Its sounds like she was quite a seminar thinker for the Brahm Kumaris, hence the trauma over the loss, and she was taking BK service into schools and prisons. Note the subtle plug for the BKWSU via the "Values in Education" programme without mentioning it was a BK thing.
Dawn Emelie Griggs, a Byron Bay-based author and learning consultant, speaking with Rachael Kohn.
Dawn Emelie Griggs: I think the chief lesson as a teacher, was that you can’t really control circumstances outside of yourself. You can’t control your lessons, you have to be prepared to get in touch with the person and your class, whoever they are, at another level other than the obvious, and other than what we’d be trained to teach. So it’s kind of looking beyond even the walls of the prison and trying to make a connection with that soul, that person, beneath the body and beneath the exterior, and trying to make a connection. That’s to me probably at a deeper level, what I think about a lot and what has guided me along the way, and realising that we’re all so different and unique, but we’re also very connected, because we’re simply part of the human race.
Rachael Kohn: I guess connecting, particularly to prisoners, at an emotional level is pretty difficult, because they would have all sorts of defences; is it those defences that you work at trying to overcome, so that people will be open to learning?
Dawn Emelie Griggs: Absolutely. And you can imagine, many of the prisoners and perhaps most of them, had negative experiences at school, or in their home, and they were battling all kinds of emotional, psychological conditioning perhaps, even more than most. So their self-esteem in terms of what they can learn, just basic lessons and information, is really low. So we started at that level, and I find that that’s a thread that goes through all my teaching to this day, no matter who I teach, it’s just varying degrees. So there’s a whole area around self-esteem, and learning, and the belief that I can learn because I’ve had this experience, or I’m this age, or I’m a woman, or I’m old, or whatever.
So this is getting to the core of our beliefs around learning and human potential, and I think that this is the threat that’s really kept me going. So in other words, we are much more than what we think we are.
Rachael Kohn: Well I would guess, Dawn, that education has a surfeit of theories and modules that teachers are always trying to come up with new ways of enhancing learning; how do you think your own approach to education differs from the norm?
Dawn Emelie Griggs: Well currently I’m not working in the system, so in that way I’m working outside the system, working often with teachers and educators, organising this big conference, bringing people together to basically help inspire. And I’m pretty well aware of a lot of the research that’s around in terms of the learning brain, and it does surprise me that given that there is so much and has been so much written, that we’re not really incorporating those findings and that research and understanding of human potential and the way people learn, and learning styles, and that we’re all different. So it’s perhaps that awareness, the short answer, that awareness and that knowledge that I’ve been fascinated with and absorbed myself in over a 10-year period that makes a difference.
Rachael Kohn: Well Dawn I gather from your book that you’ve been influenced by the Brahma Kumaris, a Hindu religious movement that’s become known for its emphasis on inter-faith relations; what did you learn at the Brahma Kumaris University at Mount Abo in India when you went there?
Dawn Emelie Griggs: The main thing I think changed my life was really to start to think about myself as a spiritual being. I don’t actually see Brahma Kumaris as so much a religious movement, but certainly a spiritual education, and for me that had the most impact, to learn that I, underneath my skin and my flesh, I am a soul, or a spiritual being, however you want to call that, and therefore it’s a little bit different to seeing myself as having a soul or having a spirit or whatever, so there’s a deep kind of sense of connection with that knowledge, and along with that teaching was that what is the soul or what is the spiritual being.
And the understanding that I have is that we are made up of different faculties and so that there’s the mind and the brain, and what we’re trying to do when we learn at a deep level, and when we’re trying to evolve and develop ourself, we’re actually trying to work at that level of transformation of bypassing sometimes just the intellect and getting to the core of who we are. So it was like self-knowledge about who we are. And it makes sense to me that at the core of all religions that we are still no matter what we call ourselves, that we’re connected.
Rachael Kohn: Dawn, you practised Yoga, Raja Yoga, was that connected to your method of facilitating learning as opposed to imposing knowledge, which is the usual model that teachers have of themselves in the classroom?
Dawn Emelie Griggs: Yes I think it did, and it didn’t happen overnight, but basically the seed for my journey and spirit of learning was in the classroom with adult migrants and refugees in the prison and also without. And going along on a regular basis to some early morning meditation classes where, and I’d only had the experience of peace and focus, understanding, and lessons about how I can perhaps learn and absorb and stay focused and stay calm and become integrated.
And I was having that experience every day, and so my thoughts were when I would work quite creatively and had good rapport, I think I was a good teacher with my migrants as students, and I thought Well, everyone should know this, everyone should have this basic knowledge that we can actually find something within to control the fears or to work with the stress levels, because everyone in my class despite their enjoyment, still had blocks in some ways about some aspect of their learning.
Rachael Kohn: So did that mean you were actually getting them to do Yoga, to meditate?
