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Chapter 2: Analysis of US History Texts
Following from Chapter Two, let us evaluate the curriculum problem of textbook adoption and American History textbooks and in more depth.
Consider a story of a controversy about the US history textbook The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society (Nash, 2004) in the Hudson, Ohio, public school district. History textbooks are, of course, at the forefront of debates internationally as scholars challenge the way that many texts distort history, glorify national heroes while ignoring their complexity and character flaws, or disseminate narrow nationalistic propaganda: Japanese textbooks obfuscate the complicity of military leaders, soldiers, and politicians in horrendous acts during World War II such as the massacre of civilians in the Chinese city of Nanjing; Chinese textbooks glorify nationalism and suppress Internet sites in order to repress political dissent; German textbooks ignore the complexity of widespread public participation in the theft of Jewish assets and support for Nazi atrocities during the Holocaust; Pakistani madrasa schools operated by the Taliban interpret the Koran with anti-American and anti-Western distortions; Saudi Arabian Wahhabi Islamic textbooks in their portrayal of women and non-Muslims incite discrimination; Belgian textbooks sanitize the devastation wrought on the people of the Congo by King Leopold’s colonization in central Africa in the late 19th century; Korean texts denounce Japanese imperialism but gloss over collaboration by the nation’s elite with Japanese colonial authorities in the early 20th century; British textbooks elide the consequences of centuries of global colonization; Russian textbooks glorify nationalism but ignore the brutality of Stalin; French texts omit information about collaboration with the Nazi’s or injustices in Algeria; museum guidebooks overlook the plunder of art during wartime and the theft of indigenous artifacts that established the museum collection; and denominational religious catechisms ignore multiple biblical interpretations and cover up financial scandals, the moral failures of clergy, and forced proselytization by missionaries (Loewen, 1995, 2000; Zinn, 1995). Textbooks reflect public policy and political agendas, thus, they are very complex and dangerous (Anyon, 2005; Apple, 2000, 2004; Apple & Christian-Smith, 1991).
Despite outrage at blatant historical distortions in these international texts from other nations, Americans appear unwilling or unable to address the shortcomings, silences, and distortions within their own textbooks. US textbooks, for example, often tiptoe around the Vietnam War, the Civil War, Civil Rights Movement, women’s suffrage, gay rights, labor movements, and the American Revolution, preferring to anoint a few heroes and list the dates of battles and treaties, rather than examining these difficult periods in-depth so as to avoid stirring up any lingering racial, cultural, or political divisions from the past era. Earl Lee (2001) explains:
In theory, one of the main functions of public education is to help create a citizenry that understands the functions of government and is able to make informed judgments about how public policy will affect future generations. But at the same time there are powerful commercial interests who see an informed citizenry as a direct threat to corporate power. These corporations would rather have a citizenry that is easily influenced to accept whatever message is given by the corporate-controlled media. For this reason, they find many topics in textbooks to be particularly dangerous, including the Revolution and the Civil War. The possibility that the people might view government as an instrument of the public will, much less take up arms to opposed entrenched power, is a dangerous idea [they believe] that must be squelched at all levels. One of the most blatant frauds found in textbooks is the idea of a “democracy.” All students are taught...that American is a democracy. However, anyone who bothers to objectively examine our system of government can quickly see that it is a republic, not a democracy. (p. 74)
How often do we explore notions of democracy, public will, dissent, and restitution in our history textbooks? The silencing of democracy occurs in Mexico, Canada, the US, and other nations that attempts to indoctrinate, assimilate, or placate the citizenry with patriotic fervor, political subservience, passive compliance, or benign neglect of history in order to advance its political, social, religious, or economic goals.
A faculty and administrative textbook search committee in Hudson, Ohio attempted to address this hermeneutic dilemma of historical interpretation when the teachers and administrators proposed adoption of the textbook The American People for the advanced placement course in American History in their district in 1996. The school board rejected this proposed textbook, and their reasoning was applauded by the local chapter of “Excellence in Education,” a culturally conservative organization, in the following community news release:
At its June 17 meeting, the Hudson Board of Education rejected The American People, a new textbook that the school administration proposed for AP History. [The vote was two opposed to adoption, one in favor of adoption, and two abstentions. Three favorable votes are required by Ohio state law for adoption.] One board member stated that The American People presented a revisionist view of history written in the spirit of political correctness [and] is deficient in its coverage of American patriots and heroes, American technology and science, and the foundation of our republican form of government [while] overemphasizing the roles of our nation’s minority groups and portraying them as perennial victims. Another board member denounced the book as giving a revisionist and negative view of America and that the authors attempted to reinterpret history, making some historical events less important and others more important, to meet an educationally elite and politically correct social agenda. Several people spoke favorably of the text. These included parents, high school students, a high school history teacher, and a history professor from Cleveland State University. The book was defended for its multicultural coverage of our history, with a strong emphasis on minorities, women, and the environment. It was stated that the book is widely used across the country in high schools and colleges, and that it gives good coverage to material that is included on the AP text for college. We applaud the School Board for deciding not to accept this text. The American People book needed to be rejected because of its unbalanced, revisionist coverage of our history. To our knowledge, this is the first time that a Hudson Board has ever turned down a textbook proposed by the administration. (Hudson CEE Explorer, 1996, p.1)
What issues so infuriated the board members who did not support this textbook? Seven objections were listed in the news release: 1. The emphasis on social history is too heavy and the reporting of traditional public history is diminished; 2. American history is viewed as a story of victimization; 3. American history is portrayed as a class struggle—the rich versus the poor; 4. The basic foundations of American government are not covered in sufficient detail; 5. There is little in-depth coverage of American heroes and patriots; 6. Scientific and technology information is minimal; 7. The positive role of religion in our heritage is slighted.
The response of the teachers and administrators who supported adoption of this textbook included the following citations from professional reviewers:
1. Social History—The chronology of facts and events about minorities as presented is interesting and useful. Modern textbook writers have expressed great concern about past deficiencies in minority history, and The American People has made a concerted effort to overcome these deficiencies. More than any other text on the market, Nash [the lead author] demonstrates that women, minorities, and non-elite groups have a history; 2. Pedagogy—The pedagogical features of The American People are outstanding. The comparative chronologies are very throrough and give students an order about important events. The chapter-opening vignettes personalize history for students by presenting accounts of individual experiences of people involved in some phase of history. The “Recovering of Past” essays are one of the Nash text’s best features. Presentations of such topics as the movies, public opinion polls, popular music, political cartoons, and television are written in a style that relates to young people; 3. Balance—One of the greatest strengths of the Nash text is its balance. Students need equal doses of social and political history, which very few texts, outside of the Nash text, provide. It is a well written, thorough text that gives good coverage to social history as well as more traditional topics, and because it is well illustrated and includes vignettes and exercises that make history come alive, it is very enjoyable [for students]. (Hudson Portfolio, 1996, pp. 1–3)
An informative exercise would be to compare and contrast two articles about social studies standards in American education and the nature of history textbooks. In order to understand the various positions in this debate, read the culturally conservative position in Lynn V. Cheney’s (1994) “The End of History” in the Wall Street Journal and the politically progressive response by Robert Cohen (1996) in Social Education. The political debates about The American People in Hudson, Ohio are a reflection of intense national debates about hermeneutics and history textbooks. There is much at stake in these debates, and ethical responses to global events today are shaped in many ways by the way we approach historical interpretation in schools, classrooms, curricular materials, and textbooks.
A few weeks after the initial rejection, the district administrators presented additional information to the school board in a meeting covered by the national news media and The American People was adopted for use in the schools. Patti Picard, the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in Hudson, who made the presentation to the board, concluded that educators must recognize the complexity and political dimensions of the textbook adoption process and be prepared to work diligently to address the multiple concerns that are raised about history standards, curricular practices, and textbook reviews.
Chapter 4: Professors’ Theology Statements
Below you will find several statements about theology and spirituality from selected professors. As a class assignment, you may want to collect a diversity of additional statements and expand the list to include many more religions, spiritualities, and philosophical perspectives. These statements reflect an attitude of acceptance, inclusion, and understanding about religion and theology. This is the attitude that I promote in Chapters Four and Five.
The first statement is by Professor B. Stephen Carpenter, II of Penn State University.
I was not born a Muslim but made a conscious decision to become one. I first learned about Islam in middle school where I was intrigued by “The 5 Pillars of Islam.” My parents raised us to believe in God but we were not practicing Christians like many of my relatives of various denominations. One of my father’s brothers is a retired Navy chaplain. In short, my parents simply encouraged us to be good people and to search for God’s will. I began fasting during Ramadan in graduate school. Although I had not yet converted to Islam, I began fasting as a means to better understand Islam and to connect on a spiritual level with friends and my girlfriend (who later became my wife). My friends did not pressure me into fasting or converting to Islam. In fact, I did not become Muslim for another 10 years, although I fasted during Ramadan each year. Fasting taught me about humility, about the daily plight and struggles of homeless, poor, and undernourished people, and how to accept my insignificance in the larger scheme of the universe. During my fasts I learned discipline that I had never experienced before. I made my shehadah without telling my wife—a Tunisian Muslim—who had been my partner for 10 years. I contacted the imam at the local mosque and met with him to discuss my intentions. I went to Friday afternoon prayers. I began reading the Holy Quran and a couple of books about Islam. My parents were supportive when I informed them that I had converted/reverted to Islam. When I was a boy, they often told me and my brothers that we could make our own decisions about religion when we became adults. In my experience, being an American Muslim in the United States in the 21st century is to live in a constant state of multiple identities. Most people I encounter either assume that I am Christian or do not consider that I could be Muslim. Fasting during the month of Ramadan is challenging at times because American culture does not easily accommodate a month in which the consumption of food during daylight hours is non-existent. Food is often available at faculty meetings, and colleagues typically seek working lunch appointments to conduct business. And I am often privy to conversations and comments by people whose only knowledge about Islam and Muslims are misconceptions and negative stereotypes that come from the media or word of mouth. What is most striking to me about Islam and the pervasive misconceptions about it in American society is how certain cultural interpretations of the religion are viewed as required by faith, such as women not being permitted to drive, vote, or enjoy human rights and privileges afforded to women in other countries. Islam is interpreted differently in different mosques, different sects, and different countries. Some interpretations are based on literal readings of the Holy Quran, while others are more symbolic and spiritual and seek responses that are meaningful within the context of the times. What I find curious is that so many people do not realize that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all have a common origin and share common holy sites and prophets. For me, Islam provides a general guide about how to be a good person and live a meaningful, spiritual life through a direct relationship with Allah. In my experience, at its core, Islam is not an aggressive doctrine, but rather a peaceful and purposeful approach to living in the world. Islam means “peace” or “submission to the power of Allah” and it promotes and values learning for the sake of learning. I find these two aspects of Islam most appealing. (Carpenter, 2006)
This personal testimony by Professor Steve Carpenter informs and enlightens us. I suggest that curriculum development in the postmodern era must include such autobiographical testimonies of many people from all religions, spiritualities, and cultures to help us understand— not convert or condemn—the rich diversity of our community. Notice how Steve explains his spirituality without assuming that it is superior to others. He seeks to inform, but he does not attempt to evangelize. He respects his own process of growth and remains humble.
The second statement is from Professor Mark Ortwein of the University of Mississippi.
I grew up in a small rural community in northern Oklahoma. My father pastored a small non-denominational church. Initially, Christianity was a perfunctory fact of life. I was a Christian because mom and dad were Christians, and I did all the things Christians do. I went to church (even on Sunday evenings and Wednesdays), Sunday school, and bible studies. These were matters of routine. That’s not to say I didn’t value my religious heritage; I did, but it was difficult to distinguish where my parents stopped and I began. In high school, however, I began to sincerely grapple with my spiritual existence and gravitated to what I knew best, the doctrines of Christianity. There I found a narrative of suffering and redemption, of longing and fulfillment, and of love. The notion that God loved me despite my weakness and insecurities struck a deep chord. I wanted others to experience this same freedom. I tried to befriend the outcasts, the hurting, the dirty, the unloved—the tax collectors. People like me. I did my best to emulate the radical character of Jesus and found joy in doing so. But the simplicity of childhood did not last. My untested assumptions and religious convictions were deeply challenged during my undergraduate education. I encountered worldviews and philosophies that seemed to undermine my simple faith. These did not fit the tidy categories I had constructed in youth. At first, I tried to ignore the doubts creeping in. Self-preservation is a strong instinct, but my intentional self-delusion wouldn’t last for long. Like a soldier who refuses to acknowledge his injury, I had been wounded deeply and severely. With time, however, it became clear that I was bleeding to death; I would have to unwrap the bandages and examine the injury. I did. The next few years were the hardest of my life. Spirituality, you see, is woven into the fabric of my being, but materialism had frayed this gossamer thread. As years passed, I sought only to survive—to gut out my psychic/spiritual anguish. I was a husband and a father now. I had responsibilities. It was time to move on. Things took a turn, however, in graduate school. I had heard of Soren Kierkegaard and his “leap of faith,”but I had never read his work. What I discovered rekindled something in me. Kierkegaard seemed to have found a way being in the borderland—that space between the rational and the spiritual. He had given up the search for epistemic certitude and irrefutable arguments. He had known the pangs of spiritual uncertainty and the futility of theological system-building. But he had not given up on his quest for God, nor abandoned the life of the mind. In Kierkegaard, I found a man whose life and works were in constant tension and ambiguity. Even now, as a professor, I experience this same struggle between faith and philosophy. I no longer run from it. I am a Christian and a follower of Jesus. I walk an invisible tightrope, and I could fall at any moment. It’s absurd. It’s faith. (Ortwein, 2011)
The third statement is by Professor Kathleen Kesson of Long Island University.
