Bird Droppings July 31, 2013
Finding Soul in looking at Curriculum
Or Can I get a nickels worth of cheese
There is something about the first light on a summer’s morning. It could be about trying to discern how many different birds are singing and calling back and forth as they are waking up. It could be pondering whether the frogs and crickets are harmonizing or more into jazz. Near by a wisp of smoke is floating along the old fence line trying to rise up and is dissipating into the trees. It has been a many years since I studied psychology at Mercer University in Macon Georgia and a quite a few since my seminary studies at Emory University. Sitting here before sunrise as I continue to wander through my educational career I find new authors and new favorites and often I recall a few from days long gone that have significance right now. I have been a fan of Carl Gustav Jung for many years and in my assundery readings the past few years have come upon James Hillman, Thomas Moore, Kent Newburn and James Kavanaugh.
I am reading right now an article by Mary Aswell Doll for a paper I am writing. Doll is known for her work in curriculum and the teaching of literature at the Savannah College of Arts. As I read her paper which is actually an introduction to her book “Like Letters in Running Water; A Mythopoetics of curriculum.” it is entitled “Fiction as food”. She referenced several times Jung, Moore and Hillman. In my own search for further reading and understanding of who I am and why the concept of soul in education came up. Mary Aswell Doll uses the word soul as a medium for learning and growing almost as an art form.
“In another attempt upon the idea of soul I suggest that the word refers to that unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences, is communicated in love, and has a religious concern. These four qualifications I had already put forth some years ago. I had begun to use the term freely, usually interchangeably with psyche (from Greek) and anima (from Latin). Now I am adding three necessary modifications. First, soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences; second, the significance of soul makes possible, whether in love or in religious concern, derives from its special relation with death. And third, by soul I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, and fantasy — that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical.” Thomas Moore, writing about his mentor, James Hillman
Over the past few months I have seen the word soul used quite frequently and yet, is it ever defined clearly? Over the years I have worked with adults and children who I sense (a very scientific term and definitely not research based) a void or you could say a vacancy that I have referred at times as a lack of soul. It is not looking at this in a religious sense, and as Moore infers other possibilities as well could be drawn. In this sense of vacancy perhaps learning issues as well could occur. Doll in her writing emphasizes making a connection with content and existence, bringing the two together.
“First, soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences” Thomas Moore
Thomas Moore defines soul as that piece that becomes a piece of your reality not just a fact memorized and categorized. As I read through Doll’s article other issues came to mind. I find in today’s educational settings we as a society and attempt cramming as much curriculum into a very specific given space as possible regardless of whether it will make sense later and in that we seem to lose something. Just get the test over with and I am out of here, I have heard that line from teachers and students many times. I have raised the question of filling a liter bottle with two gallons of information as an analogy. As always though where does that lead us. I think Thomas Moore sees us stripping away any soul we may have or not taking time to nurture the soul that could possibly be there.
“But the culture is going into a psychological depression. We are concerned about our place in the world, about being competitive: Will my children have as much as I have? Will I ever own my own home? How can I pay for a new car? Are immigrants taking away my white world? All of this anxiety and depression casts doubt on whether I can make it as a heroic John Wayne-style individual.” James Hillman
Could it be we are killing off or siphoning off soul in kids and in adults? I was watching Law and Order just before I went to sleep last night. It was an old show about a father who was so enraged with a hockey coach after a game from not playing his son enough, the scouts from colleges his son wanted to attend were there, that he beat him and killed him. His defense was parental rage, losing control and the attorney for the state came back with how can we excuse this man. His rights stopped when he put his fists up to the coach. We cannot accept road rage, parent rage any kind of rage. Then I read Hillman’s statement. What is our self-view? What leads to psychological depression, is it because we are all supposed to be John Wayne.
Borrowing from a thought I read a day or so ago from Steven Pinker that behaviors are not manifestations of our environment but of our genetic makeup and environment triggers behavior.
“Instead of seeing depression as a dysfunction, it is a functioning phenomenon. It stops you cold, sets you down, and makes you damn miserable. So you know it functions,” James Hillman
Is it in this rat race society where being John Wayne, never stopping, emailing till all hours of the night, working 24/7, getting no sleep and pouring down energy drinks (I tend to like the five hour energy shots) is how we live and feel justified? I remember seeing my first bottle of Coke BLAK, a short lived coffee flavored Coca-Cola a few years back as the Coke man was loading coolers at a nearby convenience store. It reminded me I was one who stopped drinking Coca-Cola when new coke came out.