Dawn Emelie Griggs: No, I didn’t immediately do that at all. It was just the seed I think of wanting to find a way in which I could perhaps integrate some of those kinds of understandings, and so I think that was the seed, and that led me kind of synchronistically to a whole lot of research about the use of visualisation, relaxation, meditation and many other fascinating elements into the learning process.
So I then went on a journey if you like, which took me around the world and discovered whole mind, whole brain, holistic learning, new paradigm learning, with all its many, many variations. And I got extremely excited because I could see that there were some great parallels with what I was learning in a spiritual sense. So it was then over a period of time I became more confident to use relaxation, visualisation in the classroom, because there were actual models and methods and resources that I could draw on to do that. So I found personally that it took a long time, it still does, it’s still quite something that I feel one has to work on themselves in order to be able to introduce such concepts in a way that’s not threatening to people in the classroom.
Rachael Kohn: Dawn, I think you’re just putting your finger there on a point I wanted to ask you about, and that is why is it that the way one learns is so important?
Dawn Emelie Griggs: Well I think it’s because we are fed so much information, we’re in total, absolute overload of information in our world today, so that what happens is that the mind shuts down, you know, and it doesn’t have any meaning to us. So it’s not changing us from within, it’s not having the meaning unless it’s integrated in some way.
So it was my personal desire and interest to integrate for myself what I was learning whether it was learning as a teacher, or a mother, or a student, that drove me to pursue this journey, and realise that looking, observing, asking questions constantly, having wonderful experiences with all kinds of people, and leading educators, and I would check in to see how I would feel in their workshop of seminar or afterward. So I would check in to say well do I feel empowered by this situation? And that was a kind of more subtle experience of observation because it was my fascination.
Rachael Kohn: That’s Dawn Emelie Griggs, who writes in her book Spirit of Learning that the need to remain the expert at all costs is what teachers and academics find hardest to let go of.
In the rush to find new ways to facilitate learning, both in students and teachers, a lot of new methods are now available.
Dawn, you’re an advocate of something called ‘Suggestology’, also known as accelerated learning. Now I must admit it sounds manipulative, imparting knowledge while affecting people’s emotions. Is it manipulative?
Dawn Emelie Griggs: I don’t think so. I think once again it all depends on the intention of the educator or the facilitator.
Rachael Kohn: And the intention for you is to what, arouse people’s hunger to learn?
Dawn Emelie Griggs: Certainly that’s one of the things, and to arouse their curiosity, to move them out of a state of either apathy or negativity, and to connect with learning in the most general sense, as well as in the formal sense if they’re studying formally.
Rachael Kohn: In your book you’re pretty down on the scientific perspective and the accumulation of knowledge. Did you leave all that behind?
Dawn Emelie Griggs: That’s an interesting observation, because I did draw on science and knowledge in order to write the book, very strongly.
Rachael Kohn: But you do say that the scientific perspective is kind of counterproductive, the accumulation of knowledge for knowledge’s sake, you seem to want to push in the direction of knowledge as a form of wisdom, inculcating wisdom.
Dawn Emelie Griggs: Yes and I certainly am against just the idea of accumulating knowledge for knowledge’s sake. I do promote accumulating knowledge and awareness for the purpose of accumulating wisdom and developing ourselves to our highest potential really, and I feel that that is a shift in the way in which we do things, not necessarily always what we do but how we do it.
Rachael Kohn: In your book Spirit of Learning, you write about how the development of your educational method was linked to your spiritual quest and you’ve certainly talked about that now, particularly your awareness of your higher self. Now that’s an essentially Hindu notion that’s gone over into the human potential movement, but I wonder, what does the higher self mean in educational terms?
Dawn Emelie Griggs: Well for me I think it means experiencing a sense of inner fulfilment, inner satisfaction, a sense of joy really, joy and confidential that I can do things that I never expected I could do. At that level there’s a change and a shift from within, I believe, and that’s certainly my experience, so the sense of higher self is just a sense of the full self, rather than partly educating ourselves, holistic learning and holistic education which ultimately from my experience and observation actually does kind of propel the self into a higher, if you like, or a transformative kind of learning, a trans personal sense. But it’s not one achieves with just a lot of techniques that you do in the classroom. I think it takes time.
Rachael Kohn: In fact I even wonder whether it’s achievable in the classroom. You yourself are now working outside the classroom; what do you think?
Dawn Emelie Griggs: I think it’s both. So that’s why I’m very interested in promoting the notion of Spirit of Learning for life, and so that I think that we can do things in the classroom, in formal situations, where we can start so people get a sense of Wow, I can do that. Wow, learning is fun, it’s a joy’, and that translates outside the classroom. If it’s experienced enough, people then start to seek things that will bring them joy through learning something new. In the meantime the brain mind is expanding, and so there is a chance, I’m not saying it automatically happens, but with interest and with opening up people’s minds and brains and with right facilitation and situation environment, I think people are hungry for spiritual learning.
Rachael Kohn: It’s interesting. I get the feeling from you that the spirit of learning for life is more an adult perspective. You seem to be saying Come on people, we can learn our whole lives through and it can be exciting, and it can be spiritually enhancing.