I was a first wave Boomer Baby, born to non-religious post-WWII parents in the sunny land of dreams and freedom—California. We lived walking distance from Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and most mornings my stay-at-home mom loaded me in my buggy and pushed me to the Japanese Tea Garden in the heart of the park. I suppose this is where my early love of all things Asian was engendered. Long before the hippies hit the neighborhood, I had a decidedly eastward orientation to spirituality. On one of our regular visits to Chinatown, I purchased a small golden Buddha with my saved allowance, set up an altar in my bedroom right next to the record player where I listened to classical ballet albums, and declared my belief in reincarnation. I was eight. My mother and I were Palm Sunday, Easter and Christmas Eve church attendees. My dad never accompanied us, always saying that if he were to walk through the doors, the walls would likely fall down (a sentiment he reiterated loudly, when at 96 and in the last days of his life, the nursing home folks asked if he would like a visit from a priest). But mom took it into her head when I turned twelve that I should be confirmed, so I attended classes for a few weeks in preparation for taking the wine and the wafer. I didn’t mind, for the occasion warranted a fabulous new dress, a cap-sleeved white linen sheath sprinkled with tiny embroidered pink and blue flowers. Even more wonderful were the accessories: a pillbox hat with a veil, white cotton gloves with a pearl clasp, one-inch high heels, my first brassiere and nylon stockings. This coming-of-age as a Woman of the Episcopalian Church in Grace Cathedral was presided over by Bishop James Pike, who came to be known as a dangerous radical and something of a heretic for his unorthodox views on reincarnation and psychic phenomena (he co-wrote a book with his third wife, Diane, The Other Side: An Account of My Experience with Psychic Phenomena which narrated his successful efforts to contact the spirit of his deceased son). Bishop Pike became lost in the Judean desert when seeking to retrace the footsteps of the historical Jesus, and died there. I never became a church-goer, but I’m convinced the good Bishop infused my wafer with his own mystical leanings, not to mention the explicit anti-racism, feminism, and peacenik sentiments that got him into so much hot water with the mainstream Church. I discovered Yoga at about fifteen years of age. I suppose the fact that I was a dancer was what drew me to the practice, for like most people who discover Yoga, the physical aspect of it—hatha Yoga—was what first engaged me. A couple of years later, living on my own in Hollywood and training at the American School of Dance, I happened to be working on a movie set at Allied Artists Studios, out on Sunset Boulevard. The stars of the movie (I was a mere extra) were all passing around a thick orange book, the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, who was one of the earliest emissaries to bring India’s wisdom teachings to the US. They invited me to have lunch with them at the nearby Self-Realization Fellowship, a temple founded by Yogananda, and there I ate my first soybean patty and brown rice. It was a gestalt moment, and I was hooked. I bought the book, became a vegetarian, and began a lifelong journey of Yoga study, which to my delight, turned out to encompass considerably more than a system of exercises for health and well-being. There are those of us who are blessed or cursed (it depends on the day) with an overabundance of what Howard Gardner and others call “existential intelligence”—I have, since before the day I brought the golden Buddha home, been obsessed with those ultimate questions that have no easy answers: Why are we born? What is happiness? Where do we go when we die? What is God? What is consciousness? How should I live? And the persistent one that used to drive my mom crazy: How far is infinity? My search for answers has led me on a meandering trail through the academic thickets of religion and of philosophy. My religious interests always tended eastward—Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Zen, Yoga—but my philosophic interests have promiscuously embraced both west—Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, Deleuze, Badiou, Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, Dewey, Sartre, de Beauvoir—and east—Tagore, Krishnamurti, Aurobindo, Suzuki, Anandamurti. I find something of worth in every direction. And I am fascinated by the multitude of stories and myths and parables and practices that people have invented and preserved and discovered in their desire to achieve transcendence. That fascination has made me something of a comparative religionist. But Yoga, which I think of as an “introspective science,” is what grounds me. I appreciate its non-dogmatic stance, its embodied, non-dualistic nature, its sophisticated and evolving cosmology, and its emphasis on experience, rather than on authority or revealed truth, as a route to spiritual awareness. I feel like I have only begun to plumb the depths of what it has to offer, and that is after forty years of practice. I have little patience for dogma, rigid doctrine, strictures, intolerance or self-righteousness in any form. I do believe that people who are convinced they hold the Truth have caused much of the world’s misery. I guess that makes me a postmodernist. I can live with that. I have grown comfortable with the idea that the unanswerable questions might just remain that way. Perhaps most contemplative, non-dogmatic spiritual practices are essentially postmodern, a term that (to me, quite accurately) signifies a reality that is basically fluid, uncertain, unstable, evolving, and unpredictable. I think it’s possible that True Believers, in their quest for the Absolute and the Certain, are just trying to stave off that fundamental reality. Mornings when I sit on my zafu meditation cushion, the pink light of dawn coming across the Upper New York Bay through my wooden window slats, I sometimes catch myself seeking, striving, grasping for those answers, those Capital T Truths. How far is infinity anyway, mom? How far? When that happens, I remind myself to just sit and breathe. I recall Krishnamurti’s reminder, that “seeing without the limitation of thought which is time requires a mind that is astonishingly quiet, still.” And I breathe again. Slower now. Just sit. Breathe. Be. (Kesson, 2011)
The fourth statement is by Professor Mei Hoyt of the University of North Texas.
It is not quite right to say that I am a religious person. I hold Buddhist views and strongly agree with Buddhist philosophies. I go to temples, practice meditation and chanting, and listen to Dharma talks; I stopped eating meat before I entered the door of the temple where I found sanctuary. I am still struggling with the thinking that what I believe is religion in the common sense. Those who practice Buddhism know well that Buddha was a person, an enlightened person, but not God. Generally, Buddhists believe everyone can be enlightened, and everyone can become Buddha. I think this is the fundamental difference between Buddhism and many other religions. Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol, contends that this is not true for Freemasons. So I should not make a blanket judgment. My journey of becoming a Buddhist took many turns. Growing up in China, no one had religion. My mom sometimes would pray to her “god” (whoever listens to her) and hope for a better life. No one around me had spiritual dialogues, and religion was denounced by the authorities. I had been to Buddhist temples, for they are very accessible in China, but most of the time I went there with a selfish desire to be blessed by the Buddha and bodhisattvas. My first close examination of Buddhism was in a graduate course in the US in Eastern and Western philosophy. The course opened my eyes to the history and practices of Buddhism in both Eastern and Western countries. The class discussions deepened my understanding of Buddhism, and the notions of emptiness and mindfulness helped me to make educational connections. However, I also felt that the analytical, logical, and theoretical lens of academics only helped me so far. There was one question haunting me ever since I finished my graduate course: How are the Buddhist beliefs embodied in daily life? I found a temple near where I live in Texas. The Abbot is a wise monk who speaks fluent Chinese and English. His teaching drew me closer to Buddhism. There is no dogma, no persuasion, just daily stories to help me to make connections with self, with environment, with others, and to practice mindfulness. I discovered that Steve Jobs, who was also a Buddhist, validated this point when he discussed spirituality. Religion is about spiritual experiences, not dogmas. I think that is also what I learned from Buddhism. (Hoyt, 2011)
The fifth statement is by Professor Methal Marzouk who received her PhD in Culture and Curriculum from Texas A&M University and a B.S. in Chemistry from Baghdad University.
I don’t come from a religious family, nor have I received any religious education, though, until I arrived to the US, I lived in a predominantly Muslim society. In fact, I received my education PreK-12 at a convent school back in Baghdad, Iraq. My teachers were Catholic Iraqi nuns, one priest who taught music lessons, and other Christian and Muslim teachers who were not members of religious organizations. On a family level, we had Christian, Muslim, and Jewish family friends. We exchanged family visits on different occasions including religious celebrations; the Christmas, Hanukkah, and Eids. Those family friendships not only lasted long years but also extended into a second generation friendships. As I grew up, I realized how and why my parents had such strong ties with those families. It was all about shared and practiced principles and high morals. I practice and support all core moral values that Faiths promote. Personally, I have and always had Christian, Muslim, and Jewish friends. In the US, I developed new friendships with Buddhists, Hindus, Confusions, atheists. As I look back at my life experiences that have led to my religious beliefs, I recall three significant questions that I asked myself at different points in my life. I never waited to hear their answers from anyone other than myself. My first question was while I was still in elementary school. I had to wait for the school bus every morning for around 15 minutes in cold winter and hot summer. I shivered in winter though I was covered with heavy clothes, pants, a coat, and a French beret on my head (not ‘Muslim’ head scarf!). I was obsessed with one question that I uttered every winter morning: Why does not the summer’s warm sun come into those freezing winter mornings? And the fresh winter’s weather into the hot summer days? Everyone would then feel ‘cool’! My second question to myself was when I became pregnant with my first son: “a living life in my womb, and for the next nine-months.” When I was blessed with him, I took him into my arms and realized that “the living life is real. I asked: how?!” Another twenty years, and I had my third question. I was sitting beside my father’s bed, holding his hand, and looking at his face. He had been in a trauma for the past two weeks. He could hardly breathe that night. I left his hand for a moment to fetch something. When I came back, he was ‘not there’. He was not breathing anymore. I looked at his face then held his hand. It was heavy. And I asked myself: “Where is his soul? Where did it go? And how did it leave his body?” The Universe, Nature, Death, and Life have been the center of my inquiries in my childhood and later as an adult. Though originally I am a person of science with a degree in Chemistry, the scientific explanations were not as convincing as the religious alternative for me. Others may conclude different answers to my questions that could fit into other faiths or not. I not only agree, but I believe that people are free. I encourage them to think and I respect their choices. However, I chose to express this belief through Islam and I convey that through following the Muslim traditions. Though praying and fasting are Islamic rituals, they are my spiritual paths to God as well. (Marzoouk, 2011)
The sixth statement is by Mitzi Kaufman, English Instructor at Samsung Global Management Institute in Yongin, South Korea.
On Being Jewish. As I sit down to reflect on how my “Jewish-ness” affected me in general, and more specifically as a student and educator, I feel apprehensive. Though I am sure of my feelings at this moment in time (at the age of 34), I am not so sure of how I will feel in the future.
I am also aware that some people may wonder if I am Jewish at all. This is such a difficult thing to define. To be technical, many Jews would say that if the mother is Jewish, the child is Jewish—according to many Jews, Jewish-ness is passed through the maternal line. However, it is also possible to convert to Judaism. Furthermore, some individuals whose mother is Jewish do not practice or believe in Judaism, and some individuals whose mother is not Jewish do believe and practice! In my case, my mother and father are both Jewish, so by default and definition, I am as well. Moreover, I was educated in Judaism. I attended a synagogue affiliated with the Conservative Judaism movement fairly regularly as a child, I was sent to “Hebrew school” once or twice a week, I had a Bat-Mitzvah when I was 12, and I was involved in United Synagogue Youth (USY) throughout my childhood and adolescence. I must stress though, that I do not consider myself a “believer.” I think there is strong evidence that it was people and not a deity who wrote the Torah. I barely hang on to being an agnostic, and generally would identify more as an atheist. So how can a mostly atheist be a Jew? There is a joke that if you ask a Jew for his/her opinion, you will probably get several answers—and some of them will likely contradict each other. I was always taught as a Jew to question everything. I could walk into synagogue and say directly to the rabbi, “I don’t believe in God,” and the rabbi would say, “Well, that’s interesting, let’s discuss.” I wasn’t condemned in synagogue for not believing in the religious doctrine. In fact, I now identify myself as a Reconstructionist Jew, and I feel fully free to release the idea of an omnipotent entity and instead focus on one of the main tenants of Judaism—Tikkun Olam—or the repairing of a broken world. The main difference between Judaism and Christian-based faiths is that Jews do not believe that Jesus was the messiah/savior. In Jewish thinking, when the messiah comes, there will be peace on Earth. Jews don’t see peace on Earth, so they are waiting for the messiah to come. Well, I do not really believe in the messiah. So why have I chosen to continue self-identifying as Jewish? I guess I figure that if we can create peace on Earth, it won’t matter whether (or not) there is a messiah coming to fix it for us. I don’t know the meaning of life, or why I was born, but I figure trying to do my part to make the world a better and more peaceful place is probably not a bad way to spend my life. Furthermore, I feel that my Jewish education taught me things that my secular education failed to teach me. I learned that I was a part of a bigger whole. I learned that there is a certain cycle to life most of the time—and yet occasionally bad things unexpectedly happen, it is not because of some grand plan, it is just the way it is. I learned that nature is important. I learned that I should ask others how they wish to be treated and do my best to treat them as such. I learned to have empathy for people who are very different from me. I learned that Holocausts should never be allowed to happen to any group of people. I learned not to proselytize—that religion is something that people should choose on their own without coaxing from others. Estimating the total number of Jews in the world is tricky, but most agree it is less than 1%. Yet I have found time and time again that Jews often flock to the field of teaching. I think that they too are trying to do their part to repair the broken world. (Kaufman, 2011)
Watch for the addition of many more theology and spirituality statements at this site in the future. However, I also encourage students and classes to collect similar statements in a process of investigation and understanding the complexity of theology.
