Crafting Gentleness

Monday, August 21, 2006


A friend on a social ecology list got me thinking about education today ...

I find that I have held on to the notion of 'education', but when I think about education I think first of all that my job as an educator is not to spread a message but to offer an attitude of invitation, not to fill empty vessels but to invite a tone of respect in which people can step into their own space, remembering the words of Maya Angelou: "People will forget what you say, they will forget what you do, but they never will forget how you make them feel." I also find it helpful to think about differences between education and inculcation. 'Education', etymologically, can still leave room for that sense of invitation (more so than 'pedagogy', I have just learned!) and of nurturing. ('Inculcate' (see below), in passing, often used as a synonym for 'educate', is pretty oppressive.)

I also keep in mind what an Irish journalist Tom McGurk once wrote, (paraphrasing) that it doesn't matter so much what you say as what you mean. That continually challenges me to think about that moment in the Patch Adams movie where Robin Williams manages to look past the fingers to see what others couldn't (I recommend to everyone to watch the movie if you haven't already. I met someone this week who knows the real Patch. How cool is that?). I try now to look past the words and find the attitudes, in thinking about what others do, and more challenging, in thinking about how I think about what I do. I often self-identify as an educator, but I seek to have that make sense for me in ways that don't rub against the grain of the invitational responsiveness that I try to foster in myself.

When it comes to radical or critical pedgaogy (see Hope Archive no. 4) (I am now re-evaluating the word 'pedagogy' ...), people often stop at Freire, but there are more radical voices out there, interested less in reforming the institutional limitations of what's there through raising consciousness and more in starting from a different position, really confronting the embedded oppressions of certain institutional forms that many still consider to be adequate 'education'. Ivan Illich is one of the first that comes to mind. I think it's worth finding allies among those voices. Most recently I am taken by, for example, the work of Peter McClaren in Critical Pedagogy and Predatory Culture (1995). He's a lecturer in a university (as are many of us!) (and working also within a Freirean tradition, among many others) but still one of many powerful voices for political critique and helpfully transformative invitation.


1447, from L. educatus, pp. of educere "bring up, rear, educate," related to educere "bring out," from ex- "out" + ducere "to lead" (see duke). Meaning "provide schooling" is 1588. Educationese "the jargon of school administrators" is from 1966; educrat first attested 1968, usually pejorative, second element from bureaucrat (q.v.). Educable is from 1845. Educated guess first attested 1954.

1387, "schoolmaster, teacher," from O.Fr. pedagogue "teacher of children," from L. paedagogus "slave who escorted children to school and generally supervised them," later "a teacher," from Gk. paidagogos, from pais (gen. paidos) "child" + agogos "leader," from agein "to lead" (see act). Hostile implications in the word are at least from the time of Pepys. Pedagogy is 1583 from M.Fr. p├ędagogie, from Gk. paidagogia "education, attendance on children," from paidagogos "teacher."

1550, from L. inculcatus, pp. of inculcare "force upon, stamp in," from in- "in" + calcare "to tread, press in," from calx "heel."


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