International Journal of Education & the Arts

Volume 1 Number 1

March 15, 2000

Joy and the Paradox of Control

Margery D. Osborne & David J. Brady

Departments of Curriculum & Instruction
and Electrical & Computer Engineering
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tale of a paradox (narrated by David)

Lately, I work with particularly simple physical systems. I work with optical interferometers, which to me are the most beautiful of instruments. Interferometers are magical to me, they represent what I love about science. If I have been a bad scientist, spending too much time writing grant proposals and going to committee meetings, interferometers act the jealous mistress and will not work for me. If I have been the good scientist, I can quickly make them work but there is little science in this--it is by feel, practice, intuition. The interferometers that I love form stark beautiful fringes from white light. To do this, two mirrors separated by a few centimeters must be aligned to within one tenth of a hair. This alignment is achieved by turning a micrometer. With the proper alignment, fringes appear. The fringes are not hard, dangerous and stable like a laser beam, however. They are playful and dynamic, shimmering, moving, bouncing about as one hovers, breathing nearby.

Aligning an interferometer can take hours. One nudges knobs, cleans surfaces, and squints at spots. During this time one is immersed in a world, lost in that world, suspended. This is an existence outside of experience for it is without self consciousness. To do this work, one is an artisan, an artist and a human but to name these states implies self consciousness.

Joy, the emotional, spiritual, transformative state, is found through experiences in which multiple ways of knowing/ways of experiencing (i.e. intellectual plus emotional, spiritual plus sensual) occur. This is sometimes an easy combination or sometimes a conflicted intersection but both create metaphorical places in which the uncontrolled, the unpredicted, the dreamed of are created. For us a component of joy is in this sense of the uncontrolled (loss of self), but we also assert, joy is achieved through control (self-control). It involves a willful belief in the unbelievable (such as a child's belief in Santa, or the magical world of Borges or Coelho in which people are choosing to live within an alternative logic). It is achieved through both a consciously and unconsciously chosen limiting of our control of the environment. Joy is magical, strange, and subversive, but we strive to achieve it and we, as adults, do so by choosing to act without control. We choose to not be "smart" or competent in the domains that would allow us to have control. We ask though as we reflect on such experiences, how do we get there (so that we can act in such a way) and what are the ramifications.

In this essay we would like to write about joy and about magic. The stories we will recount of our work in art and science (like David's) or teaching with practicing teachers and small children, are examples of magic: all are mysterious, transformative... and we know that all have rational, scientific, professional explanations but we are content to leave them as "magic:" as unexplained and uncontrolled. We focus on magic because the word is provocative and we wish to provoke an exploration of a much neglected facet of teaching and of education, the uncontrolled and out-of-control, the qualities of teaching that cause joy.

We present this in counterpoint to both utilitarian and critical schools of philosophy/sociology of education. There is a lot to be said for thinking about whimsy, playfulness, passion, spirituality, beauty and many other words rarely applied to education. Thinking about these informs our understandings of what we do and why and could probably and profitably shape our conceptualizations of what we ought to do. To construct an argument for such an assertion we will present a number of short narratives of our work with children and teachers which illustrate qualities of "magic." There are three important qualities of magic that are present in all our stories. These are:

• seeing things not seen before

• seeing things as something else from "normal"

• seeing things that aren't there at all.

All of these arise from seeing old and everyday things in new ways. We do this in a number of ways illustrated here by:

• using things inappropriately

• looking at things too hard

• being in a different head space

• doing things the wrong way

• playing with not understanding.

These are the qualities that constitute our construct "magic" but in themselves they are not magical. What they do however is create parallel worlds of coexistent and incommensurate interpretations. This is also not magical in and of itself. What makes such things magic is the lack of control we can exert over them and the feelings these arouse in us and we assert these feelings are those of joy.

