We live in an emotionally-phobic society. There is a deep distrust and fear of feeling and emotion, such that this essential aspect of our humanity is largely left out of social, educational and organisational life. When someone asks how you are do you reply honestly? Probably not, and probably because you sense the person asking doesn’t really want to know if you are weighed down by some deep trouble. When can you remember expressing emotion honestly within a work or educational setting or showing vulnerability? These occurrences tend to be rare rather than common practice.

The formal education system sets the tone for this inner alienation that leads to us becoming disconnected from our emotional landscape, where most of us become unable to identify and communicate what is happening inside of us. The system seeks to deliver curricula and rarely are learners encouraged to reflect on what the content stirs up in them. What if we adopted a more experiential approach to educational practices and sought to explore the feelings and meanings that learners associate with the subject they are engaging with, the group they are in, the place of learning they attend? An education that denies or ignores the inner reality and subjective experience of the learner is an alienating education because what it teaches is what you think and feel is secondary or irrelevant to the primary purpose of acquiring external knowledge and skills etc.

Meaning is experienced when an experience holds personal resonance and relevance for the learner. When this is absent learning shuts down. Sure, students might go through the motions of ‘learning’, jumping through the necessary hoops etc. but it is not real or deep learning. It is a meaningless charade.

To make education relevant it must stem from the inner soil of the individual. It must start from the inside by creating an atmosphere where there is an openness and appetite to explore the often messy, internal world of feelings, dreams, values, fears, hopes, desires, intentions, and intuitions of the individual and the group. A humanistic education is concerned with the authentic concerns of the individual and seeks to support and nurture the health growth and development of the whole human being. This can only be achieved in an atmosphere of open expression and honesty.

Such an exploration and inquiry might take questions like the following as the starting point for learning:

What do you (individually and collectively, as learners) care about?

What are you interested in?

What are your concerns?

What do you think about this?

What does this content bring up for you? How does it connect with you and your concerns and your lived experience?

Whatever arises should, even if it is difficult, be viewed as rich material for learning, something ‘live’ to be explored and examined. This requires a commitment to openness, seeing everything as welcome, and the courage to face whatever arises. In order for educators to venture into this terrain they must have achieved a certain level of development so as to be comfortable with this ‘inner content’, through having done this work on themselves, learning to be open to and accepting of their own inner world. Such an educational practice could be transformative, leading to greater levels of authenticity and meaning in learning and life.