Center for Spiritual Inquiry and Integral Education

R. Michael Fisher
A Few Reflections on Indigenizing (Spiritualizing) Curriculum
by R. Michael Fisher - Thursday, May 19, 2016, 07:23 AM

A Few Reflections on Indigenizing (Spiritualizing) Curriculum

A cascade of experiences and ideas have settled from the past few years that have challenged my own thinking about Education, and more specifically about my projects in curriculum development and pedagogy. It was a recent “visioning” exercise and  overview I took part of with my life-partner, Barbara Bickel (a CSIIE Faculty), that coalesced a ‘big’ and ‘discerning’ picture of what is really meaningful to me in my work and life. I’ll refer to this overarching narrative as my journey to Indigenize and/or Spiritualize Curriculum. And by curriculum, I mean both formal curriculum that our educational institutions (anywhere) may utilize, but also the informal curriculum of everyday learning and socialization processes that are less touched by social institutions and yet, we know there is always that ‘lurking’ hand of institutional impact wherever we are.

I’ve grown into realization that I am an ‘architect’ (designer)—with a very particular orientation that moves around a critique, at least since my late teens, that “something is terribly wrong with the world.” I don’t doubt many people have this sense, yet rarely do individuals build entire life/career/purpose based on that. It goes a lot deeper than I “want to make the world a better place; and I can do so by being a better person myself.” This is admirable for what it is, and I hear it often or see it in how many ‘good’ people live out their lives, yet, I am so critical yet of the how behind their approach to bring goodness. They typically, in my view lack a thorough and comprehensive critical language, theoretical and philosophical awareness and mindset. Their ‘goodness’ is too shallow for me and too shallow for what I see needs to happen if this world is to become healthy in a sustainable way.

My own trajectory in terms of the critical and analytical study of educational philosophies, theories and curriculum, in very brief, carries across the territories of passions (in historical and autobiographical order): natural history education, ecological and environmental education, science education, experiential and holistic education, critical pedagogy, futures education, transpersonal education, art education, transformative education, integral education, fear management/education, and the latest Indigenizing Education. Some 45 years of travel-- ‘awakening’ and involving myself (and sometimes others I connect with) along a deep and prophetic journey to be effective in bringing about a movement from fear to fearlessness. The very latest project I am consulting on in Canada, involves bringing forward my knowledge, with a research team, to Indigenize Medical/Health Education and Health Sciences and Services, especially in regard to application to the treatment of Indigenous peoples (Inuit, First Nations, Metis, Aboriginals).

I call myself a curricularist these days. Most people haven’t a clue what that is but they get somewhat that it means I care about what curricula we put into from of people, especially young people, and “hope” that it will serve them (and society) well in the future. Simply, I care about what people spend their time on, learning and unlearning. It will determine the Quality of Life on this planet. Generally, my critique involves the deconstruction and unlearning side, because I feel that current dominant forms of curricula (almost everywhere) are far out of date and highly infused with a “social pathology” to be blunt. I am offering an alternative, as I always have in diverse forms for 45 years, and the latest is an Indigenizing Curriculum cura. If you haven’t followed my latest book (with Desh Subba), you’ll have missed my own transformation of a philosophy of fearlessness into a merged (E-W) philosophy of fearism. There’s a good deal of information on the Internet beginning to show the work that Desh and I are doing to create a new philosophy for the 21st century and a curriculum design that will someday soon follow from that. The philosophy of fearism is part and parcel of the overall ‘package deal’ I am offering to the world, as a cura for a dangerously ‘sick society’ that is designed on fear, not on fearlessness, and not on love. That’s a much bigger story for another time, as this blog will focus on other things.

Overall, on the philosophical level, lying behind and foundational to, this overarching journey, has been a crossing in and out of many kinds of thought and stances about my own “philosophy of education” and thus, how that philosophy affects my architectural and design practices when creating curriculum. I have recently been studying, albeit in small bits, the philosophy of history, and the history of philosophy in the Western world. A prevalent theme arose the other day from all this study, and the powerful insight emerged that: “I am not a humanist.”