The stories we recount to illuminate qualities of the joy we find through magical acts in teaching and science come from three sources. David talks about his work as a physicist and electrical engineer at the Beckman Institute, University of Illinois and Margery narrates stories from her graduate teaching in education with practicing teachers and her work with "at-risk" preschool children. The three contexts are intertwined; Margery and David collaborate in their research on visualization, in the construction of the graduate class and enabling Margery’s work with children. We begin by painting a more substantial picture of our research and the places we draw our stories from and then we will move on to the stories themselves. We will interlayer our stories with the development of the construct "magic" in teaching and in the doing of science. Through the stories we make an argument that irrespective of our best (or worst) efforts to the contrary students carve out spaces of agency in which they make (or remake) their worlds and magic is instrumental in this process. It is a conceit to say that the teacher does this for them. What a teacher should be doing is "seeing" and enabling the world they create and understanding it in the sensitive way an empathetic adult can. We call this an education in the tradition of magical realism1 and we draw on the work of Jorge Luis Borges and Paulo Coelho to describe it. We also draw from the philosophical writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Martin Heidegger to argue the political ramifications of such a theory as well as the humanist traditions of Robert Coles and Bruno Betelheim. This culminates in our creating a argument for a new appreciation of joy, in science and in teaching.

The background for our stories

In our research together we engage ongoing conversations about the integration of the arts into subject matter teaching.2 We feel that at a fundamental level both science and art are about "seeing," seeing new things and seeing in new ways. This intersection is the starting point of our teaching and we combine the two in our instruction to create a space in which the divergences and similarities between acts of seeing in the two disciplines illuminate each other. In other words rather than using the one discipline (art) to enhance our instruction in science we use the combination of the two to create a potential space of creative critique. While we argue that different conceptualizations of science as an enterprise alter and shape the educational process, we purposely blur the edges between science and art rather than clarify definitions or differentiate the fields. We do this for two reasons: to cause students to think hard about their (usually) stereotyped definitions of science and art and to enrich their abilities in a process common to both disciplines, the ability to see. In doing so our students come to think about the nature of science processes and the processes of making art in new ways and mature students develop richer and more complex ideas about what constitutes both.

This process is to some problematic. To counter such arguments we start from the (traditional) observation that many would claim that art and science diverge at a fundamental level: art is based on personalized understandings which uncover universal truths while science is based on evolving articulations of universal truths which are then narrowly applied in unique settings. We point out that both, however, are centrally about "seeing" and we would argue that such dichotomies obscure such a fundamental commonalty of purpose. When viewed as an exploration of seeing and a development of the ability to see, science and art become tools which build upon and enrich each other.

In our stories we describe our attempts to create spaces where elementary school children and practicing teachers can explore the meanings of the seeing process in the context of developing a rich understanding of the nature of art and science. As we watch our students do this we come to recognize that there is an array of "ways of seeing" in science each of which enables the discovery of different qualities in an object. This in turn causes us to reflect back on the nature of the process and our purposes in engaging in it. In particular we describe how we explore science in the context of the visual arts.

The creation of the stories

We present a number of vignettes of teaching science intertwined with visual art in different contexts and with different age groups. These are developed from our own experiences teaching and reflect a participant researcher stance to research methodology and data analysis. The vignettes were developed from notes and transcripts of classroom lessons written from audio and video taping done over the course of a number of years. This is part of a larger study concerning visualization technologies and evolving a theorization of a gender and culturally sensitive science and science education.3

The magical and the real: Poetics of the everyday

We extend Wittgenstein's thoughts on the poetry of ideas4 to our thinking about objects. The poetry of ideas, when applied to objects, is what occurs when we look at an ordinary thing for so long it becomes "strange." When this happens we begin to see new qualities in it and "inappropriate" uses for it. This is a both a perverse act and a subversive one. It is possible because all things can act as metaphors for something else. All things have overlapping parts or qualities. It is always plausible to say something is like something else (the ocean is like a cloud, a rainbow is like a fish). These metaphors are both plausible and provocative for while in some senses the ocean is like a cloud, in other senses it is not. The metaphor invites comparison and critique as well as enabling new understandings by pointing out likeness. As applied to objects, how is a toilet paper roll like a wheel? How is it not? When we look at toilet paper rolls do we see wheels? What enables a child to see such things?

