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A Transcendentalist Education Monday, October 4th, 2010.

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1 A Transcendentalist Education Monday, October 4th, 2010

2 Alcott on education Learning is based on a dialogue between teacher and student. All children are equally able to learn; disproportionate levels of achievement are due to circumstantial inequities. Rote memory, a common pedagogical apparatus in Alcott's day, is cast aside in favor of encouraging the natural development of a child’s interest in subjects like geography, arithmetic, and grammar. Classroom time is set aside for conversation about moral and spiritual subjects, like the life of Jesus.

3 Alcott and the Temple School 1834: Alcott opens a school for thirty boys and girls, ages six to twelve, in The Masonic Temple in Boston; he hires Elizabeth Palmer Peabody and Margaret Fuller as assistants (Peabody also teaches the students Latin).

4 From Alcott’s Journal in 1834 Education is that process by which thought is opened out of the soul, and, associated with outward... things, is reflected back upon itself, and thus made conscious of its reality and shape. It is Self- Realization. As a means, therefore, of educating the soul out of itself, and mirroring forth its ideas, the external world offers the materials. This is the dim glass in which the senses are first called to display the soul, until, aided by the keener state of imagination... it separates those outward types of itself from their sensual connection, in its own bright mirror recognizes again itself, as a distinctive object in space and time, but out of it in existence, and painting itself upon these, as emblems of its inner and super- sensual life which no outward thing can fully portray.... A language is to be instituted between [the child’s] spirit and the surrounding scene of things in which he dwells.... He who is seeking to know himself, should be ever seeking himself in external things, and by so doing will he be best able to find, and explore his inmost light.

5 In Mr. Alcott's classroom “Believing that the objects which meet the senses every day for years, must necessarily mould [sic] the mind, [Alcott] felt it necessary to choose a spacious room, and ornament it, not with such furniture as only an upholsterer can appreciate, but with such forms as would address and cultivate the imagination and heart. In the four corners of the room, therefore, he placed upon pedestals, fine busts of Socrates, Shakespeare, Milton and Sir Walter Scott. And on a table, before the large gothic window by which the room is lighted, the Image of Silence, “with his finger up, as though he said, beware.” Opposite this gothic window, was his own table, about ten feet long, whose front is the arc of a circle, prepared with little desks for the convenience of the scholars. On this, he placed a small figure of a child aspiring. Behind was a very large book-case, with closets below, a black tablet above, and two shelves filled with books. A fine cast of Christ, in basso-relievo, fixed into this bookcase, is made to appear to the scholars just over the teacher’s head. The bookcase itself, is surmounted with a bust of Plato... The desks for the scholars, with conveniences for placing their books in sight, and with black tablets hung over them, which swing forward, when they wish to use them, are placed against the wall round the room, that when in their seats for study, no scholar need look at another. On the right hand of Mr. Alcott, is a sofa for the accommodation of visitors, and a small table, with a pitcher and bowl. Great advantages arise from this room, every part of which speaks the thoughts of Genius. It is a silent reproach upon rudeness.” (From Record of a School: Exemplifying the General Principles of Spiritual Culture (Boston, 1835))Record of a School: Exemplifying the General Principles of Spiritual Culture (Boston, 1835)

6 Peabody and Alcott By 1836 Peabody is increasingly critical of aspects of Alcott's teaching method and offended by the treatment she receives from the Alcotts while boarding with them Surprisingly, she comes to defend Alcott in the Christian Register and Observer when he is under fire with the publication of the first volume of Conversations. "If she had been solely concerned about her reputation or status as a single woman, she might well have decided not to call attention to her close association with Bronson Alcott and Temple School. Nonetheless, she defended her old colleague...[claiming] that critics could not see that the purpose of the conversations was to reach a 'profound expression of deep, spiritual truth'.” For more, see Bruce A. Ronda's Elizabeth Palmer Peabody: A Reformer On Her Own Terms. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1999.

7 The Peabody Family Store I n 1840, Peabody and her family open a bookstore on West Street in Boston, selling and loaning books –mostly international volumes and Transcendentalist texts—along with homeopathic medicines and art supplies; the shop becomes a Transcendentalist hub. Margaret Fuller holds her first Conversations at Peabody's shop: twenty five women, thirteen weekly meetings --many about the advantage men have in terms of education over women. Fuller proposed a number of Conversations on Greek mythology to combat this inequity (Ronda 187). "... Peabody, along with Fuller, helped keep Alcott's extreme version of transcendentalism alive in 'conversations' which searched for a 'mother tongue'"(Warren 86). For more see James Perrin Warren's Culture of Eloquence. University Park: Penn State UP, 1999.

8 Conversation starters: on education In a secular society, where does spirituality/self evaluation/improvement fit in education? Are Alcott’s methods present in the current educational paradigm? Does contemporary elementary education seem tame in light of Alcott’s classroom. Was anyone else struck by the impressive rhetorical skills of his students? Do you think this discourse based approach should be adapted for contemporary educational standards as it is not so currently?

9 Conversation starters: on Emerson's thoughts about culture and the notion of being (a) representative How does Emerson’s assessment of art hold up today with the influx of new media/mediums? What has happened to our perception of beauty (think Andy Warhol)? What parallels could be made between Emerson’s “great men” and contemporary” celebrities”? Do you think Emerson would see value in the lives of certain celebrities? Has the ubiquity of biographies/autobiographies hindered their possible credibility/ resourcefulness? Is there anything to learn from Chelsea Handler? Are these essays merely self-help masquerading under the guise of philosophy? Does Emerson’s voice change or remain constant throughout the essays? Is Emerson attempting to find himself and is he taking his reader for the ride or has he reached his place and is attempting to help his reader arrive there as well?


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