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A Teaching Philosophy: remembering Tonto and re-educating the Lone Ranger
by Philippe Ernewein


{Prologue: roots of the mantra}
            Most of the thinking that went into composing my philosophy was guided by the idea of “writing as discovery.”  At times I have felt like a narrative writer squeezed into an academic box.  At times I have felt like I was just trying to validate my intuition and perhaps at times I was.  I hope that what comes across is ultimately seen as honest no matter how it is read.
            This writing revolves around the importance of remembering.  I see teachers as part of that collective team of rememberers; remembering what is important, remembering what it means to be human.  Perhaps it is the act of remembering that lies at the core of being human. I’m reminded of Robert Creeley’s last stanza of Memory Gardens:
Only us then
Remember, discover,
Still can care for
The human (86).
            When I was looking for a vehicle to use to explore my personal philosophy I turned to Tom Romano’s Blending Genre, Altering Style.  I was really only convinced to pursue this multi-genre approach after reading Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La frontera.  I was mesmerized much like the way I was when I read Victor Villanueva’s Bootstraps; I wanted to walk down the trail they carved in the wild frontier of academia. 
            How did Anzaldua so beautifully weave together these radically different stories?  Perhaps by convincing the reader they are really part of the same cloth.  It would have been much easier to compose a strictly academic piece.  That was part of the difficulty: I kept getting pulled back to the traditional style of academic writing.
            It was my intent to connect my personal philosophy to practical classroom applications.  At times my pen took over and just said this piece belongs here.  I’ve wanted to mix these ingredients for a long time: student examples next to Kerouac next to Snyder next to writing theory next to personal journals.  With Romano’s theory as my wind, I set sail.
My allegiance to the lead however is fleeting: once readers have turned the page, those opening words are no longer important.  Once readers are traveling your writing road, other matters loom critically ahead (Romano 41).
{Introduction: a word tacked to a wall}
            There is a mantra that keeps coming back to me on sunny days, on overcast days, and in the classroom.  Yes, often in the classroom.  To call it a mantra might be too pretentious.  It is after all just a word.  While re- reading Augustine, Carl Rogers, Parker Palmer, and Plato more closely I noticed the word was frequently lurking in the text.  It was present in my pre-writing for this personal philosophy.  It popped up in readings I did recently that did not related to any specific class; reading done in that elusive free time.  Gary Snyder uses it openly in his poetry.  Jack Kerouac frequently wrote about it.  This mantra even played a prominent role in Paul Gallico’s book called The Man Who Was Magic: a Fable of Innocence.
            The first time I saw the word and it meant anything more than the dictionary definition was during my brief time training with a Buddhist master.  That time was brief only because the pull back to the classroom was so strong, not because a lack of interest.  The decision at that time did not allow for me to do both.  I had taken an early sabbatical after two years teaching in a poor and under-resourced district (a parish is what they call it in Louisiana) outside of New Orleans.  I knew my departure from the classroom was temporary.  I needed something that was missing, something spiritual, something to depend on when all else failed.
            That’s when I found G.B., a reclusive master teacher who resides in the northwestern corner of New Mexico, the center of the San Juan Basin, Chaco Canyon.  Shortly after I met him he invited me to sit with him during his morning meditations. His alter of simple incense, flowers, and a picture of his spiritual guide was complimented by one word written in black ink on a white unlined half sheet of paper: Remember.
            Remember.  Remember what?  My experience as a second language learner in America? My experience of being disengaged and bored with much of my high school education? Remember my Algebra teacher Mr. Smith’s most unhelpful words, “Try harder,” when I didn’t understand the Quadratic Equation my freshman year?
{Intentions: literary company}
            It is my hope that some of this thinking and writing (same thing?) will shed more light on this mantra of remember.  It has been truly a profound experience to see the idea of remember play such an important in my recent daydreaming, journaling, reading, and writing explorations.  In the philosophical realm Plato stresses the importance of remembering relationships and nurturing relationship and using bonding as a vehicle for learning in the Phaedrus dialogue.  In the literary circle Kerouac writes about remembering birth in order to live a fuller life.  Around the warm campfire of poetry Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and Robert Creeley are imploring the reader remember a sense of place in the ecosystem of life; remember the wild.  Paul Gallico in his wonderful fable about a young magician is really speaking of the value of the magic of everyday life: a sunrise, a rosebush, a deer running through a mountain meadow. Remember everyday magic. Parker Palmer is begging us to remember the sacred, the spiritual in his book To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey and seek those places where the sacred and teaching intersect.  Carl Rogers asks to remember our experiences and utilize them honestly in our relationships.  Socrates speaks of not only knowing the self, but remembering the self.  Christine De Pizan simply says remember charity.  Margaret Fell, using the Scripture as her rhetorical approach, demands that we remember the word of the Lord.
            I admit that there wasn’t much of a connection between seeing the word and being a teacher when the word was reintroduced to me above G.B.’s mediation shrine.  Perhaps the seed was planted then.  Remember.  I made note of it.  I mentally tucked it away.  Seeing the word in that context of something spiritual, something important, something sacred definitely started my thinking about it.  Why did it seem so important posted above the shrine?  What elevated the word to the level of mantra?  Why was it important to me?
            Composing this philosophy has acted like a light source on this question.  The appearance of light on the word remember has caused movement and growth; like an avocado seed, it is a big question and will need years of light and water to ever properly bear fruit.  The seed has opened and produced the very beginnings of a trunk. 