Links to the work of R. Michael Fisher
Below you will find samples of the work of Professor R. Michael Fisher referenced in chapter Four
The Fear Matrix: The Making of a Revolutionary Linked Curriculum
For brevity, I ask readers to first soft-focus on orienting across the whole chart, as an evolutionary and historical trajectory (left to right), in a messy open-ended process of spiral growth not merely a closed-linear ladder of hierarchical perfection. Second, hard-focus on the cogent part as the eschatological (theological) dimension, which is in the middle of the chart (i.e., from the left are Hedonistic, Apocalyptic and Survival Hope).
This chart maps, overly-simplistically, a complex spiral of “progressive” cultural evolutionary patterning of development and history. As one of many maps (lenses) one could use to understand the “whole” spectrum and the process of ever-unfolding growth and maturity of consciousness and culture, this perspective is an integral one from a transitionary level of integralism as a methodological standpoint (see shaded area as my curricular focus). Integral is an emergent way of perceiving, thinking, knowing and acting, which I sometimes call holistic-plus. It includes the best of holism but transcends it. It includes the best of premodern (tradition), of modern and postmodern wisdom. Integral vision attempts to be more inclusive than prior ways of knowing with the task of “healing the fractures” between the Good (moralities), the True (sciences), and the Beautiful (arts-aesthetics) (Wilber, 1997, p. 1).
Drawing on my own background as a naturalist (“nature-mystic”) and artist, an environmental educator and critical pedagogue with forays into transpersonal psychology and therapy (E-W), I have always been interested in design for living sustainable and mature systems that promote and emanate increasing levels of compassion and wisdom. In other words (as Wilber promotes), I want an inclusive vision as far as that can be stretched, and I would add prophetic vision, “for a world gone slightly mad.” My educational research, theorizing and practices focus on leadership for a post-9/11 world as a context of a “culture of fear” (Fisher, 1998, 2003, 2006). In nutshell form: my studies indicate, across time and cultures, that fear and how we manage it, for better or for worse, is the source of our madness. Educators of all stripes ought not to take this finding lightly. The prophets have always seen through this dilemma of choice for humankind: you either serve the master of fear or the master of Love (e.g., Hamilton, 1962), all other choices are a subset of that one; and all other choices fall along the spectrum I call the path of fearlessness. Korten (2005) prophetically asserted that, “How we resolve the tension between love and fear has major consequences for the course of our lives—and our politics” (p. 34). In integral work I am required to deconstruct and reconstruct these terms of “fear” and “Love” with multiple meanings based on multiple perspectives along a universal spectrum of maturity (i.e., the chart) and particular locations of particular meaning-makers. To design and live a prophetic curriculum as theological text nicely makes room for this ethical dynamic as core to eschatological understanding and imaginaries in education.
My critical prophetic and integral vision for curriculum development in a post-9/11 world is an extension of Slattery’s eschatological view of “proleptic hope” as required in a postmodern era. Operating from what I have designated (Fisher, 2010) Fear Management System-7 (FMS-7) as discourse, at integral, where “fearlessness” offers a critique of hope; and, without arrogance, presents as the more appropriate term and practice among its lineage of forms of hope over time and cultures (i.e., the chart). Integral theory articulates that each form of hope evolved as a fear management strategy for very good reasons, however, it may or may not be the best strategy for the current times. We may need in any circumstance a variety of forms and strategies. In a post-9/11 world, I argue we need a spectrum map and critical literacy of all forms in order to make better choices. The integral developmental hypothesis is that: this pattern of developing more complex forms of hope is true for humanity and its cultures as a whole and somewhat parallels an individual’s maturation of evolutionary unfolding of consciousness and personhood. Various cultures and individuals in earlier times have achieved, more or less, such complex consciousness as proleptic hope, fearlessness or even a place of fearless (FMS-9) as guides (emancipatory discourses) to new eschatological imaginaries. These forms have long been foundational envisionings and emotional/attitudinal sets for shaping a meaningful and sane life, sane culture and society. Today, we likely require these more evolved complex forms (especially FMS-7 and fearlessness) for a new living aesthetics, for new existential and spiritual choices, and new (r)evolutionary curricula, while knowing they are not the only answer, and they are not always actionable for most people and organizations where fear (“fear”) is still the ruling regime of power and choice. The famous fear-mongering discourse in America is by former president Richard Nixon: “People react to fear, not love—they don't teach that in Sunday school, but it’s true.”
The prophetic futures discourse of the ages are heard (more or less), yet they have only worked for the rare few who could integrate and embody the teachings. Realistically, how many human beings (or cultures) have actualized living not in fear but Love? My work has always had to make a painful sacrifice in being available not for all in all moments, but for those who are ready for something more than what they are offered by their cultures and society. Thus, my curricular work is designed for the future, leadership development and leaders, in the field of education and beyond. With bitter-sweetness on my tongue, it has been a long walk in the desert, with some educators of late beginning to access my work on fear and fearlessness (English and Stengel, 2010; Jacobs, 2008; Leggo, 2011; Mayes, 2010; VanderWeil, 2007; Zembylas, 2009). The beginnings of a critical pedagogy of fearlessness are underway (Fisher, in press) as a newly evolved version of critical thinking, inquiry and pedagogy.
If I have a practice of good faith, rather than self-deception guiding me, it’s a faith in fearlessness, which the Bhagavad Gita called the “virtue of all virtues.” If we don’t get fearlessness right, all the other ones get twisted into bad faith (a la Kierkegaard). Without that ontological, epistemological, axiological and eschatological frame, I don’t think much will radically change for the better in educational practices or for the better in this grand experiment of Homo sapiens and its relations.
English, A. and Stengel, B. (2010). Exploring fear: Rousseau, Dewey, and Freire on fear and learning. Educational Theory, 60(5), 521–542.
Fisher, R. M. (1998). Culture of ‘fear’: Toxification of landscape-mindscape as meta- context for education in the 21st century. Paper presented at the Comparative and International Education Society, W. Regional Conference, Vancouver, BC, The University of British Columbia.
Fisher, R. M. (2003). Fearless leadership in and out of the ‘Fear’ Matrix. Unpublished dissertation. Vancouver, BC: The University of British Columbia.
Fisher, R. M. (2006). Invoking ‘Fear’ Studies. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, 22(4), 39–71.
Fisher, R. M. (2010). The world’s fearlessness teachings: A critical integral approach to fear management/education for the 21st century. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Fisher, R. M. (in press). A critique of critical thinking: Towards a critical pedagogy of fearlessness. NUML, Journal of Critical Inquiry.
Four Arrows (D. T. Jacobs). (2008). The authentic dissertation: Alternative ways of knowing, research, and representation. New York: Routledge.
Hamilton, E. (1962). Spokesman for God. New York: W.W. Norton.
Korten, D. (2005). The Great Turning: From empire to earth community. San Francisco, CA/Bloomfield, CT: Berrett-Koehler/Kumarian Press.
Mayes, C. (2010). Foreword. In The world’s fearlessness teachings: A critical integral approach to fear management/education for the 21st century, R. M. Fisher (pp. ix–x). Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Wilber, K. (1997). The eye of spirit: An integral vision for a world gone slightly mad. Boston, MA: Shambhala.
VanderWeil, E. (2007). Accepting a ring of fire: Stories of engagement with fear in transformational adult learning. Unpublished dissertation. Spokane, WA:
Zembylas, M. (2009). Global economies of fear: Affect, politics and pedagogical implications. Critical Studies in Education, 50(2), 187–199.
Chapter 8: Ecology issues and analysis of the history of flooding in New Orleans
The following material is a summary of my analysis of flooding and ecology issues in Louisiana that I referenced in Chapter Eight.
My Analysis in 1995
In Slattery and Daigle (1991), I proposed a metaphor of the Mississippi River to expand on the distinction of the linear paradigm of modernity that perpetuates individual isolation and destruction and the circular paradigm of postmodernity that fosters ecological interdependence and rootedness. The Mississippi River is no longer part of natural biological and ecological rhythms but has been converted into a channel to be exploited for economic productivity and commerce. The Midwestern US flooding in 1993 is a warning that even the most sophisticated technology, including massive locks and levees, cannot control the river. I will expand on this metaphor while keeping the modern classroom in mind throughout the reflection.
In the poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers, Langston Hughes (1973) writes: “I’ve known rivers: I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers” (p. 634). The protagonist in Ernest Gaines’ (1972) novel The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is a former enslaved woman living in the fictional Louisiana city of Bayonne. As she approaches the age of 108, she also reflects on the significance of rivers:
Before the high water we didn’t have school here. The children went to school in the Bottom or at Ned’s school up the road. [Huey] Long came in after the high water. The damage from that high water was caused by man, because man wanted to control the rivers, and you cannot control water. The Indians used to worship the rivers till the white people came here and conquered them and tried to conquer the rivers, too. ... And that’s when the trouble really started. (pp. 147–148)
In the two selections above, Langston Hughes and Ernest Gaines create images of rivers running deep with ancient powers, worshiped and respected as a source of life for the soul. The Mississippi River serves as a metaphor for teachers and students whose movement through the places of education is often confined, restricted, and polluted by those who seek to conquer the mind and spirit. Just like Jane Pittman who lamented the loss of respect for the river by those who sought to conquer it, postmodern curriculum rejects modern educational reforms that limit meandering and self-reflection in our places of education. Jane Pittman continues in Gaines’ (1972) novel:
I don’t know when the first levee was built; but from what I heard from the old people the water destroyed the levee as soon as it was put there. Now, if the white man had taken heed to what the river was trying to say to him then, it would have saved a lot of pain later. They tell me he said, “This here water got to be confined. ... We got to get the water to running where it’s suppose to run. Suppose to run in the river, and we got to keep it there.” Like you can tell a river where to go. (pp. 148–149)
Since the floods of 1927, the river has been confined by levees and spillways. Jane Pittman warns us that these efforts are futile:
Now he’s [the white man] built his concrete spillways to control the water. But one day the water will break down his spillways just like it broke through the levee ... the water will never die. That same water the Indians used to believe in will run free again. You just wait and see. (p. 150)
And in 1993 the Mississippi River did just that!
For millions of years there has been a building up and tearing down of the land in the Mississippi delta. Geologists believe that the Mississippi once extended northward to the southern tip of Illinois. This shallow extension of the Gulf, called the Mississippi embayment, received the waters and sediment of the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Red, the Arkansas, and other tributaries. Over time the sediment filled the embayment and built the Delta. This alluvial soil created the vast wetlands along the Gulf of Mexico that are an immense resource and vital link in the ecological system of the entire Northern Hemisphere (Mancuso, 1991).
As the river meandered unabated, its natural course was not predetermined; rather, the river gradually searched for new directions to the sea. Over thousands of years the river has been free to move and meander to form new lands and destroy others. As the river moved, subsidence occurred, returning some of the land to the sea. New land was formed when spring floods poured fresh water and mud to replace what was lost to subsidence. Floods and erosion, subsidence and deposits, oxbows and deltas: these are the natural elements of the history of the Mississippi River.
Today there has been an attempt to control the process of creation and destruction. The river has been confined in a levee system constructed by a modern corps of engineers. Massive steel locks in Louisiana prevent the river from shifting west to the Atchafalaya River, the old Acadiana home to which it longs to return. Locks and canals have been built to divert the flow of the Mississippi to protect economically productive routes for commerce and industry. And in the process, the irreplaceable mud deposits are lost forever. The environment is in crisis: the marshes are disappearing and the water is polluted. The ecological system is in disarray. The mighty Mississippi no longer meanders and builds new lands, for it has been forced to conform to modern demands. The levees prevent natural flood plains from accepting the waters and rich mud deposits in times of high water. As Jane Pittman warned, the river will eventually overflow and break the levees. A respect for natural process in the environment and in the classroom becomes a mandatory element of curriculum development in the postmodern era. Students and teachers in the postmodern curriculum must be free to meander, flood, shift course, and build a new delta. Modern curriculum engineers must no longer be allowed to build dams that prevent learning and levees that attempt to artificially control thinking and reflection.
My Analysis in 1999
The moral disaster of ecological destruction is in many ways related to our inability to understand that nature is a complex open system relying on diversity, decay, and reconstruction and not a closed system that is doomed to entropy. I propose a process view of the natural environment to ameliorate the problem of wasteful destruction and enhance the possibility of ecological sustainability. Paul Davies (1990) explains this concept:
There is no claim that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is invalid, only that it is inadequate. The second law only applies to closed systems ... which are isolated from their environment. When a system is open to its environment and there can be an exchange of matter, energy, and entropy across its boundaries, then it is possible to simultaneously satisfy the insatiable desire of nature to generate more entropy and yet have an increase in complexity and organization at the same time. The universe as a whole can be considered as a closed system, but as far as any subsystem of the universe is concerned, it is open to its environment. (p. 10)
Embracing nature, and by correlation all life processes, as open systems where creative growth emerges from disequilibrium and decay is an essential first step in educational efforts to promote an ethical vision of ecology and sustainability. After observing open and closed systems and their environments, the French Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote in The Phenomenon of Man (1959), “We are now inclined to admit that at each further degree of combination something which is irreducible to isolated elements emerges in a new order. ... Something in the cosmos escapes from entropy, and does so more and more” (cited in Davies, 1990, p. 10).
