Thursday, October 31, 2013

Taking Literacies Back to Experience

   Each week in our Good Stories course we engage a favorite tale of mine with the selection determined by my sense of which one promises to advance our effort to compose destinies that promote peace and justice.  An early theme develops the “water of life” as the source of vitality and renewal needed for this quest.  The search for the renewal of life takes us to the dangerous ground suggested by our primary text, Brian Boyd’s On the Origin of Stories.   His subtitle points to three troublesome critters along this journey: Evolution, Cognition, & Fiction.  The question directing our path asks: How can the stories we tell and produce advance consciousness so that our inner and outer worlds increase peace & justice?

   Persons who dare approach the edge of consciousness best go prepared.  This week’s Good Story tells of Arthur, the King, entering the deep woods at that edge and being confronted by the ugliest creature even seen.  That’s what ebbs out of the unconscious, the primeval swamp where new meaning evolves shape-shifting, grotesque yet potentially gorgeous. 

   Surprise, surprise—Guess what?  This isn’t pretty to the hegemonic powers that be.  Today I travel to Tucson for my professional development and the university questions my choice.  Having considered the options of going to the traditional annual meetings of professional organizations, I decided instead that Zen Mind, Zen Horse has more to offer toward my teaching and research.  Knowing Arthur’s tale, why should I be surprised that the workplace questions my choice?  The Good Stories have warned me over and over: expect to be challenged when you venture to the edge.

   After an initial exasperation, I realized the challenge is good because it invites pulling the elephant out of the closet for persons who can’t yet smell it.  Think of the elephant as concrete experience and the room as symbolic representation.  School rooms too often act as if representations (e.g., literacy or letter-making) exist apart from the real world.  For example, classes study dystopian literature without first and repeatedly claiming the primacy of authentic real-world constructions that are growing within the individuals and their communities.  Another example that bothers me: teachers model and students are allowed to grab Google images for their digital media productions instead of constructing their own representations. To strangle literacies from experiences is an act of violence, harshly disrespectful of each person’s right to author and voice.

I choose Zen Mind, Zen Horse because it returns literacy to authenticity through hands-on engagement with horses, coached by persons (including a neurosurgeon horseman and a doctor in psychology) who recognize that “our left hemisphere, armed with its overwhelming power of speech, remains wary of its reticent, emotive, and mute counterpart on the right [hemisphere of the brain]” and that “the horse also shows us the joy that comes from living with the bare truth of our selves” (pp. 6, 287 in Allan Hamilton’s Zen Mind, Zen Horse).
  Good Stories is part of the University’s I-Series program where tending to Big Questions are prominent.  Our course connects literacy with meaningful personal and social change.  To do this, students learn to work with stories across four levels of explanation.  Brian Boyd develops these as universal, local, personal, and particular.  We elaborate the universal level by finding resonance with archetypes in traditional tales (cf. Marie Louise von Franz, Interpretation of Fairy Tales).  As indicated in the subtitle of our course, Teaching Narratives for Peace & Justice, the construct of power takes center stage.  Across time and literature, the horse best provides the source for understanding the archetype of power, as evident in the term, horsepower. 

   My research informs the fundamental connection of literacy with meaningful pro-social personal and significant organization change (that is, peace & justice), and it comes in expanding my experience with horses and in the subsequent articulation of those experiences into courses like the Good Stories class and programs like Reins of Power that I have provided for teachers on several occasions. 

   That’s a brief on how the Zen Mind, Zen Horse program informs my work in literacy education, and it suggests the direction I think professional development needs to head.  While I don’t expect many educators will find their way to a living horse, I’m encouraged with the emphasis given to the Maker Movement and how it’s infused into prototype opportunities such as the Connected Learning MOOC featured by the National Writing Project this past summer.

Happy trails, y’all.