For me, the waterfall image, the paradise pool, at the top of the blog (by Terje Sørgjerd) is a natural image for education. But the other day I realized that most education blogs have images such as chalkboards, arithmetic, school books, etc., all of which I find thoroughly repulsive and alien to the essence of learning and life.
This past week I’ve been in Austin helping out with the opening of Bronze Doors Academy, leading the Socratic discussions we have each day. On Friday we began reading the first chapter of Jean Liedloff’s The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost, one of my key inspirations as an educator and as a social theorist (I see it as a deep precursor to the paleo movement and an intuitive application of key insights from evolutionary psychology).
Liedloff begins with an experience:
It was when I was eight and it seemed to have great importance. I still think of it as an experience of value, but like most such moments of enlightenment, it gave a glimpse of the existence of an order without revealing its construction, or how one could sustain a view of it in the muddle of day-to-day living. Most disappointing of all, the conviction that I had seen the elusive truth at last did little or nothing toward guiding my footsteps through the muddle. The brief vision was too fragile to survive the trip back to applicability. Although it had to contend with all my mundane motivations and, most disastrously, with the power of habit, perhaps it is worth mentioning, for it was a hint of that sense of rightness (for want of a less clumsy phrase) the search for which this book is about.
The incident happened during a nature walk in the Maine woods where I was at summer camp, I was last in line: I had fallen back a bit and was hurrying to catch up when, through the trees, I saw a glade. It had a lush fir tree at the far side and a knoll in the center covered in bright, almost luminous green moss. The rays of the afternoon sun slanted against the blue-black green of the pine forest. The little roof of visible sky was perfectly blue. The whole picture had a completeness, an all-there quality of such dense power that it stopped me in its tracks. I went to the edge and then, softly, as though into a magical or holy place, to the center, where I sat, then lay down with my cheek against the freshness of the moss. It is here, I thought, and I felt the anxiety that colored my life fall away. This, at last, was where things were as they ought to be. Everything was in its place – the tree, the earth underneath, the rock, the moss. In autumn, it would be right; in winter under the snow, it would be perfect in its wintriness. Spring would come again and miracle within miracle would unfold, each at its special pace, some things having died off, some sprouting in their first spring, but all of equal and utter rightness.
I felt I had discovered the missing center of things, the key to rightness itself, and must hold on to this knowledge which was so clear in that place. I was tempted for a moment to take a scrap of moss away with me. I suddenly feared that in treasuring an amulet of moss, I might lose the real prize: the insight I had had – that I might think my vision safe as long as I kept the moss, only to find one day that I had nothing but a pinch of dead vegetation.
Readers of Be the Solution may also recognize the last chapter of that book as inspired by this passage (and Liedloff’s subsequent experiences living with an Amazonian tribe).
I expect that many of a scientific or technical disposition may be put off, or at least not be inspired, by Liedloff’s experience. For those I would mention four points:
1. Dr. Robert Epstein, a contributing editor of Scientific American Mind and former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today and author of The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen, says of The Continuum Concept, “This book is a work of a genius.”
2. John Holt, the father of the modern homeschooling movement and author of How Children Fail, says of the book, “I don’t know whether the world can be saved by a book, but if it could be, this might just be the book.”
3. I speculate that Julian Jaynes, author of The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, would have understood the value of the book. At some point I’ll spell out the relationship between Jaynes and Liedloff in more detail. For those of a scientific mindset who are skeptical of Jaynes, see Daniel Dennett’s superb defense of Jaynes in “Julian Jaynes’ Software Archeology.”
4. At St. John’s College, which I regard as one of the great loves of my life (along with Magatte), they used to say, “There’s nothing so awful about the modern world that can’t be blamed on Descartes.” At St. John’s there is a great love for the Greeks (the first black student at St. John’s, when asked if there was racism there, said “They care more about whether you are a Platonist or an Aristotelian than if you are black or white.”), and while the Greeks (including Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, and others) have a great respect for rationality, they are not Cartesian.
More on all of these themes in the months and years to come.