Enid Larsen

||| Response to the merits of TIES (1998-2019)

Letter dated January 5, 2020

In my multi-role relationship with TIES (administrative, faculty, artist, collegial collaborator), I was engaged with the TIES program at Endicott College from 1998 – 2019, two decades rich with administrative and academic experimentation and exploration. Experimentation and innovation are the essence of the TIES tradition, as they have steadfastly manifested their vision much in the manner that New England poet Mary Oliver describes as ‘lifting the hoof of an idea’. Phil Gang and Marsha Snow had a vision, seeded by passion, and they, idea by idea, step by step, built it into a viable, innovative, transformative pathway for adult learners who don’t find their fit or passion in traditional higher education programming.

TIES emerged during a dynamic period in Endicott College history, at a time of receptivity to non-traditional growth and when experimentation and innovation was ‘di rigor’. Despite challenges of its unique needs and programmatic structure, the TIES program brought a certain vitality to the Endicott offering of curriculum and it was satisfying for the administration and staff to support and witness TIES’ emergence and growth. TIES’ experimentation became my and Endicott’s experimentation – summer residencies, my arts-based seminars that evolved to online delivery, deconstructed semesters and administrative models. TIES was an online pioneer in education, discovering the power of digital communities through the simplicity and beauty of meaningful dialogic relationships. Each year seemed to bring yet another consideration, an experiment, upgrade or innovation.

My experience of working with the TIES program was an adventure from the start. It was both our good fortunes that our passion-driven journeys converged – the evolving TIES vision of integrative, holistic, ecological education that honors the interconnectedness between all things in this Universe, and my arts-based autoethnographic research on Eros, passion, and transformation in adult learning. Arts-based researchers envision interconnectedness where criteria are used to identify relationships among areas of interest, rather than a tendency to disaggregate elements into typologies and hierarchies. TIES welcomed our mutual integrative commonalities. Among themes such as Cosmology, Chaos Theory, Ecology, Montessori, Education, Gaia, Autopoiesis, and Integrative Education, arts-based exploration, creativity and passion facilitated a progressive link, first to their own creative capacities, then onward to their individual research interests.

I am deeply touched by the magnitude of standing before the proverbial “blank white page”, the “blank canvas”, the “clump of clay”, and students’ latent deep stirrings waiting for expression. Master students, along with most Creatives, lament a range of challenging emotions when they encounter a new project, such as fear, confusion, self-critical and perfectionistic whispers, disorganized cognition. They are hard put to imagine ‘lifting the hoof” of their own intelligent inquiry. Here is where the arts began to do their work, albeit first through defamiliarization and exploration with collage and mixed media.

Defamiliarization, a necessity in transformational learning, is an artistic and pedagogical technique to inject a dose of generative disorientation into students’ familiar, comfortable, and, perhaps, collective frames of reference. In working with collage and mixed media (with lots of poetry sprinkled throughout), the students bypassed their cogitating minds and bright intellects, essentially moving it all aside to dip to deeper levels, into their inner worlds, where one more easily encounter imaginations. Art objects, through their symbolic power, allowed the students to ‘try on’ or discover different points of view. Imagination and experimentation are closely related, and each encourages the other.

The various steps the students enacted in collage brought meaning-making into focus: how they chose images, created a composition, connected elements, and attempted to find meaning in the resulting artwork through sharing and dialoging, with each other and with the images. Creative art processes through collage made their experiences and knowledge acquisition tangible, accessible and available for recognition. As one student stated about teaching experiences:

“I am shocked into the realization that what we seem to have really done is push Love aside – that instead of Love being our guiding principle as we move through our daily experiences, we have been trained to sever or at least discount Love from the majority of the minutes of our days. Krishnamurti (one of our most recent readings) laid the groundwork for this realization in me but for some reason, Eros brought it home.”

Through an encounter with their own creative center, the students acquired additional frameworks from which to perceive and respond, enlivened and refreshed, to their personal worlds, master study, and the world at large. Their cognition was expanded, not by traditional structural forms, but by the wisdom of their own instincts, ideas, Eros, and intelligence. As future teachers, leaders, professionals, parents, citizens of the world, does not the world need more of that?

I conclude my sojourn with an over-riding sentiment: The TIES students were, and are, fortunate to participate in TIES’ vision of education. The good TIES bring to the world and draws from the students is needed now more than ever. TIES is wonderful and the world needs their perspective, heart-work, hand-work, and educational opportunity.

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