|Sometimes the simple
explanation is also the best.
(Pedagogy) Philosophy and Nonsense
Thoughts about writing, education, and experience Presented by Forrest D. Poston
The first goal of teaching is to strengthen, deepen and refine our intrinsic love of learning. All other goals and all methods must stem from that idea. Any that do not support that goal must at least be questioned and adjusted, if not eliminated. Otherwise, we are not teaching but training.
|Symbols are potent when well grounded.
Four Meanings of Life
Godot and the Great Pumpkin
A Major is More Minor Than
The Poetry Process (A look at 4 versions of a poem.)
Thoughts About Picking a Major
Quick Points About Education
Quick Points About Writing
Reading Poetry and Cloud Watching
Using an Audience
What Makes a Story True?
What's the Subject of This Class? (Being revised.)
Writing and Einstein (The Difference Between Information and Meaning)
Writing and the Goldilocks Dilemma
Links to Other Sites
Forrest D. Poston
Long ago, in a high school now far, far away, I read Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. It was among the few assigned books I remember actually reading and enjoying, not just playing "Feed the Teacher," but it also stands as the symbol of what can go wrong with symbolism in the classroom. With our books still scattered in five different rooms and storage from the last move, there's little chance of locating the book for now, so I'm working from memory on the text. Forgive minor inaccuracies.
There's a scene where the sheriff is called in to shoot a rabid dog. Instead, he suggests that Atticus (father and lawyer) do the shooting, much to the surprise of Atticus's children. They are even more astounded when the sheriff tells them that their father used to be the champion shot in the county. Atticus takes the rifle and makes an accurate shot. My well-intentioned teacher recognized that this was an important scene, and she explained to us that this was the symbol of justice shooting down the mad dog of prejudice. That may be the approach that literary critics applaud, but it isn't what readers are after. I knew there was an absurdity afoot here, but I had no better response as a 16 year old.
After teaching for several years and talking individually with my students every week, I began to understand one of the most basic patterns. Student after student had a trace or surplus of anger toward one or both parents just because the parents proved to be fallible. Even if we don't get along with our parents, they begin as our image of perfection, the big people who can do the things we can't, such as walk, talk, and get a glass of water without help. We become consciously aware of their humanity all too easily, but that subconscious image can play powerful mind-games with us when we don't get it out into the light. Some of the most common jokes about psychoanalysis revolve around this pattern, telling us that the pattern is both overplayed and still quite real.
The shooting scene is crucial because it's one of the first times the children have been forced to consciously deal with their father as human, a person with a past similar to theirs, a person who wasn't always this large, bespectacled lawyer. It symbolizes that realization for all of us, a specific picture of the larger pattern, metaphor of the literal. It's symbolism that remains grounded in experience. Calling the scene justice shooting prejudice dehumanizes the characters, takes them from personal experience to near-platonic ideals in one leap. That's not fair to authors who spend so much effort creating "real" characters, and it isn't fair to readers trying to understand (even if not consciously) their own experience and it relationship to larger patterns of experience. The best, most powerful symbols will most often humanize an idea, not "idealize" a human. More accurately, strong symbols will first ground themselves in human experience before connecting that experience to larger patterns and ideals.
We enjoy reading when we feel some connection to the story, even when the setting or characters are exotic, and we want to build stronger, deeper, and more numerous connections as we read, moving back and forth between text, experience, and our social context. Keeping the symbolism grounded helps us use those connections to understand ourselves and constantly re-create ourselves while trying to find a sense of how the world works or how we want it to work.
On the other hand, no one should ruin the
joy of reading by trying to analyze the text and
consciously make all these connections the first time
through. First you should read and enjoy. Drink the
story and absorb it, letting the images settle into the
subconscious peacefully. There's time later to kick the
ideas around in your mind or in conversations, and
there's no contradiction in putting fun before learning.
Teachers and students know that we read less when we
enjoy it less, and reading for the teacher means doing
it only with the conscious mind while expending
tremendous energy in resentment and resistance that
keeps the waters far too roiled to let much find its way
down to or up from the subconscious, where most of the
important thoughts are rooted. I'll be writing a lot
more about the importance of play, especially what
Donald Schuster tabbed "utilitarian play" when I
described some of these ideas. For here, I'll just say
that play isn't intrinsically bad, and work isn't
intrinsically good. Read, enjoy, play, think, talk,
write, play, read, think, play, write.............
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Other Essays and Poetry
Something Somewhat Vaguely Like a Resume
Being Like Children
The Blessing and the Blues
The Cat With a Bucket List
David and the Revelation
The Dawn, the Dark, and the Horse I Didn't Ride In On (an odd, meandering, semi-romantic story)
Ghost Dancer in the Twilight Zone
The Hair Connection and the Nature of Choices
The Mug, the Magic, and the Mistake
Trumpet Player, USDA Approved
The Poetry Process
Writing by Current or Former Students
Ms. Write Meets Her Match in Jr. Ms. Write Now
by Heide Perry
I'll Just Have Cats
by Cara Hummel
Toys to Toys
by Allyson Bowlds
Scribbles and Bits
Links to Other Sites