“A plethora of critiques currently focuses on what has been lost in, or sacrificed to the gains of, Philosophic thinking. The past few decades have been noisy with complaints about the damage done by ‘the scientific world view,’ ‘technical rationality,’ and so on. The main loss stems from the Philosophic tendency to embrace a narrow, disembodied rationality, which links itself with the cognitive but distances itself from the affective.”
— Kieran Egan
Key Terms: Mythic Understanding, Humanized Knowledge
This book was quite fascinating and at times surprising, particularly as I did not realize it would be oriented to teaching young children. Egan puts forth some very engaging arguments about myth and Romantic concepts as useful tools for thinking and teaching, though I feel his arguments are of somewhat limited use since he continually argues for the application of his ideas for children. I find it problematic to assert that “a four-year-old” is capable of X, while “a ten-year-old” is more likely to Y. To my thinking, Egan’s observations about children could be made just as readily about adults–but then, my arguments for playfulness and enjoyment in adult learning make that much fairly obvious. Still, the major challenge for my purposes is in getting past the need to justify these concepts as somehow childish or child-oriented.
Questions and Answers
1. Considering Adichie’s description of being unable to perceive herself as included in a particular community until she had seen herself welcome there, how can we use Johnson’s pleasure-oriented “renegade rhetoric” to create a more inclusive academic community that encourages students to be active, engaged participants rather than feel academics are a toil inflicted upon them?
Much of Egan’s project seems oriented to making learning more effective and inclusive to a broader range of students, a premise he establishes as fairly implicit in his thinking. He does at some points refer specifically to the issue, such as in his Chapter 5 statement that “instead of identifying ourselves in terms of some excluded groups who are unlike ‘us,’ and who consequently can be treated with less sympathy, less sensitivity, less humanity, we will seek to include wider and wider groups within the category of ‘us'” (Kindle loc. 2545-2546). Egan is not explicitly “renegade” in his approach, yet even so his desire for inclusive, even pleasurable approaches to teaching are very compatible with Johnson’s premise.
2. In the text, identify a specific community that is discussed. What role does inclusion in and engagement with that community play in forming an identity (both as an individual and as part of said community) that serves to facilitate the goals of liberation and critical consciousness as put forth by Paulo Freire and bell hooks?
In Chapter 2, Egan states, “So the educational point is not to teach binary concepts, nor to teach that the world is structured in binary terms, but always to lead toward mediation, elaboration, and conscious recognition of the initial structuring concepts” (Kindle loc. 26-628). While he does not specifically or explicitly engage in the matter of liberation, his pedagogical aims do certainly seem oriented toward a classroom (community) that encourages critical and independent thinking.
3. How can seeking to orient toward pleasure and satisfaction as pedagogical modes be designed to specifically address the concepts of varied learning styles, multiple intelligences, and the highly varied backgrounds (personal, cultural, academic) of students?
This does not seem specifically addressed, and yet it seems implicitly considered as part of Egan’s process. His arguments have more to do with broad commonalities in theory, yet in practice it is entirely plausible to orient to such aims. Much as is the case with Johnson and others, it is not at all difficult to envision these approaches being adapted to students with varied backgrounds and learning types.
4. What can we learn about learning, both as students and teachers, by studying the ostensibly enjoyment-oriented concept and practice of “play”? What connects pleasure and play—enjoyment and engagement—to learning, cognition, and individual development?
Much of Egan’s text offers connections to this question. The major limitation is that his arguments are almost entirely based around observations of child psychology and behavior, which limits my ability to apply these ideas to my own work. However, his concepts of Mythic Understanding and Humanized Knowledge are applicable in general. His Mythic Understanding asserts that children understand the world first through myth, metaphor, and fantasy–thus, it is logical to use those approaches for teaching them. Humanized Knowledge refers to the concept that “knowledge can be effectively communicated if it is put into an engaging context for readers or students” (Kindle loc. 1384).
5. In considering the concept of “inclusion,” how can a focus on student pleasure and engagement in academic pursuits serve to address fundamental questions of complex exclusion and divided identities? Consider this discussion in terms of a borderland, such as discussed by Gloria Anzaldúa in Borderlands/La Frontera. Students’ language is a kind of homeland for them, a place they have long occupied; what divisions and exclusions are we asking them to navigate (within and without) by asking them to learn to write and use language “correctly” without including their own pre-existing language—their own territory, as it were—into the process?
Much of Egan’s text seems to focus on the idea of trying to find ways to teach in modes that are more oriented to children’s thinking. While this does not explicitly address the question at hand, nonetheless it is a highly compatible attitude. If it is useful and possible to orient to the ways that young children learn, then it is logical to posit that the same approach could be taken to respecting the language and intellectual territory of students from a diverse variety of social, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds.
Kieran Egan. The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding. Chicago and London: U of Chicago P. Kindle edition.