James makes a fox from dried leaves

Mary Jo is working with James. James is four. They are reading the book Look What I Did With a Leaf!5 and discussing the animal shapes the author has made out of dried and pressed leaves. How did she do these? What shapes are there in leaves? What structures and textures? How did she arrange them? James points to the fox--he wants to make it too. The shape of the body is an oval. He selects an oval leaf. The fox has a backbone, so does the leaf. The leaves are too rounded for legs so he cuts them very carefully in half. Laying them out and creating the pattern is hard for little fingers. Gluing the leaves down requires patience. James writes his name when he is finished and the word "fox."

Reducing the fox into geometric shapes and then seeing similar shapes in the leaves is an abstraction, as a process it involves abstracting a generalizable ideal and fitting it to a pattern. Patterns are substanceless descriptions of relationships. Patterns, both seeing and making them, are compelling in science and in general because they cause us to see the totality of a phenomenon in new ways. The parts of the phenomenon that don't fit the pattern become both invisible and are thrown into relief. Pattern is compelling because the act of bringing order to disorder is infused with romantic mystery and with power. But the parts that are left in disorder are even more mysterious and maintain the phenomenon's own power.

In what ways are leaves like foxes? How is a "whole" composed of parts? In creating his fox James engages such questions. The leaves, as James handles and examines them, assert their own qualities. This can happen because they possess both generalizable qualities and irregularities: those qualities that exist and which we can't classify using the particular set of patterns we are trying to impose. The imposition of theories--generalizations, patterns--enables seeing the phenomenon in new ways because of the abstracting qualities of the process and also because this process is situated in a creative act, in this case trying to make something out of something else. When the qualities of the phenomenon that don't fit the pattern begin to demand our attention, stop being invisible, the assessment of the object or the pattern or the task will be revised.

It's because pattern exists as an overlay on the surface of the real phenomenon that irregularity and regularity can coexist--the imposition of patterns or generalizations doesn’t change the objects true nature. There is more to the phenomenon than can be described by the pattern. Recognition of that causes a child or teacher or scientist to apply existing patterns to new phenomena and to discover new patterns. The person is the creative agent in the dialectic between pattern and irregularity which intersects within the phenomenon. We assert our reality through the imposition of patterns, the recognition of regularities, the creation of explanations. The dialectic between the person and the phenomenon, the pattern and the irregularities, the explained and the unexplained drives the inquiry.

There are two different ways that patterns are looked at and used. A person can look at the pattern and the object through the pattern, using the pattern to give us new ways to see that object in order to continue contemplating the object. The pattern is a tool to enable seeing the object itself. Or the pattern is a tool for doing something with the object. When James composes his fox from the leaves he is engaging this second process. The richness of his picture though comes from the irregularities, the imperfections. The poetry of ideas, when applied to James and his fox, describes the process he has gone through to see a fox in a leaf, to see a composition such as he has created out of its unlikely parts. The leaves are "strange" and so is the fox. Certain qualities and meanings of leaves and foxes are what is being negotiated here and this occurs through their "inappropriate" use. Addressing the question of how a child is able to see such things and engage such comparisons suggests to us that we need to consider both the qualities of the child and of the teacher/teaching. The same process of imposing simplifying patterns on complex and multidimensional phenomena describes the act of teaching. That process allows us as teachers to do certain things including seeing, in a new light, qualities of a child which amaze us.

Scott and Darius: "Boxes and junk" (with Margery narrating)

Little boys, once they reach a certain age see cars, trucks, motorcycles, wheeled vehicles that go fast everywhere. I have been working, for about ten years, enabling children as they design and construct things from their imagination. Sometimes we design things for a specific task (making bubble "structures"6 for example) but also just for the pleasure of making things. Lately I have been guiding young children in a construction activity called "boxes and junk." Below is a picture of Scott holding one of his creations. I worked with Scott last year and this year when I stopped by his classroom, he showed me this:

... his skateboard. He has constructed it from cardboard, toilet paper rolls, paper and masking tape. The rolls of paper extending off the back are "the wind, because it goes so fast!!!"

This is a truck made by Darius. Darius is four and in the "at-risk" pre-school classroom I am working in. It is made of a Styrofoam egg carton, a molded plastic cookie tray, cardboard cylinders and glue. He has painted it teal with tinted glue. He mixed the color. The whole thing took him three full days to make, the first time he has ever made anything or sustained an activity for more than a few minutes running (according to Mary Jo, the classroom teacher). Since making this truck he has made two more, of big molded Styrofoam shapes used to pack computers and of Legos.

