Ashwani Kumar

Mount Saint Vincent University
Associate Professor
New Delhi, India
Halifax, Canada
Understanding Curriculum as Meditative Inquiry : A Study of the Ideas of Jiddu Krishnamurti and James Macdonald
William Pinar

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Where and what is your current position?

As an Associate Professor of Education at Mount Saint Vincent University (Halifax, Canada), I teach as well as supervise and conduct research in the areas of social studies education, curriculum studies, and holistic education. My current research project is focused on Indian Classical Music and the ways in which its philosophy and practice can inform teaching, learning, and curriculum theory. I have also served various significant university committees including Committee on Research and Publication and Departmental Review Ethics Board and as the Chair of Senate Committee on Teaching and Learning.

Is your current career path as you originally intended?

Since I began my graduate studies at the University of Delhi in India, I always thought of working as a university professor. My studies first in Geography and then in Education at the University of Delhi, my PhD at UBC, and my school teaching experience in India and work as a teaching and research assistant at UBC all paved the way for me to realize my career goals. Needless to say, the whole journey has been well supported by my teachers, mentors, friends, and family.

How does this job relate to your graduate degree?

My work as a Professor of Education comprises teaching at Bachelor of Education and Masters of Education levels and conducting scholarly research. My current research program is an extension of the doctoral work I did at UBC. In my doctoral dissertation, I developed the concept of curriculum as meditative inquiry under the supervision of world-renowned educator, Professor, and Canada Research Chair William Pinar. Currently, I am employing this concept to explore several interesting areas including Indian classical music and its relationships to pedagogy. At UBC, I also had significant opportunities to work as teaching and research assistant for a number of faculty members that prepared me well for my career as an academic. The critical and complicated conversations that I engaged with at UBC not only gave me a deep understanding of my field of research, curriculum theory, and education more broadly, but also allowed me the opportunity to explore my own interest in the work of philosopher and educator Jiddu Krishnamurti who is a central part of my research and teaching. The combination of the freedom to read and explore what I was really interested in and the critical, thoughtful, and constructive dialogues with my colleagues and professors prepared me to teach at a higher education institution and establish a unique program of research.

What motivated you to pursue graduate work at UBC?

During my masters of education, I discovered a real love for thinking deeply about education. I saw a connection between the personal inquiry I had been doing through studying the works of Jiddu Krishnamurti and critical educators like Paulo Friere. Given my serious interest in learning and exploring the discipline of education, my professors in India advised me to pursue my doctoral studies aborad. UBC was the first place to offer me admission. I was offered good funding and the possibility to work with renowned educators including William Pinar and E. Wayne Ross. The prospect of studying in beautiful Vancouver was a bonus!

What did you enjoy the most about your time as a graduate student at UBC?

The relationships I formed at UBC were the most enjoyable part of my graduate experience. In addition to my peers, throughout my time at UBC I worked with many people to whom I feel indebted. Drs. Karen Meyer, Anne Phelan, Peter Seixas, Dr. E. Wayne Ross were all extremely helpful to me. Dr. William Pinar warrants special mention. He was a superb mentor and doctoral supervisor, an excellent teacher, and a great researcher. Being with him, I learned so much. The best part of his pedagogy was that he never imposed his opinions under any circumstances. I had to find my own way, an authentic voice, and he supported it, of course, while engaging in what he calls “complicated conversation.” He gave me great opportunities to work on his research projects and publish my work. Living on the most beautiful and serene UBC campus was delightful.

What are key things you did that contributed to your success?

Throughout my life I have had a willingness to engage in dialogue. I have always been interested in learning through conversation and having deep, authentic interactions with others. I feel that my willingness to engage in profound conversations and desire to learn deeply and passionately contributed to my success at UBC. When my professors and friends would ask difficult questions of my worldviews, research, and teaching, I never felt like I was under attack. This capacity to be open has allowed me to engage with my colleagues in a thoughtful and constructive manner. My passion for my research lent itself to success in graduate school. Without a deep interest in my subject, I don’t think I would have made it through my program with as much success as I did. It was my interest in J. Krishnamurti's work and my passion for understanding meditative inquiry that kept me motivated throughout the program.

What is your best piece of advice for current graduate students preparing for their future careers?

I work closely with several graduate students, and the advice I offer them is often dependant on their individual situation. Not every graduate student in education will go on to do a PhD. In fact, the majority of students I work with are primarily undertaking graduate studies to improve their own professional practice. Having said that, there are a few things I normally advise my students. First, to quote Dr. Pinar, “if you pursue research which you do not want to do or are not interested in, you are perpetuating anti-intellectualism.” I think it is tremendously important that graduate students find something that they are passionate about. PhD programs are long and difficult at the best of times and without finding something that authentically interests you, it will be even more difficult. Second, I emphasize the significance of self-understanding and inquiry to gain a deeper awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. I encourage my students to connect their works, lives, and relationships to who they are as an individual. Inner understanding, I suggest, should be the foundation on which we build our lives and careers.

Did you have any breaks in your education?

I completed my doctoral studies within four years, and immediately started working at MSVU. So, no, there were no breaks.

What challenges did you face in your graduate degree, or in launching your career?

The biggest challenge that I faced was when I decided to change the focus of my doctoral research. I decided to do something rather unconventional. I decided not to pursue research that fits in the paradigm of the social sciences, and education has, in many ways, become a victim of social sciences. What I mean by this is that there is a lot of emphasis on having closed research questions and employing restrictive methods to investigate these research questions. Unfortunately, many educators think that educational research has to be confined to the classroom teaching and “effectiveness.” I, on the contrary, ventured on to do something quite different. I wanted to do a theoretical or philosophical dissertation, and I am extremely fortunate that my committee provided strong support for my work. To a certain degree, I learned to trust myself through this process. My instinct was telling me that I needed to change, but it took me a while to pay full attention to my intuitive sense and make a decision. When I finally did, it made a huge difference in the quality of my life and research. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t change anything, because I learned several valuable lessons through the process and everything worked out in the end, but those early days of feeling disconnected from my true interest were difficult.

What do you like and what do you find challenging about your current position?

Perhaps the best part about my position at the Mount is that it allows me a tremendous amount of freedom and reasonable funding to develop my program of research. Having had the opportunity to teach courses in my areas of specialty and design courses related to the perspectives about which I am most passionate has been a dream come true.