A worldview that informed my teaching and research practice
"The way of knowledge is like our old way of hunting. You begin with a mere trail - a footprint. If you follow that faithfully, it may lead you to a clearer trail - a track - a road. Later on there will be many tracks, crossing and diverging one from the other. Then you must be careful, for success lies in the choice of the right road." [i]
All cultures and peoples define their worldview, providing conceptual order which allows them to understand how the world functions and how it is structured.[ii] In the beginning I felt lost, because the view of the world that I knew had been shattered. As a woman coming to middle age I had never previously known of the levels of violence I was then witnessing and documenting, as I worked to develop an educational approach to our needs.
World is the totality of all that exists around us, including the physical universe, the earth, life, mind, society and culture. Because it is we who make sense of our worlds, our worldview should also answer the basic questions "Who am I - Who are we?" These were the first questions we started to explore as we developed We Al-li and its off-spring - the Diploma and Masters.
Worldview explains "Why the world is the way it is? Where do we come from?" This is where we also find answers to important questions “where are we going”, proving a list of possibilities, choices, values and rules for living - a sense of purpose, or meaning of life, providing a theory to our action (praxis). These are deeply embedded in Aboriginal philosophies and spiritual teachings, in song and dance and ceremony. Worldviews influence pedagogy.
Torres Strait Island man, Martin Nakata says Indigenous scholars are often engaged in studying texts that have been written ‘about them’ which is not simply an intellectual activity but also, “an emotional journey that often involves outrage, pain, humiliation, guilt, anxiety and depression”.[iii]
Here we were creating our own ‘texts’. We found the Stories that came in our first work, were full of pain and shame, and yet we saw the pain transformed into healing action, as we listened, learned and took action together. We witnessed people stop and catch their breathe as they completed their generational story-map or trauma gram - many times, looking up with tears, saying ‘then it is not my fault’ - or - ‘now I understand’, as they saw that across each generation, government interventions into the lives of their families potentially imposed another layer of trauma.
Or, as I witnessed in Timor Leste during the loss and grief unit as a student stood in front of the grief cycle chart: “first we had the Portuguese; then world war two; then the Indonesians – and the Santa Cruz massacre” … and so on and so on, each student having lost members of their families in those recent massacres.
Marie Battiste, Cree scholar, draws out distinctive features of Indigenous knowledge, and pedagogy, which resonates across all the Indigenous cultures in which I have lived and learnt, to various degrees. “Learning is by observation and doing”. Authentic, shared experiences are our teachers, “embracing … both the circumstances people find themselves in and their beliefs about those circumstances”.
Such a system, Battiste points out, ‘constantly adapts to the dynamic interplay of changing empirical knowledge as well as changing social values’. She cautions against “petrifying, oversimplifying, or mystifying Indigenous knowledge systems by stressing their normative content or ‘sacredness’.”[iv]
Karen Martin, of the Quandamoopah Noonuccal, challenged me to give value to the Storywork as an academic pursuit. In her seminal work on relatedness theory, she writes on Meta-story work in its essential place in Quandamoopah world views:
“These are stories about what is known, what is being known and what is yet to be known and thus they are grounding, defining, comforting and embracing. They vary in purpose and content and so they can be political and yet equally healing. Their meanings and messages teach, admonish, tease, celebrate, entertain, provoke and still the spirit, and so cannot be fully understood in the didactic way of reading the written words”.[v]
She shows us Stories can: engage, challenge, confirm and enlighten, as she names “Storywork as a meta-process that enables many smaller Stories to be woven together”[vi] into a larger whole.
Martin would argue as I do, that Indigenous worldviews and their informed pedagogy, are both old, and at the same time, emerging and evolving as they are being defined and re-defined, named and renamed, lived and relived.
While the work of such Indigenous scholars sustained me, I revisited the work of Paulo Freire, for I felt clear connections between what we were doing, and his first book, Education as the practice of freedom, followed by his Critical Pedagogy.[vii]
Friere’s[viii] contribution to the pedagogy that informed my teaching practice is the requirement that learning should help the student perceive and challenge social, political, and economic contradictions, providing in essence, a voice to the voiceless. Hence they are able to develop a critical awareness and could take action, both as individuals and in social groups, becoming responsible for what they doing with their expanding worldviews.
For me, an Indigenous critical pedagogy builds bridges between old and new knowledge, in both cross and interdisciplinary approaches to education. Indigenous teaching learning research practice is old, yet it is also evolving as we respond to changing worldviews emanating from changed, and changing circumstances, that I now call the violence trauma vortex. I needed to be engaged in healing work, within the academy, if the academy was to have any meaning in our lives.
