Dr. Tom Meyer, Director of the Hudson Valley Writing Project and SUNY New Paltz secondary education professor, keeps a robust travel log of his journeys around the world. From Bali to New Paltz, Meyer blends his passion for writing, his love for teaching, and his reverence for travel in posts on his WordPress (tomnewpaltz.wordpress.com).
Meyer traveled to Dharamsala with his co-teacher, Tanya Baker, another member of the National Writing Project, an innovative professional development program for teachers across America.
Meyer, who serves as the director of the Hudson Valley chapter of the National Writing Project, remarked on its role:
“At the core of our program we have a Invitational Institute. The Institute is a year round program for teachers who work around the Hudson Valley,” he said. “We write, and we read recent research and think about how we can make education better. Our programs are teacher led and we work in schools.”
Besides year-round programs which seek to train teachers, the Hudson Valley Writing Project hosts summer programs for children. The group also collaborates with organizations like the Storm King Art Center and National Park Services.
The National Writing Project recently joined with the non-profit, Science for Monks, formed from the 14th Dalai Lama’s hopes of introducing western science to Buddhist monks.
“The Dalai Lama truly believes that western science and Buddhism have a little bit of a yin/yang,” Meyer said. “They both work for humanity, to better humanity and to reduce suffering.”
Meyer, through the union of the National Writing Project and Science for Monks, was asked to travel to India to teach monks.
With a group of about thirty Buddhist monks and nuns, he taught for three weeks, introducing methods in analyzing writing and in understanding perspective, decision and purpose in visual or written forms.
Dharamsala, India is where the Tibetan government-in-exile is located. Tibetan monks have been flushed from their country by Chinese occupation, and are forced to seek asylum in other places.
“One of the most moving things for me was being with monks as we looked at maps of Tibet,” he said. “And they would trace their fingers from the places where they had grown up, and then their journey of exile to get to India.”
Meyer visited one of the main libraries of Dharamsala with Geshe Lhakdor, Director of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives and translator for the 14th Dalai Lama; the library was filled with many sacred texts that were smuggled out of Tibet.
“It was moving to recognize that [the situation] seems both tragic and hopeful at the same time,” Meyer said. The language barrier also introduced a different teacher/student dynamic between Meyer and the monks. Translators assisted in easing communication.
“The goal wasn’t for me to always know what they were writing and thinking, but for them to know what they were writing and thinking,” Meyer said. “We wanted to guide them to use writing– not necessarily in English– but to use Tibetan to share ideas.”
The curriculum emphasized “writing to make sense of what you know, writing to strategize, and writing to plan.”
Meyer and Baker called on the students to analyze the decisions of authors, and taught visual thinking strategies.
“The only way to change is to build the capacity for change,” Meyer said of the integration of Western science into Buddhist consciousness.