Let us consider the Mississippi River as an example of our open system process cosmology, as well as a metaphor for thinking about all natural and educational processes. I grew up in New Orleans a short distance from the Mississippi River. I have fond memories of riding my bicycle to Audubon Park to sit on the levee for hours watching the cargo vessels and listening to the tugboat horns. I imagined distant lands and exotic destinations as I watched huge ships glide past me on the river. However, at other times the Mississippi became my feared enemy. When the water rose to flood stage, I would stand on top of the levee and look down in amazement at the houses behind the levee below the water level. The levees protected us, but on September 9, 1965 during Hurricane Betsy the levee broke and drowned many New Orleanians. I vividly remember that night; it was my twelfth birthday and my family was huddled in the center closet of our home as the roaring winds blew out our windows, tore off our roof, and disintegrated our garage. We even re-lit my birthday candles when the electricity went out so that we could see in the dark. Certainly, the most precious gift I received that horrible night was the survival of my family and friends.
Louisiana is a place where the environment is entwined with the lives of the people who live along the bayous, marshes, and, most prominently, the Mississippi River. For millions of years there has been a building up and tearing down of the land in Louisiana. The Choctaw people first named the Mississippi the ‘old-big-strong river’, the Missah Sippa in their native dialect. In contemporary times, the Mississippi River has been called The Great River by native people, Old Man River in American fiction, and the Father of Waters or Big Muddy to ship captains. It has also been called the Mother of Lands (Bradshaw, p. 1991).
Geologists believe that the Mississippi once extended northward to the southern tip of Illinois. For millions of years this shallow extension of the Gulf, called the Mississippi embayment, received the waters and sediment of the Missouri, the Ohio, the Red, the Arkansas, and other tributaries. Over time the sediment filled the embayment and built the Delta. This alluvial soil created the vast wetlands along the Gulf of Mexico that are an immense resource and vital link in the ecological system of the entire Northern Hemisphere (Mancuso, 1991). In our ecological vision we must constantly remember that everything is interconnected in the web of life, from the smallest quantum elements to the largest constellations in the universe. Educators must orchestrate environments where the interconnectedness of subject matter, human persons, and the natural environment is constantly and consciously foregrounded. Without such awareness, students will not take the next step of ethical action for ecological sustainability. Let us continue with our metaphor of the Mississippi River.
As the river meandered unabated for centuries, its natural course was not predetermined; rather, the river gradually searched for new directions to the sea. Over thousands of years the river has been free to move and meander to form new lands and destroy others. As the river moved, subsidence occurred, returning some of the land to the sea. New land was formed when spring floods poured fresh water and mud to replace what was lost to subsidence. Floods and erosion, subsidence and deposits, oxbows and deltas: these are the elements of the history of the natural turmoil of the Mississippi River. The film Old Man River (Mancuso, 1991) visually documents this process, and I often use this film to help my students understand our metaphor. The film also demonstrates how human intervention destroys the natural processes and threatens the entire North American ecosystem.
Attempts have been made to stop the river’s process of creation and destruction. The river has been trapped in a levee system constructed by a modern corps of engineers. Massive steel locks in Pointe Coupee and Feliciana parishes in Louisiana now prevent the river from shifting west to the Atchafalaya Basin, the old Acadiana home to which it longs to return. Locks and canals have been built to divert the flow of the Mississippi to more economically productive routes through Baton Rouge and New Orleans for commerce and industry. And in the process, the irreplaceable mud deposits drop off of the continental shelf and into the Gulf of Mexico. The natural environment in Louisiana, like the rest of the planet, is in crisis: the marshes are disappearing, species are dying, and the water is polluted. The ecological system is in disarray. Many recent reports warn that the river is unfit for animal life and dangerous to humans. The manipulation of the river over the past century (including attempts by the US military to divert the river at Vicksburg for strategic advantage during the Civil War) has brought the river to the brink of annihilation. The mighty Mississippi is no longer free to meander and build new deltas. It has been forced to conform to modern demands for productivity and commerce, rather than searching to create new places and support species of fish and wildlife.
The process orientation to education and ecology respects the interconnectedness of reality while refusing to succumb to the modern mechanistic paradigm described above. I propose instead a non-linear and open system cosmology. Process thinkers Donald Oliver and Kathleen Gershman (1989) explain:
We suggest that healthy societies are those whose symbolic roots allow them to cope economically while maintaining an intimate, even warm, sense of organic connectedness to and transcendent unity with their natural environment. ... Our critique of modernity refers essentially to its culture (and) to its meaning system. We understand that meaning (culture), the temperament, strength and diversity of a people, social structures, technology, and the natural environment are all inextricably tied together. (p. 4, emphasis in original)
Why do people feel so disconnected from the Earth and alienated from each other? I contend that the poets and artists are correct; they expose the anguish of homelessness and “placelessness” of contemporary women and men. Our challenge is to discover the capacity to envision ecological sustainability and actively work for environmental causes. But we get ahead of our metaphor.
In 1993 the world watched in horror as the Mississippi River flowed over her banks and the human-made levees in the Midwestern US, absorbing farmland and dislocating thousands of people from their land and their homes. The river, which drew these people to her banks and had accommodated their lives on many diverse levels, reclaimed her right to meander. The once negotiated and adaptive relationship, established through years of toil between these people and the river, was irrevocably altered. The floods indelibly marked this trauma upon the people and the land along the banks of the Mississippi. This five hundred year flood, while certainly a part of one’s understanding of the cycle of the river and a motivation for constructing levees in order to stave off the ultimate confrontation with the forces of nature, can be rationally explained but nonetheless still emotionally devastating.
I contend that we place too much confidence in the modern structures which we build in an effort to control these forces. Our structures create a sense of false security. After all, we have apparently been successful in our efforts to manipulate nature and impose upon her for our convenience in the past. What occurred in 1993 was a radical collapse, not only of the physical constructs—the levees—but also of our psychological constructs—our confidence that nature’s power could be controlled by our levees. Ironically, it became clear that the vast damage and dislocation caused by the river’s flow was exacerbated by the presence of the levees themselves which prevented the rising waters from filling the natural flood plains. In the wake of the 1993 disaster some engineers began to recognize that the practice of constructing levees to block flood plains must be reevaluated. In some cases levees were removed to provide land for meandering and spring overflow. In my metaphor, closed systems and levees cause parallel damage in schools and social institutions and must be reevaluated—and in some cases removed. Some levees and control structures actually make matters worse. We need to figure out which levees to strengthen and which ones to remove.
My Analysis in 2003
In order to explain my ecological vision to students in the school curriculum, I incorporate several films and works of literature into the syllabi. The novels include The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines and The Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percy, and the films are titled Old Man River (already introduced) and Green and The Unforseen (the first, an account of environmental racism along the stretch of the Mississippi below Baton Rouge known as “Cancer Alley” and the second, a study of the Edwards Aquifer in Austin—both films are produced by Laura Dunn in Austin). These novels and films are all related in some way to flooding and environmental disasters. Two films are set in Louisiana and relate in some way to the Mississippi River. I present below a synopsis of one of the novels and the connection between the novels and films to the metaphor of the river and ecological sustainability.
In the opening scene of Walker Percy’s The Thanatos Syndrome, Tom More—the protagonist and a psychiatrist—begins to arrive at the conclusion “that something strange is occurring in my region [of Louisiana]” (Percy, 1987, p. 3). He notes that the strangeness “began with little things, certain small clinical changes which I observed” (1987, p. 3). Tom goes on to say that these “little” things are important, and that “Even more important is the ability—call it knack, hunch, providence, good luck, whatever—to know what you are looking for and to put two and two together” (1987, p. 3). We are told by Tom that this process “consists not in making great discoveries but in seeing the connection between small discoveries” (1987, p. 3). In all of these statements by his narrator, Percy is setting the scene for the process through which Tom More comes to discover the horror of the Blue Boy project, an attempt by some to flood the water supply in the Mississippi River with heavy sodium in order to control unwanted defects in the population of Feliciana, the setting for the novel, and to increase certain brain functions which would contribute to an increase, if not perfection of, the intelligence of those persons.
The most striking example of strangeness of which Tom More takes note is the inability of some of the infected persons to have self-reflection and context. In other words, these individuals can respond to questions with the accuracy and precision of a savant, and yet display no sense of self-reflection or no sense of the context in which the language is being used. In the opening chapter of the novel, Tom More notes of a patient:
For some reason—perhaps it is her disconnectedness—she reminds me of my daughter as a four-year-old. It is the age when children have caught on to language, do not stick to one subject, are open to any subject, would as soon be asked any question as long as one keeps playing the language game. A child does not need a context like you and me. Mickey LaFaye, like four-year-old Meg, is out of context. (Percy, 1987, p. 8)
Tom’s reflection here is quite important to our overall reflection on curriculum development because it is precisely this inability to provide connection and context to a given place and person in that place that inevitably leads to indifference about other people and destruction of the environment. Furthermore, such effects eradicate in individuals the important quality of self-reflection which is essential for autobiographical analysis and imagination—two pivotal ingredients in the development of ethics and activism for justice.
It seems clear, then, that Tom More’s observation that those infected by the heavy sodium additive lack context and self-reflective abilities can go far at defining this necessary sense of ethical meaning. For without a context and the ability to reflect upon that context, in terms of significance and place, no true human experience can be lived. No dialectic will result between the subjectivities of humans and the objective world. In such a situation, only violence and destruction can occur.
The tragedy which occurs in The Thanatos Syndrome is an apt metaphor for the moral tragedy looming before us in schools and society (and the tragedy of hurricane Katrina that we will examine in detail). Bob Comeaux, Max Gotlieb, and Van Dorn are school administrators and the perpetrators of the Blue Boy project. Tom More calls them brain engineers and neuropharmacologists. They have discovered a chemical to deliver haunted souls from mental suffering. Comeaux outlines the reason for Blue Boy. He states, “Tom, get this, a one hundred percent improvement in ACT scores in computation and memory recall in these very subjects” (1987, p. 197). Comeaux also gloats that he can do more than increase intellect. He proclaims that the effects of another additive, progesterone, in the drinking water can produce a reduction in sexual activity. As he says, “Goodbye hassles, goodbye pills, rubbers, your friendly abortionist. Goodbye promiscuity, goodbye sex ed-who needs it? Mom and Dad love it, the kids love it, and the state saves millions. Family life is improved, Tom” (1987, p. 197).
As we hear these words from Comeaux, we cannot help but be appalled at the cynicism in such a belief. For embedded in these ideas is the desire to control the way human beings conduct themselves by stripping them of the very thing that makes them human, which is conscious awareness of their context and their reflective powers through language. Again Comeaux says to Tom:
The hypothesis, Tom ... is that at least a segment of the human neocortex and of consciousness itself is not only an aberration of evolution but is also the scourge and curse of life on this earth, the source of wars, insanities, perversions-in short, those very pathologies which are peculiar to homo sapiens. (1987, p. 195)
The irony of Comeaux’s words lies in the fact that the thing which he desires to suppress through the intervention of the heavy sodium, namely consciousness, is that quality which makes us human beings with spirituality, compassion, commitment, and mystery. By removing consciousness, Comeaux hopes to control the pathologies faced by the human community—but at what cost? It is clear that by removing the pathologies through chemical intervention, one will also remove the possibility for self-reflection and the triumphs of the human spirit which spring from that mystery and turmoil. This establishes a context for people to be disconnected not only from themselves but also from their natural environment. Let’s examine what happens in the novel as a result of the Blue Boy Project.
As Percy’s tale continues to unfold to its conclusion, the reader is struck by even more ironies. Comeaux continues to rattle off the advantages of the heavy sodium by responding to Tom’s questions about the use of language, about “reading and writing ... Like reading a book ... Like writing a sentence” (1987, p. 197) in such a manner that reveals the tragedy of such actions, and by means of our metaphor, the abuse and dysfunction in schools. Comeaux says:
We’re in a different age of communication—out of McGuffey Readers and writing a theme on what I did last summer. Tom, these kids are way past comic books and star wars. They’re into graphic and binary communication—which after all is a lot more accurate than once upon a time there lived a wicked queen. [Tom responds:] You mean they use two-word sentences. [Comeaux continues:] You got it. And using a two-word sentence, you know what you can get out of them? They can rattle off the total exports and imports of the port of Baton Rouge—like a spread sheet-or give ‘em a pencil and paper and they’ll give you a graphic of the tributaries of the Red River. Tom, would you laugh at me if I told you what we’ve done is restore the best of the Southern Way of Life? (Percy, 1987, p. 197)
The irony is clear; individuals subjected to the heavy sodium have an increase in intelligence, just as Comeaux points out, but it is an increase without any contextual, spiritual, or autobiographical meaning. This parallels projects by educators who create and deliver a curriculum that is disconnected from environmental, cultural, and personal interests. That modern accountability movements in education attempt to produce students with a large amount of data and the ability to perform well on a test is a given, but the students are, all too often, stripped of any kind of meaningful understanding of that data. For example, a frustration experienced by many teachers occurs when students are unable to write a critical analysis because they cannot navigate through the complexity of subjective thought. While school systems may promote critical thinking skills in the published curriculum guides of the district, the effect of the emphasis on rote memorization, predetermined solutions to complex problems, canonical hegemony, rigid structural analysis, and standardized testing all contribute to the impairment of a student’s ability to meander—like the river—and to create, discover, and respond from a self-reflective perspective.
