Humanities I in Action Curriculum and the Impact of Social Conscience Education

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I believe this is the oldest class picture I have going back to the earliest days of Humanities I in Action, which started in 2003. This blog entry provides information about social conscience education that I began gathering at the onset of the course, but has not been shared so directly. First, I present a summary of the current Humanities I in Action curriculum, which has truly been a work in progress over the last 15 years, but has finally come – with the addition of couple of key changes in the last two years – to a stable place.  Second, I share the 18-step “Journey of Social Conscience” model from my research about the impact of a course like Humanities I in Action. In the past I have referred many times to the triangles that summarize this impact, but now I want to publish the entire narrative form of that journey.  Despite its length, then, this entry is the most succinct summary of the Humanities I in Action curriculum and its impact on students on the blog.

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Enchanted Chanting: Experiencing Peace and Purity in the High School Classroom

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Is it possible to give my stressed out students an undeniable experience of inner peace in a group setting? This thought motivated my recent experiment to bring chanting into an elective religion course that I teach at HKIS called “Service, Society, and the Society.” The course aims to awaken my students’ body-mind-heart selves so that they can make a more deeply informed response to their key developmental task as high school students: what should I do with my life?  Could chanting be a part of a more enlightened form of decision-making for them?  Continue reading

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“Dream Dreams that are Larger than Life:” An Opening Word to the First Humanities II in Action Classes

Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 4.02.29 PM.pngDear Humanities II in Action Students,

Welcome back to a new school year! Every year brings excitement of what’s to come, but today is a very special first day for me because it is the beginning of Humanities II in Action, an idea that some of us suggested 10 years ago and then 4 years ago, but it wasn’t the right time.

But today that time has come!

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Descent from Mind to Body: A Journey into Bodily Intelligence through Tai Chi


Early morning tai chi practice at Whidbey Institute, Washington.

“The physical practice sometimes called Tai Chi…is a delightful method of allowing my body to learn to move with a natural fluidity that blesses my whole being….What delights me about this practice is the way it integrates the physical universe (Tai Chi) with the Mysterious (Wu Chi). I can feel the interplay of the two, dancing within me, as I move my body in gentle and flexible ease.

-William Martin, Day 20 of Tao Te Ching course with Spirituality and Practice


When I think how my approach to education has evolved over the years, I often recall a 5-week NEH[1] summer course studying Himalayan cultures that I took in Worcester, Massachusetts in 2004. (In retrospect I should have just gone to Bhutan instead!)  My particular interest was in creating a curriculum for a new “Who is Buddha” course I was to offer the following year at HKIS. I applied myself earnestly to the program, creating a blog summarizing the curriculum I planned to teach, assiduously highlighting readings and taking careful notes, and writing a long glossary of terms with definitions that would familiarize myself with a flood of new Sanskrit and Pali terms. My strategy to understanding Buddhism – undoubtedly for the end goal of spiritual growth – was academic mastery. Not once did I consider meditating, creating a mandala, or circumambulating a temple. Continue reading

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The Essentials of a Curriculum for Self-Understanding: The Body-Mind-Heart Framework in SSS

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 3.03.32 PM.png“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”


“Whenever your heart space, your mind space, and your body space are all present and accounted for at the same time, you can experience pure presence, a moment of deep inner connection with the pure, gratuitous Being of anything and everything. It will often be experienced as a quiet leap of joy in the heart.”

-Richard Rohr, December 9, 2018*

Education as it is currently understood, particularly in the West, ignores the human soul, or essential Self. This essential Self is not some vague entity whose existence is a matter of speculation, but our fundamental “I,” which has been covered over by social conditioning and by the superficiality of our rational mind. In North America we are in great need of a form of training that would contribute to the awakening of the essential Self. Such forms of training have existed in other eras and cultures and have been available to those with the yearning to awaken from the sleep of their limited conditioning and know the potential latent in the human being.

—Kabir Helminski, Living Presence, p. 6.


Three years ago I had something of a breakthrough in my teaching philosophy that had been in formation for a long time. I had been searching my entire career for what power in education really means, and service learning had been my pedagogy of choice for the first twenty years, but in 2012 I began focusing extensively on the inner life. Then three years ago, prompted by G.I. Gurdjieff’s emphasis on the body, mind, and heart, I re-organized my “Service, Society, and the Sacred” (SSS) elective course around these three centers of intelligence, which I summarized in a blog entry.

All the big themes that came together in that 2015 blog – body-mind-heart, the vertical dimension, and spiritual practices – are working well; I’m thrilled that after so many years of experimenting I have finally found a relatively stable curriculum. The one major addition in the intervening three years has been teaching of the Enneagram, which has become perhaps the most valuable aspect of the course for students. This entry, then, is a distillation of that earlier blog, and an attempt to further identity the essentials of this approach. Continue reading

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Visiting Hong Kong Places of Worship: Grade 9 SPEX Project


The Chi Lin Nunnery and Garden in Diamond Hill
is a quiet oasis in the middle of Kowloon.

Dear Grade 9 SPEX Students,

Spiritual Explorations is all about experiential learning, so we want to give you the opportunity to get out of the classroom and visit religious sites and meet people in Hong Kong’s religious communities. It comes as a surprise to many students that Hong Kong has so many places of worship. In fact, there are apparently 18 Buddhist temples in Causeway Bay alone! Despite its secular, business-friendly appearance, there are still many residents of Hong Kong who deeply value their religious heritage and the spiritual life.

This project asks you to visit one of these worship sites and share what you have learned. The SPEX team has put together a list of choices for you to consider. We urge you to not simply go to the most convenient or familiar site, but to take this opportunity to explore a part of Hong Kong you have never seen and to meet people who genuinely care about the vertical dimension of existence. 

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Rebuilding Spiritual Community: The Franciscan Path of Contemplative Action

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The statue of a war-weary St. Francis that stands outside of
the famous basilica that bears his name in Assisi. 

“What is the relation of [contemplation] to action? Simply this. He [or she] who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas. There is nothing more tragic in the modern world than the misuse of power and action.”

-Thomas Merton


Before heading to a retreat with my spiritual teacher Cynthia in Scotland last summer, I IMG_20170619_144236160(2)took an excellent walking tour through the old city of Edinburgh where I came to appreciate the profound changes brought to society by the Protestant Reformation. The revolution in perspectives, values, and social impact were world-altering, and I felt unusually proud of my Protestant roots in the year celebrating the 500th anniversary of (my namesake) Martin Luther’s break from the Catholic Church.

During that same tour, however, I also learned the disturbing truth that church attendance in Edinburgh has plummeted from 75% in 1900 to a paltry 3% today. This Image result for 3%was a wake up call for me, which confirmed what I sensed in my classroom: traditional institutional Christianity is in freefall among many segments of modern society. While this may not be true in significant swathes of Africa and Asia, I consider it something of a crisis for religious communities in my particular niche of the world. And yet I find few people within the Church asking what seems so starkly obvious to me: why is the Christian faith failing to attract young people? Continue reading

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