Mary Jo hung his first truck on the wall so all the children could admire it. Before he would let her do this he wrote his name on it. He's never done that before either, Mary Jo claims. Every day he asks if he can take the truck home to show his mama. In my two years in the classroom this is the first time I have heard him speak a full sentence.

When we consider how a child becomes able to do such things and the teachers role in this process, we begin to meditate on ideas similar to Donald Schon's observations on the generative qualities of metaphoric thinking in professional problem-setting.7 Schon describes metaphor as creating a perspective or way of looking at things and the application of a new metaphor enables new ways of seeing, hence his phrase "generative metaphor." It is possible for these metaphors to coexist both harmoniously and in conflict and for this reason they also serve to engender inquiry into objects, actions and the problem itself. Like Wittgenstein suggests in his writings on language and meaning, when we look at a truck or a skateboard assembled from old boxes we see something absurd but in articulating the absurdity we "bump" against our understandings of trucks and trash and children. By looking so closely at these things they become absurd, they loose their everyday meanings and we rediscover (to our amazement) the magic within them. This poetry of ideas, applied to objects and actions becomes the site of discovery of new meanings and functions as a heightened form of social and cultural critique.

The children’s creations amaze and amuse us. They do cause us to think new ways about the possibilities in trash but when we talk about "social and cultural critique," that occurs as we look at the children. When we see the possibilities in allowing them the "space" to be creative they challenge our assumptions about what they are capable of doing. As teachers the site of critique and creativity is there, in seeing new potentials in the children, in seeing the children in ways we haven’t imagined them to be. We "bump" against our ideas of the child and also our ideas of what constitutes teaching for here teaching is an act of discovery. It is surprising.

`The "bumps" of Wittgenstein have much in common with the "breaking" of Martin Heidegger.8 According to Dreyfus, Heidegger suggests that we act in this world without contemplation, that detached contemplation, while illuminating is also unnatural and obscures phenomena by isolating and categorizing them separately from the contexts in which they occur. Currently our beliefs about rational, scientific thought and processes as well as our conceptualizations of "best practice" in teaching idolize such idealizations of the thought-action connection. According to Winograd & Flores (1987):

Heidegger does not disregard this kind of thinking, but puts it into a context of cognition as praxis--as concernful acting in the world. He is concerned with our condition of throwness--the condition of understanding in which our actions find some resonance or effectiveness in the world. (p. 32-33)

We act and know how to act because of this quality of throwness or immersion in the everyday. We become aware of the qualities of objects and contexts because the effectiveness of our unreflected upon actions break down-- for some reason they do not work. Heidegger terms this "breaking." "[O]bjects and properties come into existence when there is a breakdown in that [structural] coupling." (Winograd and Flores, p.72.) In working with a child like Darius of course we think we know what we are doing, and we do, otherwise he would not have responded as he did, but still the qualities of his response surprise us. They are and are not what we predicted. As teacher we are working on a knife edge of discovery. It would be possible to fall off to either side. We are gambling, taking a chance. The pay off when we win is huge.

But in talking about the poetics of the real or the metaphors inherent in the acts of children’s construction or of teaching we are making sense of what children and teachers do but we are not really making much sense of why they do these things. What causes people to put themselves in settings in which things become strange? To address this question we turn to magical realism. Magical realism as a term describing a literary genre was appropriated from the world of art criticism.9 There it referred to that artistic form characterized by realistic depiction of the paradoxical and strange. The effect of such work is both unsettling and faintly shocking. Examples would be Salvador Dali's paintings of clocks, and Rene Magritte's depictions of the incongruously assembled living room. Such early work in the genre evolved into Marcel Duchamp's urinals, Bicycle Wheel, and other "ready made art," or recent "difficult art" such as the recent :Sensation" exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. In recognizing that we also recognize the connection to Wittgenstein's poetics of ideas for that is exactly what Duchamp's art is about. And although there seems little poetic in Chris Ofili's 'Holy Virgin Mary', it certainly achieves its purpose in making us uncomfortable.

