Diversifying Our Portfolio: Building Resilience and Equity

Wise financial advisors tell us to diversify our portfolio. It offers us long term benefits, reduces risk and increases the potential to perform in a changing market.  A fixed mind set with any bias for one type of investment over another can be our downfall. Everybody wants to prevent loss and increase their equity. After all, we invest in things that safeguard our future.

The same advice holds true when it comes to education. Except, in education we often work in silos. This makes it harder to diversify our portfolio. We get stuck investing in the same old approach. Sometimes we make decisions based on bias or we refuse opportunities to broaden our reach. The notion of building resilience and equity is interesting, but we want to know how resilience and equity influence our potential to perform. How does diversifying our approach lower personal risk and help us obtain long term benefits?

We also cling to the feeling of being an expert. Academics zoom in close and can conduct important investigations but when we have to collaborate with others outside our discipline, we get rude and impatient. Our nomenclature and our language just don’t translate. Schools are organized by subject and asking the algebra teacher to teach reading and writing or the art teacher to sub chemistry can lead to anarchy.

For these reasons, when I talk about combining mindfulness and social justice in education in order to diversify our approach and increase potential, I get resistance. I am learning how hard it is to communicate why going hybrid can be a wise investment.

We all want schools that are safe, inclusive, intellectually stimulating, creative and well-resourced. But how are we going to do this unless we work together and consider the problems holistically? We need to address the overwhelming stress and anxiety attached to schooling. We need to be intentional about personal and social awareness, teach compassion and  intercultural competence. We also need to understand the inequitable distribution of resources and learn how to advocate. Most importantly, we need to understand how social-emotional well-being leads to academic achievement. Safe, inclusive, intellectually stimulating learning environments build trust, foster engagement, promote critical thinking, improve skills in problem solving, encourage invention and curiosity.

That said, diversifying our portfolio or investing in a hybrid model can feel both exhilarating and scary. How will this move improve my situation? How will this approach benefit the climate? These are important questions to ask. Another  important question is: Will I enjoy the process?

Infusing our teaching with mindfulness techniques and social justice pedagogy is fun and life changing. When you decide to go rogue and start driving over those dreadful lines, you will begin to see the world (and the road ahead of you) with new eyes. For example, many mindfulness folks talk about Yoga and meditation. However, for some individuals like athletes, rock stars, gamers, and so on– the idea of sitting still for too long in silence or doing yoga in a studio sounds ridiculous. What happens when we start to talk about the role of movement and stillness in our lives? When we talk about discipline and the shape of our body, when we talk about stretching and breathing before a challenging exercise? We begin to expand our reach into diversified territory. Just this week, I learned about Bomba meditation! Bomba is a traditional dance and music style that originates out of Puerto Rico. Those who practice seriously describe it to be a way to reach a meditative state.

How are we moving into that sacred space where we go egoless and free? Are we sitting legs crossed or are we chanting, dancing or drumming?

Catharsis: Applying Critical Mindfulness to Oral Histories

“Interactions in the environment lead to reciprocal transformation which strengthens individual and collective agency.”

Many people ask what distinguishes my work and my approach. I think this is a hard question because I am evolving daily. Still, I am beginning to understand that I am most interested in freedom in action, on the application of practice, on expression through experiments and sharing outcomes to further dialogue. I like to call my approach Conscientious Engagement, but words never seem to do it, still we must try to communicate with the tools we have. The aim of my work is to raise consciousness and to create a ‘peak learning experience’ for me and subjects, by activating the personal, social and transpersonal domains of our shared experience. In other words, I want to move further into what Paul Kaufman might call, a critical contemplative pedagogy in which our inner directed practice of transformation is linked to outer transformation by helping others and finding ways to transform society.

Currently, I am applying aspects of my approach to how I conduct oral histories at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College. This article is my first documentation of my work and observations. I decided to post this article here on my own blog because it is a free, thoughtful space accessible to those of us who are often marginalized. I believe deeply in demonstrating through our choices and action that each of us has a role in informing and transforming our collective consciousness. I believe that the blogsphere and on-line platforms are instrumental in increasing agency and participatory voice, information sharing and research, that will impact our thinking far into the future on what it means to be free, critically engaged, mindful agents for social justice.

An oral history interview involves a person sharing stories, recollections of past events and reflections prompted by a series of carefully prepared questions which is videotaped and preserved for archival purposes. An oral history obtains information from individuals who offer different perspectives about historical events or situations that often includes what is left out of written sources. In the case of the Oral History Project at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, all of the subjects are members of the Puerto Rican diaspora, and have been nominated for their contributions to society. Due to the complex socio-political relationship between the Unites States and Puerto Rico, described by most Puerto Rican scholars as being one of colonization, coupled with the vast underrepresentation of Puerto Rican voices in history, the systematic collection of Puerto Rican oral histories can aptly be described as an act of self-empowerment and social activism.

