Making the Intangible Tangible in Education
Story written by Gerard Senehi for the Spiritual Changemakers Story Mosaic
As a teenager I struggled with a few fundamental questions: Who am I? How do I deal with and understand life and my experience? On what basis do I figure out what to do with my life? As those questions started to arise in me, I felt unequipped to address them, and this created a feeling of disconnect, isolation and unhealthy confusion about my life. All I could do was follow society’s dictate for what I should do—go to college—and go from there.
At first, I was excited about college as I had a general feeling of searching and wanting to learn, which I now can see was to understand who I was. I first got excited about psychology but in a class where we were examining the behavior of rats, I realized this field was not going to give me the answers I was seeking. Since Philosophy seemed about understanding life, I became inspired to seek there. Something felt missing there too. It had nothing to do with my own human experience and was only about the ideas. And finally, my search went towards sociology, where I experienced a little more connection to my humanity, but the science of social behavior, did not touch on the more direct need I had to make sense out of my life.
The questions I had are spiritual questions—questions that are not resolved by helping students develop social-emotional skills or even by practicing mindfulness. After being a middle school teacher, a social worker, a seeker on a long journey to make sense out of life I felt pieces of a puzzle coming together and soon after marriage (an important piece to the puzzle 😊) Francesca and I worked for 4 years intimately with students, teachers and principals to create a curriculum and approach to support students with these fundamental questions about life…thus the QUESTion Project was born. We train teachers in public high schools to teach a semester long daily class, where students engage with some of the most important questions about life. Unlike my university courses which left my humanity out of the exploration, the QUESTion Class and teacher training are designed to engage our humanity along with the intellectual rigor of tackling questions that don’t have fixed or final answers.
The QUESTion Class provides a space not only for students to engage and connect with their own humanity, but also with each other’s. It is a rare space where students can hear and witness what their peers really think about life, their inner thoughts, and how they relate to their experience. I’ve come to see this as a foundation for democracy because an important way to break down the false barriers between ourselves and others, is through experiencing each other’s humanity. If this does not happen in the students’ educational journeys, then something fundamental is missing (as it was in my own education even though I had the privilege of going to some of the best schools).
Our aim is that the QUESTion project demonstrates the possibility to address this foundational piece in a very direct and substantive way. We see this as a building block to help catalyze a subject field that places students’ humanity at the center of the learning process. Building blocks of this field will include both theoretical insights about effective approaches, as well as applications that demonstrate results (we recently received a report from a study by Stanford University of our project). Our lives are dedicated to contributing all we can to this.
About Gerard, Francesca and The QUESTion Project:
Gerard Senehi and Francesca Rusciani are co-founders of Open Future Institute, the organization giving life to The QUESTion Project. Inspired by their experience with the American education system, and their own spiritual and philosophical journeys, they launched this project to enable high school students to forge who they are, question how they make meaning of the world, connect with their purpose, and activate their changemaking potential.
The QUESTion Project works with 27+ underfunded public schools in Los Angeles and New York (and expanding) and takes a holistic approach that is geared to maximize effectiveness for each student body.
They recently received a grant from The Fetzer Institute to continue and accelerate their work.
You can learn more about them and their work here.
You can explore more stories submitted by spiritual changemakers worldwide here