Structures and Emergence

The new term begins in ten days, and I’m thinking about how to prep the sandbox for the fifteen weeks that follow. Truthfully, “thinking” is too mild a word. “Yearning” is more like it: yearning for the inspiration and insight into form, tempo, and activities that will give my students their best chance at surprising themselves and me with the depth and quality of their work.

For this post, rather than try to work out that yearning in my own prose, I want to experiment with some quotations, both audio and text. The two audio quotations come from KCRW’s “The Treatment,” in which host Elvis Mitchell does weekly interviews with actors, directors, writers, and other creative personnel from film, music, television, and other media. The two text quotations come from two Jerome Bruner books I’ve just started. Together, these four quotations fuel my yearning. I see the character of what I aspire to. That’s a good thing, though it certainly sharpens the yearning.

I hope you find them provocative too.

1. Director Paul Greengrass, from KCRW’s “The Treatment.”

2. Jerome Bruner, from the Preface to the 1977 revised edition of The Process of Education:

Let me turn finally to the last of the things that have kept me brooding about this book–the production of a curriculum. Whoever has undertaken such an enterprise will probably have learned many things. But with luck, he will also have learned one big thing. A curriculum is more for teachers than it is for pupils. If it cannot change, move, perturb, inform teachers, it will have no effect on those whom they teach. It must be first and foremost a curriculum for teachers. If it has any effect on pupils, it will have it by virtue of having had an effect on teachers. The doctrine that a well-wrought curriculum is a way of “teacher-proofing” a body of knowledge in order to get it to the student uncontaminated is nonsense.

[An aside: Bruner’s assertion, which I agree with, runs counter to much of what I heard at the humanities session of the NCATLearning By Design” day last November in Richmond.]

3. Director Sarah Polley, from KCRW’s “The Treatment.”

4. Jerome Bruner, from “The Shape of Experience,” in On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand:

What is characteristic of the great work of art is that its metaphoric artifice, its juxtapositions have not only surprise value but also illuminating honesty. The two combine to create what we shall later refer to as “effective surprise.” The work of art also has a cognitive economy in its metaphoric transformations, which make it possible for a seemingly limited symbol to spread its power over a range of experience.

I yearn for that effective surprise and for the cognitive economy of powerful symbols, for the structures and the illuminating honesty, the theme parks and the sandboxes, to make of courses of study episodes of buildable wonder. In posts to follow, I’ll try to articulate some of my efforts to do so last term, and to be as candid as I can about what worked and what didn’t, and insofar as I can tell, why.


2 thoughts on “Structures and Emergence

  1. Mmm its like biting into some juicy eats and my tail is wagging (I’m really digging the puppy theme, it could be a problem hah), provocative quotes indeed.

    That eternal search for balance and the graceful dance. It is funny the things you aren’t aware of until one day someone puts it into words and what was there all along finally makes sense. For me even though on some level I knew the dichotomy of structure and spontaiety was everywhere I seldom saw the use of it beyond its immediate context. Now making the jump from directing a movie to ‘directing’ a class, ah yes the connection and the metaphors!
    The more you talk about it the more I want students to take at look at what you are saying, I want to tell people, “Look he knows its not easy too and one person can’t do it all alone”. The more I think about it the more metaphors I run into. I’m rambling a bit yes, but when you here some good news you want to repeat it back, to work through it with your own brain, to see it for yourself.
    I’m interested to see what you’ll have in the coming days on what worked and what didn’t, I hope there are surprises with both.

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