Sometimes, after a long period of using different ideas and tools, you find how they fit together, like cylinders aligning in a padlock.
Me --> You
For several years I have been starting my courses with the Me --> You game. In a quick de-briefing after the game (what did you see?), I often say that for me it is a recognition game. In Me --> You, each person must recognize and be recognized by other people, person to person. At the same time, in the game we create a pattern or weave of these person to person connections. Everyone participates equally, initiating and receiving. To use Althusser's term, we are each interpellated as participants, on equal footing, with equal powers. And, to play the game well (especially when the game involves movement and the joker has added Me-->You circuits, so there are several running at once) each person has to sharpen her/his awareness of the group and each individual.
Me --> You is a rich game. I usually follow it with a spiel about how in this course, or workshop, each participant should feel free, meaning three things:
- Feel free to be comfortable (stretch, stand, use the bathroom, ask questions, ask for more or less heat, etc).
- Feel free to be uncomfortable (to be embarassed, to be shy, to be confused, to be mistaken, to be frustrated, to be angry, etc).
- And, feel free in the sense of "priya" प्रिय the sanskrit word that is the cognate for "free" and means beloved, dear to, favorite.
This last sense of feel free is important because it makes it possible to see that the mutuality and compassion needed for education are part of our freedom. It is also important because priya is about excess, about giving without hope of exact reimbursement. (Ranciere) (Before, I felt I should say something like "feel free, but you also have to respect the other person's freedom..." as if respect were a contractual obligation. I think that "but" is wrong. Respect for others flows from freedom, in that sense of a bond of "dearness.")
Combined with Me-->You, "feel free" means recognition of the freedom in the other person and in ourselves. The recognition of that person as a free person to whom I relate as a free person, who recognizes me as such, a person whose freedom I hold dear, and both of us in a group of people related in the same way, on the same basis.
Love, Hate, Need...
Another tool I often use to continue the process of getting to know people and build relationships is an activity in which people write or draw a picture of themselves surrounded by smaller pictures that represent things they love, hate, need, have, fear, and hope. Drawing frees people from language restrictions and, interestingly, sometimes leads people to express things of which they are only partly conscious. (I may draw a dog with sharp teeth; how large I make it, the particular shape I give it, the color or texture, all of those things may express ideas or feelings of which I was only partly aware.)
The result is a text that expresses my self-conception. The "Me" in Me --> You. Because we all draw these pictures, we are each present and accounted for. We are on equal footing as people with loves, hates, fears, needs, etc. And our differences are expressed too. Our individuality is brought out as are our common concerns and aspirations.
Using these pictures, we also place ourselves in some kind of context, some kind of historically determined place and time, with limits and constraints. This can lead to the identification of generative themes for problem-posing. And, if we focus on Me --> You, we can go a bit deeper.
Equality of Intelligences
This premise, from Joseph Jacotot, has been guiding my thinking about my work, but I have not found a way to talk about it with students. I don't want to just assert it, what good would that do? The fact that I occupy the position of teacher undermines the assertion until we develop a practice in which that position is clearly understood, delimited. Now do I want to have some long pedantic discussion of equality and difference. (Though reading the section from the Ignorant Schoolmaster on leaves as proof of equality, could be interesting.) So, I just kept it in my pocket, or put it on the syllabus, in the form of a quote from Whitman:
Neither a servant nor a master I,
I take no sooner a large price than a small price, I will have my
own whoever enjoys me,
I will be even with you and you shall be even with me.
The quote was like a mystery I offered that might prompt some intrepid student to wonder about its meaning and consider its application.
In using Me --> You as a practice of recognition by/of people as individuals, in a group, on the basis of freedom and "dearness," I realized it is also a kind of proof, a demonstration of our equality. We are beloved because we find what we most value in others and they discover our value to us. That we are equal is obvious and flows not from parity but from the sublime in which we all participate. The choice to be even with each other -- to practice our equality -- matters because we are in the world, always already placed in relations of inequality that have been constructed and must constantly be reproduced. Where we can not be even -- for example, in our positions in the educational institution -- we will recognize this inequality for what it is, an imposition and suppression of equality. So, Me --> You can be a practice of emancipation as well as recognition.
Feedback and Treasure
I traced my way down from Me-->You to the equality of intelligences and emancipation because I was thinking about how to help students give each other feedback on their writing. A woman I taught with years ago at LaGuardia Community College told me to "find the treasure" in students' writing. Feedback is about helping the writer recognize the treasure in what they have done and work it like a vein of gold. It's like the scene in Treasure of the Sierra Madre where Dobbs and Curtin are ready to give up but Howard shows them that they are already standing on gold. Dobbs imagined you just pick up the nuggets; he can't recognize the value of the sand under his feet. Howard helps build the sluice needed to separate the gold from the other dirt. In this case, though, the gold is internal. Feedback is another Me-->You, recognition of the person's ideas and feelings and sharing one's own. Using our own treasure to find the other person's treasure, or the door that leads to it. This is like Jacotot's idea of learning through relating the new object or idea to what we already know.
Me-->You is a matter of finding "the best or as good as the best" as Whitman puts it, in those nearest, and being even with the best. Not a master, not a servant. Emancipated and eternal and relating to others on that basis. "I own publicly who you are, if nobody else owns," says Whitman.