Heather's example

Heather is working three slide projectors simultaneously, over the lens of one she has placed a red film, over the next green, over the third blue. She moves the red, green and blue lights so they lie on top of each other. The light that results is white. She shows us an image she has created from a photograph taken in Thailand. It is made by separating the colors from her picture, red, green, blue and creating separate negatives, first in red, then green, then blue light. Recombined, the colored images are transformed, cyan, magenta, yellow--the final image, emerges through a textured pool of light.

Heather shows us when she casts a shadow in red light with her hands the shadow we see is cyan, in green light, magenta. The students are amazed at her explanation of their origin, they cannot seem to understand (although they can recite the "rule)--why are the combinations not combinations, how can white light be colored light? The students go to the slide projectors, using their hands to create magical roosters, swans, leaping rabbits in a rainbow of colors. Their shadow theatre evokes the wayang kulit--the traditional puppet shadow theatre of Java and much of Sountheast Asia (Thai: nang talung ). Such performances of the shadow puppet plays are interpreted in religious or mystical fashion. In them the ancient animistic rituals of Southeast Asian religions are played out. As in the shadow theatre, the translucent screen becomes heaven, the floor—earth, and the puppets are man the seeker.

According to Teresa D'Haen magical realism manifests fundamental qualities of post-modernism. It exhibits or engenders:

self-reflexiveness, metafiction, eclecticism, redundancy, multiplicity, discontinuity, intertextuality, parody, the dissolution of character and narrative instance, the erasure of boundaries, and the destabilization of the reader. (D'Haen, p.192)

Both D'Haen and Elizabeth Ellsworth point out that magical realist text speaks from the margins and takes the reader empathetically to that place. It does this through the device of realism; the writing through its realism draws the reader into a magical place where the laws of western logic and rationality are suspended. The reader is seduced into thinking from another perspective than their normal one and moves into an alternative world from which they can critically reflect back on the realities of the "normal world." Heather in her pictures created through the application of printing science incites mystical empathetic understandings of another culture as well as the mysteries of the science. This sense of mystery is itself a challege of the rational beliefs we hold of what science understandings should be. Making the pictures involved understanding the technology of the printing technique, understanding the pictures involves an openning of the mind to mysteries.

Telling stories at the water table (narrated by Margery)

Conversations at the water table are wonderful. Today the water table is full of cornmeal. Sometimes it has rice, macaroni, mixed beans, snow, brown sugar, even water in it but today it is cornmeal. In many ways cornmeal is my favorite. It has a beautiful color and smell. It is texturally complex--gritty but smooth. Cool to the touch. It compacts so it can be molded and used to build structures. It accumulates a static electrical charge which causes individual grains to leap and jump or form interesting swirling patterns at the bottom of table. It is quite fascinating! Children come to play with it and can engage in exploring its properties for a long time without tiring of it. They can also use it as a component of imaginative fantasy play such as cooking, building houses and landscapes. As we play, conversations arise spontaneously while children discuss their activities and discoveries.

I am playing myself; after setting up for the morning I sat down and began by trying to use a bulb baster to suck up cornmeal and blow it back out again. If done carefully this creates a "puff" of particles. I didn’t discover this, Darius did. K'nisha and Tiffany are pouring cornmeal from one container to another using a funnel. I send them back to get smocks on and when they return, they settle into this activity—pouring cornmeal from small jars and bowls into large—filling up the large and then pouring those into the basin of the table with much satisfaction. Tiffany grabs a tube and begins stirring the cornmeal as she adds it to a jar. She is talking about making soup and K'nisha chimes in. I ask them, "What kind of soup do you like?" and this begins a lengthy conversation about the likes and dislikes of everyone and anyone. Conversations with four year olds are patchworks of things they do and know, things they have seen and basic fantasy. I wonder about Tiffany -- does she make supper for her baby sister (which is what she is telling me)? I know she did take care of the baby until her mother, an alcoholic, abandoned them. Then her aunt had custody until she too abandoned the children. K'nisha on the other hand is a mystery to me. She comes to school with her hair freshly put into twisty ponytails, carefully finished with Goody™ barrettes. Her clothes are clean and she is too. The criteria for qualification for "at-risk" services are many-fold.