            The primary purpose behind this writing has been to more clearly define my own philosophy of teaching.  I have always followed my intuition and believed that remembering was important; the classroom is one place where this can be explored and practiced on a daily basis. The value of remembering and finding effective ways to share that memory has repeatedly surfaced in my thinking and reading around formulating this philosophy. Something I’ve always intuitively practiced and cherished has been part of the educational field for more than 2,000 years.  Something I have always believed to be crucial is now even more so.
{First Connection: finding Carl Rogers}
            Meeting Carl Rogers for the first time by way of an article photocopied from a 1980 December issue of College Composition and Communication in Rhetorical Theory: Teaching Writing (ENGL 6002) was illuminating to say the least.  The question of remember quickly came to the surface.  In Paul Bator’s article “Aristotelian and Rogerian Rhetoric” he captures Rogers’ central thesis in one succinct sentence:
If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to use that relationship for growth, and change and personal development will occur (427).
Remembering a relationship or an experience and sharing it with a student or a class could lead to actual learning, real transformation.  “Provide a certain type of relationship,” as Rogers said.  This is what I did initially when I first stepped into the classroom.  I valued my relationship with my students because it was all I had.  The meaningful teachers for me previously had been those who provided a certain type of relationship.  One in which I did not feel threatened and was willing to take steps and appropriate learning risks.
            I tried to tap into the only credentials I believe I had, or really ever will have, those of experience.  I secretly believed my students had visions and stories and gifts within themselves.  If their experiences had even been remotely similar to my relationship with schools it was going to be mostly negative.  A place where I was frequently shown what I could not do or did not know how to do.  Not only had my students had negative educational experiences, but frequently so had their parents.  I felt it was my job as an educator to bring those experiences out in the open, up for discussion in the classroom.  I believed that if I remembered those experiences and shared them with my students in a non-threatening manner it would help created an environment which would allow for expression; only then could growth would occur.  It was refreshing to read Rogers’ words, now eight years after that first classroom experience:
The actual statement of the audience’s position is critical.  Since changing a person’s image of the subject depends, in part, upon reducing the present sense of threat, it requires the writer to demonstrate that the audience’s assumptions and perceptions have been understood adequately (Bator 429).
This does not mean that the teacher’s position needs to be identical to the students, but it does mean an early opportunity needs to exist for the both parties to share their view, a common remembrance of similar experiences.  Since education is a common experience held by many it would seem sensible for a teacher to share his/her own educational experience with the students they are teaching. 
            I often did not know exactly what I was doing those first two years; from curriculum to special education protocol to management techniques, I was following my intuition most of the time.  The biggest part of my philosophical foundation and perhaps the only one at that time was Teach For America’s mission statement, “One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education” (Kopp ii).  To borrow from Rogers, there were things I was doing and inner convictions I was practicing long before I realized them consciously (16). 
{From the Source: On Becoming a Person}
            Bator’s article led me to Carl Rogers’ book On Becoming a Person.  In his truly confessional chapter, “This is Me,” he addresses the importance of remembering the self:
In my relationships with persons I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something I am not (16).
The condition of not being yourself can easily rear its ugly head in the classroom.   With the many roles, duties, and responsibilities teachers have, we often forget who we are or lose focus of why we are doing what we are doing.  It can sometimes be a chore to remember who you are.  That is the task Rogers is suggesting we keep as a priority.  Remember who we are.  He continues with this train of thought and places great importance on experience.  “I think of it as trusting the totality of my experience, which I have learned to suspect is wiser than my intellect” (23).  The value of remembering experiences here is evident.  Remembering experiences to share with my students has frequently led to some of the most memorable classroom lessons, lessons that students will often come back to months and years later to talk about:  remember when you told me about riding the short bus to school?  Remember when you told the class your father died when you were young?  Remember when you told the class you ran cross country in high school?
            I do and have tried to capture those moments into future lessons, specifically writing lessons.  Capturing and crafting those memories into future lessons has also created rich classroom discussions and will often lead to the students sharing valuable and sometimes previously unshared experiences in journals, conferences, and writing pieces. 
{Palmer’s Example: the importance of balance}
            Remembering all by itself will not suffice.  For example, just sharing what I remember about the Holocaust with my 11th grade students would not provide an adequate picture and clearly not teach them everything they need to know about Germany in World War II.  Memories and stories that have been given to me by my grandparents and Holocaust survivors play an important part of the history, but do not play the only part.  There needs to be a balance, a combination of the knowledge and the experience.  Cicero brought this need for balance into crisp perspective in De Oratore:
To begin with, a knowledge of very many matters must be grasped, without which oratory is but an empty and ridiculous swirl of verbiage (Bizzell 291).
In other words, knowledge must be woven into an experience or story otherwise it has no place to stay; it will just blow away like a seed unable to find fertile ground.  Just like a lecture or lesson will easily be forgotten if a student does not have a meaningful experience to hang it on.  
            Parker Palmer provides an extreme example of his learning experience about the Holocaust where he received just the knowledge component, just the facts.  In essence he experienced what Cicero must have meant by “an empty ridiculous swirl of verbiage.”  Teaching the lesson about that dark period of history without any heart, without any personal stories, without tapping into his experience left Palmer without having truly learned much:
I was taught the history of Nazi Germany in a way and I’ve never known how to say this that made me feel that somehow all of that murderousness had happened to another species on another planet.  My teachers were not revisionists.  They weren’t saying it didn’t happen.  It happened.  They taught the statistics and the facts and the theories behind the facts, but they presented them at such objectives arm’s length, just the facts and only the facts that it never connected with the inwardness of my life, because they inwardness of those events was never revealed to me.  All objectified, all was externalized and I ended up morally and spiritually deformed as a consequence of that objectification (Appendix A). 
