What is Consciousness

What is Consciousness

Some say that to discuss the consciousness of children is too mysterious, esoteric, and incomprehensible. I attribute this mistaken impression to the fact that consciousness is not easily located because it is not an object. The locus, or space, that consciousness occupies is similar to that for all the other psychological faculties in that it is only seen in its manifestations and in its relationship to time and space. Memory and thought are other examples. They do not have a form, yet no one denies that memory or thought exists and occupies a psychological space. For memory, that space is known by its function; to recall something from former learning is to use memory. Thought is not tangible, yet thought affects everything we see, believe, and do. Consciousness is primarily evidenced in changes in perception, which determines behavior, identity construction, ego development, relationship, knowledge formation, and emotional connection (Gebser 1984; Kegan 2000). Kegan argued that there is a drive in development toward complexity and the source of the drive is the nature of life itself, an intelligent energy that forms and re-forms itself … in a ceaseless, creative flow of energy in the universe. Thus, consciousness is known by its manifestations, functions, and organization of time and space (e.g., how reality is organized). Behavior, then, is the expression of the contents of consciousness. To the degree that we are self-aware is the degree to which we can make new choices in our behavior. Awareness precedes action. In Kegan’s (2000) formulation of development (2000), he contributed the idea that as we change in self-knowledge (epistemology), we learn to enter into the perspective of another, emerge out of an enmeshed state, and make new meaning in the world. Through changing our perspectives of self (subject) and the world (object), we emerge into more complex expressions. Kegan’s articulation of the lifelong process of development set the stage for the idea of movement through the structures of consciousness and emergent self-knowledge as set forth by Gebser (1984), who mapped the structures of consciousness through historical representations. Gebser’s theory of the origin and structure of consciousness (i.e., archaic, magic, mythic, mental, and integral) has rarely been applied to education and the practice of teaching. His view was that consciousness is emergent, and it is evidenced in representational expressions through time, e.g., language, religion, social expressions, art, architecture, and other modalities of human expression. That said, what does all this have to do with the consciousness of children? As educators, we are working with the consciousness of our students every day (consciously or unconsciously on our parts). Neville applied Gebser’s theory of consciousness to education and called for more effective teaching practices and better classroom environments. Neville (1999, 14-15) asks for educators to take seriously the multilevel awareness of the student by facilitating the integration of all the capacities of the child: intellectual, imaginative, emotional, physical, and relational. He said, Effective teaching will call on the capacities of the archaic structure (e.g., through behavior modification, on the one hand, and trance, on the other), of the magic structure (e.g., through ritual, incantation, and specific magic techniques such as those developed in Suggestopedia or neurolinguistic programming), of the mythical structure (e.g., through imaginal, dramatic, and narrative techniques), and of the mental structure (e.g., through logically sequenced presentation and problem solving), of the integral structure (through the celebration of difference in persons and perspectives). We can also argue that efficient myth and magic in the school setting is only possible where the child’s magic/mythic need for group identity and empathic relationship is adequately met. Neville argued that curriculum designed for the good of the world must attend to the unfolding process of the developing child and pay attention to the changes in children’s consciousness.

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