While this conversation is going on, Andrew and Jake arrive. K'nisha and Tiffany continue their fantasy cooking projects but Andrew and Jake have begun molding a building with the cornmeal. This causes a certain amount of competition between the two groups, for space and for cornmeal and actually the boys start stealing cornmeal from the girls causing a great deal of outrage and some whining. Not too much though--both girls are pretty assertive. Finally the girls start building castles too. Theirs involve piling the jars and bowls on top of each other and then sifting the cornmeal down the sides. Occasionally they will mound some cornmeal on the tops and mold this, then brush it off again.

The conversation turns to home renovation. Jake, like Tiffany, is also four years old and called by Mary Jo the primary caregiver for his baby sister. His mother is what I’d term an opportunistic sex worker at a local bar managed by her mother. The children have different fathers and the family lives in the local trailer park. Jake is into construction. The talk at the table is a complex discussion of construction principles and electrical wiring. How do you wire a castle made of cornmeal? Interesting question I’d say and finally do. I ask, "What kind of lights are you planning on installing?" Jake: "Christmas tree with colors." I ask, "Where’d you learn how to do that wiring?" Andrew: "Second shift with the good old boys."

The Borges’ story, Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertious,11 is an example of magical realism12 which effects many parallels to the stories the children create as they play. In Borges' story magical realism is constituted from a juxtaposition of real and imaginary worlds. It is created in such a way to enable many and layered interpretations, to cause reflections on things taken for granted as well as to construct alternative pathways to sense making. Borges plays in his essay in between the real and fantasy worlds of fact and fiction and the imaginative world is portrayed as reality. When we read his work we enter his fantasy and in doing so, rethink our own identity for identity is fundamentally shaped by our assumptions as we make sense of the world. These are disrupted and questioned and the children do the same as they engage in their fantasy play.

According to one tradition in child psychology13 we are all and especially children constructing meaning in our lives and of our lives. Bettleheim argued for the primacy of narrative fantasy in this process.

For a story to truly hold a child's attention, it must entertain him and arouse his curiosity. But to enrich his life, it must stimulate his imagination; help him to develop his intellect and to clarify his emotions; be attuned to his anxieties and aspirations; give full recognition to his difficulties, while at the same time suggesting solutions to the problems which perturb him. (Bettleheim, p.5)

Fantasy is not a form of escapism but is a way of working through the problematic nature of life without being defeated by it. Meaning is constructed by overcoming the odds and transcending the immediate problems of existence. While Bettelheim is talking of fantasy worlds found in fairytales we would argue that children, as they engage in play such as we have been describing in these stories are creating fairytales of their own and through these fairytales they construct and reconstruct the world in which they exist. We are reminded of the great lesson learned by the shepherd boy in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist (p.20): "... at a certain point in our lives, we loose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie." The story goes on to describe how the shepherd boy pursues his "personal legend" learning to become in control of his own fate for the lie is that passivity indulging concepts of "fate" creates.

We argue that if we pay attention to children’s worlds--the "real" and those that they construct--we should be able to recognize a play of realities and meanings. The children’s activities at the water table are a magical mix of fact and fiction, a reconstruction of "truth" which enables their lives. They use the social context of this play to work out important relationships and understandings about words such as caring and friendship. The text is subversive and "encourages resistance to monologic political and cultural structures;"14 they do not create the lives that white middle class adults would wish to impose on them. In this sense, it can be said that the magic in their stories "is often given as a cultural corrective, requiring readers to scrutinize accepted realistic conventions of causality, materiality, motivation." Through the magic in their fantasy play the children engage the realities composing their lives. We would argue that although the difficulties of these children seem extreme, difficulties are unavoidable--they are an intrinsic part of human existence--but if we are not afraid, recognize and meet these, we can reach an understanding that is enabling and the children in their play are reconstructing reality to do this always and in every setting. Finally, we as teachers, existing as we do in privileged places, have no right to be afraid when confronted by children engaged in this process and indeed if there is joy to be found in teaching it is through enabling this and savoring it when it happens.

