thing. And the rest is conversation starters. And I got that sense yesterday. I feel a lot of gratitude for that. So that is my story.


Vivian: That’s beautiful. He didn’t reveal one of the names of Maturana’s books. I met Maturana at Hewlett Packard when he was visiting and I just loved him because he’s exactly my height and has kind of the same hair. But he wrote a book called The Biology of Love. You know, if you think about the essence of that as educators, or beings, it’s that human nature has a biology that optimizes maximum creativity and intelligence in states of positive feeling. In fact you can’t even get access to the frontal lobes of your brain under stress. And that’s where creative problem solving and moral discernment occur. Just holding this question, what if we thought we were educating to optimize and engrain best practices for the biology of love? As a purpose of education. You know because we’re trying to create high performers and high performance organizations, and are we working with what’s really under the hood? If we want people to be cognitively capable, and that only occurs when they feel good, what are we doing about that? I mean I’ll tell you there’s an institute I worked with – I used to be their poster child – the Institute of Heart Math, in Boulder Creek. I met them when I had rheumatoid arthritis, and started practicing their heart practice, and got well in six months and didn’t see a doctor for another 10 years. And then I taught it in the corporation. They got a million dollar grant after doing a one-month study on child readers, who were having problems reading. All they did with them was help them to produce the capacity for positive emotion in themselves and stop stress. And after a month, all of them had achieved at least 100% improvement in their reading scores without any emphasis on reading. Something to think about. So today, we’re going to hear from real stories about creative methods in education. Definitely improv. And then in the afternoon, look at some things you could plan on in your bag of tricks, when you need to amplify the biology of love in learning environments. So thank you for that nice riff, how perfect.