Wednesday, October 03, 2001

One thing I haven't written about here so far are the events on September 11th. I probably should, they are ripe with phenomenological implication of how we experience lived reality. My driving has gotten worse because I'm constantly looking at airplanes in the sky. I'm going through a mental checklist. Is it too low? Have I see one flying that flight path before? Why is that plane turning toward the city? Nothing about these planes has changed. They are flying the same flight path. I am driving the same road. My lived experience of these planes is very different though.

What is often overlooked in educational work, especially when it has become tiresome and routine for the educator, is appreciating the phenomenological lived experience of the learner. School teachers have become acutely aware of this lately. The lesson plan they had set up for the day after the attack suddenly seemed totally wrong as they began to think about what their students were going through. Working with kids I have seen their day to day lived lives but not as profoundly as adults might expect. In reality, most of them have not grasped the magnitude of the world situation. In their daily lives there are many events coloring their world. For a child who's parents are going through a divorce, the day to day experience of the divorce may be more influential than something that happened to some strangers in a city thousands of miles away. Look at it this way. There is an earthquake in Turkey. 15,000 people die by being crushed by falling debris. At the same time, one of your parents is hit by a car and in critical condition in the hospital. On a global scale, your parent's injuries are inconsequential compared to the disaster. However, on the personal phenomenological scale of lived experience, the tens of thousands injured and dead on the other side of the planet mean little or nothing when you are focused on your family.

Every day when we work with youth they come wearing stained glass eye wear. Their view of the world is colored by the different glass. Parts of it are even obscured by the lead between the pieces of glass. Phenomenon are constantly changing out pieces of the glass in their eye wear. Sometimes, a large shocking event can change every piece.

What I struggle with is always remembering that each person I work with is wearing a pair of glasses. The lived experience of their life may be very different from what I think it is. The way they view the world has an effect on the outcome of a program, the way they process an activity etc. If I come into a program assuming everyone is going to view it the same way I'm either fooling myself or being naive.

Youth who have never been outside of the city before have a very different experience of a wooded lot than I would. A stray dog running through the woods at a suburban nature center may as well be a wolf to them. Friends have told me about youth who were hesitant to go into a lightly wooded area no more than an acre in size who timidly asked, "what do we do if a bear attacks us." It is easy to look at a kid like this and think of him as ignorant. A teacher becomes truly effective upon realization that the fear of bears, while irrational from the teacher's perspective, is part of the lived experience of that youth. The wooded acre might as well be grizzly territory in Alaska.

Lived experience is important. I have to return again to the Abram quote I posted earlier. He says that we won't be successful until, "we draw folks back to our senses, because our sensing bodies are our direct contact with the rest of the natural world. It is not by being abstract intellects that we are going to fall in love again with the rest of nature." Yet, this is what many programs try to do. They focus heavily, though not necessarily exclusively, on the abstract intellectual concepts of "nature." By opening ourselves up to the phenomenological lived reality of the students coming to us we can better facilitate the experiential sensory contact of the natural world. This is just the first step and it is critically important. We cannot hope to help youth sense the natural world if we immediately assume they will sense it the same way we do.

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