"a means of knowing and a way of telling"
I discovered early on in my teaching career that telling a story could still a restless class in a way that seemed both mysterious and wonderful.
I soon noticed, too, in those early years, that a particular kind of immersion in big stories helped students make intellectual breakthroughs. In the 1985, for example, a teaching colleague and I helped our combined upper primary classes to create a medieval village in the classroom, in which we 'lived and worked and had our being' for about a month. The experience had quite profound effects on the learning of many of the students, a story that I have told in my 1987 book School Portrait.
During those years, and subsequently during my years as a secondary English teacher, I noticed the way creative artists, and particularly (in this case) writers of fiction, were able to agitate, provoke, move, seduce, disturb and animate, often by paying attention to what was below the surface, hidden, disguised, repressed or invisible. Writers, it seemed to me, were attempting to alert us to what Rilke called ‘the rustling resonances’ (Dowrick, 2009, p. 220) and what Maxine Greene described as ‘the ordinarily unseen, unheard and unexpected’ (Greene, 1995, p. 28).
I took time out from teaching to train and work as a psychotherapist, and to do some further study. I read some philosophy which threw further light onto what might be going on when a story is being told and heard. Freud and Jung, then Joseph Campbell and James Hillman, alerted me to the fecund world of the unconscious and the imagination, and the often invisible role it plays in our everyday lives. In my clinical work, I was continually being alerted to the existence of forces, processes and energies unfolding, about which our conscious minds get only occasional hints. I write about this in 'The Two Boxes of Mystery", one of the fictional stories in Imagined Worlds and Classroom Realities, a story composed out of an amalgam of different experiences I had with a number of young clients.
Since moving into teacher education, I've learnt of the existence of a growing community of ethnographic sociologists and educationists who include the approach of the creative artist in their scholarship. Their work goes by many different names - arts-based research (Barone & Eisner, 2012), auto-ethnography (Bochner, 2012), fictional ethnography (Reed, 2011), postmodern emergence (Somerville) - and sometimes under no particular label (Clough, 2002). There are differences and debates amongst them, about the extent to which their work exists to reveal hidden complexity (Barone, 2000; Britzman, 2003; Clough, 2002; Greene, 1995; Somerville, 2007) or create particular affects (G. Deleuze & Guattari, 1987; Hickey-Moody, 2012; Reed, 2011; Richardson, 1997). Most of these ethnographers would claim that this methodology does a bit of both. It is, says Art Bochner, ‘a means of knowing and a way of telling. (It) not only represents but also creates experience, putting meanings in motion (Bochner, 2012, p. 157).’
In the professional world I now inhabit, there are heated debates going on about the effectiveness of teacher education, with increasing political and administrative moves being made to concentrate, in the preparation of teachers, on of useful skills and proven approaches. As with many 'back to the basics' approaches, this one runs the risk of over-simplifying the highly complex and potentially rich and unpredictable worlds of classrooms and staff relations. Mythopoetics has the capacity to induct in much more powerful and potent ways.