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When we walk the halls of a hospital – An Integrative Personal Story, Part 6

By Rodney Frey

In the previous segment, building off the teachings from Tom and Susie Yellowtail and my journey with cancer, I considered the influences of the intersection of diversity and commonality, and of empathy and intentional engagement on my teaching, my research with Native American communities and in helping revise the University of Idaho’s General Education curriculum.

Part 6

From 2012-15, while continuing to teach, I also served as the University of Idaho’s Director of General Education, responsible for implementing the work of the steering committees.  It was during this time that I developed and added a formal definition for a critical component of the General Education storyline.  It was based upon the insights gained from American Academy of College and University (AAC&U), the lead organization focused on general education, via its conference presentations and conversations with colleagues, and its publications, in conjunction with my own lived stories of spokes and hub.  In the university’s General Catalog, “integrative studies” is thus defined in the following manner:

J-3-f. Integrated Studies – ISem 101 Integrative Seminar (3 cr), ISem 301 Great Issues (1 cr), and Senior Experience.The purpose of these courses is to provide students with the tools of integrative thinking, which are critical for problem solving, creativity and innovation, and communication and collaboration. Integrated learning is the competency to attain, use, and develop knowledge from a variety of disciplines and perspectives, such as the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences, with disciplinary specialization (to think divergently, distinguishing different perspectives), and to incorporate information across disciplines and perspectives (to think convergently, re-connecting diverse perspectives in novel ways). It is a cumulative learning competency, initiated as a first-year student and culminating as reflected in a graduating senior.

In a broad sweep, aligned were the traditions, the diverse, the unique spokes, the difference, with divergent thinking, and the transformational, the shared, the ubiquitous hub, the no difference, with convergent thinking.  All essential complementary processes in a balanced Wheel, in a winning relay team, or in life-long integrative engagement, making all the difference.  Distilled were elements from the AAC&U and the spokes and hub, into one specific application, a pedagogy for action, “integrated studies.”

As General Education director, I understood that if integrative thinking and behaving, as witnessed in the lives of Tom and Susie Yellowtail, and experienced in my own healing journeys, were to have any success in impacting students, the divergent spokes and convergent hub must be engaged with deliberation and purpose, through experiential learning.  Tom and Susie practiced and lived that which they spoke.  A relay race is run.  I experienced first-hand the scientific and spiritual applied to a healing journey.  Integrative thinking doesn’t occur passively, by just viewing it or simply talking about it, or simply by juxtaposing this and that course randomly, as if in isolation from one another, over a four-year period.  If it were to have some success in sticking, integrative learning should involve focused, deliberate and purposeful learning activities, a pedagogy that spins, separates, reconstitutes, and reconnects the spokes and hub in a single experiential event.  And in a sequence of events that extend and are reiterated over a number of years.  Such is the intention of the ISEM 101 seminars, ISEM 301 seminars and the Senior Experience.  Thinking beyond the university, I ask, shouldn’t all our lives be lived continually with intentional action?

The students’ learning activities of deliberate spinning, separating, reconstituting, and reconnecting should not only involve an external but also an internal journey.  To impact students, I was convinced that integrative thinking should consider not only how we behave in relationship to others, but should also be directed within, exploring the self.  It is a self that embodies a multitude of memories, identities and dreams, some more overt, others hidden deep behind veils of ego and ignorance, injury and prejudice.  It is a self, parts of which are hard to crack open.  But it is an exploration that can reveal to what extent one’s actions are influenced, indeed governed, by one’s own inner voice.   An exploration acknowledging that if there is to be empathy for others, there should also be empathy of the self.  A deep exploration that can help reveal aspects of one’s uniqueness as well as qualities of one’s shared humanity.   At times of disappointment or even failure in one’s actions, an exploration that can provide a self-critique, confirming or confronting.  An exploration that seeks a sort of gestalt, with one’s exterior behavior synchronized with one’s interior landscape.  Integrative thinking of the soul seeks an alignment of one’s behavior with one’s self to help one take ownership of and responsibility for his or her actions, for his or her telling of their own story.  An exploration of the exterior without connecting it with the interior, can render integrative learning simply an academic exercise, something compartmentalized and separate from the student’s personal experiences and thus his or her life-long unfolding story.  Perhaps its cliché, but does not action without an inner compass render only a lost soul?  This form of intimate exploration does take deliberate and purposeful learning activities, a pedagogy in reflection and introspection, focused attentiveness to the self.  Such is sought in the ISEM seminars.  And I wonder, shouldn’t all our lives be lived with intentional reflection?

As part of my Gen Ed responsibilities, I was to assist in helping assure that the Gen Ed curriculum, as an aggregate of courses, met the University of Idaho’s Learning Outcomes.  Greatly influenced by the AAC&U’s “Essential Learning Outcomes,” the university’s were designed to provide the “best possible contemporary liberal education.”  Upon graduation, each student would be equipped, along with the skills of their specific major field of study, with these outcomes, at least that was the hope, our aspiration.   As I closely reviewed and contemplated their meanings and ways of implementation, I was struck by one particular competency essential for the success in each of the five.   That capacity was empathy.   Consider each of them, with my added empathy-contingent skill in italics.  

1. “Learn and Integrate – Through independent learning and collaborative study, attain, use, and develop knowledge in the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences, with disciplinary specialization and the ability to integrate information across disciplines.” 

2. “Think and Create – Use multiple thinking strategies to examine real-world issues, explore creative avenues of expression, solve problems, and make consequential decisions.” 

3. “Communicate – Acquire, articulate, create and convey intended meaning using verbal and non-verbal methods of communication that demonstrate respect and understanding in a complex society.”  

4. “Clarify Purpose and Perceptive – Explore one’s life purpose and meaning through transformational experiences that foster an understanding of self, relationships, and diverse global perspectives

5. “Practice Citizenship – Apply principles of ethical leadership, collaborative engagement, socially responsible behavior, respect for diversity in an interdependent world, and a service-oriented commitment to advance and sustain local and global communities.”    

Empathy, through and through these aspirational relationships.   I ask, are not these empathy-infused aspirational principles applicable beyond the university, could they not apply to all of us?

Part seven of this series will run Feb. 19.

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