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Opinion

A conscious effort

Assignment teaches students to open their minds about life and living

Gray Academy of Jewish Education teacher Barbera Buffie and members of her Grade 10 class.  She assigned her class to interview 'fearless' individuals in Winnipeg she believed the students would learn from and be inspired by.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Gray Academy of Jewish Education teacher Barbera Buffie and members of her Grade 10 class. She assigned her class to interview 'fearless' individuals in Winnipeg she believed the students would learn from and be inspired by.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/5/2015 (1457 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The concept was intriguing.

All the more so after being one of the chosen subjects for a high school assignment in consciousness-raising.

The students, not mine.

Or so I thought.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/5/2015 (1457 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The concept was intriguing.

All the more so after being one of the chosen subjects for a high school assignment in consciousness-raising.

The students, not mine.

Or so I thought.

So it was that earlier this month Stephanie Kalo, who introduced herself as a 16-year-old student from the Gray Academy of Jewish Education, sat down at the Tuxedo Starbucks with two lists of questions for me.

One was a list her teacher had shared with the other 15 students in the Grade 10 English arts class who had been assigned other people to interview; among them lieutenant-governor designate Janice Filmon, medium and First Nation's spirit walker Mary Wilson, youth activist Michael Redhead Champagne, WSO maestro Alexander Mickelthwate and former Free Press faith page columnist Karen Toole. The other list of questions Stephanie had with her was all hers.

"Is there anything you consider a taboo?" was her first journalist-centric query. "Would you share a bit about your childhood with me?" was the first one her teacher supplied. Along with others, including "upon what is your belief system built?"

Those left me all but stuck for answers and with a lot more questions of my own for the brilliant teacher who created this classroom-at-large. My first question being, what's this consciousness-raising really all about?

 

— — —

"I hand-picked 16 people for them," is how teacher Barbera Buffie began her explanation.

She did that by intuitively matching students with people whom she believed they would connect.

But there was more to Buffie's method.


Gray Academy of Jewish Education Grade 10 student Nicole Margolis with medium and aboriginal spirit walker Mary Wilson (left) and teacher Barbera Buffie.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Gray Academy of Jewish Education Grade 10 student Nicole Margolis with medium and aboriginal spirit walker Mary Wilson (left) and teacher Barbera Buffie.

"The guideline was this. I sent them out to interview people who did not originate from a place of fear."

I told her I didn't know what that meant. And she said her students didn't know what it meant either before being sent out to meet people they had never met.

"I just told them they were raising their consciousness."

I was still a little baffled, and she intuitively knew I was.

"You know," Buffie explained, "educators want kids to get a love of learning. But I really believe they have to have a love to live. And not come from a place of fear. Because you know what, you never really engage with anything if fear is your guiding force."

She said she is constantly telling her students about the importance of going out and experiencing life.

"Can you imagine the people who die; they're on their death beds, and that's why they're so fearful. They never understood why they were put on this earth."

"You know what kids want to do?" she continued. "They want to talk about the big questions in life. They really want to know why are we here? What happens after we die? What happens when we dream? There are so many questions they have. I sent them out there to find the kind of people who could talk to them about that."

And one of the most crucial lessons within the lesson of consciousness-raising was learning to listen.

So it was that on Tuesday, at her invitation, I visited the class and listened to her debrief the students on what they learned from their experience.

The class, like the students, seemed to have aura of innocence about it. A life force and a gentle energy all its own.

And what I heard was how their deeply personal interviews with their one-time mentors had impacted them both deeply and personally.

Profoundly, in many cases. Even in life-changing ways for those who had met two women of different, yet similar, spiritual presences: Toole, a United Church clergywoman and Wilson, a person known in the First Nations culture as a "spirit walker" and in ours as a medium.

Buffie recalled her student, Shaked Karabelnicoff, was almost levitating directly after interviewing Toole.


Subject Tina Keeper (left) and student Maxine Jacobsohn

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Subject Tina Keeper (left) and student Maxine Jacobsohn

She was also weeping. Shaked was so overwhelmed she couldn't articulate what she had taken away from the meeting, but clearly it had nothing to do with Toole's Christian beliefs and everything to do with her gentle, wise and caring manner.

Students Emma Boroditsky and Nicole Margolis were the only students who interviewed the same person, although individually.

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That person was Wilson. "One thing that stuck with me," Nicole told the class, "was that she said fear itself is not being able to understand. And that's one thing that definitely changed my perspective on the way I live my life now."

Emma had a similar reaction after listening to Wilson share her memory of watching an elm being cut down and how the sound of the tree "sighing" as the saw sliced into it was the saddest sound she had ever heard.

Then Emma shared how profoundly that story affected her.

"I walked into her house thinking a certain way, like looking at a tree, thinking it's a tree. It grows. It dies. It's done. That's the way life is. But when I came out, I looked at the trees and that's what connected me to her spiritual beliefs. Like, 'hearing a tree crying was the saddest sound I'd ever heard.' Ever since then, I've looked at the world differently. And I'm not scared anymore."

Death and the unanswered questions around it had been fearful.

"But when she explained it to me, how she sees it, it just sort of gave me a sense of relief. I guess she raised my consciousness. And prepared me for the rest of my life."

 

— — —

The lesson Wilson was teaching Emma and Nicole was how everything has life and everything is connected. Later in the week, I called Wilson and, after sharing what I had heard about the impact she had on the two girls, I asked her if they had an impact on her.

She answered by recalling their kind nature and what else she saw in them.

"Their openness. Their openness to learn. That was really refreshing to see."

That's what I think Buffie's consciousness-raising assignment and exercise in listening was really meant to teach her students. She was opening her students' minds to being open. And, perhaps, how we all learn from each other. No matter our different ages and stages in life.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Saturday, May 30, 2015 at 7:01 AM CDT: Replaces photos.

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