It is toward the end of the preface to Reimagining Education: Essays on Reviving The Soul of Learning one may read the following
Although the collection of essays, at once theoretical and practical in scope and intention, is historically tethered to a moment in time, one that witnesses a crisis in learning, our intention is not to link the essays in a reactionary way but to see the present as occasion to retrieve, renew, and revision the enchantment of learning.
The crisis in learning at this moment in 2009 is assessment and the little phrase to which assessment is tethered in “No Child Left Behind” is ‘accountability’. That said, this compilation of thoughtful essays by remarkable teachers through memory, reflection, dream, creative raison d’etre and critical thinking is soul-tended mindful of learning.
Learning is a budding forth from within a word or image that is thinking for itself. ‘Teaching’ would be one such word/image; its archetypal counterpart, ‘learning’. In reimagining education like this, teaching and learning move to the teacher as an entire body not thinking alone. ‘Teacher’ is a thoughtful communitas speaking from behind itself in a little phrase.
The idea, put forth by Edward S Casey in “Teaching Thinking” comes from Merleau-Ponty. The word, ‘learning’ as a result of ‘teaching’ is a matter of la parole parlante, a word that ‘speaks’. La parole parlante speaks but not merely as a rethinking. Rather, ‘learning’ speaks in thinking for its self. This suggests to me what it means to learn says learning does not just repeat what’s been spoken. The value of learning is worth more in la parole parlante. In his preface Professor Slattery suggests to me accountability in reimagining education might best be held accountable to this thinking when he writes, “Accountability measures are in fact witness to a failure of imagination”.
As a cultural mythologer my interest in reviewing this book is mythopoetic. That means I don’t want to tell you what you are going to read in this book before you read it. I want to share with you in my review what the event of reading this book activated deeply within me and gave me pause to rethink. I want to share something of how in the interchange between its psyche’s poieses and mythos and my own psyche’s poieses and mythos a little phrase began of its own accord to speak. I want to share with you my perception of this soul-making movement through some of its shapes.
Finding the Mythogenetic Zone
Like Evans Lansing Smith I owe a lot to Joseph Campbell regarding the direction my life has gone and the turn it has taken. Once I discover his writings I can not put them down. His words are full of love, a love that thinks from within its whole being. This is something Chris Downing’s essay addresses in “The Eros of Teaching”.
I believe I have read most everything Joseph Campbell has ever written and more than once and some right to pieces; even their replacements I have read and reread! It is as a result of reading Campbell that I begin to realize what a poetic word may be thinking and sharing with me. Campbell taught me how to find the little phrase by entering the mythogenetic zone of a work. He writes
For we move—each—in two worlds: the inward of our own awareness, and an outward of participation in the history of our time and place…the mythogenetic zone today is the individual in contact with his own interior life, communicating through his art with those “out there”. (1)
I see that image, something Campbell calls the poetic word, expressing itself vividly on p165 in Evans Lansing Smith’s essay. Poetic language lets the image tell the story. That is what is happening here. It is a lovingly poetic page conveying a poetic heightening of in-tensity between inner and outer parallel spheres. To hear the mythopoetic phrase requires suspending belief and entering the story Lansing Smith tells through the opening, as Campbell says, “the opening of one’s own truth and depth to the depth and truth of another in such a way as to establish an authentic community of existence”.
The little phrase is a word behind the words. The little phrase is a story. The story is an image. How Elizabeth Fergus-Jean stories images in “‘Till We Have Faces’: Image as Psyche” is not to be missed!
And, if I could extend this review I would include Proust’s treatment of the little phrase and how, once reminded of that, I begin to appreciate Thomas Moore’s Sadeian perspective of teaching in “The Dance of Learning.” I might next have shared with you how this ferments for me spilling into poetic conclusions met in “Restoring Soul To Teaching” by Betty McEady.
Every one of the book’s essays ought be mentioned; all are remarkable. Each has its own way of replenishing education and rebalancing its spirit-matter in teaching and learning. However, I’ll do little more than suggest something I find the essays in this book are doing. To express their little phrase each weaves a series of parallel events along the inner and the outer in reimagining teaching. In such reimagining the weave makes both worlds visible in a fresh way. The word behind each essay’s words is a little door, a little door in. It belongs to word and image as its symbolic speech.
To weave a little phrase in accountability in reimagining education i.e. to weave the becoming of ‘teacher’ as communal body speaking itself, one assents to the conditions in which one is; one accepts the conditions of one’s own nature on the one hand, and on the other hand one moves into life’s outer fulfillment in its immediate response to other persons. Jennifer Leigh Selig’s essay “Trying To Touch What Matters: Confessions of a High School Dropout” speaks a little phrase like this.