How do we move out of the horrors of the Blue Boy Project? We do as Tom More and immerse ourselves in the local community, noticing connections and working for justice. It is not surprising to witness Tom’s reaction to this tragedy. He, too, has experienced trauma in his life. Tom was cut off from his family and culture while serving a two-year prison sentence for selling narcotics. This gave Tom the needed understanding to guide him through the muddy waters of this horror. Because of his personal tragedy, Tom came to operate out of sensitivity to what Carl Jung called synchronicity, to see in the disconnected, the connected (Jung, 1977). As mentioned earlier, Tom came to the insight that “Living a small life gave me leave to notice small things. ... Small disconnected facts, if you take note of them, have a way of becoming connected” (Percy, 1987, p. 68). From such a perspective, Tom discovers Blue Boy and is empowered to put a stop to it. It is in this ability to experience synchronicity and connectedness that Tom can become a moral agent for change. This is what I also hope to accomplish with my students, and what Curriculum Development in the Postmodern Era hopes to achieve. Once students begin noticing connections, asking critical questions, and rejecting compartmentalization, they become empowered to uncover and dismantle ecologically destructive practices, just as Tom More in the novel discovered and exposed the Blue Boy Project.
There is one more tragic dimension of the Blue Boy Project. Tom More discovers that without context and a sense of self-reflection, even given the high brain functions of those infected, a more primitive, dark, and ominous behavior results. In the local school, Belle Ame Academy, Tom uncovers rampant sexual abuse of children by the administrators. The most appalling aspect to the sexual abuse, however, is that the children are responding to the abuse as if it were normal and expected. The additive heavy sodium has stripped them of their reflective power and context to such an extent that, even in the face of abuse, they are lost and powerless to break free from the horror. Instead, as Tom notes, “the children [are] above all: simpering, prudish, but, most of all, pleased. It is the proper pleased children” (1987, p. 330).
In schools and society the marginalized suffer most. By stripping persons of the ability to function within the parameters of language and reflective thought, any imposition becomes acceptable. They become, in essence, like lower primates willing to submit to any kind of training, as long as that training is pleasurable to them. The implications of this scene in the novel in terms of education are quite disturbing. Even if it offers an extreme example, such an example cannot go unnoticed. We cannot allow the horror to lure us into an attitude of denial at the possibility of abuse, in any form, when we opt for rigid conformity. Within such a system, the value of diverse human stories is nullified because all are absorbed into the hegemonic story of the power brokers. Language is reduced to binary utterances because mystery and nuance are replaced by the established and proper response to the objective world. Blind obedience to political or religious authorities trumps dissent and activism. Subjectivity, diversity, and difference disappear; and ecological destruction, economic graft, sexual abuse, terrorism, war, and other moral catastrophes flourish. I love this novel because it clearly makes the connection between reflection and action—what Paulo Freire and other critical theorists call praxis.
As discussed in the preceding section, the Army Corps of Engineers has structured, enclosed, and diverted the Mississippi River in order to prevent a natural meandering of the water. The “brain engineers” of Percy’s novel, likewise, have also tampered with the water supply from the Mississippi River in order to suppress consciousness, reduce resistance to sexual abuse, and increase intelligence. Both engineers are committed to proactive manipulation of the water for specific predetermined purposes. The result has been an ecological imbalance in nature and, for Percy, sexual and psychological deviance in the people of Feliciana. Educational engineers today, likewise, believe that their curricular structures will promote accountability, equity, harmony, homogeneous socio-political structures, and shared Western values in society. The irony, as we have seen, is that what is actually produced is individuals who have lost the ability to approach experiences in life with a self-reflective sense of context or consent. Critical thinking evaporates and resistance is nearly impossible. Additionally, like the children drugged with the sodium at Belle Ame Academy, it becomes impossible to motivate citizens to take action for justice and ecological sustainability. Conscious individuals are sacrificed for economic and educational efficiency, accountability, and productivity.
As Percy pointed out, students at Belle Ame Academy could speak in binary sentences, rattle off import and export figures with computer-like precision, and dramatically improve their ACT scores. However, there was no context of meaning, no rootedness in the particularity of their place, no understanding of the Earth and water, and no sense of self or wonder. Without these qualities, education is reduced to sterile standardization. And like the marshes of Louisiana that are dying for lack of sustenance from a river that has been cut off and polluted, so too are students perishing in classrooms dominated by the ideology of the brain engineers of education. Students, like the river, must be allowed to meander, explore, create, and become rooted in the Earth that gives birth to the creative and imaginative reservoirs of knowledge within individuals. The fictional character Tom More becomes a courageous model of this challenge for meaningful and substantive reform which is the life blood of any democratic society. It is actually this natural process that leads to personal, societal, cultural, and critical literacy rather than the artificial structures of the modern reform engineers of the educational or political landscape.
Once we have established a theoretical framework for thinking about connectedness, rootedness, self-reflection, and critical literacy, then we will be ready to challenge our students to consider ecological activism.
My Analysis in 2006
Many thoughts are racing through my mind as I reread my essays from the past ten years. First, it is abundantly clear that reinforcing old levees and building new levees will not appropriately or completely address the flooding and safety issues in a post-Katrina New Orleans. The levees can never be built strong enough to protect the city from future category 4 or 5 hurricanes and floods. Additionally, the disastrous by-product of excessive levee construction is the continuing destruction of the wetlands and marshes. Coastal erosion will be exacerbated if we continue with our insane approach to flood control and channel construction of coastal waterways through the marshes. John M. Barry (1997) describes the political battles between James Eads and Andrew Humphreys that began the flawed process of levee construction over a hundred years ago which, in some ways, precipitated the disastrous floods of 1927, the Midwest floods of 1993, and the Katrina disaster in 2005. Some of the blame for the floods rests with engineers and their process of building levees and coastal waterways through marshes. The political battles continue. Bruce Babbitt, former US interior secretary, spoke out forcefully in 2005 for the need to restore some low lying areas in New Orleans to wetlands. His assessment was met with angry responses from those who would be affected by the plan.
Second, in many cases, working class people—predominantly African-Americans and Cajuns—live in the most environmentally dangerous places in south Louisiana. The burden of environmental racism carried by poor, working class, and minority people is tragic and unjust. If we did not fully understand environmental racism before 2005, then the images from Hurricane Katrina dramatically jolted our conscience. Any long-term solution to the flooding and ecological problems in South Louisiana must be done in a way that respects the needs of the people and historic places of the African-American community in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and the Cajun people of Saint Bernard and Plaquemine. The track record is not good. In 1927, an area south of New Orleans in St Bernard Parish was purposely flooded in order to save the city. The citizens were promised compensation which never materialized (Barry, 1997). Elderly citizens of the New Orleans area are still haunted by the memory of government deception. Early indications in 2006 are that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will not pay for most disaster relief and rebuilding. Working-class citizens and small business owners will again have to shoulder the burden of rebuilding without government assistance. This may change in the years to come, but the initial response does not give the people of Louisiana much hope.
Third, we must accelerate wetland protection and coastal restoration. Wetlands not only protect cities from the storm surge of category 3 hurricanes and weaker tropical storms, but they also absorb pollutants and filter water. The entire ecosystem of North America depends on the Atchafalaya basin and the delta marshes to support wildlife, estuaries, plant life, and human life. We have begun a process of restoration in the Florida Everglades, and now we must act decisively in the Mississippi Delta region as well.
Fourth, strategic levee protection and evacuation infrastructure must be created. As with the 1993 Midwest floods, we will need to return some land to flood basin wetlands and marshes. But we will not have to return all land. Thus, I would support the concept of returning some low-lying lands in and around New Orleans to wetlands and marshes. One engineer has even suggested abandoning the current delta of the Mississippi River and diverting the water at Baton Rouge to form a new delta to the west of New Orleans. This is possible, but may be impractical. However, no matter what changes are made, the people who will be affected by any plan to restore wetlands must be compensated significantly. Additionally, no single community should shoulder the burden alone. For example, parts of the Ninth Ward or St Bernard may have to be razed and abandoned, and stronger levees within the current structures built to protect the culture, history, and way of life of the minority communities. This is also true of every other community in and around New Orleans. Let me repeat: I do believe that we must strategically rebuild some levees, construct some stronger levees, and remove some old levees. But in the process we need to shift our thinking about levees themselves. We can create protection zones and restore wetlands at the same time. In fact, we must. Critics will demand that all cities south of interstate Highway 10 be abandoned because we do not have the funds to rebuild safely. I believe that there is a way to rebuild smartly. Additionally, where were these critics when the US wasted hundreds of billions of dollars for a war of choice in Iraq and tax breaks for millionaires at the same time? This is not a question of money, it is a matter of necessity, determination, and justice.
Fifth, the US must become more energy independent and shift to renewable energy consumption so that we can minimize the negative impact of building coastal waterways and canals along the entire Gulf coast. Our dependence on foreign oil and non-renewable resource consumption causes many significant ecological problems. This does not mean that we must abandon fuel consumption. The oil and gas industry of Louisiana and the Gulf region support the economy of the entire nation. Together this industry, state government, and federal government must create environmentally safe and appropriate drilling, exploration, refining, and navigation. At the same time we must all begin the shift to renewable resources, alternative energy, fuel efficient transportation, and sustainable practices. It is a question of sensible balance. In a post-Katrina world we must recognize the urgency of this task. We are all vulnerable, just like the people of New Orleans. Katrina must be a lesson for every community about the urgency of environmental issues.
This is a framework for discussing post-Katrina construction in New Orleans. The situation is evolving and fluid. Specifics will change over time. But my recommendations can be used to spark thinking about the process as we begin to rebuild. I hope that the rebuilding process will be done in a way that respects people, culture, historic sites, the economy, wetlands, and the environment.
Chapter 10: Aesthetics
This link will include artist statements and various material related to aesthetics and chapter Ten. More statements will be added in the future. However, for now, first artist statement is by Professor Barbara Bickel, President of the Arts-Based Educational Research Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association.
“Reviled in patriarchal ideologies and theologies for millennia, feminist physiology and corporeal cognition is redeemed in Bickel’s images” (Yvonne Owens, 2006, art historian & art writer). I understand and experience art making to be a co-relational and performative ritual act that takes me to a threshold of opportunity to witness rather than a transcendent place of escape. Post Lacanian artist/theorist Bracha Ettinger articulates this co-relational experience as “[t]he artist in the matrixial dimension [a]s wit(h)ness in compassionate hospitality.” Within the generative womb space of my studio I physically, emotionally and spiritually enter a matrixial aesthetic inquiry. As I make art I enter a co-relational dialogue with an-other mediated by the physical mark-making process and its encounter with the ground of the art piece. Within these dialogic co-encounters memory and becoming intermingle.
Throughout my art career I have enacted the traditional practice of figurative drawing. Not satisfied with the traditional artist/model relationship, a co-creative feminine process of working with an-other developed. In re-performing the traditional practice of figure drawing I return to, and at the same time appeal to, a source of trauma: the objectification of women in the phallic sphere. In doing so, I expose myself, my collaborators, and the viewer to the vulnerability and fragility of intimacy. In entering the matrixial borderspace of art we have the opportunity to join-with/in difference and to transform the trauma of objectification into the potentiality of knowing from/of the other.
Within the gestating wombspace of matrixial bordertime the other is encountered and revealed. My art practice. It serves release of the female body/voice from the paranoic gaze of hegemonic phallic cultural norms that have dis/placed all that is feminine into the location of the other. The viewers the opportunity to be transported beside, before, below and beyond the phallic gaze.
Sharing dialogue with an-other through drawing has led me to performative co-inquiry with collaborators. The enactment of performance rituals—as collective social events that draw upon and honor all aspects of the artworking process have been the result. The documentation of these shared performance rituals turned me in the direction of video art and video projection. Re-performing the body in the real time of ritual and digital experimentation as become a further co-encounter of co-wit(h)nessing within traces of the matrixial sphere. The past, present and future of my art is devoted to understanding art as an embodiment of sharable co-encounter events within matrixial borderspace(s) and its possibilities for individual and cultural re-attunement, critical inquiry, and transformation.
