This morning, I got an offer from Amazon to buy Dion Fortune’s “new” book, The Magical Battle of Britain. According to the ad copy from the e-mail, during World War II, Fortune greatly expanded her magical order to anyone who wanted to help. She sent out a weekly letter to the acolytes of her order, describing energy and astral work that could be used against ‘the enemy’ and which would protect Britain magically during the attack. This book is apparently a collection of her essays.
Today’s taiji exercises were not particularly energy-rich — before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood carry water and yesterday was pretty spectacular — but I want to contrast the work of yesterday with this advertisement from Amazon, with an project that my students are currently working on.
Chapter 13 of our textbook is a study of the ways in which the North and the South grew between 1820 and 1860, and it’s divided into four sections. It chronicles the rise of slavery in the south, industrialism in the north, and the growing divide between them over the future of the nation’s economy. John Michael Greer’s column today is about, in part, this three-part divergence (his third category is Frontier, or frontierism, to make it a philosophical point of view) of American culture.
Four tables of kids in my class…. meeting four days next week… four sections in the textbook? Coincidence?? Maybe not. So they’re working in groups to be the experts, with each group responsible for presenting the material, assigning that night’s homework, and devising the notes and study plan which will unlock the differences between the North and South.
It’s easy for me — for any of us teachers, really — to lock in the idea that we’re the expert in the room. But the truth is that I’m not an expert taiji instructor and mostly I’m just a middle-aged guy goofing on some martial arts I learned more than a decade ago. When it comes to a martial art that takes 20 years of dedicated practice to learn properly, I’m a dilettante.
The kids in my class may be dilettantes when it comes to the study of American history, too. I think they’re great people, and I hope many of them grow up to be lovers of history. At this point, I don’t know that any of them will grow up to be history teachers. But i think it is important that they learn how to teach. And that means letting the kids do it.
They may do it well. They may do it poorly. They may do brilliantly for the first half of class, and drop the ball in the second half. Their homework assignments may be terribly boring and dull. Whatever. Sooner or later, we let the kids do it, and they all get better at the skill or talent, regardless of what it is.
Dion Fortune recognized that her country was in great peril. She opened the teachings of magic to as many people as wanted it, and threw a lot of her caution to the winds. She let the kids do it — partly because she thought that her readers COULD strike a blow against the mind of the enemy, but even more because she knew that doing something, anything, would raise the skills of her readers to encourage themselves in the face of mind-numbing danger.
Just because you’re not an adept doesn’t mean you can’t know a thing or two.