He was not given the chance through writing or discussing to realize that this big story was also part of his story.  This is the remembering component Palmer brings to his classrooms today; creating opportunities for his students to remember their own experiences and connect bigger stories to their own story. 
            This begins to shed light on the importance of remember.  Remember the whole story, all sides.  Remember the heart and mind of it.
{Ancient Connections: different classroom, same students}
            In the Phaedrus dialogue Plato writes about the importance of being able to “Define everything separately; then when he has defined them, he must know how to divide them by classes until further division is impossible” (Bizzell 167).  This was clearly the manner in which Palmer was taught about the Holocaust.  He was treated, as Aristotle might call him, “A rational animal, capable of using logical reasoning as the basis for argument” (Bator 427).  This is quite a different approach than Rogers.  As Bator points out, “Rogerian strategy ‘rests on the assumption that a man holds to his beliefs about who he is and what the world is like because other beliefs threaten his identity and integrity’” (427).  And this seems to be the dividing factor between the manner in which Parker Palmer was taught and the way Carl Rogers might approach the task.  A split between, as Peter Senge would call it, systems thinking versus non-systems thinking (67).  The systems approach would see Palmer (the student) as part of the Holocaust history; our world today is clearly still evolving and changing from the events of World War II.  Even more than that, there are examples today of “little Hitlers” as Palmer calls them, forces of evil and hate that are operating in neighborhoods or business or town halls.  This is an example that only furthers the need for remembrance of how our past influences the future.
            Perhaps it is as simple as taking the audience (the client according to Rogers) into account, but it is more involved than that.  After all, Aristotle took his audience into consideration, “The Aristotelian rhetor thus seeks to establish and control the emotions and expectations of the audience in an effort to persuade them to his own point of view” (Bator 427).  Rogers of course has no interest in “generation and control of audience expectations” (Bator 427).   Rogers is interested in remembering a common experience that perhaps he and his audience have shared.  Above all it is important for him to “be real” (33).  Rogers places great value on being genuine.  There is a great amount of activity happening in this process that involves remembering.  For example, Rogers states that the relationship which is helpful is characterized by an exposure of real feelings and “acceptance of this other person as a separate person with value in his own right; and by deep empathic understanding which enables me to see his private world through his eyes” (34).  This involves a great deal of remembering on the part of the teacher.  In a typical classroom it would be nearly impossible to achieve in the first month of school if no prior experience or communication exists with the students.  After a few months of shared time, conversations, and common experiences, seeing through the students’ eyes can be achieved.  “To the extent that the teacher creates such a relationship with the class, the student will become a self-initiated learner, more original, more self-disciplined, less anxious and other-directed” (Rogers 37). 
            In On Christian Doctrine Augustine stresses the importance of remembering previous experiences, remembering what was heard and remembering what was learned; his description seems to lay the foundation for the natural learning model.  Augustine suggests that if a student was to pause and think of each rule for speaking, the student would be tongue-tied and unable to speak clearly:
For indeed even the very ones who have learned them, and express themselves fluently, think of these rules, in order to speak in accordance with them, unless the discussion be on the rules.  Nay more, I believe there are scarcely any who can do both things, viz., speak well, and in order to do so, think of the rules of oratory while speaking (Bizzell 457).
This could be applied to writing also; students of writing might become apprehensive due to thinking about the rules as they try to write.  Completely blocking the discovering which can occur during the act of writing.  The remember component plays an almost subliminal role here.  We must instinctually tap into that memory of what writing is and remember the good writing we have been exposed to and hope that in our practice we will discover something new.
            Augustine continues to stress the importance and intuitive role that remembering plays in language acquisition in Book IV, “Children, for instance, would not even need the very rules of grammar, through which the purity of speech is attained, if they had the opportunity of growing up and living with men who talked correctly” (Bizzell 457).  In other words if students had natural learning experiences all they would have to do is remember those experiences when they spoke.  Of course learning is not that clean-cut.  There are obstacles to this idea of remember.   The experience is loaded with variables and individual experiences.  We are not the product of one experience, but the sum of all our experiences.
{Old Meets New: Socrates and Kerouac meet on the path}
            In Plato’s dialogue of Phaedrus the language of remembering is strong.  Socrates in his discussion with Phaedrus during the third and final part speaks of remembering beauty:
All my discourse so far has been about the fourth kind of madness, which causes him to be regarded as mad, who, when he sees the beauty on earth, remembering the true beauty, feels his wings growing and longs to stretch them for an upward flight, but cannot do so, and, like a bird, gazes upwards and neglects the things below (Bizzell 151).
Here Socrates is specifically talking about remembering: remembering what is important, the true beauty.  And where was this learned? Where was the knowledge of beauty first acquired? Before birth, during birth, with our first sensual experience?  This reminds me of the metaphor of mirror and lamp Professor Vandeweghe often used in Rhetorical Theory: Teaching Writing.  It would seem that the lamp here is the most useful in remembering this beauty.  To allow light deep within the cellars of memory, of consciousness, of previous experience will help us discover the beauty Socrates says we will find within.  It is within us and requires deep introspection to locate the source, the origin of the thought; to be able to remember it. Where do lost memories go?
