PAUSE FOR A MOMENT and consider a curriculum that extends beyond merely practical schooling, past our standard materially-oriented instruction that fixates almost exclusively on the academic skills that promote professional success. Consider instead a curriculum centered in deep connectedness, a curriculum of love.
Where in their unfolding growth do our children learn about what might be the core human experience, from primal bonding within the womb to the final demise when a child weeps at her dying parent’s bedside? Love in multifarious forms pervades experience: love of self, family, romantic partner, friend, pet, community, humankind, the earth, and even the stranger and the enemy that Judeo-Christian tradition exhorts us to embrace. Where is the schoolhouse door that opens to the divine realm of dreams, the contours of grief, the light of intuition, the sense of connection to the rivers? Perhaps love and the inner life do not seem like subjects students could possibly explore at a desk, on a computer, or in a lab. But there is a pedagogy that might make it accessible.
While considering such teaching we should not assume that teaching about love necessitates its practice. But an academic curriculum that delves deeply into the nature of love in several adventurous teachers’ classrooms can be a springboard into an explicit school- wide practice of the compassion, empathy and generosity that Tikkun’sSpiritual Covenant With America calls for. A syllabus of the highest regard for life’s intimacy in our despiritualized education system is a radical beginning.
The introduction of such a curriculum can produce visceral push back in a society that fears exploration of our spiritual nature. Love is supposed to be private and school a place of public inquiry. A parent once reported me to the San Francisco Bay Area high school district where I taught when she read her daughter’s journal entry on the topic I suggested “What is the color of love?” My student apologized for her parent’s aggressiveness. The parent wasn’t very loving, and my student told me she had actually felt an unexpected freedom writing that journal. What a loss it would be to deprive her of that opening.
Others might argue love doesn’t belong in the curriculum because it is a soft non- academic subject and that by teaching it you risk turning your classroom into a New Age bubble. But I’m not talking about lessons encased in some kind of soft, airy sharing sessions. Love is a compelling and deeply challenging subject to undertake: layered, rich, transformative, demanding, and painful. It is a deep existential concern that can be investigated from multi- disciplinary perspectives, through philosophy, psychology, biology, history, literature, and theology. It has all the gravitas of any topic the academy can offer.
Young people from kindergarten through high school can be enabled to explore the subject at their respective developmental levels. A thoughtful teacher might help them begin as any rigorous academic thinker begins, by defining terms. What do we actually mean when we use the word love? This can be a lesson not only in love, but in learning precision of language. We may regard love as some singular nameable thing but a single word belies the depth and variety of its forms. The intimate breathing rhythms of a baby nestling in her mother’s bosom is not the companionship of Huck and Jim rafting down the Mississippi, nor the longing of Odysseus for Penelope, or the outstretched arms of the Virgen de Guadalupe.
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Tikkun 2016 Volume 31, Number 4: 54-57