This Digest will consider approaches to language arts teaching that are based on "mythic" or "archetypal" ways of experiencing and knowing. Such approaches address students' inner lives more directly than do the usual instructional methods such as whole language or student-centered instruction, and thus can help to promote feelings-sharing, intuition, and imagery production in the classroom. For example, in attempting to balance the decades-old emphasis on mental skills and rote learning in language education, many teachers and researchers are starting to address the intuitive, holistic or "right-brain" functions of students (King, 1990; Roberts, 1989).
Developing a personal mythology involves using a body of personal myths to form a system for organizing one's conception of reality and guiding day-to-day behavior. By using cross-cultural myths, fairy tales, and folklore, a teacher can help his or her students bring their personal mythologies into clearer focus and inspire them to use their own or other people's myths in creative writing. (For suggestions for creative writing, see "Notes from Beyond the Cognitive Domain," edited by Alice Brand and Dick Graves.) In this way, students can gain a more global perspective on their lives and an expanded sense of their place in the universe. As language educator Nancy King (1990) says, "working with myths to stimulate images and stories (metaphor and memory) enables students from cultures around the world to discover more about who they are and continue the lifelong process of 'making themselves.'"
Crow (1986) introduces the classroom teacher to the study of archetypal patterns in literature and ways to teach writing that are grounded in students' experience of archetypal themes in their own lives. Employing the theories of Jung, Crow describes the general nature of archetypes and provides a writing assignment that guides students in writing about the "archetype of initiation." This cross-cultural archetypal pattern reflects humanity's need for rites of passage into new stages of life. Students are asked to look at their lives as texts, choose one initiation experience, and describe it in detail. As Crow points out, using archetypes in this way can lead students to define their values and initiate them onto "the path of wisdom."
In a different article, Crow (1983) shows teachers how to help students use "steppingstones" or "markers" to divide their lives into significant periods, and write about them by exploring dreams, fantasies, and "twilight imagery" (images that arise during the "twilight state" just before sleep). Through Crow's journal-writing procedure, students can uncover mythic-archetypal patterns such as the hero's journey, initiation, and death-rebirth. Thus, by moving from subjective, unconscious experience to the objective process of writing, students can see the links between their innermost feelings, images, and thoughts and the public world of autobiography and literature.
Pirmantgen's (1976) dreamwork approach to enhancing students' mythic-archetypal ways of knowing and experiencing involves 3 processes: (1) developing a class's awareness, recognition, and memory of dream states and content; (2) creative work with students' own dream material; and (3) drawing parallels between students' dream content and the English curriculum. Pirmantgen admits that working with students' dreams will usually be a peripheral part of the language arts curriculum. But she also feels that dreamwork is important because it helps students open themselves up to an area of their being that is rich in personal meaning and closely allied to their creative abilities.
Brand, A., and D. Graves (1992). "Notes from Beyond the Cognitive Domain." Workshop presented at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (Cincinnati). [ED 347 557]
Brand, A., and D. Graves (1993). "Notes from Beyond the Cognitive Domain." Workshop presented at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (San Diego). [ED 361 688]
Brand, A. and D. Graves (1994). "Notes from Beyond the Cognitive Domain." Workshop presented at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (Nashville). [ED 372 407]
Crow, E. (1986). "Archetypes and Assignments: Writing about Personal Archetypes Aids Students in Writing Composition Papers and Understanding Literature." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (New Orleans). [ED 274 981]
Crow, E. (1983). "Shaping the Self: Using Steppingstones and Autobiography to Create and Discover Archetypes in an Illustrious Monarchy." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (Detroit). [ED 278 016]
Feinstein, D. et al. (1988). "Mythmaking and Human Development." Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 28(3), 25-50.
Jung, C.G. (1966). The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature. New York: Pantheon.
King, N. (1990). "Myth, Metaphor, Memory: Archeology of the Self." Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 30(2), 55-72.
Pirmantgen, P. (1976). "What Would Happen to the American Psyche if, along with Homerooms, Flag Saluting, and I.Q. Testing, Schools Had Daily Dream Sharing?" In G. Hendricks & J. Fadiman (Eds.), Transpersonal Education: A Curriculum for Feeling and Being (59-63). Englewood, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Roberts, T.B. (1989). "Multistate Education: Metacognitive Implications of the Mindbody Psychotechnologies." Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 21(1), 83-102.
Richard D. Stewart received his Ph.D. in Education from Indiana University.
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