I’ll take some time to unfold why I am not a “humanist” by my choice of identifying with a philosophical tradition in the Western world. I ask for some patience as I am writing this and working out my thinking as I go, as a process, so there is no fast and finished end product to consume. It’s all notoriously creating itself still, emerging, and incomplete. I could change this tomorrow and it will look at different color; however, I doubt that much of the deepest structures below the surface will change too much for the rest of my time on this planet. The underlying ‘awakening’ I had in my late teens was that humans, in the modern world are really neurotic (if not psychotic) at some level: They spoil their own nest. That’s insanity, by design. Every bone in my body told me then, and still does, “this is not a natural design” but one that has been culturally-politically modified and imposed on people and societies and is a by-product of a ‘sick way’ of thinking (or worldview). I have to figure out how to ‘fix this.’ The ecological disasters happening in the 1960s-70, and predicted to happen in the 21st century, became the major part of my first post-secondary education curriculum and careers. This created an indelible mark on my being.

I felt compassion for the “wildlife” and “environments” of this world, but it was a compassion immature, and a reaction against the horrible treatment of humanity towards Nature. I was a Nature-boy true blood. I began to “hate” Culture and people, including civilization and industrialization in particular. This affective-traumatic-scar remains with me no matter how much healing work I do; but I had a major transformation during these “Ecological Years” and became to see that I needed to share that love and compassion with humans because I was learning how they (and myself, my wife at the time, my children) were also hurt and doing hurtful things to themselves and others, including the environment. I learned that humans are dumping their “distress” (hurts, traumas) as excess fear onto the planet, that is, all other beings. It was a ‘war zone’ of a nightmarish kind. That mystical insight into seeing humans as part of Nature-Culture became critical to shifting to read educational philosophies that appealed to me like Rousseau, Steiner, Dewey, Freire, and so on, and they led me to be a “humanist educator.” I wanted the modern industrial society to shift its values from less on money/profit to taking care of people. To make that critical change, one needs well designed curricula to achieve it. Thus, I became a curricularist with this mission—not the first in history, that’s for sure.

I still have that humanist part in me, and it will never go away, yet, in the later years after 60 years old, I found myself moving into other ways of thinking about “humans” and “humanity” and, the complexity has been immense. I no longer see “human” (or “humanity”) as all that special of a category above and beyond anything else. Of course, some might recognize this shift in their own teachings received in life where they were told that what is most important is the “Divine” (in one form or another) and thus human-divine is a better combination than merely elevating “human” as the highest and greatest value. I always put “Life” or what I call “Quality” as higher than everything else—but maybe some people will merely call my valuation hierarchy “God” or “Spirit.” So, the short of this study recently, has led me to move away from a “humanist” orientation to two other preferred labels and orientations that go with them: (1) I am an integralist and, (2) I am an idealist. And, at times, I will put capital letters on those. For this blog, there is not the space to unwind all of what these mean. I’ll say a little more about the latter, because it is the newest thought and I have written the least on it. Then, the rest of the blog is devoted to explicating what I mean by my recent turn to focus on Indigenizing (Spiritualizing) Curriculum.