            This beauty has been searched for by people since pre-historic times.  Jack Kerouac in his novel On the Road shares his journey of essentially trying to remember that beauty.  His existential view on the matter is creatively presented at the beginning of his second cross country journey:
The one thing that we yearn for in our living days, that makes us sigh and groan and undergo sweet nauseas of all kinds, is the remembrance of some lost bliss that was probably experienced in the womb and can only be reproduced (though we hate to admit it) in death. But who wants to die? In the rush of events I kept thinking about this in the back of my mind (124).
Like Socrates, he is attempting to remember lost bliss, lost beauty.  Kerouac keeps it in the back of his mind because he has no choice.  It is an essential question.  Whether we know an answer or not, our mind will keep searching, seeking, and attempting to acquire an acceptable answer.  It is trying to remember something that perhaps, according to Kerouac, was once known at the birth.  Maybe the mind is trying to remember something that was never known.  Maybe the heart remembers what the mind forgot.
{Literary Connections: storytellers and poets}
            The act of remembering something that is taught or experienced will most likely not occur if we treat the knowledge as something disconnected, something separate from the larger experience.  It needs to be part of, as author Fritjof Capra calls it in his book The Web of Life, “A whole network of relationships – a context, in which information is embedded and which gives it meaning” (272).  This network of relationships is what I see as a collective memory of a person’s life or a community’s shared memories.  The stories and experiences that a group holds as important and valuable in order to lead a meaningful and productive life are the glue that holds this network of relationships together. 
            And who decides which stories and experiences are valued?  Do we consult Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy at this point and take it as Scripture?  Who are the stakeholders?  Who are the great rememberers?  Gary Snyder would say it is the poets:
Poets hold the most archaic values on earth…the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe (The Real Work 3). 
I agree with Snyder, but I would add, among others to that group who hold those archaic values, teachers.  As part of the collective of the rememberers with potters, writers, farmers, philosophers, and spiritual leaders, there must be a place at the table for teachers.  As teachers we are constantly making decisions about what subjects to tackle, which lessons to craft, and what memories to share.
            In Gallico’s The Man Who Was Magic, the main character Adam shares with his young student where the memories are held.  In an exchange and setting similar to Socrates and Pheadrus’, Adam touches his young student on her forehead and says:
It’s all inside there, Jane, like a box with many compartments.  Each one you can call upon for anything you want or desire.  It contains the greatest magic of all.  It can carry you into the past, or let you imagine the future.  It can help to make you well when you’re sick and make bad things good.  Everything that men or women have ever accomplished has come out of that miraculous box.  When you use it properly it enables you to think of or create things that no one has ever done before, even the way to the stars (119).
That miraculous box: the mind, the soul, imagination, our memory? This is the place where the archaic values are stored.  The memories of our parents, the first time we saw blood, a first kiss, a favorite recipe, the value of a relationship: the stuff that makes us human. 
"Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout"
By Gary Snyder
Down valley of a smoke haze
Three days of heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.
I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.
(Riprap, 1959)
{Personal Memory: moving outward physically & spiritually}
Traveling around Europe, right out of high school, eighteen years old, I moved around for a month straight.  Sleeping in Youth Hostels and hopping on trains from Frankfurt to Paris to Madrid to Brussels, it was more education than my entire four years of high school combined.  Money was tight, but we always made sure there was enough left for the daily entry fees at museums.  My friend Bryan and I kept journals for the first time in our lives.  There we collected our observations, sketches, ideas, and tried to explain things we didn’t fully understand; I remember being enraged by the food vendor outside of the Dachau concentration camp.  Who could have an appetite after witnessing such absolute horror?
We also read everyday.  I was reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for the first time.  We finally settled down for a few days at my Aunt’s house in Turnhout, Belgium, the place of my birth.  I slept in a cozy bed, as opposed to trains and old WWII cots, and took a long shower.  While getting cleaned up, I looked in the mirror, but didn’t see myself.  I just saw everything around me (excerpt from journal  4/23/02). 
“In moving outward from himself, the child becomes more himself” (Teaching the Universe of Discourse 59).
{Insitu: standing in front of a classroom twelve years later}
When I take away all the textbooks, vocabulary lists, spelling rules, and standardized tests, the one thing that remains standing in my classroom is the journal.  The journal is the keeper of the letters I exchange with my students on a weekly basis.  The journal is the keeper of the collective memories that are created during the school year.  The only time the students receive the same letter is on the first day of school.  This letter explains my expectations and requirements of the journal.  I adapted this idea from Nancie Atwell’s book In the Middle when I first started teaching eight years ago.  The journal has evolved over time out of necessity into an individualized and organic practice; organic because it can move in many directions depending on the student’s needs.  Unlike Atwell, the journal doesn’t have to be a strict reading response (i.e. teacher asks questions about a text and students answers them).  If it was, according to Moffett, then it would not be real authoring, but “disguised playback” (Coming on Center 149).   It can include other ideas, news, and personal concerns.  This year it has become a powerful springboard for writing topics.  The journal always plays the role of the bank for our memories.
In the Writing Workshop the students are encouraged to write about anything.  First day, just write; this confuses some, of course, because they have often not been given the opportunity to write in such a way.  There are boundaries: language about hurting self or others would draw my immediate attention and lead to a conference with the parents.  It is frequently a cry for help or attention and then steps are taken to resolve that issue.  During the first quarter, for example, the students are required to write a narrative which is modeled extensively in the Workshop. 