Hillman sees our increase in depression as a response to our competitive society. That we are leaving behind something perhaps it is our soul. Hillman authored a best seller, “Soul Code” and Moore authored the best seller “Care of the soul”. These two men are not just flyby nights. James Hillman studied under Carl Jung in the 1950’s and Moore a former Monk studying for the priesthood has a doctorate in psychology and music studied under Moore. Interesting he is a pianist as well as therapist. Both men are concerned about this thing we call soul. In Doll’s article she emphasizes children learning literature in a manner that stirs the soul. By going back to Moore’s first definition, “First, soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences” John Dewey sought to pull experience into learning making it a crucial aspect of his philosophy. I have many times related to context and content being equal partners in learning.
“According to the German poet Novalis, “The seat of the soul is there, where the inner world and the outer world touch. Where they permeate each other, the seat is in every point of the permeation.” Thomas Moore
Over the years I have read several of Moore books. One thought he refers to often is that primitives die from water born disease and in modern society the major cause of death is stress related illness. That thought has made me think about how we teach as well. Are we taking the soul out, leaving only the content much like a tape recorder, children simply give back facts? In Doll’s article she describes several things to help teach fiction. One is deliteralization and getting back to imagination. Another is letting imaginations run wild. Doll uses the word fluidity and one statement that is significant for me is;
“…fiction is food, fiction feeds the souls hunger.” Mary Aswell Doll
“Second is a teaching method for fiction probably not favored in surveys courses: slowness” Mary Aswell Doll
I have been wandering, thinking, and throwing out far too many ideas today. It could be that I have been reading too much over my summer vacation days even while I have been teaching classes and attending classes a large portion of the summer. However a slight change of thought but very much in line, borrowing from James Kavanaugh, several lines from his poem Men too gentle to live among wolves.
“There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men to gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.
There are men to gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant’s profit and gain.
There are men to gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.”
I wonder if we could slow down or change gears or maybe find that which is missing from so many. I get excited when I read Moore and Kavanaugh hoping maybe as a society we will find answers. But then I turn on the TV, or pull news on Yahoo and for example this a few mornings back a news story about a high up official in Homeland Security who was arrested for soliciting sex with a underage girl over the internet. He had been reported using secured cell phones and computers for his obsession. A crazy what if going back a few years; The Katrina mistakes were because a memo slipped up during a computer session. I was thinking back to when every day it seemed another mega conservative powerful person was found being naughty. Now in a more liberal political setting and still scandals pop up I was thinking back to the Governor getting in trouble for trying to sell the Senate seat from Illinois.
Like the parent rage on Law and Order I am sure someone will say this man has an illness. I would say it too borrowing from Pinker’s thoughts it was in his DNA. Maybe he just needed something to bring it out and fortunately this time it was an undercover officer posing as a fourteen year old girl on line. But what if terrorists figured him out and got into his secured files, what if it was black mail? I spent the better part of several hours discussing politics and ethics in schools yesterday with peers. I came to the conclusion a politician by definition cannot be ethical. A politician will vote the way someone wants them to vote not how they know in their heart they should. I might email Thomas Moore maybe we need a repair book for souls.
Another week ahead and so much going on through the world, I will try and be optimistic and continue to hope for peace. I was at my current favorite store Kroger yesterday getting a few provisions for the family and while standing at the Deli counter an elderly man and myself got into a conversation recalling the old days and country stores. When I first moved into Walton County back in 1978 you would still see mules occasionally plowing fields and an outhouse here and there as well. But a found memory is the hoop cheese at the corner country store. The elderly man and who am I to be calling anyone elderly so I should say two old men got talking cheese at Kroger. I get the Boars Head black wax cheddar which is very close to the old hoop cheese. Well as we discussed smoked turkey and how thin it should or should not be hoop cheese came up and I got to listen to a story that I will share.
My partner in cheese talks said do you remember that hoop cheese back in the day and of course I said we would get it just up at the corner a wedge and wrapped in wax paper for a few dollars made a good lunch. I shared my just sliced Boars Head black wax cheddar and it was just about as good he said. He offered back about fifty years ago Joe Smith was a kid then and would come up to old Mr. Jones store couple times a week and ask for a nickels worth of cheese. Old man Jones would get out of his chair and ever so carefully slice a paper thin slice of hoop cheese for that kid. I seriously do not know how he did it. You just can’t slice cheese thin it falls apart but that old man could do it. I listened to this story from someone I never met before and it hit me how each day we respond to how many people.
How often do we find ourselves in conversation seemingly about nothing important and yet this was a very important story for this man to tell me. It made his Kroger trip I would like to think as it made mine. I find new ideas new friends as I journey along lives trail. I thought that I would share with those of you who read my daily droppings and or are reading for a first time. However I still find in necessary to end please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)