Hegel-Wilber-Fisher, is the latest triadic aesthetic form that I have created, like a transforming assemblage—it carries “me” (and all my work) into a set of relations with and beyond other great thinkers, the likes of Hegel or Ken Wilber. I am not overly attached to this assemblage on one-level, and yet I cherish it a lot. I am in deep dialogue in a hermeneutic circle with the thought of Hegel (19th century) and Wilber (20-1st centuries). I do not believe everything they thought and wrote is “the only truth” but it is important truth. I read critics of these thinkers as well. I interpret it all in my own frames of reference as I build a critical philosophy for my work as an architect of a ‘new society’ and educational system. Of course, I am not so naive to think there is only “one” system that works for all. Moving on... it is too complicated to go into these changes and the great philosophical “systems” of Hegel and Wilber. I learned in my recent study that Hegel is labeled as an “Idealist” (even if he himself, in his own time, may not have interpreted that label the same as his later critics and interpreters). I learned as well that Wilber, in Up From Eden (1981), my favorite book that I discovered in 1982, says that he doesn’t talk about Hegel’s work in that book on the cultural evolution of consciousness, but he says Hegel casts a shadow on every page. Now, that’s an honoring that I would not want to miss in how I understand Ken Wilber’s integral philosophy—albeit, this is the earlier-phase 2 of Wilber’s overall work. It is a foundation that still exists, and Wilber has been called a neo-Hegelian at times. I think it is appropriate. Now, the big kicker is that I am a neo-Hegelian, neo-Wilberian too... the details, are for another time. Thus, I return to why I am not a humanist anymore, I am an Idealist, and I trust you’ll give me lots of elbow room around that to be an Idealist, of a kind, of a dynamism, that the world has simply not seen before. I know I have a unique set of ‘gifts’ to bring to that rendering and what could be called an Integral-Idealist Curriculum for the 21st Century.

Lastly, let me introduce, ever so briefly, my connection to an emerging node of attraction, in this vast assemblage I am working with... that is, the Indigenizing (Spiritualizing) Curriculum. Hegel’s 19th century curriculum, for the entire world, is a Spiritualizing one, because he saw the whole of the Western modernist (Enlightenment) project going ‘bad’—turning away from its brightest roots of “freedom” to a lesser and lesser quality freedom, to the point of a disturbing pathological materialism (i.e., empiricism, materialism, utilitarianism). Again, you would have to read up on Hegel to understand this context of his vast critique. I find it impressive beyond my expectation of what I thought Hegel was about, and of course, I also realized in my study recently that the W, modern and postmodern and poststructuralist critics have so trashed Hegel and Idealism for so long, the ‘big picture’ of his role in history is vastly distorted to the negative and dismissed—marginalized, and unknown. So, it has been enlivening to study Hegel and those who are bringing his work back to life and purpose for the 21st century, of which Wilber is just one, and a major one, of that project. I now have joined in on this venture.

To repeat: Hegel’s (and Wilber’s) overall philosophy is what could be called “spiritualizing” the materialist paradigm and worldview—and thus, the World-Soul and world-at-large. You can read Wilber’s books on all that. Now, let me turn to the great influence from Four Arrows (aka Dr. Don Trent Jacobs, a CSIIE Faculty) that has come my way while studying education curriculum development in my grad school years (1998-2003). It is not like I was ignoring spiritualizing influences in education history and philosophy, because Rudolf Steiner and Paulo Freire, to name only two, were greatly influential. In 2007, I was contacted by Four Arrows, a mixed-blood Indigenous scholar, activist-educator, asking me to contribute a chapter to his new book on alternative dissertation research [1]. We continued to correspond. I began reading his many books and articles. I fell in love with his amazing work on a sacred theory of fear, like no one else’s [2]. We’ve collaborated on a few more projects bringing forth our thoughts on fear and fearlessness (and now philosophy of fearism) into curriculum—what Four Arrows has dubbed “Indigenizing” curriculum [3] --with roots in what many global postcolonial thinkers have called more generally “decolonizing” philosophies, theories, methodologies and curricula. I so respect his contribution to education, my latest intellectual biography of his life’s work is dedicated to showing how his critical pedagogy in particular, is the next evolution beyond Freirean pedagogy [4].