Every student has a story, a collection of memories and it is here where they can capture it on paper.  Their first pieces are often amazing with strong details and definite passion for the topic.  Basically they select the memory they wish to hone.  Remembering is the lifeline of the Workshop; the oxygen of the classroom.
I dedicate the last few days of every quarter to sharing our completed writing pieces.  This is when the bar is set; students see the high expectations of true authorship, honesty and the value of remembering.  For many it is often the first time they have been allowed to write about their memories.  With the second quarter the boundaries of writing increase to include expository, research, technical, and a variety of letters.
“To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him” (Suzuki 31).
{The Spirit and the Classroom: the Buddha on my shoulder}
Discovering James Moffett’s theories was like finding the educational roadmap that I had intuitively been using to navigate my thinking around writing and reaching often reluctant and learning different high school students.  It was like sitting with a Buddhist master and being told to breathe like this and think of a certain mantra when that is what you have been doing instinctually for years.  But sitting and breathing correctly is something that anyone can do; it is the knowing why that brings depth and integrity and precision to the act. 
Sitting cross-legged on the floor or sitting on a chair (preferably without touching the back of the chair), one keeps the spine erect but not stiff, releases muscles, and slows and deepens breathing.  The key to meditation is a relaxed body and an alert awareness (Coming on Center 151).
For the writer this relaxed body and alert awareness can be captured in the journal.  My students do not have very much opportunity during their day to get as close to meditation as they do during the twenty minutes of uninterrupted reading and writing time they are guaranteed everyday.  They have told me it is one of the things they value most in the classroom.  It is a time for me to also sit alone with my thoughts as well as theirs and make sense of what they are saying and thinking; what I am saying and thinking, what I am teaching and why I am teaching it.
Veils fall.  Zen masters constantly compare this liberated consciousness to a perfectly still body of water that directly reflects reality, no longer distorting it with ruffles of egoistic feelings or ripplings of the social mind (Coming on Center 164).
But not everything is still, underneath the water there are thoughts swimming. Suzuki calls them mind weeds.  We should be grateful for these weeds because eventually they will enrich our practice (36).  Where do these weeds come from?  Who planted them there?  Moffett would say institutions put them there:
Individuals are in a sense “bugged” by institutions, implanted with an invisible transmitter in the form of a discursive system that structures their own nervous system so that they are in some degree participating in group thinking whether they know it or not or like it or not (Coming on Center 138).
Who bugged me?  Who bugged my father? My grandfather? And why bug?  Are the institutions afraid of what might happen if the students and teachers actually arrived at their own conclusions; would it challenge the status quo? Be aware of what bugs you.
A way to counter this “bugging” is to write and to write often and for yourself.
M.S. Merwin says, “Practice, practice! Put your hope in that!”(Wilhelm xii).
Belief & Technique for Modern Prose: List of Essentials
By Jack Kerouac
  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
(Charters, 58)
{The Classroom Framework: “to be utilized, not believed”}
            I have found it is in the journal where abstracting has an opportunity to occur.  As Moffett states in Teaching the Universe, the student abstracts, “A large amount of raw material into categories of experience and then into propositions which finally he would combine so as to arrive at new propositions not evident in any of the lower stages” (28).
Dear Mr. Ernewein,
I think that with the help of the lyrics and Mr. V with creative writing I will be able turn this piece into what I want it to be.  However I am having difficulty finding lyrics for Tears in Heaven and the other song.
Kelly, a tenth grader in my homeroom, started to use the journal to help develop her writing projects.  Here she is clearly the owner of the project; she had compiled her own soundtrack for the book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and was writing the liner notes.  She was taking songs she selected (the raw material) and connecting them to three passages from the text that she had found memorable and powerful (categories of experience) in Angelou’s book.  Kelly was clearly arriving at “new propositions not evident at any of the lower stages” when she used Eric Clapton’s words to “Tears in Heaven” to describe how Momma might have felt after Maya was living on the streets.  “At any moment this heady stuff can be tapped off and converted to ink” (Coming on Center 136).  Kelly does exactly that by taking Momma’s perspective, connecting it to a song, and putting it on paper.
            The act of writing in the journal is done at the writer’s convenience and the topic is mostly one the students select.  Prompts and questions are of course present in the exchange because it opens up an entire new realm of possibilities. This is authentic writing.
We might ask someone suddenly to say what he is thinking and thereby learn the subject matter, the order of disorder of the thought and images, and perhaps some aura or vein characterizing this material, but until asked to tell us, the person may not even have been aware of his stream and, even if aware, may not have put it into words (Coming on Center 135).
The journal is the writer’s net; it captures those thoughts that might otherwise be lost.  But it is not only the net; it is also the witness to the phenomenon of the development of the writer.  It documents the movement of the writer through the levels of abstraction.  “To abstract is to trade loss of reality for a gain in control” (Teaching the Universe of Discourse 23).  How does the journal do this?
Reflection – Intrapersonal communication between two parts of one nervous system.
Conversation – Interpersonal communication between two people in vocal range.
Correspondence – Interpersonal communication between remote individuals or small groups with some personal knowledge of each other.
Publication – Impersonal communication to a large anonymous group extended over time and space
(Teaching the Universe of Discourse 33).
