Korean philosopher Byung-Chun Han, in his book “Vita contemplativa,” advocates alternating between action and contemplation (Han) 2023. I advocate including contemplation in education. Instead of continuing to urge our students exclusively to act, activity, and perform. Can we additionally give them the opportunity for contemplation to enable them to act deliberately?
Johan ‘t Hart – january 2024
“Inactivity is not the opposite of activity. Rather, activity feeds on inactivity. Benjamin lifts up inactivity and sees it as the midwife of the new:”
We are bored when we do not know what we are waiting for. That we do know or think we know is almost always nothing but expression for our superficiality or absent-mindedness. Boredom is the threshold to great deeds.” Walter Benjamin. Passagen-Werk p 161
“The only danger of human action that [Hannah] Arendt sees is that it cannot foresee its consequences. Even later it never occurs to her that precisely the absolutization of human action might well be responsible for the catastrophes that were already blatantly announcing themselves in her time. Philosophy as the ‘still in a distant future’ result of fundamental reflection should have as its subject precisely the human capacity that does not act.”
“Human existence comes into its own only in the vita contemplativa, or rather in the cooperation of vita activa and vita contemplativa. Thus St. Gregory teaches:
When a good plan of life requires us to make the transition from the active to the contemplative life, it is often useful if the soul returns from the contemplative life to the active, in such a way that the flame of contemplation kindled in the heart gives to the activity all its perfection. Thus the active life must lead us to contemplation, but contemplation (…) calls us back to activity.”
After these quotes, it is now time for description of how acting and contemplation had a place in my music classes:
My music lessons for the last three years that I was teaching, always consisted of two parts. The first part students worked independently (20 minutes) the second part we sat in a circle to improvise musically. In an 8-week report period (with lessons of 50 minutes a week) , a student had 8 x 20 minutes to work independently. Each student had two hours and 40 minutes per report period to work independently.
I asked the students to work responsibly and I asked them to show me when they completed an assignment. A successfully completed assignment earned a check mark. With four check marks, a student received a 10 (A+) on the report card for that period. In practice, each group always fell into two parts:
- On the one hand, there was the group of fast learners who had allready after four weeks had completed four assignments. This fast student then received a 10 for that report period. I then indicated what the student could do next.
– was allowed to help other students.
– could do an extra task that was rewarded with a check mark that counted toward the next report.
– was allowed to work on another subject.
– was also allowed to just ‘be-there’.
The fast group experienced a report period as acting first and followed by contemplation.
- On the other hand, you had the group with lagging students:
One student could choose to, or due to an obstacle that hindered working on an assignment, could wait out the first four lessons and look around. That student I deliberately did not encourage. I first allowed this student to decide for himself the moment to get started. This student then had four lessons to experience the lesson contemplatively, to be there. Of course there are limits to doing nothing; doing nothing cannot go on forever. Read on this site how, as a teacher, you encourage a student who does nothing for too long to get started in the role of midwife.
Only in the second part of a report period did I announce at the beginning of class that I was going to talk to students without checkmarks. In that conversation, I explored the cause of not getting to work: what obstacle was preventing the student from getting to work? I asked the student if they wanted help from a peer, I tried to get the student started by asking questions, or I asked if I could help the student.
The lagging group experienced a report period as first contemplation followed by action.
I noticed that the second group gradually became larger and larger. If I had encouraged a student to do something, that student usually joined the fast group in a subsequent report period. A characteristic of the second group was that they also started working with music at home and made their own arrangements to play together.
Over the course of three years of working this way, the group that started working immediately gradually became larger and larger. If I had encouraged a student from the lagging group to do something, that student usually joined the fast group in a subsequent report period. A characteristic of the fast group was that they also started working with music at home and made their own arrangements to play together. This led to them coming to ask me of their own accord if they could perform at a show. I will discuss this further in a subsequent blog about the book Vita Contemplativa.