Sunday, June 19, 2005

Frye on education

I found a great quote not by Northrop Frye but about him, on a website by Jean O'Grady of the University of Toronto, who is Associate Editor of Frye's Collected Works (still partly in progress, from what the site says). The complete article is Northrop Frye at Home and Abroad: His Ideas. But the part I thought would be of interest to those who have studied Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy is this:
Frye's rather subdued, egoless presence as a teacher is therefore deliberate: he aimed at being a transparent medium between student and work. The source of authority in the classroom is not the teacher but the writer being studied, and the impersonal authority of the subject itself. He went so far as to say that the relation between teacher and student was rather an embarrassing one, and that the best moments in the classroom were those in which it was obliterated by a joint vision of the subject. In the light of this glimpsed vision provided by culture, the student will be a radical critic of what is: far from becoming a ‘well-rounded’ individual, with its comfortable overtones of contentment and softness, he is likely to be maladjusted and crochety. Like Socrates, the teacher has for his aim that of corrupting youth.

Sometimes Frye wondered if it was too late, when a student reached university, to influence his mind, already pre-programmed by TV and advertisements. He became involved then in schemes for earlier education, helping to found a Curriculum Institute in which university professors joined with elementary and high school teachers to suggest improvements in the curriculum, and later overseeing the production of a series of English readers for grades 7 to 13. His ideal early childhood education began with rhythm and chant and fantastic stories, with the enduring narratives of the Bible and classical myth, and encompassed at ever deeper levels the narratives of comedy and romance, tragedy and irony. His concern was to keep the imagination in play, for only through imagination could the individual think metaphorically and engage in the play of mind through language that constructed reality in human form.

Isn't that true, that "that the best moments in the classroom [are] those in which [the relationship between teacher and student is] obliterated by a joint vision of the subject?" It's one of the advantages of homeschooling, especially as our children get older and we find ourselves often learning alongside them instead of, as some like to accuse us, playing teacher.

For those interested in reading more about Frye's works and an overview of his Anatomy of Criticism, Jean O'Grady's main webpage is here. Mama Squirrel also picked up another interesting book about him this weekend: Frye in Conversation, by David Cayley.

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