Reflection: Students use their journals to solve problems, brainstorm ideas, write about their emotions, deal with tragic and joyful events; they write about what they are reading and thinking about that reading.  These entries are optional to share with the teacher.
Conversation:  This is the required weekly letter that the students compose to the teacher.  This is part of the year-long conversation about reading, writing, and thinking.
Correspondence:  Students compose letters to other students in class.  They are also encouraged to write their teachers when there is tension or conflict.  Letters are also written to parents every quarter.  Some students have also used letter writing to the administration to question and challenge school policy (Appendix B).
Publication:  The journal is frequently the place where writing begins that eventually evolves into a piece that is published. 
It is interesting to note here, as Moffett shares at the end of this list, that there is an implied progression here from “the lowest verbal abstraction…narrative” to the what may happen and the theoretical  stage (Teaching the Universe of Discourse 34).  This nicely parallels the sequence I have used in the classroom: from the beginning of the year narratives to the fourth quarter theoretical and research pieces.  I have observed in the classroom that without the first stages the student could not arrive at the higher levels of abstraction.  By this I do not mean to imply that this is a lock step procedure, but that there is a tremendous amount of fluidity within these stages. Like memories return to the mind in non-linear fashion, writing is recursive.
{An Interlude:  Arlo Guthrie’s Mississippi-Dylan Story}
The difference between Bob Dylan and the rest of us is this; you see we are all sitting on the banks of the muddy Mississippi, just sitting and watching the water, riverboats, barges, time pass by.  All of us sit and have wonderful and beautiful thoughts drift through our minds as this is happening.  We have grand ideas and daydreams.  Everyone let these things float by except Bob Dylan.  He is sitting on the bank with us, but he is there with pen and paper getting it all down on paper.
Paraphrase of a story Arlo Guthrie frequently told at his concerts explaining why he never goes anywhere without paper and pen; and why Bob Dylan has written so many great songs.  
{The Classroom Framework:  what is really happening?}
            The philosophical foundation of the journal can be summed up in Moffett’s fantastic sentence:  “Somebody-talking-to-somebody-else-about-something” (Teaching the Universe of Discourse 5).  This is at the heart of the journal with each student.  We may be writing about a recent current event or a new writing project; we are concerned about subjects other than the traditional definition of English.  The symbol system is what we use to explore, communicate, and question.  “When a student ‘learns’ one of these systems, he learns how to operate it” (Teaching the Universe of Discourse 6).  And this, according to Moffett, is the main point: to talk about other things by means of this system (Teaching the Universe of Discourse 6).  More specifically:
1.      What is happening – drama - recording
2.      What happened – narrative - reporting
3.      What happens – exposition - generalizing
4.      What may happen – logical argumentation – theorizing
(Teaching the Universe of Discourse 35)
With this list it is easy to categorize most if not all student writing.  An awareness of this continuum is a valuable tool when conferencing or advising a student on where to go with his or her writing.  As teachers of writing, we want students to take steps toward abstraction.  We encourage the student to take points of view that are new and fresh.  We want students to spend their time “using that system in every realistic way that it can be used, not that he analyze it or study it as a subject” (Teaching the Universe of Discourse 7).
{What Does It Mean To Learn a Language?  8 year-old-immigration-love-sick-blues}
As a 3rd grader and newly arrived emigrant to the United States, I learned more about the English language from listening to classic rock FM radio, watching sit-coms, interacting with the English speakers on my soccer team, and riding dirt bikes with kids from the neighborhood after school.  And there was a girl; it’s always nice when there is a girl and there was.  Isabelle was a French-Canadian from Quebec; she was already in the regular classroom full-time when I arrived.  For 6 months I had to attend a different school to learn English in the morning; eventually I was mainstreamed.  She spoke English a lot better than I did, but there was an accent and it was maybe in that that I felt a kinship.  Maybe she was just cute.  She did poorly on her spelling tests just like I did; there were no golden stars next to our names on the classroom spelling chart.  It was destiny.  I finally overcame my fear and wrote my first love note.  “I like you and you are good at kickball.”  It must have been filled with errors, but somehow she was able to read it.  She wrote right back.  We were on the same kickball team from that day on.  We were two young kids making scratches on paper: a shared utterance.
{The Practice: bringing it to my classroom}
The word grammar is used by language scholars to mean the description of the structure of a language and the system of rules that govern it.  A grammar is like a basket that can hold sentences in that language which would all work.  In earlier times language scholars confused writing with speech.  This is evident in the word grammar itself – the Greek gramma mean “letter” with the root gerehh or grebb “to scratch” (hence kerf, graph, carve).  Grammar comes from grammatechne, “woven scratches.” But it is quite clear that the primary existence of language (“tongue”) is in the event, the utterance (The Practice of the Wild 68).
Kelly’s journal and related writing projects have been a place where she can capture this utterance; a place where she doesn’t have to worry about grammar or spelling.  The journal is just a place where she can go to make those initial scratches on paper and make sense of what she is thinking and reading and remembering.  A place where, to borrow Britton’s metaphor, she can push the boat out and “trust it will come to shore somewhere – not anywhere, which would be tantamount to losing our way, but somewhere that constitutes a stage on a purposeful journey” (139). 
Dear Mr. Ernewein,
(English) has always been one of my week (sic) points in school.  I have always been a terrible speller and have always had difficulties remember the grammar rules.  Before (this class) it seemed like no matter how hard I tried I wouldn’t get better and my teachers saw me as slacking off or not trying so they would never help me to become better…You have never doubted me and you have never said that I was a bad student.
