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Teaching and Learning: Field Education and the Business of Curiosity

This semester in the IPS Foundations of Social Justice course, students began the semester by thinking about what it means to teach and learn. They were challenged to not only think of themselves as students or learners, but also as teachers who will share the knowledge they learn as they practice social justice in their communities. This week we’re featuring some of their reflections on teaching and learning at IPS.

As part of the Masters of Divinity program, students participate in a Field Education experience. This experience is comprised of a yearlong internship and weekly group gatherings in which members of the group present case studies that are then discussed by the whole group. It is within this context that I experienced education as a transformational, liberating, empowering, communal, engaging, and curiosity-filled process. It is also within this context that I experienced teachers as learners and learners as teachers. The leadership roles were fluid and the group engaged in a common purpose that moved and motivated our reflection. This common purpose was one of awareness, understanding, learning, and growing.

bell hooks (1994) in her book, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom writes so much of education as a practice and process that frees, liberates, empowers, excites/enthuses, and engages.

hooks writes of education as a communal effort when writing, “As a classroom community, our capacity to generate excitement is deeply affected by our interests in one another, in hearing one another’s voices, in recognizing one another’s presence” (p 8). In reflection, the field education group was not trying to transfer knowledge. Rather, they were walking with me, in community, to help me see and discover those things that were otherwise hidden to me. The communal activity of sharing and engaging story helped me to work through my own story, be present with it, engage it, look at its various dimensions, interact with it, allow it to speak to me and me to it, and then work towards some sort of resolution.

When preparing a case study, we were asked to look for moments in our experience of ministry that challenged us, made us uncomfortable, brought us joy, and, essentially, left us thinking, “What the heck is this all about?”

The case studies began with experience and curiosity. I had many, many cases that brought me right up against fear, uncertainty, and confusion. Often my identity as a person and as a minister was brought under the microscope and, always, I was being asked to take a critical look at myself.

Paulo Freire (1998) beautifully writes about curiosity in his book, Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage, saying,

“Curiosity as restless questioning, as movement toward the revelation of something hidden, as question verbalized or not, as a search for clarity, as moment of attention, suggestion, and vigilance, constitutes an integral part of the phenomenon of being alive. There could be no creativity without curiosity that moves us and set us patiently impatient before a world that we did not make, to add to it something of our making” (p 37-38).

This beautifully written statement was true of my experience of field education. The curiosity embedded in the very process of the work of field education, of critically examining cases in ministry, led to a sense of wonder and awe that resulted from the sharing of story and communal learning that took place. The type of questioning the took place “forced” us, in a way, to be very honest with ourselves and with one another as we, together, searched for the hidden treasures, questioned, and noticed the movements at play.

More than anything, though, this process gave my classmates and me a passion for curiosity. To be curious is to know, and to have a passion for knowing, that the world is full of things yet to be seen, grasped, explored, learned, and understood. As Freire suggests, this process is never quite done.

Thank goodness for that, too! The business of curiosity is the business of passion. It is what moves and motivates, it is what yearns, it is what makes us alive, and it is what grants us the hope that anything is possible.

Abby Gapinski is a Master of Divinity student in her third year of the program. She currently works at St. Gertrude parish as a youth minister.