My teaching philosophy, always in process, is based on understanding art making as a passage of encounter, a co-inquiry process that brings us to new understandings about ourselves and our world. As an artist-teacher, I hold a desire to integrate mastery and respect for the medium, craft, discipline and tradition with an epistemology of unknowing. Within this processual philosophy, I enter the student and teacher relationship with respect and clear boundaries as mentor, facilitator and guide for entering the unknown. In my teaching practice I engage what Suzi Gablik (1995) calls “radical relationality,” which for me includes relational aesthetics (Bourriaud, 1998), relational inquiry (Alexander, 2005), and relational learning (MacKeracher, 2004) As such, I often employ a relational pedagogy grounded in the practice of listening to the sound of the art. Listening as much for what is presented/said as what is left unpresented/unsaid. Deeply and critically listening to students and the sound of their art assists tradition to come forward and at the same time allows one to escape tradition. Relational pedagogy allows the invisible to be represented and drawn out and at the same time validates the location of the artist and art as significant actors in a dynamic and rapidly changing world.
Catherine de Zegher wrote “Art is congruent with our acting in the world, art draws from life as much as life draws from art.” I believe we are not by necessity isolated as learners in life and that the collective dynamic of a group of diverse students does in and the art produce as much as an instructor does.
I am particularly passionate about teaching environments and practices that are open to and encourage diverse subjectivities, cultural contexts, relational dialogic learning as inquiry and interdisciplinary practices. To assist the specific site of learning and the dynamic social learning environment, I encourage the inclusion of all aspects of the person: the intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual as expressed through what social activist educator David Abalos (1998) calls the “personal,” the “historical,” the “political,” and the “sacred” faces. Teaching the whole person requires multiple approaches. As an artist-teacher, I work to incorporate methods that include transmitting content knowledge, modeling artistic ways of being, encouraging divergent thinking, nurturing self-efficacy, and instilling critical social awareness.
Similar to the philosophy of artist educator Carol Becker (2002), I am interested in educating artists for the role of “organic intellectual” or “public intellectual” in our society. As public intellectuals, artists do the cultural work of critical educators and researchers within society, bringing forward what is hidden or silenced through publicly presenting art within local and international communities. As an artist-teacher, I am interested in the development of artists as informed civic performers.
My teaching practice and background is predominantly situated in diverse adult learning and post-secondary settings. I have developed and taught university-level studio courses with young adults and mature students in drawing, textiles, arts-based research and art education. The art education courses I have taught for artist-teachers in training include an integration of studio, theory, and community engagement.
Abalos, David. (1998). La communidad in the United States. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Alexander, Jacqui. (2005). Pedagogies of crossing: Meditations on feminism, sexual politics, memory, and the sacred. Duke Uiversity Press.
Becker, Carol. (1997). The artist as public intellectual. In H. A. Giroux & P. Shannon (Eds.), Education and cultural studies: Toward a performative practice (pp. 13–24). London, UK: Routledge.
Bourriaud, Nicolas. (1998). Relational aesthetics. Retrieved Nov. 29, 2005 from http://www.dxarts.washington.edu/coupe/dxarts531/reading/relationalaesthetics.pdf
Gablik, Suzi. (1995). Connective aesthetics: Art after individualism. In S. Lacy (Ed.), Mapping the terrain: New genre public art (pp. 74-87). Seattle, WA: Bay Press.
MacKeracher, Dorothy. (2004). Making sense of adult learning. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.
de Zegher, Catherine. (2011). Drawing out voice and webwork. In C. de Zegher & G. Pollock (Eds.), Art as compassion: Bracha L. Ettinger. Brussels: ASA.
Rape and gender issues
I extend chapter Ten with a segment of a lecture that I presented at the American Educational Research Association meeting in Montreal as the Egon Guba Qualitative Research Address for 2005. Over the years I have found that some of my students resist the notion of using arts-based research and aesthetic experiences to explore social issues and autobiographical understanding. This lecture not only explained my arts-based research, but also demonstrated how the arts can be used in the curriculum to advance justice, compassion, and postmodern sensibilities.
Walker Percy’s novels have always resonated in my unconscious. His haunting themes have slipped into my dreams at opportune junctures in my life as artist, activist, professor, partner, parent, and grandparent. I fashion myself as a sort of “Percy Protagonist” —full of questions and ambiguity, but with a strong moral compass directed toward action for social justice.
I am a film buff like Binx Bolling in Percy’s 1961 award winning novel The Moviegoer. Binx discovered a chthonian cosmos in the darkened movie theaters of New Orleans—my hometown and spiritual Mecca, too. Binx is a small-time stockbroker who lives a quiet suburban life, pursuing a fascination with films, affairs with his secretaries, and enduring a mundane existence. But through films he finds himself on a search for meaning, a search for something that will measure and mark and hold his life forever against the passage of time. One fateful Mardi Gras week Binx and I both found ourselves in a way that we would never have expected.
Binx Bolling and I simmer in a complex gumbo of Mardi Gras revelry and Ash Wednesday repentance—neither quite saint nor sinner, but always on the trail of the next celluloid transfiguration. I did ten days of films at South by Southwest in Austin last month. From among hundreds of films, I chose to see mostly documentaries about the horrors of the Iraq war, the financial scandals of Enron, and the devastation of the ecosphere. I also saw several very dark and disturbing films including narratives about Towns Van Zant’s drug-induced/dream-induced music lyrics, lynchings, and suicide in Belle Glade, Florida, and J. T. Leroy’s (2001) childhood trauma of physical abuse, parental violence, and rape at age seven by his mother’s live-in drug-addicted boyfriend in a new film based on Leroy’s best selling autobiography, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things.
“What does rape have to do with education?” Mike asked me at the beginning of one of my undergraduate Social Foundations of Education classes. Mike is a half-hearted history major and strapping football coach to be. We had watched three poignant and provocative films the previous week: American History X, Vukovar, and The Vagina Monologues, each dramatically addressing the trauma of rape. In preparation for the films my students had completed an assignment researching war crimes, hate groups, gang violence, the Bosnian War, and prison rape. Eve Ensler, they discovered, was inspired to write The Vagina Monologues after interviewing hundreds of women who had been held prisoner in rape camps in Bosnia in the early 1990s. Vukovar is a postmodern “Romeo and Juliet” story of a young couple—one Croatian and one Serbian—caught in the atrocities of the Bosnian War in the ancient city of Vukovar on the Danube. The young pregnant wife is violently raped by the “dogs of war” in one scene in this film. American History X portrays gang violence at Venice Beach High School in Los Angeles, and this film also includes a graphic prison rape scene.
Following the viewing of these films every semester, I invite a panel of counselors and graduate students to share with my class their experiences of date rape, football locker room initiation rituals, unwanted sexual advances by teachers or pastors, and abuse and beatings at the hands of parents. These young people share their autobiographies in order to help others, but also, I suspect, to continue their own healing process and to provide resources for those who want to begin their own journey of healing.
In the first class session following the films and panel presentation, Mike sarcastically asked “Dr. Slattery, this class is more like a counseling course. What does rape have to do with education?” I was stunned again. I have learned to expect these questions after thirty years of high school and college teaching, but I am still amazed at the naïveté or callousness or jaded indifference that seems to underlie such a question. Before I could respond to Mike, a young woman vigorously waved her hand and simultaneously spoke these words to Mike:
I am the reason this is important. I was raped in my high school gym by three boys on our basketball team, and the coaches and principal did nothing to help me. They even blamed me for being in the gym at the wrong time. They kicked me off of my team, and the boys only got a one game suspension. Teachers don’t know jack shit about rape.
After an eternal moment of stunned silence, a chorus of empathetic comments erupted in the room, mostly from other young women. One by one, hands started going up as students insisted on telling their stories of rape and assault at school or at home. Even one young man— another strapping history teacher and coach to be—softly shared his story of being sexually molested as a Boy Scout, and his lingering confusion about sexuality and identity. Paralyzing silence pervaded the lecture hall.
The class was no longer mine; the students had taken control. Each insisted on answering Mike’s question with their own life narrative. At a lull in the conversation I asked my class how many more people wanted to tell stories of rape, assault, or abuse. About twenty of one hundred students raised their hand. I said, “Mike, this is what rape has to do with education.”
I have been a high school teacher, principal, and professor for thirty-five years, and I have been blessed with many experiences of passion, insight, and growth, but none quite like this spontaneous and gut-wrenching outpouring of life stories. A simple question like “What does rape have to do with education?” ignited a response of openness and understanding, but the question and responses did not arise in a vacuum. The autobiographical responses emerged, in part, from what Dewey (1935) calls “Art as Experience.” Films, poetry, visual images, music, dance, drama, and literature are vehicles for engendering the jolt to the unconscious that leads to the autobiographical narrative which is essential if mere schooling is to become educative and transformative. Some call it a gestalt. In my research and writing I insist that this jolt can lead to an eschatological prolepsis (Slattery and Rapp, 2003). William Pinar (Pinar and Grumet, 1976; Pinar, 2004a) calls the culmination of the autobiographical process a synthetical moment where the regressive, progressive, and analytic phases of currere coalesce. In his most recent book What is Curriculum Theory?, Pinar (2004a) explains:
The hegemony of visuality accompanies the ahistorical presentism and political passivity of the American culture of narcissism. Without the lived sense of temporality the method of currere encourages, we are consigned to the social surface, and what we see is what we get. When we listen to the past we become attuned to the future. Then we can understand the present, which we can reconstruct. Subjective and social reconstruction is our professional obligation as educators in this nightmarish moment of anti-intellectualism and political subjugation. (Pinar, pp. 257–258).
Here Pinar echos Dewey’s (1922) call in The Public and Its Problems for an “auditory turn” in education, or as Pinar calls it, a move to “complicated conversation.” He notes that this shift is subjective and social, and in my teaching, research, and art installations I foreground projects that advance complicated conversations and spark an autobiographical turn toward synthetical and proleptic experiences.
In his text The Gender of Racial Politics and Violence in America: Lynching, Prison Rape & the Crisis of Masculinity, Pinar (2001) elaborates further and explains the intimate—dare I say incestuous—connection between racism, lynchings, fear of rape, violence, white male obsession with black male sexuality, prison rape, homosexuality, and hegemonic curriculum practices that denigrate schooling and deaden our capacity to experience synthetical and proleptic moments. In both of these recent books, Pinar exposes the unconscious demons and desires lurking in our schools, our society, and most dramatically in our psyches. The psychosexual dynamics of racial subjugation, gendered violence, political domination, and hegemonic curriculum management must be understood as a seamless and seamy logic. And a common denominator is rape.
In my teaching I use films to explicate racial and gendered violence by remembering and reflecting on the estimated 4,900 lynchings in the US between 1892 and 1927 (see Pinar, 2001). The regressive dimension of currere requires that we review the past—no matter how gruesome or revolting—because lynching remain deeply embedded not only in the US national character, but also in global consciousness through violence, genocides, and rape. The 1999 exhibit of lynchings titled Without Sanctuary is an example where museum education addressed this issue. Listen to a description of the lynching of Claude Neal on October 27, 1934, in the deep woods of northwest Florida. Neal was an African-American man accused of raping a white woman. (Remember that an accusation of rape was equivalent to the assumption of guilt and the death penalty. The most notorious example being the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year old Mississippi boy with a lisp who was mistakenly accused of whistling at a white woman. Till is the subject of the PBS documentary The Untold Story of Emmett Till which I show to my classes.) Neal’s torture and lynching was described this way, and I quote this disturbing passage exactly:
After taking the nigger to the woods about four miles from Greenwood, they cut off his penis. He was made to eat it. Then they cut off his testicles and he was made to eat them and say he liked it. Then they sliced his side and stomach with knives, and every now and then somebody would cut off a finger or toe. Red hot irons were used on the nigger to burn him from top to bottom. From time to time during the torture a rope would be tied around Neal’s neck and he was pulled up over a limb and held there until he almost chocked to death when he would be let down and the torture would begin all over again. (Cited in Pinar, 2001, p. 49)
One of the most important films that I show my classes is the 2003 film titled Strange Fruit. It is based on the poem written by Abel Meerapol and made famous by Billie Holiday (Allen, 1939). The film dramatically and poignantly investigates lynching and its connection to hate crimes, police brutality, McCarthy-era abuse, political repression, and racism. Strange Fruit and Pinar’s texts both note that lynchings often included genital mutilation and large cheering crowds of adults and children. The possession of severed body parts conferred status in the community. The barbarism of the lynching was sanctioned by the majority of the population, and remains fixated in the American psyche as manifested in retribution, revenge, racism, and rape. The crimes at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Fallujah, and the murder of Amadou Diallo, Matthew Shepard, and James Byrd, Jr. are all related to our cultural psychosis. Strange fruit indeed still blossoms.
The horrors of rape are not only embedded in the history of violence, racism, and lynchings. A chorus of ecofeminists also makes the sordid connection between the rape and subjugation of women and the environmental rape of the planet—Mother Earth. Like a twisted Freudian nightmare, we all participate in the gang rape and destruction of our earthly sustenance in a masturbatory incestuous orgy where, ironically, we are actually raping ourselves. Tracy Chapman (1995) sings of this phenomenon in her song Mother of us All.