One of the strategies that I am applying in my work is Bearing Witness. Bearing Witness is when we share an experience with others to acknowledge that the experience is real and true because we recognize it exists in one form or another as shared human experience. When we position ourselves outside experience, as if we are independent of it, we are creating a barrier between us and truth, which limits our ability to respond with compassion. Bearing witness involves being with, blending into, blurring oneself with and becoming “a part of” another person’s experience (Ríos, 2019). In my theory of Conscientious Engagement, which is a hybrid of mindfulness and social justice pedagogy, I position Bearing Witness, within the domain of Social Awareness and Adaptability, which I posit leads us to Freedom. As in all other strategies presented within this framework, none of them exists in a vacuum. Each domain, each strategy builds upon and includes the others, often in non-linear ways. Some of the skills that are involved in Bearing Witness include deep listening, refined attention acquired through contemplation and meditation, culture and identity study, and intergroup dialogue. Bearing witness, done in this way, leads to critical consciousness—which I define as: understanding of how relationships, norms and structures and ideologies influence how we see ourselves and how we are valued in society. The common denominator for all critical pedagogies is using an approach or process that uses content largely generated from the lived experiences of learners with a desired outcome of social transformation (Kaufman, 2017)

An early observation of applying my approach to oral histories is shared catharsis. A catharsis is a release of emotion, a purging of pent up feelings, a profoundly spiritual cleansing of the spirit. The cathartic experience transcends time because it brings to bear the past, present and future for transformation and/or healing. The cathartic experiences that are occurring in my practice are expressed through: crying, welling up of tears, deep waves of emotion, hearty and/or prolonged laughter; acknowledgement out loud of the profound or surprising nature of the experience, pregnant or lingering pauses, expressions of gratitude, longing for more. I believe this shared catharsis phenomena, can be a critical step in understanding critical consciousness, healing and the steps towards conscious, social action.

The fact that the cathartic experience is shared is important. Something happens in the time-space that is both subjective and intersubjective, relational, interconnected, and non-linear. My presumption, however, is that the nature and depth of the cathartic experience is different and impacts each person to a different degree. I am thinking there is a reciprocal transformation occurring, in the precise moment of “peak learning” that I am now beginning to think/observe are directly related to topics about identity, belonging, purpose, and humanity. The broad racial and economic diversity within the Puerto Rican diaspora is an element that gives me great resolve as I begin to think about research in this area. If we can understand and design for shared cathartic “peak learning” experiences within this one group, by targeting aspects of identity, belonging and purpose, then we may be able to transfer this learning to larger more multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-faith groups.

The expressions of gratitude and longing for more at the conclusion of the experience, I am beginning to think, is the direct link to agency and conscious, social action. The experience demonstrates in the moment our power, that we become agents of change and transformation through our deep engagement to each other and the oral history process, and, by a formal acknowledgement of what has happened, some sort of outward, recognition that reciprocal transformation has occurred leading both parties to ask  what now? What do I do with this moving forward? What is required of me to keep this immense power and joy alive?



1. https://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/events-news/news/centro-video-records-over-60-oral-histories

2.  Kaufman, Paul (2017) Critical Contemplative Pedagogy, Radical Pedagogy, 14.1

For Working Class, Mindfulness is a Gimmick

When I called my colleague and told him the title of my new book, he told me I had sold out. Sold out? I snapped. I’ve been unemployed for years, while you’re sitting easy in a tenured teacher position. He snickered and told me to calm down.

Yesterday, they towed my ten-year-old car away after it was declared totaled. I was rear ended by a huge GMC over Labor Day weekend. We’d been praying the car would last another year. My part time job and husband’s salary doesn’t cover our bills. Every day debt and ‘fear of falling’ are snowballing. When the insurance man gives me the bad news, I get so angry and shaky I give him a piece of my mind—fulness.

There are mindfulness people selling their books and working the circuit. Social Justice people are doing their thing. The words are academic and their jobs appear safe and secure, to me. I scoff and say they are all part of the establishment, while I crank out another resume.

Teachers and other workers, who are part of the disappearing middle class are right to be careful. They say they will try these practices out. Whatever you want and need from me, I’ll do it. I just want to know if I will get home  in time to be with my kids. Some of this stuff does work, they think. Oh, yes! Yoga and social emotional learning is a beautiful thing.  Equity, absolutely! Teachers are in the business of changing the world, one mind, one student at a time, one yoga class, one day of mindfulness at a time.

I talk to the field inspector who has my puny check. I ask him if he’s heard of mindfulness. He’s not sure, he says, isn’t that something to do with paying attention? Yes, I say and we look at each other inquisitively. We are standing in the middle of the street. I ask him what he knows about yoga, or meditation. He says, yea, I know about that, I’ve been doing those things my whole life. Really? Yea, I do martial arts, it’s the same thing. How’s that? He goes on to explain that martial arts is about the mind-body, discipline and focus. I’m impressed. Do you think martial arts has anything to do with mindfulness? I don’t know, does it? I ignore the question and ask, what about spirituality? I don’t know, he says, I guess it depends on the teacher. He shifts his weight and I know he has to leave.

Sometimes, I think words, like a webpage, put us in a bubble, an illusion, dividing us from each other, keeping us lost in some abstract notion of who we are that rarely has anything to do with reality. Most of us are working class people, thinking about bread and butter issues. We don’t have time and money to keep up with the inner circle where academic words, book contracts, networking and research grants mean anything. Outside, on the street, in the working class world, saying things like mindful practice for social justice just sounds ridiculous. People just want to know if I have a job, what organization I belong to or what school.