The Pedagogy of Advocacy

at this dusk #1

“At This Dusk #1” 
Water-colour pencil on paper
Peng-Ean Khoo, 2000

The pedagogy of advocacy

For my dear friend and sister, Vashima Goyal, who stuck through my churns in her commitment to love, friendship, pedagogy, advocacy of the rights of the child, and her own determination to live the pedagogy of listening, the pedagogy of truth and the pedagogy of non-judgment. Thank you for wading through the multitudes of tests of patience with me and thank you for living and showing to me the necessity of tenacity and commitment to multiple perspective dialogues, pedagogical documentation and advocacy.


The beauty of discovery is that one ultimately is processing, reflecting and savouring upon the new insights within one’s own vocabulary, language, comprehension, reconciliation, consciousness, choices, actions. The greater beauty of discovery for me is when the process of this discovery involves entering into new circumstances with a friend, and eventually, discovering other friends.


And so, once again, I am entering into the dialogue regarding friendship. Sometimes we tell ourselves, “Oh! I am here because of this and that.” Or “Oh! You need help, and so I am here.” Or “Oh! This situation is really complex and I don’t really want to take this up on my own.” Or “Oh! This requires serious mindsharing and worksharing with some really, really good folks.” And so, we begin a journey of reaching out.


Usually when we are at the edge of ourselves, whether we choose to admit this to ourselves or whether we are even cognisant of this.


Reaching out is so natural to us when we were children. In fact, there would not have been a choice, as infants. So, what is it that makes reaching out so difficult as adults?


As infants and toddlers, we hardly have spoken languages that are understood by adults. And for some children, for a longer time of childhood. And for some others, their entire lives. So how did we reach out? How did we call out? How did we speak? How did we communicate our needs? And how did we tend to the needs of others? How did we understand relationship? And how did we eventually decide who is a friend and who is a foe?


In the entire mix of being in a playground of children and adults, what is going on?


What is it that we are seeking? And what is it that we as a culture are seeing and are missing? In particular, regarding relationships, and children and adults, and those who are vulnerable to being excluded and not having a fair participation, in our culture.


If we go around telling ourselves the reasons for being inclusive and justifying statistics, then we might as well extend that same reasoning for eating, drinking, toileting, or laughing. This is where it is really hitting home for me: I got lulled and trapped into reasoning regarding inclusion.


It’s a real pit that isn’t even there at all, yet I fall headlong into it, because I had favoured reasoning and arguments above all my other human innatenesses.


And that’s a really interesting observation regarding contemporary culture that is getting clearer and clearer. We speak of problem-solving before we speak of friendship.


We have stopped celebrating the coming togetherness simply for the sake of it, but instead, even when we get together, we have to have a reason for it. The elusive and illusory why. Even when I enjoy something, I am asked, “Why?” When something is enjoyable, why does one ask why?


Why has become confused with purpose. Why as a scientific inquiry is just one of the abilities of human faculties. It really isn’t the only experience and definitely not the only defining moment of being human.


So when V and I spoke about advocacy, I have initially rejected it. Advocacy for me was really about being in the pits that weren’t there in the first place. It is about falling into the lure of a mudfight and never winning, because in a fight, everyone loses.


I don’t like adversarial and rough play.


We then dialogued and exchanged our views significantly regarding oppression. We wore several lenses of pedagogical examinations. Mostly, I take them off when it gets too unusual. But I learnt the importance of this flipping of worldviews. It began for me really the very difficult task of alterity – which is the play of togetherness.


What is difficult for me is – reason. Reason had been my dominating lens.


So I take off that lens, and put on another: emptiness.


Guess what I discovered?




That was a surprise to me. For the longest time, everytime V had explained pedagogy to me, I keep responding, “That’s art to me.”


So this morning at some terrible hour that I am up when I am supposed to be asleep, I am getting this meeting of the pedagogista and the atelierista.




I was drawn to re-read my reflections in “Because of Autumn Lanterns” (and why I make art).


To give voice.


To give voice.


And songs start to flow in my head.


The freedom of expression. The multiplicity of the rich languages of a full and whole human faculty and aliveness.


As opposed to the dominant reasoning and composed and coherent articulation, which sometimes isn’t able to say anything at all, except some theory that has to be highly abstracted. It is good thinking, but it isn’t the whole song, the full story; it is academics.


And it isn’t creativity.


Creativity for me is coming home to being fully present. I don’t really know what an artist does anymore except to celebrate the immense possibilities of life, sometimes alone, sometimes with others. Mostly, it is introverted for some decision-making, and extroverted for continuous discoveries and validation.


If that is art, then an artist is simply living at an engagement of freedom, that is vibrant and alive, because non-judgment isn’t even coming up as a matter of dialogue anymore. The whole entire mind and being is available to engage, to participate, to be a part of life, community, situations, circumstances.


This whole access to life, for me, is the true liberation of the artist, who is the self.


Sometimes we mistake this for common sense, but actually, it isn’t. It is a case of a walking storehouse of barefoot and academic knowledge. Knowledge, being learnt, conjectured, lived, living experiences. And the pure energy of life, of curiosity, of just checking out things. Of the existential relational.


Perhaps it isn’t the future that we live for, or the past that we are reminiscent about. It is about this dropping of the lenses of dominance or even needing any lens at all times. While it is important to have an inquiring mind, it is actually a whole mind that is already present that truly prepares and fulfils one’s calm and joyful readiness for full and whole participation.


And the language of wholeness and the vocabulary of that wholeness can risk sounding like a cacophony of gibberish, if we keep insisting on the linearity of lenses, dialogues that are monoculturally sequenced, and the insistence of comprehension in the midst of the discovery.


I don’t know if pedagogy is this, but my search for pedagogy has led me to arrive here. At the meeting of emptiness or of full embrace of wholeness. And my advocacy is simply, allowing the voices of life to be, to speak, to be silent, to listen. To participate or not. To make choices. Or not. To be happy or not.


And I guess that leaves me entering into spaces, which have now been converted by my inner mind as playgrounds. Spaces of discoveries. And interestingly, the subject matter (for example the search of pedagogy) isn’t the matter at hand anymore, but the friendship or the potential friendship. The coming together of those who otherwise would not have been together. And the simple curiosity, participation and enjoyment of this somewhat serendipitous yet choiceful natural dance of life.


What is my advocacy again? Because I had actually been convinced of this through my dialogues and discoveries with V, I would like to state my advocacy. My stand is the advocacy of full inclusion, but wholly. Not segmentally, not clinically, not adversarially. And definitely not in power play politics. “I don’t like rough play” is my firm stand for participation for myself. Especially when it is subtle and manipulative. My playground is about the true playground of friendships and joyful camaraderie.


When encountering adversities, I would really prefer to problem-solve and create possibilities rather than attribute blame or go into despair.


My advocacy is more about the full and whole embrace of life.

The joy of the discovery of being alive and finding the voice and the daring to speak one’s own gives me tremendous satisfaction regarding the journey of life as a human person in community and in historicity. I am not sure about mind or not anymore. I have shed my identity as an artist and also my media of expression, I realise, just this morning. Because when the pedagogista truly meets the atelierista, interestingly, it no longer makes any more sense to say, “This is this and that is that”.


And what is full inclusion for me?




Freedom to speak and the freedom to be one’s own, without the paraphernalia.


Because this is the true highest dignity of a human person fully authentically alive living a whole human life.


Peng-Ean Khoo

Thursday, February 22, 2018




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