We must connect the dots between environmental degradation, violence, racism, lynchings, and child abuse if there is any hope for justice and proleptic experiences in our society and in ourselves. We cannot simply watch films like Vukovar and Hotel Rwanda to remember past horrors, assuage our conscience, and pledge never to let it happen again; we must also read investigative reports on the Darfur region of Sudan today and realize that systematic rape and violence is happening all around us now. Nicholas D. Kristof writes:
These days the Sudanese authorities are adding a new twist to their crimes against humanity: they are arresting girls and women who have become pregnant because of the mass rapes by Sudanese soldiers and militia members. If the victims are not yet married, or if their husbands have been killed, they are imprisoned for adultery. Doctors Without Borders issued a report last month [March, 2005] about Darfur that quoted one 16-year-old girl as saying: “I was collecting firewood for my family when three armed men on camels came and surrounded me. They held me down, tied my hands and raped me, one after another. When I arrived home, I told my family what happened. They threw me out of my home, and I had to build my own hut away from them. I was engaged to a man, and I was so much looking forward to getting married. After I got raped, he did not want to marry me and broke off the engagement because he said I was now disgraced and spoilt. When I was eight months pregnant from the rape, the police came to my hut and forced me with their guns to go to the police station. They asked me questions, so I told them that I had been raped. They told me that as I was not married, I will deliver this baby illegally. They beat me with a whip on the chest and back and put me in jail.” (Kristof, 2005)
Education must combat the ignorance that leads to this horrific injustice.
We must also deconstruct the twisted logic of those like Clayton B. Williams, candidate for governor of Texas running against Ann Richards in 1990. Hoping to curry favor with the press, Williams invited several reporters to his ranch. In casual conversation, the subject of the weather came up. Williams commented that bad weather is sort of like rape: “as long as it’s inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it.” Williams went on to lose the election, but the new alumni building at Texas A&M was named for him. Some female students have told me that they avoid walking past this building because they become angry and distraught at the sight of his name prominently displayed on the facade.
Of course, joking about rape, enshrining the rapist, and blaming the victim are all commonplace. We know that rape is an act of violence, power, and degradation, not pleasure. Rape is a complex phenomenon, often rooted in trauma, anger, or psychosexual repression. It is also the perverse logic that flows from the ahistorical and decontextualized hermeneutics that is prevalent in global theocracies, including the US. In his book about Noah and the curse of Ham, Pinar (2006) presents an example of critical hermeneutics to counter this perverse logic. Pinar contends that the incestuous desire between father and son undergirds—through its repudiation—the genesis of race in the West. Based on his analysis of Genesis 9:23, the so-called “Curse of Ham,” Pinar theorizes three elements of hegemonic white masculinity: alterity, specularity, and the denial of lack. Whether Ham’s transgression was sexually penetrating his father or “merely” looking at the naked body of the father, in both instances he saw his “lack” as an embodied state of “castration” which the father then denied in the curse. Lack denied displaces alterity from within, from the self-same body, and projects it onto an “other” imagined as different due to anatomical difference—sexual and, later, racial. I agree with Pinar that our work as anti-racist educators requires returning to Noah’s tent where we meet our maker. This is the same project for progressive activists who want to deconstruct violence and abuse in all of its manifestations.
Deconstructing the theological hegemony of conservative textual hermeneutics is one of the single most important tasks of progressive educators in the current global climate of fundamentalist theocracies and political power rooted in narrow and ahistorical interpretation of religious texts. Like Pinar’s analysis of Genesis, religious institutions today continue Noah’s repudiation in multiple ways with horrific results. It has been most pronounced in sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church—though certainly not only a “Catholic problem” as media reports would lead us to believe. Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar dramatizes this tragedy in his stunning film Bad Education, a complex murder mystery with echoes of priest sexual abuse and child rape reverberating across time and generations. I know Almodovar’s story well. It is fiction, and it is true. It echoes in my own life on multiple levels—from my experiences as a Catholic school altar boy, to my role as principal of a Catholic school in Louisiana in the early 1980s when the first public case of a priest pedophile, Fr. Gilbert Gauthier, was exposed in the media.
In my artwork I address these issues in an attempt to expose the repudiation, repression, and rape that devastates young people at the hand of trusted religious figures. The inspiration for my art installations is found in the work of Edward and Nancy Kienholz (already discussed). The installation The Bear Chair is an assembledge that features a beloved teddy bear transformed into the role of sexual aggressor and rapist. Just like the ministers, scout leaders, teachers, and uncles who have raped, abused, and murdered young children who trusted them, the teddy bear in the Kienholz’s tableau tells an all-too familiar manipulative story to the traumatized little girl, written with lipstick on her mirror, “If you ever tell, I’ll hurt your mama real, real bad.”
Elizabeth Ellsworth in her book Places of Learning: Media, Architecture, Pedagogy expands on this thesis and provides a most cogent analysis. Ellsworth (2005) writes:
One of the best ways I know to ramify and scatter thoughts and images into new and different alignments and practices is what some forms of [film] documentary practice do so well. They juxtapose, complicate, and creatively mate their source materials in ways that overlap ... things that are supposed to be separate and never thought or seen together, and they complicate definition by opening up volatile space of difference between things and ideas that are often seen as being the same. They look at the same event from many different angles and experiences—sometimes all at once. They give materiality to abstract ideas or arguments by showing how they actually shape the lived experiences and stories of “real people.” By turning all this into film or video [or tableau], they attempt to make something new and different of what we already think we know. (Ellsworth, 2005, p. 13)
Ellsworth’s project reinforces my own approach to art and film. In one of my installations, an auto-ethnographic tableau titled 10,000 Ejaculations which I discussed at length in Qualitative Inquiry 7(3), I juxtapose and complicate in the spirit of Ellsworth’s (1997, 2005) strategy. [See Figure 10.1] I deconstruct notions of the body and practices of sexual regulation in schools and classrooms using actual artifacts and other symbolic representations of my conscious and unconscious memories of my Catholic elementary classrooms. Theoretical support for this work comes from Foucault’s notion of regulation and governmentality (1972a, 1972b, 1977, 1979). Foucault (1983) writes that power works through language, and that language not only describes and defines human beings but also creates institutions—like churches and religious schools—to regulate and govern them. Literally, power is inscribed in our bodies and language governs our mentality.
The Catholic nuns who were my teachers spent a great deal of time instructing the students to say prayers in Latin and English. One type of prayer was called the ejaculation. Ejaculations were short and spontaneous prayerful outbursts such as “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph protect me.” Ejaculations were particularly recommended by the nuns in times of temptation. The gravest temptations were “impure thoughts” which could lead to the deadly sins of touching one’s body, masturbation, orgasm, or sexual intercourse.
The most highly recommended prayers were rosaries and communions which provided maximum indulgences for “the poor souls in purgatory.” However these prayers were time consuming and laborious. While I often felt compelled to do a few rosaries and communions, I usually preferred to pad my prayer offerings with lots of ejaculations. One of my spiritual bouquets, with an offering of 10,000 ejaculations for my mother, is seen in front of a replica of the Pieta in my tableau, and also symbolically represented with 10,000 communion wafers with a cast of my hand rising from the pile of (unconsecrated) representations of unleavened bread wafers [see figure 10.2]. In this tableau installation, the ironic juxtaposition of spiritual ejaculations, communion wafers, sexual orgasms, and assumed celibate, heteronormative sexuality is intended to deconstruct the educational climate that regulated my ecumenical spirituality and queer sexuality.
This installation is a construction and re-construction of memories of my body in junior high classrooms. I collected artifacts from scrapbooks, yearbooks, and family closets. I also imagined furniture and icons which I searched for in antique stores and junk yards. I worked within to reconstruct images from my unconscious, while remembering Jackson Pollock’s admonition that the creative process also involves consciousness of the overall effect of the piece. While the symbols are particular to my Catholic school experience, I believe that the issues I raise in this art installation are universally applicable. Repression of the body, sexual fantasies, uncontrollable sexual responses, and guilt and anxiety about sexuality are all part of the educational experience of students who sit in school desks. Since there is no student seated in the desk in this installation—only a class photo, first grade hand prints, and a cast of my hand—the viewer is reminded of the absence of the body and the attempt to repress sexuality in the school curriculum. Such curricular governmentality creates an environment where rape and abuse can flourish. This is a lesson lost on Catholic bishops and other institutional leaders who prefer to shame children, perpetuate victimization, silence discourse, and cover up abuse.
I want to end by returning to Walker Percy, but this time to the protagonist in his 1987 novel The Thantos Syndrome, Dr. Tom More, a psychologist and reluctant activist, who says at the beginning of the novel: “For some time now I have noticed that something strange is occurring in our region. I have noticed it both in patients I have treated and in ordinary encounters with people.” His region is in the parish of Feliciana, Louisiana, where he was born and bred. The strangeness he observes is unusual sexual behavior in some women patients, their bizarre physical movements and loss of inhibition, and their extraordinary new success at bridge tournaments. Their minds seem to have computer-like qualities.
With the ingenious help of his attractive cousin, Dr. Lucy Lipscomb, an epidemiologist, he not only uncovers a criminal experiment to “improve” behavior patterns in the area through the secret use of drugs in the water supply, but he stumbles on a ring of child molesters and pedophiles at the local school, Belle Ame Academy. The most striking example of strangeness of which Tom More takes note is the inability of some of the infected persons to have self-reflection and context. These individuals can respond to questions with the accuracy and precision of a savant, and yet display no sense of self-reflection nor a sense of the context in which the language is being used. We discussed this novel in detail in chapter 8. Remember that Tom More discovers that without context and a sense of self-reflection, even given the high brain functions and high ACT scores of those students infected, a more primitive, dark, and ominous behavior results at Belle Ame Academy: the rampant sexual abuse of children.
Educational engineers today, likewise, contend that their curricular projects will promote order, equity, high test scores, homogeneous socio-political structures, and shared Western values—usually within political versions of Christianity. The irony, of course, is that what is actually produced are individuals who have lost their ability to approach experiences in life with a self-reflective sense of context, creativity, or consent. Critical thinking evaporates, and resistance is nearly unimaginable. “Curriculum Spaces,” as Lisa Cary contends, become ridged and closed. She writes:
[I] call for the study of how we are normalized, how we are embedded within total institutions and how we engage in and negotiate the production of legitimate knowledge. This embeddedness excludes certain ways of being and erases the bodies of those students, teachers, parents, custodians and others who are considered deviant, or outside the norm: pregnant teens, drop-outs, children of color, gay and lesbian teachers and students, female juvenile offenders, charter schools, and alien academics. But it is also important to reveal the discourses themselves and how this knowing impacts the lives and possibilities of being for those we “know.” (Cary, 2006, p. 19)
Similarly, like the children drugged with the sodium at Belle Ame Academy, citizens become savants unable to be motivated to take action for justice and ecological sustainability—and even unable to prevent themselves from being raped. Conscious individuals are sacrificed for economic efficiency, mindless productivity, wasteful consumption, and passive submission.
Michael O’Malley (2003, 2005, 2007), whose work we introduced in chapter 4, documents the loss of a sense of self and wonder in his ethnographic study titled “Constructing a critical pedagogy of human soul” where he follows the experiences of high-school students attempting to recover from abuse. He describes one student in this way:
Drew reflected on the horror and betrayal of this sexual abuse [being raped as a 14 year old by an older male relative while he was sleeping at his grandmother’s home] by saying that in the moment he could not scream, cry, or move. He was physically incapable of stopping this assault from someone who was “bigger, older, and stronger,” and he was terrified of even trying to stop him. In a quiet voice Drew added that “fear struck me in a place that I never knew existed.” He tried to dissociate from this abuse as it occurred by thinking about “Easter dinner, racing new matchbox cars on grandma’s porch, and swimming out to the horizon, but in the darkness I remained.” The next morning Drew was determined to hide this violent experience and the anguish it caused him. In his words, “I decided that the best way to deal with this would be to completely ignore it and act as if nothing ever happened.” He reported that he changed completely following the assault, becoming extremely cynical, indifferent, and callous. Hiding his interior suffering from others exacted a high cost, including frequent isolation, consistent suicidal ideations, and severe depression lasting a full two years. Throughout all this, he continued to hide from everyone the actual assault and the subsequent suffering it caused out of fear that “being found out” would confirm that he is flawed and inadequate. ... Although Drew’s feeling of being paralyzed by depression faded after a lengthy two year period, he says he was “still facing a constant internal conflict.” No longer contemplating suicide, “I now just found myself existing. I wasn’t happy; I wasn’t sad. I just existed. (O’Malley, 2005, pp. 16–18)
For me, the arts, ethnographic narratives, and autoethnography act to produce synthetical and proleptic experiences that expose and critique the culture of abuse—whether physical, psychological, or educational. Therefore, our lessons must include films and art work that address rape if there is any hope of dismantling “Blue Boy Projects”, as Tom More courageously does in Percy’s novel. We must show films like Strange Fruit as a part of the curriculum and teach about lynchings, as Pinar encourages us in his texts. We must foreground complex media and pedagogy events as Ellsworth models for us in her research. We must conduct more ethnographic studies, like Michael O’Malley’s critical pedagogy of human soul, that bring hidden issues into the open. We must experience performances and installations by artists like Edward and Nancy Kienholz that will jolt our unconscious and propel us to activisim. Walker Percy reminds me that the goal of activism and teaching must be to uncover violence and abuse in all of its manifestations and work for justice and compassion in our schools and society.