Dawn Emelie Griggs: I think that’s right. I am speaking from an adult’s point of view, and most of my teaching has been with adults, although I brought up my son as a single parent, had a lot to do with children, and why I do focus on adults is because I think that’s where we also have to start changing and opening up and expanding our ways in which we teach too. So that if we’re expecting change within the educational system, working towards a new paradigm, then who does that start with? It starts with teacher trainees, teachers, educators, parents, parents are also educators.
Rachael Kohn: Dawn, does that new paradigm allow any room for the old-fashioned educational values of the ability to judge, to discern truth from falsehood, good logic from bad logic, reliable factors from unreliable facts?
Dawn Emelie Griggs: Well absolutely. And for me Spirit of Learning is not one method at all, it’s just more a philosophy and approach and hopefully encouragement and inspiration for people to draw on. Methods and resources, and there is a movement called Values in Education, you might be familiar with, living values, and that involves 40 countries around the world and that’s been tried and tested in schools and it is very much about getting back to the core values.
I guess what I’m really promoting is a sense of need, reminding people that we need to get back to those core values, and developing resources and practical techniques that we can use in the classroom to learn values and incorporate values at the same time of learning information. It’s not either/or, it’s about both, and it’s about integrating.
Rachael Kohn: And it seems to be also about not only the student learning but also the teacher. I got a feeling however from your book that there could be a danger of the teacher focusing a bit too much on his or her own spiritual transformation and perhaps leaving the student behind.
Dawn Emelie Griggs: Yes, that could be read that way, but as I say it’s perhaps my emphasis, because what I’ve observed and experienced over many years is that there is the tendency for teachers, and I include myself there, too, as an educator, to tell others what to do, to tell the children what to do, to tell our students what to do and to talk about spirituality, or if it is that, or to talk about values, but not necessarily be always living them yourself. So I wanted to shift that focus in that way in this particular book, but I think it’s both, so it’s like a simultaneous awareness really that I’m trying to promote.
Rachael Kohn: Dawn you’re involved in the Soul and Education Conference this week from 27th September to the 2nd October, and there’s a significant focus on environment and social ecology. For people who haven’t caught up with this relative newcomer to university courses, how would you describe social ecology?
Dawn Emelie Griggs: That’s a tricky question too, because when I embarked on my Masters it took many of us many, many hours of discussion, What is social ecology? As I see it, it is about the understanding of the interconnectedness of all life and that we as human beings are connected with the environment, and we’re connected with each other and we’re not in isolation, and so therefore if we’re doing science, if we’re doing research, if we’re observing, analysing, writing, whatever, we need to look at our own part in that observation and in that whole scheme of things, so that we can’t, or shouldn’t separate ourselves from what we’re learning, from what we’re studying, what we’re researching, so that we’re all part of a whole. So it’s a holistic view of life and of education. Certainly I’ve been extremely influenced by social ecology and it’s where I did my Masters.
Rachael Kohn: And is Eastern wisdom fairly influential here? You’ve already mentioned your connection to the Brahma Kamaris, but you also often quote Buddhist sources.
Dawn Emelie Griggs: Yes, I haven’t only been influenced by Brahma Kamaris, I think I’ve been influenced by a range of different people who have somehow connected with me as a spiritual being, and that I feel might connect with others, so I’ve included a lot of quotes if you’ve read my book.
Yes, and particularly at the conference it will be a question of whichever tradition people are coming from. They’re coming from perhaps a Buddhist perspective, a Christian perspective, Hindu, whatever, or just from a New Age-y perhaps perspective, but I think my hope and intention is to provide an opportunity to show how connected we all are, and that underneath all of our religions and our traditions and our approaches to education, that there’s some very fundamental values to the way in which human beings learn, and the way in which we can share with each other so that we can see what we’ve got in common, but we can also see the differences, appreciate those differences, cultural differences, learning style differences, our spiritual traditions, and actually learn from each other.
I don’t personally see this conference or my own approach as promoting one way at all. I feel like I’m a great networkers, and have planted some seeds, and it seems like those seeds have taken off and people are very interested.
Rachael Kohn: Well I imagine your book and the conference Soul in Education, will plant quite a few seeds. Dawn Emelie Griggs, thank you so much for being on The Spirit of Things.
Dawn Emelie Griggs: Thank you for having me, Rachael.
Rachael Kohn: That’s Dawn Emelie Griggs, and the conference is Soul in Education, at Lake Ainsworth, near Byron Bay, and her book is Spirit of Learning.
The program was produced by me and Geoff Wood, with technical production this week by Russell Stapleton.
Guests on this program: Dawn Emelie Griggs is a freelance teacher, writer, and learning consultant. She has 18 years experience teaching adult migrants and young students in various institutions within Australia, France and China. She was the founding president of the Accelerative Learning Association (Inc) in NSW (1990-1992) and the initiator of the idea of Spirit of Learning.