Wide-Awakeness as an Antidote For…

Stephanie Bartlett, PhD Candidate

Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary

Photo by Pascal Debrunner on Unsplash

I started and stopped writing this post about twenty times. Who knew that writing a post about being wide-awake as an engaged citizen and educator would be such a struggle? Considering how wide-awakeness has become part of my purpose and vision as a human in the world, I am baffled by my inability to write on the topic right now.

It is not that I am complacent in my attitude towards world events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine -it is that perhaps I am too awake and becoming exhausted. Acknowledging this particular writing task as unexpectedly difficult and tiresome became the lens for me to explore the notion of wide-awakeness and consider why it is so important to embed into teaching and learning. Writing this post became a way of walking alongside those who are curious about the notion of wide-awakeness in education and why this might be important.

I have returned frequently to this concept of being wide-awake over the last ten years in my practice as an educator and in my scholarly work. In 1977, educational philosopher Maxine Greene wrote that wide-awakeness is “to move others to elevate their lives by a ‘conscious endeavour,’ to arouse others to discover — each in [their] own terms — what it would mean to ‘live deliberately’” (p.120.) Being wide-awake has guided me in teaching students to care for each other and the earth through environmental sustainability, Indigenous ways of knowing, and land-based learning.

If being wide-awake is to be conscious of others and the world around us, I am committed to sharing this practice with others. Further, if we want children to take on an active role in their world, teachers need to model what this looks like and scaffold this practice for children. Here are some things that I have learned about the practice of being wide-awake as a teacher:

  • Walk with humility;
  • Listen actively and empathetically to others;
  • Take action in meaningful ways;
  • Turn to art-making as a way of representing learning across all disciplines as a form of action, and;
  • Learn about and employ teaching and learning underpinned by equity, inclusion, diversity, and decolonization.

Maxine Greene (1977) described that being part of “The Crowd” was to teach the way things have always been done without questioning whether that is what children need right now in the world we live in — a world with increasingly complex problems. Do we want the children of tomorrow to be part of a complacent crowd or do we want them to be active participants in the world around them — to be wide awake? In the context of the current social-political reality, chances are good that we all hope our children will be well-equipped to work through the complex, intractable problems that they are sure to face.

Wide-Awakeness as an Antidote…to What?

When I wrote the title for this piece, I intentionally left it incomplete.

Wide-awakeness could serve as an antidote to complacency in traditional education practices and systems that do not address what children need right now in the increasingly complex world in which we live.

Wide-awakeness could also serve as an antidote for the grief that comes along with the climate crisis and eco-anxiety that we are damaging our planetary home and the animals who make their home here. It is in becoming wide awake that a person begins to see the very things that cause grief. Being wide awake can become an antidote to that grief because our wide-awakeness helps us to recognize not only the problem but also the steps toward active resolution.

Keeping in mind the notion of active resolution, wide-awakeness is an important antidote for the ongoing effects of colonialism. When we are conscious and aware of colonialism, we are more prone to begin a learning journey to understand Indigenous histories, culture, and ways of knowing.

After my initial struggles, writing this post became an antidote for my overwhelmed state of being in the face of world events. I have renewed energy and commitment to revisit how I am practicing being wide-awake for myself and my students.

To be wide-awake is to engage hearts and minds together in the practice of art making and social engagement with the greater purpose of caring for each other and the earth. This is both hopeful and inspiring. Let me know in the comments below how wide-awakeness could be your antidote for [insert here.]

References

Greene, M. (1977). Toward wide-awakeness: An argument for the arts and humanities in education. Teachers College Record, 79(1), 119–125. https://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentId=1152

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Musings on issues in education, from the Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies. https://jcacs.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/jcacs.