We might call the journal a log of the learning journey.  When I first read Britton’s essay “Shaping at the Point of Utterance” it sounded like Gospel to me.  The “spontaneous manner” that Britton hopes the student will achieve to facilitate highly effective writing can easily have a place in the journal as it did for Kelly and has for many other students.  She has had trouble in the past, as stated in her above journal entry, with grammar, spelling, and mechanics.  I had stressed from the first day of school that in the journal those things really took a backseat to original ideas, emotions, and thoughts about their own reading and writing.  Moffett writes in his essay “Writing, Inner Speech, and Meditation” that the student needs to be writing material of “his or her own eyewitnessing, memories, interviews, experiments, feelings, reflections, and reactions to reading” (Coming on Center 143). There again is the power of memory.
            Kelly and I wrote extensively during the three weeks that our class read Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir Night (Appendix C). From the outset of the book, the students knew they were required to compose an expository essay about the importance of remembering Germany’s twelve dark years.  There were daily readings of the text, both inside and outside of class, followed by classroom discussions, mini-lessons, and videos on the topic.  Kelly selected Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning as her book of choice in the Reading Workshop.  The Reading Workshop is a daily time set aside when students can read any book of their choosing.  I do this also and these books are often the subject matter of our journal weekly journal exchanges.
Dear Mr. Ernewein,
While I was reading both Night and Man’s Search for Meaning I started thinking about all the people and their stories that I have learned about…There was a lady I heard about that while she was in the camp she kept swallowing the family diamonds in order to save them and she still has them today.  One of the other stories I remembered last night was one about a soldier who had liberated one of the camps and years later was contacted by some officers saying they had something for him and it was a Menorah made out of nails that was made inside the camp and a person who he had liberated wanted him to have. It is amazing to me all they were able to live through.
Here Kelly is participating in the stream of consciousness reporting, the what is happeningstage.  She has selected those two stories  because they “left an impression” or “stand out” (Teaching the Universe of Discourse 20).  As Kelly is capturing her memories and thinking on paper she is moving toward abstraction.
Shortly after this journal entry Kelly wrote a letter to her grandfather who was part of the unit that liberated Dachau.  He wrote back a detailed letter that Kelly shared with the class during one of our “dining room table” discussions (Wilhelm 124).  She wrote in her essay:
My grandfather wrote to me and told me that when he arrived at Dachau “there were 30,000 inmates without proper clothing, many with infectious diseases.  There were no proper sanitary arrangements; they were over worked and such condition I can’t describe to you” (Appendix D).
Kelly is writing here in the what happened stage; she is reporting those things her grandfather was an eyewitness to.  There is a development here from the what is happening stage that was found in the journal toward a higher level of abstraction.  As she continues to write and think about the topic, she is moving toward a higher level of abstraction.  With the final paragraph of the essay, she has not yet reached the what may happen stage, but is clearly starting to generalize.  Using Night as the specific example, she makes the jump that all literature has the capacity to teach something.  In this case about the horrors of the Holocaust and how it can be a tool to prevent it from happening again:
We need to believe that literature can teach us so much.  It is important that everyone know about the tragedy of the Holocaust in order for it to never happen again.  I have heard about the many stories of the Holocaust but it wasn’t until I saw the words on paper that they became so powerful (Appendix D).
The distance here between the subject, the Holocaust, and the speaker, Kelly, is almost a span of sixty years.  She is abstracting from Wiesel’s memoir, her grandfather’s letter, and Frankl’s book and now attempting to abstract to a new audience: her current classmates, future unknown students (as with all quality writing pieces that are produced in the classroom, I will use Kelly’s paper in the future as an example of quality writing), and other people she will share the paper with.  As Kelly wrote in a journal entry, “I’m excited to write to the Holocaust Museum and Elie Wiesel and my grandfather about my Night essay.”  Kelly is basically saying this is what I abstracted from your resources, memoir, and letter and this is what it means to me today.
The proper relation between literature and composition is not for students to write about the reading but for them to make their own literature and read that of others as a fellow practitioner, however humble the state of their own art at the moment (Coming on Center 147).
{Quiet Revolutionary Tendencies:  the powerlessness of the status quo}
by Fugazi
America is just a word but I use it.
Language keeps me locked and repeating.
This time is real, I see it passing by the avenue
Nothing to do now, there’s nothing to do.
I see them spinning on. So I spin out.
America is just a word but I use it.
Language keeps me locked and repeating (4).
If we are, like Gloria Anzaldua says in Borderlands/La frontera, our language and collective memory, then what are we saying to our students when we don’t want to hear their voices in writing or hear their personal histories? (Bizzell 1588).  What are we saying to our students when we demand they cannot use the word “I” in academic writing?  What are we saying to our students when all we assign is research based writing?  Are we afraid they might discover something that might undermine the existing power structure of school, or of society, or of capitalism?  Writing, as Moffett sees it, is an opportunity to find out who I am and what I am to do with my life (Coming on Center 140).  An important question for anyone with a pulse. 
“All this traditional school and college writing only looks mature because it is laced with generalizations of a high abstraction level – quotations from the greats, current formulations of issues, and other ideas received from books or teachers.  Such haste to score, to make quick intellectual killing, merely retards learning, because those kids have not worked up those generalizations themselves” (Coming on Center 140).