These are the complicated conversations that curriculum and pedagogy must engender if social change has any hope of emerging in schools. These are the experiences that our arts-based research must document if we hope to inspire educators and citizens to work for justice. This, I believe, can teach us what rape—and all social issues—has to do with education.
Chapter 12: Identity, Chaos Theory, and Time
The following material from the second edition of Curriculum Development in the Postmodern Era extends the concepts presented in Part III of the Third Edition:
As an example of the enormity of the problem we face, I will relate the story of a recent student in a philosophy of education class. I will call him Jim. During the first class session we moved our desks from rows to a seminar circle. I spent some time discussing linear and circular thinking, technical knowing and grounded-ontological knowing (Oliver and Gershman, 1989), hermeneutics and nonlinear teaching (W. Doll, 1993), analysis versus intuition (Bergson, 1950), experience and education (Dewey, 1938), the process philosophy of Whitehead (Griffin et al., 1993), and the medicine wheel in native American cultures (Regnier, 1992) in order to establish a theoretical basis for the circular classroom milieu. I told the students that I would expect them to contribute in some way to the seminar discussion each week, but that they would be free to choose the method and timing of their participation. About half the students responded immediately. The seminar circle was liberating for them. Others remained silent and skeptical for a few class sessions but gradually began to express their philosophical views and questions once a bond of trust had been established. However, by the fifth session Jim had yet to say a word despite the fact that this was his final course before receiving his specialist degree. At the sixth class session an “ah-ha” moment occurred. A verbose and articulate student interrupted the class and said, “I am very concerned about something, and I wish we could discuss it as a class.” I agreed (reserving my enthusiasm for the moment). She continued, “At the first class session you asked us all to participate. I feel as though I am monopolizing the conversation because I notice that a few students never get to speak. I would like the class to let me know if I am talking too much.” Then she turned to Jim and asked, “Jim, you have not said anything. Am I monopolizing your time?” Jim responded, “No. I enjoy your comments. I am thirty years old. I have been in school my entire life—elementary, high school, BA, MEd, and now a specialist degree. No one has ever asked me to discuss my philosophy before, and I have never taken a class in a seminar circle. Please keep talking because I am nervous in this seminar circle, and I do not know what to say.”
Jim’s autobiographical reflections, received without criticism, opened the door to further conversations about educational methodologies, linear and process thinking, postmodern philosophies, and currere. A discernible transformation began. Of course a potential danger that my students point out to me is that they can no longer sit in lecture halls and absorb “inert ideas” (Whitehead, 1929) without frustration. They claim that I have “ruined them” for the traditional curriculum development model of the disciplines in the university.
As an interesting aside to this story, early in my first semester in the university a note was written on the board by another professor. It stated, “Whoever moves the desks in a circle each week, please put them back the way they belong.” There is a definite and pervasive perception among elementary, secondary, undergraduate, and graduate education faculty members, at least in my experience, that the traditional modern classroom structure is sacred—that somehow it “belongs” a certain way. I sometimes worry that one week I will enter my classroom and the desks will once again be bolted to the floor! Just as postmodernism has its roots in architecture (Jencks, 1986, 1988, 2002), so too might our postmodern educational proposals for schooling have to begin with architecture. The longer we continue to build schools like prisons, offices, factories, and shopping malls without psychological, ecological, and sociological sensitivity, the longer we will perpetuate a bankrupt modern curriculum ideology.
The following story explains my journey toward understanding this postmodern concept of becoming that is integral to the reconceptualization of curriculum and instruction, which is impossible to envision through the lenses of modernity.
A remarkable thing happened to me in early October 1955; apparently I died. However, I did not become aware of this event until a balmy spring afternoon in New Orleans in 1989 while returning home from a party hosted by several professors and graduate students. By coincidence I made several unconscious wrong turns and ended up on the old Airline Highway rather than Interstate 10. I had not been on the Airline since my childhood, long before the interstate was built. As I approached a cemetery, a rush of memories flooded my being. I remembered sitting in the back of my father’s Chevy Impala as a child. He turned to my mother and whispered, “That is where I buried the baby.”
As with many families in the 1950s, we never talked about tragedy and painful memories. Many years later I overheard some older cousins talking about a baby brother named Timothy James who had died in distress shortly after birth and was taken by my father to be buried. My father himself died years later, but his faint whisper to my mother from thirty years previous came back to me on this tropical Louisiana afternoon in 1989. I was mystically drawn to the cemetery for the first time in my life. I felt awkward as an adult inquiring at the desk about my brother’s grave from 1950s, especially since I was not certain that it was actually located in this cemetery. After many interruptions by grieving families making funeral arrangements and secretaries who could not locate Timothy James Slattery in the computerized records, I almost gave up my search. I was anxious to return home, but the transcendent lure of the cemetery was urging me on. I asked if there were, perhaps, any Slattery graves from the early 1950s in this cemetery, assuming that I may have remembered my father’s whisper inaccurately. After an interminable wait, the secretary returned with news of a Slattery baby plot, but none with the name Timothy James. I rushed from the office and made my way to what would be one of the most jolting encounters of my life.
I arrived at the children’s burial section, guarded by an angelic statue, to discover the plot: the inscription on the tombstone read “George Patrick Slattery, Jr.” And my birth date. In that moment all of time and history merged; life and death disappeared. I laughed, I cried, and I thought about my brother, Timothy, my deceased father, George Patrick Slattery, Sr., and myself, George Patrick Slattery, Jr. We were all somehow mysteriously united in that tomb. Eventually, I grabbed some paper from my car and began to write a poem that began, “What child is buried in my brother’s tomb? Who came forth from my mother’s womb? Am I the child marked for life? Or the one who entered the grave in strife?”
When I related this event the next day to another brother, Kevin, he was shocked to learn of this circumstance. He suggested that I was probably Timothy and that my name had been changed to George Patrick Slattery, Jr., after our brother, the original George Patrick, Jr., had tragically died at birth. We were all infants at the time, and a change of names could have been easily accomplished without suspicion. Kevin insisted that our father, in the patriarchal southern tradition, always wanted a son to “carry” on his name, and thus the burial of the child had to be kept a secret since another son was to take his place. Perhaps I had been marked for life and death, both on the tombstone and by name.
Further inquiries over the next few months began to unravel the mystery. However, as I often pondered my identity and the secret of the tombstone, I would listen to the Moody Blues sing, “Timothy Leary’s dead, boy. No, no, no, no, he’s outside, looking in!” If I were really Timothy, then yes, I was on the outside of the tomb looking in. The Cartesian distinction between life and death became blurred; metaphysics and identity took on a very different meaning as a result of this chance encounter. My mother wrote a book titled Women and Pedagogy: Education Through Autobiographical Narratives in 2009 recounting this story from her perspective (Burke, 2009).
This story affirms several commitments that I have as a postmodern educator and curriculum theorist. I have attempted to convey throughout this book my insights and intuitions about curriculum gleaned from years of experience, mystery, suffering, passion, and joy. First of all, I understand and affirm the postmodern rejection of metanarratives, for I am constantly amazed that the absolute certainty of the “truths” that have been concretized into facts in schooling have all deconstructed over time—even the certainty of my name and identity became elusive in 1989. Second, the artificial bifurcations of black and white, body and soul, sciences and humanities, male and female, gay and straight, teacher and student, winner and loser, honors and remedial, dream and reality, and even life and death, all prevent the emerging postmodern vision of the aesthetic synthesis, the hermeneutic community circle, ecological sustainability, kaleidoscopic sensibilities, and social justice from emerging. Dualistic thinking must be vigorously challenged in the postmodern curriculum and apparent opposites must be reintegrated into a creative tension of complementary and multifaceted dimensions of the whole as in the Yin and Yang of Eastern thought. Third, the interconnectedness of individual experiences in a global context that engender cosmic understandings is dramatically changing human consciousness. Poetry is a natural response to the mystery of the universe, not exclusively measurement and codification that insist that everything must be scientifically based. For in poetry, narrative, and art we can also understand the self as continuously being reconstructed in new and ironic ways in every social and cultural milieu. Fourth, in order to understand knowledge, I must experience intimacy. The knower cannot be separated from the known and meaning cannot be separated from the context that gives rise to the meaningful experience. Educators should re-envision their relationships with students and with each other and begin to find ways to affirm and validate every voice in the school community. The dominant hierarchical power position of teachers and administrators must be replaced by community empowerment models. These models are not simply shared authority, site-based management, authentic assessment, or cooperative learning groups. Additionally, they do not de-center authority to remove activism and social engagement by teacher and leaders. Progressive action for justice is essential. Rather, the very concept of the self in relation must evolve to a new realm of consciousness. This can be accomplished on all levels of schooling as teachers and students create empathetic, caring, holistic, and liberating practices. Fifth, and finally, the encounter at the tomb reinforces my understanding of the complexity of metaphysics; chaos and uncertainty principles are at work under the surface of our existence, physically, psychologically, and spiritually. In this sense a “quantum curriculum” (Bernard and Slattery, 1992) is needed to uncover the layers of meaning of the phenomena that could enrich our lives and our schooling practices. These practices must include attention to aesthetics, hermeneutics, phenomenology, poststructural analysis, critical race theory, queer theory, autobiography, theology, historicity, a postliberal political theory rooted in community and ecology, chaos theory and the new sciences, and liberatory perspectives of society.
Postmodern sensibilities, as we saw in chapter 4, ultimately understand time as proleptic. The past and the future are comprehensible only in the context of the present. The artificial bifurcation of time and the linear “arrow of time” must be challenged. Educators infuse the curriculum not only with a proleptic philosophy, but most important a proleptic experience. Since the Christian cultural heritage is familiar to many readers, I will use a theological example from Christian theology to demonstrate such understanding. (However, I must note that my intention is not to reinforce the cultural hegemony of Christianity in the US, only to provide a metaphorical example.) Proleptic eschatology has philosophical roots in the 20th-century writings of Ernst Bloch (1968, 1970, 1986), Henry Nelson Wieman (1969a, 1969b), Jurgen Moltmann (1967), and Carl Peter (1974). Moltmann and Peter explain that Jesus Christ, as the fullness of the Diety, entered historical time as both divine and human. Therefore, the Christ had an “end in view” experience of the resurrection prior to the actual event. Jesus Christ, for Christians of faith, had already experienced the resurrection in the timelessness of the eternal Godhead prior to his death on the cross.
This is not a strange new theology. The early Christian communities denounced many heresies in the centuries following the death of the historical Jesus, including Arianism, which was condemned by the Council of Nicaea. Originating with the Alexandrian presbyter Arius (d. 336 CE), Arianism taught that Jesus Christ could not be considered the “Son of God” except in some subordinate or inferior sense. The “Son” was not considered the same as “The Father,” and thus there was a time when the “Son” did not exist. The Council of Nicaea contested this theology vociferously, arguing that Jesus the Christ was the same substance (homoousios) as God “the Father.” Various forms of Arian theology were popular in the 4th century CE. Therefore, the Nicene Creed, still recited in many Christian churches today, repeated the homoousios several times to reiterate that Jesus Christ was “True God from true God.” The creed also insists that the Christ was “Begotten, not made. One in being with the father. Through the Christ all things were made. For salvation Jesus came down from heaven.”
The insistence here is that Jesus as the Christ is identical in being with the eternal Godhead. This theology is called proleptic because the future is not distant and separated from the present; rather it is embedded in the present. In a similar fashion in literary theory, prolepsis refers to events preceding the beginning of a novel or short story. Flashbacks, foreshadowing, and déjà vu are literary devices used to create a prolepsis. Bloch calls this the experience of the “already but not yet,” Wieman calls it the “growth of creative interchange,” Moltmann calls it the “eschaton, the horizon with God ahead,” and Peter calls it “the lure of the transcendent benevolent future.” In curriculum theory prolepsis is indicated by Gadamer’s “fusion of horizons,” Dewey’s “social consequences for growth and values,” Greene’s “landscapes of learning,” Freire’s “praxis,” Pinar’s “currere,” Padgham’s “becoming,” Macdonald’s “hermeneutic circle,” W. Doll’s “transformative recursion,” Griffin’s “sacred interconnections,” Bergson’s “duration,” and Nietzsche’s “eternal return.” These eschatological sensitivities suggest movement toward a postmodern proleptic curriculum theory. The proleptic experience seeks to infuse possibilities into the postmodern vision of schooling by giving meaning and purpose to the present occasions in education.
Why is prolepsis so important? Students and teachers are limited by the concepts of hope perpetuated by modernity. The bifurcated choice of modernity is clear: either choose the apocalyptic vision of many fundamentalist religions and delay all hope to a distant life after death, or collapse all hope into the immediate gratification of the senses. As we saw in chapter 4, the first is called futuristic or apocalyptic eschatology because the present is disconnected from the ultimate experience of salvation or utopia. The second is called realized eschatology because the past and future do not affect the present sense experiences, which contain the only metaphysical reality. Apocalyptic and futuristic eschatology have both deformed consciousness in the modern era and caused the repression and suppression of the complexity of the human dynamic. Realized eschatology reinforces the addictions and malaise of modern society.