My contribution as a global scholar: the trail takes me back to the future
“Walking between two worlds is such a delicate dance”[ix]
Newman’s 1852 series of lectures titled The Idea of a University,[x] promoted the concept that universities should be places to protect the life of the mind, and to preserve the accumulated wisdom of the past. Universities were constructed in their original medieval form, as extensions of monasteries, retreats, where people went to find places, and spaces of tranquility and harmony so, in communion with themselves and others of like mind, they could cultivate their understanding of their life worlds.
Indigenous scholarship, throughout antiquity, also was conducted in places and spaces where people sat sang danced together in communion, defining and negotiating worldviews through ceremonial practice and day to day living, activities that honoured life as physical and spiritual, sacred and profane.
Indigenous pedagogy was human interaction with our life worlds, deepening our worldviews, allowing us to create and maintain nurturing, resonating relationships of mutual respect, recognition of rights, responsibility and reciprocity. Colonisations brought a legacy of layered traumatisation into these worlds.
In more recent years in his work with refugees and displaced peoples, Richard Mollica, in his book: Healing Invisible Wounds: Paths to Hope and Recovery in a Violent World,[xi] wrote that his approach was an intentional focus on culture and history, as revealed in the words that his patients used to describe their trauma stories.
He heard, as I did, that traumatised people voice the same request for help in self-healing. And he found, as I did, that the healer has to place him/herself as close as possible to the pain and suffering of the traumatized person in order to take in the revealed truth. This process becomes the foundation of all healing actions. I have located this process, not in a mental health paradigm, but within the pedagogical framework of multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural education. I have called it ‘Educaring’.
‘Educaring’ recognises healing as an educational process, providing care for people to do their own healing work while studying to acquire skills, qualifications and accreditation. In the educational model it invites participants ‘to understand the social, political, psychological, environmental, family and community functions that have made them who they are, and how they relate to the world in which they live’ and take charge of their own lives, and that of their families and communities. [xii]
An Indigenous Critical Pedagogy recognises trauma, both across lifespan and generations, and understands trauma focused ‘Educaring’ as a foundation that allows individuals, families and communities to find the power they have within themselves for self healing.[xiii] This model provides the means by which people can choose to heal, while developing healing skills to work with others.[xiv]
The educational approach enables people to come to know themselves, name what influences have shaped who they have become, their humanness, informing an awareness and knowledge of other peoples, their histories and stories, and what has shaped them, our collective environments, and what influences and shapes community and a knowledge and understanding of our place and responsibility to community.[xv] Healing through ‘Educaring’ has the capacity for true reconciliation between social groups.
Indigenous spaces in academic places however, involves a delicate disciplined dance, drawing on the strength and resiliency of Indigenous scholars who hold courage and hope as their negotiating tools.
[i] Eastman, C. (1916) From the Deep Woods to Civilization, Little Brown and Company. P 29 Boston.
[ii] Belgian philosopher Leo Apostel gathered a group of people from disciplines as diverse as engineering, psychiatry, psychology, theology, theoretical physics, sociology and biology to help define worldview.
[iii] Nakata, M. (1998) Anthropological texts and Indigenous standpoints Australian Aboriginal Studies no.2 (1998), p.3-12
[iv] Batistte, M. (2002). Introduction: Unfolding the lessons of colonization. In M. Battiste (Ed) Reclaiming Indigenous Voices and vision pp xvi-xxx Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press
[v] Martin K. (2008) Please Knock before you enter: Aboriginal regulation of Outsiders and the implications for researchers. PhD Thesis. James Cook University.
[vii] Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Continuum Publishing; New York.
[viii] Freire, P. (1995) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Continuum Publishing: New York. Freire, P. (1992) Pedagogy of Hope. Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Continuum Publishing: New York.
[ix] Caroline Atkinson. June 2011, Personal comment to me, after a difficult day within the academy.
[x] Newman, John Henry (1961) On the Scope and Nature of University Education J.M. Dent, London, first published 1852
[xi] Mollica, Richard (2006) Healing Invisible Wounds – Paths to Hope and Recovery in a Violent World. Vanderbilt Uni Press. Nashville.
[xii] Atkinson J. (2005). Trauma, Trauma Recovery & Healing, Gnibi, Lismore, NSW. P 84
[xiii] Atkinson, 2005, and Mollica, 2006
[xiv] Atkinson, J. (2008). Finding our Relatedness Stories: Psychology and Indigenous Healing Practice, in Psychology and Indigenous Australians: Effective Teaching and Practice. Ed. Rob Ranzijn, Keith McConnochie and Wendy Nolan. UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.