Hearts and Minds

Hearts and Minds

By: Afon (Mohammad) Khari

“Love is an endless mystery, for it has nothing else to explain it.”
Rabindranath Tagore
Bengali Polymath

In the intricate maze of human experience, love stands as a profound force that transcends boundaries, igniting passions, and shaping our very essence. As educators, we navigate the complex landscape of minds and hearts, weaving connections that extend beyond the confines of textbooks and classrooms. In our latest issue, we investigate the theme that binds us all: love. Guided by insights from neuroscience, psychology, and the lived experiences of educators, we explore the deep impact of love on the teaching and learning journey.

By Lindsay Hanford, Geoff B Hall

Let’s start with a fundamental question, the same as Raymond Carver’s short story title, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, but of course through the scientific lens of neurobiology. Harvard Medical School professors and therapists Richard Schwartz and Jacqueline Olds unravel the intricate dance of neurotransmitters and brain regions in their exploration titled “Love and the Brain” (Harvard Medical School). Drawing on the groundbreaking research of biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, the authors dissect the role of the caudate nucleus and ventral tegmental area, highlighting the rollercoaster of emotions orchestrated by chemicals like dopamine, cortisol, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin. From the intoxicating euphoria of initial encounters to the enduring flame of long-term relationships, their work offers a captivating journey through the neural pathways of love. Both apply to classroom context since first impressions and teacher-student rapport during the course play a pivotal role in the learning experience.

Additionally, Tobias Esch and George B Stefano, in their exploration titled The Neurobiology of Love, emphasize the reliance of love on trust and belief, and also on processes like memory, emotion, and learning by meticulously examining the role of key neurotransmitters mentioned above. Beyond the realms of romance, their study broadens the scope to encompass maternal, platonic, and sexual aspects of love, unraveling common neurobiological pathways. The profound implications of love on stress reduction, health promotion, and the fostering of beneficial motivation and behavior can also be traced in their work.

A funny thing happened on the way to class.

Editor’s note: We have some funny love bits spread throughout the issue. Here’s the first:

In the eighties, Tim Smith, a handsome male teacher at a women’s university was popular with his students. One day he found a letter one of his students had dropped. It was from Akemi “Smith” to Hiroko “Kenner,” not their real names, of course. These two 18-yr-olds had been doing a fantasy mail exchange where they were pretending to have married and reared families with their favorite teachers.

Passed on from Tim

Love, however, is not confined to the realms of biology and neuroscience; it extends deeply into the heart of education. In a moving conversation on the podcast “Teacher of the Ear,” Martha Fay Burtis, a faculty member from Kean University, engages in a thoughtful dialogue with Chris Friend (Hybrid Pedagogy). Their discussion transcends the traditional boundaries of academia, exploring the complexities of expressing love and care for students in the digital age. Burtis shares the challenges she faces as a woman in higher education, emphasizing the gendered expectations related to care work. The conversation delicately navigates the nuances of using terms like “love” and “care” in education, reflecting on the hesitancies and potential risks. In advocating for a community of trust and intentional expressions of care in digital spaces, Burtis invites us to redefine our understanding of love in education, challenging preconceptions and fostering transformative connections.

The intersection of neuroscience, education, and character development also takes center stage in a conversation between neuroscientist Richard Davidson and Krista Tippett on the podcast “On Being” (The On Being Project). Davidson, a groundbreaker in explaining the complexities of the brain, advocates for the transformative impact of cultivating qualities like kindness and practical love in classrooms and lives. His insights challenge the conventional separation of body, mind, spirit, emotion, behavior, and genetics. As we journey through their conversation, we confront the historical neglect of the mind and biology in education, realizing the interconnected nature of cognitive and emotional processes. Davidson’s work on the Kindness Curriculum emerges as a beacon, illuminating the integration of neuroscience and education to instill virtues in children and foster resilience.

Skye Playsted brings a touch of authenticity. In her heartfelt reflection (October 2021 Think Tank), Skye shares her journey of falling in love with teaching, inspired by a passionate educator. Educational neuroscience and psychology emerge as guiding lights, enabling Skye to navigate the challenges of a demanding school environment. As she emphasizes the transformative power of positive emotions and building relationships, we are reminded that love in education is not an extra but integral to effective teaching and student well-being.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

As we explore love in the context of mind, brain, and education, we invite language teachers to reflect on their own experiences and practices.[1] Love is not merely an abstract concept but a powerful force that shapes the way we teach, the way we learn, and the connections we forge in the intricate dance of education. In the following articles of this issue, we will continue to unravel the multifaceted layers of love, exploring its impact on language acquisition, communication, and the broader educational landscape. Together, let us embrace the transformative potential of love in education, recognizing it as a force that binds hearts and minds in the shared journey of learning and growth.

[1] And send us your thoughts. We can’t get enough on this topic and would like to continue it in future issues.

Afon (Mohammad) Khari is a master’s student in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Amsterdam. He holds a BA in English Literature, an MA in Philosophy of Art, and a CELTA. Afon has been reading and researching on the integration of neuroscience into pedagogy.

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