March 16 Conference Call

Here are one person’s notes & thoughts from the March 16 Conference call.

I spent the first half of the call on a walk in the chill of an early spring evening in Utah’s mountains. As the sun set and the air grew colder I followed the readings in my book, whose numbering is a little different from yours but which I nevertheless found easily (having read the chapter already and underlined many of the passages you’d chosen), appreciating the opportunity to see and hear the words simultaneously and think about them in terms of teaching. When you asked for personal responses, I wanted to tell about an experience 20 years ago in an introductory creative nonfiction writing class where one woman wrote powerfully about her process of becoming independent after divorce. I was delighted with her self-discovery; it was an epiphany for me, too: if I can help people write this well about their life-changing experiences, I want to do it forever.

But things changed. Politics at the university…my own needs…a shift in my focus to hands-on energy work…all led me to fall away from teaching writing for some years; but when I needed a paycheck and benefits, I went back to the university–and could not find my feet again. In the past six years I have had to re-learn respect for the students; this kenosis is not yet complete.

So tonight’s discussion was very good for me to review my own teaching life and reconsider my trajectory.

Once I got back home and logged on to the computer, I took these notes:

Armstrong presents the progression kenosis (emptying out)…[self-]knowledge (the self exists and can be studied) …suffering (living with an awareness that all is not well)

Taking off the mask is not natural in our society any more…Kenosis for us must be the emptying out of the “dominator” worldview.

How to encourage public school students to experience kenosis? One participant says he felt like Yahweh, screaming at the students who wouldn’t listen, would kvetch and complain. (A great analogy, funny and poignant and true–I’ve felt that way too.)

Our story will get told, if not in writing or creative ways, then in acting out…students will project authority on teachers, so teachers must figure out ways to let them tell their stories…their developmental stage is important. (Many of the participants work with middle schoolers. I work with college undergrads. Significant differences, I think, in developmental stages AND in the purpose of the curriculum.)

Public ed has lost the wisdom of religiously-based education (says Bruce)

Armstrong’s phrase “knowledge was no longer simply notional; he knew . . . truths directly. They had become a part of his inner world” –think of this as an educational goal, says Bruce.

There’s something about letting a person get to know him/herself enough to come to understand what s/he really wants so s/he can then move forward to write authentically about externalities

Yoga yokes wildness to yielding…dominating the dominator spirit in yourself… Gurdjieff, Steiner

Bruce has his students write a drama working out a conflict in their teaching life—required to have a happy ending. I love this idea for myself (I’d like to do it), but now I need to think about how to work such a thing into a second-semester composition classroom, where research methods and argumentative writing are the focus of the curriculum. Or at least how to work an assignment that similarly invites students to disclose their real-life interests. One problem for me is that I don’t relate to the real-life interests of many of my students–small-town, rural, farmers/ranchers/hunters/rodeo queens. My own kenosis must be to develop genuine interest in their lives. That’s been hard.

Contemplative teaching allows you to let go of bad days.

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