Day 17 Question: Why don’t we teach and learn like the Chinese serve tea?
I want to continue the liquid beverage theme today. At the risk of making yet another oversimplification, I’m going to attempt to draw a link between the ceremony, the reverence, the community of the Chinese tea ceremony (ceremonies more accurately) with how we can re-conceptualize teaching and learning. I’ll start with a brief list of key ideas that I think (right now) are central to the re-conception I’m talking about. I’ll then tell a quick story of my experience having “Chinese tea,” and I’ll finish up with an elaboration (really questions). Here I go, briefly, on day 17: Why don’t we teach and learn like the Chinese serve tea?
The central ideas that come to mind are: ceremony, respect, reverence, community, mindfulness, space, participation, art, and culture. I won’t unpack all in this space, but I challenge the reader to and post a comment or nine.
I had the honor to be invited to a “Chinese tea” three years ago while in Singapore. I sat on a pillow across from my host. It was quiet, the lights were dim and I was shoeless. We were presented with a tea that consisted of a teapot and three tea cups for each person. As the tea steeped we conversed in quiet voices. I felt like the quietness was the loudest voice, so any words I uttered I chose wisely and spoke concisely so as not to disrespect the quietness. It was emotionally and intellectually intense and we were just sitting there (from a white boy Western perspective)….but I felt it; something bigger and more important.
When the tea was poured, the quietness told me to be mindful of every motion, smell, color, the temperature and sounds. The first cup was for smelling the tea – to orient the nose as a part of the whole sensory experience. The second cup was to prepare the palette to receive the third cup, which was to enjoy. Come to find out, there are many variations of this ceremony. My purpose today is to make a link between the Chinese tea as a ceremony and teaching and learning.
The mindfulness is central: being conscious of the need and importance of being intellectually present and aware of every detail, the symbolism, the processes, and the interconnections. The ceremony highlights a dimension of mindfulness were we engage in systematic stages of reflection and reverence. The space itself is one of simplicity, beauty, community and respect. These concepts, broadly conceived, are paramount to teaching and learning spaces.
I have often pointed out that if students choose to enter the classroom (physical or virtual, outside or inside) they are making the choice to enter a sanctuary of learning: a place where respect is central, trust is built but given freely, and responsibility reigns. This sanctuary is built on open, transparent intellectual work. It does not assume we are isolated learners, islands in and of ourselves; rather, it is a community that shares the responsibility to each member to build understanding.
How often do students get the opportunity to see deep learning as a sacred practice? Do they value community or merely compete? Do we help them discover connections and reorganize them if needed? Do we value the mindful investigation of thinking? Can we see ourselves in the larger narrative of intellectual development? Do we help them notice the many voices (audible and silent) that influence the discourse? These are but a few of the questions that come to mind as I reflect on the relationship between Chinese tea and deep teaching & learning.