Carl Jung called such logical psyche an accepting of the in-side advantage. He suggests it happens “by changing our point of view and looking…not from the outside, but from the inside”. (2)
James Hillman in Healing Fiction expresses the sense of this 'inside' advantage at work
Outside and inside, life and soul…we have to see the inner necessity of historical events out there, in the events themselves, where ‘inner’ no longer means private and owned by a self or a soul or an ego, where inner is not a literalized place inside a subject, but the subjectivity in events and that attitude which interiorizes those events, goes into them in search of psychological depths. (3)
Christopher Bache in “Spiritual Resonance In the Classroom” speaks to this deepening resonance at work in the work of teaching and between persons in a classroom in a way that knows the important presence of this vitality in learning. He tells a story of how this change in his point of view in teaching happens for him calling the vital appearance a creative moment.
People experience these creative moments in different ways, but this is how I often experience them—a pause, a letting go, an emptiness, and a little door opening in the back of the mind.
Christopher calls this vital reimagining a boundary or edge belonging to the domain of death and rebirth. Gerhard Adler calls this domain a synthesis of the whole man. In a BBC radio interview in 1975 Adler describes visiting Jung a few weeks before he dies when, going into his study Adler finds Jung ‘sitting completely within himself’ and who, when Jung turns to Adler, changed instantly, utterly related. Adler writes
These two things, the immense concentration on his inner world and the immediate response to the other person, were to me the synthesis of the whole man. (4)
Elsewhere, Parker Palmer describes how the teaching soul in our last century has become thin soup…
…not only because too many people went hungry. It was a century in which we watered down our own humanity—turning wisdom into information, community into consumerism, politics into manipulation, destiny into DNA—making it increasingly difficult to find nourishment for the hungers of the heart. (5)
Palmer is describing in the introduction to Rachel Kessler’s The Soul of Learning how he thinks there is a loss to in-ness in the ancient exchange between teacher and student and world. It is a domain thinned toward an accumulating of data bases and mastering of techniques, he furthers. Whereas in the accountability of Bache, Bache reveals his ‘little door in’ is akin to a creative resonance vital in reimagining education.
Such resonance is also the main point David Miller makes in “Good Teaching Doesn’t Count”. He retells how Houston Smith argues passionately in later life and writings about the importance of being accountable to matters that are precisely un-countable. The little phrase in David’s accountability essay moves between the pun and the aphorism and the metaphor of baseball.
I love the pun as much as I love baseball. I love baseball as much as I love having been a student in David’s course on mythopoetic method some years back. I keep in mind how the medium is the message in the image down inside the little phrase when I’m reading David.
The little phrase is a lyrical moment when accountability is not counting as much as the little phrase is counting within the poetizing impulse. Let me turn to the radio commentator Andrei Codrescu on his recognition of the poetic impulse the moment it underscores the pulse in the game of baseball…
The game is definitely an epic ... formed of many lyrical moments dependent on silences for their effectiveness; an unfolding story punctuated by brief emotional swellings. (6)
I feel my own little phrase like this and wonder as does Dennis Slattery, “What White Whale Breaches?” This notion he aligns to a recognition that each expression in soul-making keeps to a sustained imaginal engagement. This is the ‘touch of what matters’ that, moving back toward David Miller’s pun on the un-countable, constellates teaching and learning into an entire body not thinking alone. It is going to turn the base matter of accountability to gold. The touch of what matters here, ‘good teaching’ is the desired just right little phrase! But, it isn’t countable. Instead it is at work in the matter; it becomes in-visible precisely the way it truly ‘counts’.
The touch of what matters as a just right little phrase is like a runner touching the bases after hitting the ball when the play is underway in the game of baseball. But, the accountability in the case of our pedagogic base matter is a poetic one, an account ability. Of course, one hopes for it; it is the favor of the god, the touch of Midas. And, this jouissance in learning is how I feel toward the time I spent discovering the lyrical movement of Melville’s epic whale when learning in Professor Slattery’s class. There most definitely was not any trading of data bases like baseball cards going on.
In my rereading of “Reimagining Education” I am reminded that a soul-tending which is mindful of learning matters to the future of education and this way of seeing matters to the current crisis in education. In my rereading I have become more imaginal and more sensitized to what this is like. What likeness is the eros reimagining? What is it like? Some are suggesting reimagining 'Education' is like a process unfolding in an alchemical vessel and that this is like a newly formed yet invisible pun in a process in learning that speaks for itself.
(1) Campbell, Joseph. Masks of God Vol IV Creative Mythologies.
New York: Penguin, 1968, pp. 92-3
(2) Jung, C.G.. Word and Image. Ed. Aniela Jaffé. New Jersey: Princeton, 1979, p. 216
(3) Hillman, James. Healing Fiction. Connecticut: Spring, 1983, pp. 24-5
(5) Kessler, Rachel. The Soul of Education. Virginia: Assoc. for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2000, p. v
(6) Codrescu, Andrei. The Muse is Always Half-Dressed in New Orleans: And Other Essays. “A Kind of Love”. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1993.