I adopt (and adapt), more or less, Four Arrows basic meaning for “Indigenizing,” without either of us having, or recommending, any singular absolute definition, as:

“... no single race of people can lay claim to ‘Indigenous wisdom.’ It lives deep within the heart of every living creature. Anyone who remains deeply aware of the rhythms of the natural world can remember it. Unfortunately, it seems that most of us have lost or are losing this ‘primal awareness,’ largely because of the language of conquest.” [5]

What is Indigenizing, of course has to do with some well-researched set of criteria for what can be generalized about as an authentic (pre-industrial, pre-modern) “Indigenous Worldiew” (according to Four Arrows and others), as opposed to a “Western Worldview.” Four Arrows calls this “ancestral Indigenous thinking” and “primal awareness” etc., diverse as many different Indigenous groups are around the planet and through time, the essence of his argument is that these people’s better know how to live with their local natural environments than any other group of peoples. And, so, with the current ecological and environmental crises (e.g., global warming induced by human industrial pollution) all people ought to be privileging the Indigenous wisdom available. Now, if you look at the meaning (quote) above, Four Arrows rightfully does not reduce Indigenizing as only coming from people (humans). I so appreciate that. Again, I am not a humanist, and nor is Four Arrows in a restricted Western meaning of that term and philosophy. Rather, Four Arrows says that such primal awareness is instinctive and found in “every living creature” and if pushed, he easily would say in all being (yes, rocks too).


The Indigenizing of the world has always been part and parcel of how Nature and Culture relate to each other. And they do so, as part of Indigenizing, or Spiritualizing. Hegel said all is Spirit and returns to Spirit, and I find that Idealist philosophy, basically, very coherent with Indigenous wisdom and its worldview. So, this ought to give you a quick glance at where I am coming from of late, philosophically speaking. If I was now to revise my assemblage that is carrying my work into the world, there is a shift to a quadratic relation: Four Arrows-Hegel-Wilber-Fisher. And, it ought to be clear, if you re-read Four Arrows Indigenizing curriculum agenda, it is very political! We are not talking about some fluffy peaceful ‘new age’ spirituality here at all. The “language of conquest” or what he also calls the “language of deceit” (from the Western Worldview) is not longer tenable as worthy to bring to solve the world’s problems, especially on its own. Yes, in a later blog someday I’ll talk about “Two-Eyed Seeing” methodologies (Indigenous, as one-eye, and Western as another-eye) that are emerging in the last decades and of which my own research in medical/health sciences is invoking as critical praxis. To be clear, both Four Arrows and I (and I suspect Wilber and if Hegel was alive) agree that the “language of deceit” is a “language of fear.” There, is exactly where I intend to take Indigenizing (Spiritualizing) in the next years. Join me in this dialogue and curriculum development.

End Notes:

1. Four Arrows (Jacobs, D. T.) (2008). The authentic dissertation: Alternative ways of knowing, research, and representation. NY: Routledge; see my own chapter, Fisher, R. M. (with Quaye, S. J., and Pope, B.) (2008). “Fearless leadership”: R. Michael Fisher’s Story (pp. 143-48).

2. See Jacobs, D. T. (1998). Primal awareness: A true story of survival, transformation, and awakening with the Raramuri shamans of Mexico. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, pp. 156-75.

3. Four Arrows (Jacobs, D. T.) (with England-Aytes, K., Cajete, G., Fisher, R. M., Mann, B. A., McGaa, E., and Sorensen, M.) (2013). Teaching truly: A curriculum to Indigenize mainstream education. NY: Peter Lang.

4. Fisher, R. M. (in progress). Fearless engagement: The true story of an Indigenous-based social transformer (an intellectual biography of Four Arrows, aka Don Trent Jacobs). NY: Peter Lang; see also my introduction to why I think this new evolution of critical pedagogy is so important (as I critiqued a mis-guided “radical love” of Freireans), Fisher, R. M. (in press). “Radical love”: Is it radical enough? International Journal of Curriculum Pedagogy.

5. Four Arrows (2009). Introduction. In Four Arrows (Ed.), Unlearning the language of conquest: Scholars expose anti-Indianism in America. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.