If we do not allow students to work up their own generalizations, how will they ever know themselves?  A large part of the current condition has to do with the definition or the perception of what English is.  As Moffett proclaims, it is not about anything in the sense that history, biology, physics and other primarily empirical subjects are about something (Teaching the Universe of Discourse 6).  English is a symbol system; a tool that should be used by students in authentic ways.  English, or any other language, is the fertile ground where ideas, identity, and revolutions have a place to take root. 
            The journal levels the playing field between student and teacher.  Here students and teachers have a real opportunity to talk to somebody-about-something-for-a-purpose.  The journal decentralizes the power structure present in many classrooms:  the teacher knows all.  No the teacher doesn’t and in the journal answers to difficult questions can be explored together.  The journal is the tool were English can be practiced and words can be uttered spontaneously.  The journal is the tool where language can be sculpted and crafted.
"Axe Handles"
by Gary Snyder
One afternoon the last week of April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle right behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with – “
And he sees.  And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wen Fu, fourth century
A.D. “Essay on Literature” – in the
Preface: “In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.”
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on (5).
The teacher is never far off from the student.  When we see ourselves in this grand role, I borrow from Snyder again, we can get down to the real work of ensuring that our students have the tools, academic, social, emotional, to lead happy, healthy, and productive lives.
{Epilogue: do no harm}
"Watchman (a reminder of the real work)"
by Philippe Ernewein
Keith, an 8 year old Navajo boy, visits me weekday afternoons,
                                                he says he has nothing to do;
                                                I wear my hair braided
                                                he says I look like a woman
                                                and we both laugh.
We talk about pride, being young, drawing, what we like,
                                                “Can I have a cappuccino like you?”
He talks about his father, how he puts him in the garage
                                                When he comes home late from visiting me.
Sometimes he stays up till the sun rises:
                                                (“That’s 6 o’clock, right?”)
He sees pictures on my wall and asks, “Who are they?”
                                                “Former students,” I proudly say.
                                                “They send you pictures?”
                                                And he asks,
                                                “Who is their teacher now?”
Today I can honestly answer Keith’s question. I am.  Let me say it again, loud and proud like James Brown, I am.  I am in the classroom remembering you Keith; remembering your struggle.  Remembering the space we shared.  Remembering the pictures you saw on the wall of that trailer in the desert of Navajo Nation.  Remembering Snyder’s metaphor of axe handles, “The model is indeed near at hand.”  Remembering Kelly’s words, “You have never doubted me and you have never said I was a bad student.”  Remember that as the mantra. 
{Footnote: remember what?}
            For Plato, the dialogue.  For Phaedrus, the teacher.  For Socrates, the self.  For Kerouac, birth. For the poets, the archaic values.  For Gallico, the innocence. For Palmer, the sacred. For Rogers, the experience. For Wendy Kopp, equal opportunity.  For Suzuki, beginner’s mind.  For Nancie Atwell, the teacher as writer.  For Wiesel, the Holocaust.  For Frankl, the power of the word.  For Maya Angelou, the voice.  For me, my students and the journey we share.
Works Cited
Angelou, M.  (1970). I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
Atwell, N. (1998).  In the Middle (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Bator, P. (1980, December). “Aristotlelian and Rogerian Rhetoric.” College Composition and Communication.
Bizzell, P. & Herzberg, B., ed.  (2001). The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. Boston, MA: St. Martin’s.
Britton, J. (1982). Prospect and Retrospect: Selected Essays. Montclair, NJ: Boynton/Cook.
Capra, F.  (1996). The Web of Life.  New York, NY: Doubleday.
Charters, A., ed.  (1990). The Portable Beat Reader.  New York, NY: Penguin.
Creeley, R. (1986).  Memory Gardens.  New York, NY: New Directions.
Frankl, V.  (1959).  Man’s Search for Meaning. New York, NY: Beacon Press.
Fugazi  (1991).  Steady Diet of Nothing. Arlington, VA: Discord Records.
Gallico, P. (1966).  The Man Who Was Magic: A Fable of Innocence.  New York, NY: Doubleday and Company.
Hirsch, E.D. Jr. (1988).  Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.  New York, NY:  Vintage.
Kerouac, J. (1957).  On the Road. New York, NY: Penguin.
Kopp, W. (2001) One Day, All Children: The Unlikely Triumph of Teach For America and What I Learned Along the Way.  New York: PublicAffairs.
Moffett, J. (1981).  Coming on Center: English Education in Evolution. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers.
Moffett, J. (1968).  Teaching the Universe of Discourse.  Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin.
Parker, P. (1993).  To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey. San Francisco, CA: Harper.
Romano, T. (2000). Blending Genre, Altering Style. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Rogers, C. (1961).  On Becoming a Person.  Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company. 
Senge, P. (2000). Schools That Learn. New York, NY: Doubleday/Currency.
Wiesel, E. (1982). Night. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
Wilhelm, J., Baker T. Dube J. (2001).  Strategic Reading: Guiding Students to
Lifelong Literacy 6-12. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers.
Snyder, G. (1983).  Axe Handles. New York, NY: North Point Press.
Snyder, G. (1990).  The Practice of the Wild.  New York: North Point Press.
Snyder, G. (1980).  The Real Work: Interviews and Talks 1964-1979. New York, NY: New Directions.
Snyder, G. (1959). Riprap. New York, NY: New Directions.
Suzuki, S. (1970).  Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen meditation and Practice.  New York, NY: Weatherhill.
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