Final story: A child’s magic

Andrew is three years old in this story. He lives with his father who is in his forties and works two jobs. He also lives with an older sister who is seven. When his father is working the night shift Andrew sleeps at his grandmother's home. His mother never sees him although she is in the area. He and his sister where taken from her care by the Department of Family Services. The pre-school program here is configured as a "family" program with four home visits a year by Mary Jo, the classroom teacher. At home his environment is rather restricted, Mary Jo describes it as "Spartan," clean and very very neat. His activities there center around the computer, playing games of any type for all hours. At school he would choose to do this also. There are two computers in the classroom and Andrew would gladly monopolize both simultaneously, running back and forth between them clicking buttons with ferocious intensity and without waiting to see what happens.

At this moment Andrew is running back and forth across the room. He pauses for second by my side, "Look Margery, this is my shape shifter." He holds up two plastic counters, a square and a triangle attached. He pushes it at my face, holding it like a gun.

Margery: Oh yeah, how's that work? (I wince and jerk my head away , thinking he's going to make ray gun noises and talk magical superhero powers.)

Andrew: Like this. (He holds it up again and rotates it four times around an imaginary, stationary center.)

Margery: Oh! What's that called?

Andrew: An octagon.

The magical and the real: Transforming existence through joy

We began this essay claiming that magic has three components:

• seeing things not seen before

• seeing things as something else from "normal"

• seeing things that aren't there at all.

Andrew is doing all these things and he is "using things inappropriately," "looking at things too hard" and "doing things the wrong way." He is also "out of control." However the teacher is the one who is "in a different head space." The magic here is both in the transformations Andrew enacts with the counters and in the transformations Margery must enact to align herself with his thinking. Anthony Greeley in Ecstasy: A Way of Knowing,16 describes such transformations as mystical, as a means of coming to know a greater truth:

In summary, then, there seems to be an evident convergence among the various attempts to describe the mystical experience. It is a breaking away from everyday life and an instantaneous, fantastically powerful immersion into a transformed unity which illuminates the person, exalts him, and transforms him, at least temporarily. He sees things the way they are and finds himself in the possession of a power much greater than he, which overwhelms him with joy. (p.24)

In this essay we have argued that the magic of science and teaching is created through a poetic understanding, through the poetics of the everyday and of ideas. Gaston Bachelard tells us in On Poetic Imagination and Reverie17 that understanding is reached through synthesis of the "whole" and the whole includes the magical, the absurd and the impossible:

When a poet tells us the of secret of milk he is not lying, not to himself or to others. On the contrary, he is finding an extraordinary totality. As Jean Paul Sartre says, "we must invent the heart of things if we wish one day to discover it. Audiberti informs us about milk in speaking of its secret blackness. But for Jules Renard, milk is hopelessly white, since it is only what it appears to be.

Here we can grasp the difference between the dialectics of reason, which poses contradictions in order to cover the entire range of possibilities, and the dialectics of imagination, which would seize all that is real, and finds more reality in what is hidden than in what is visible. (p.8-9)

We called joy an "emotional, spiritual, transformative state" at the start of this essay and claimed that it was achieved through an intersection of multiple ways of knowing--the synthesis Bachelard describes. We claim it is achieved as a dialectic between control and lack of control. It involves an awakening, a surprise. In many ways the uncontrolled is how the "other ways of knowing" come into play and what they might be (emotional, spiritual, etc.) for we assume we are acting within the rational/intellectual and then the other surprises us. We are surprised because our assumptions about how to act or what is going on are challenged. Because our reality is challenged we arrive at a state of critique and it is here that creativity happens. Creativity, or the sense of its imminence, we claim is the source of of joy and is fundamentally about critique.

There are qualities of the people involved in these stories. They exhibit self absorption, tunnel vision, an intensity in their playfulness as well as great courage. There is joy in what our students are doing in these stories--the joy of creativity and discovery, of amazement. There is also joy for us as teachers. All of this is contained though, shaped by constraints of purpose, setting and materials. For us a component of joy is in this sense of breaking through these controls and achieving the uncontrolled. It is achieved through a consciously and unconsciously chosen limiting of our control of the environment. Joy is magical, strange, and subversive, but we strive to achieve it and we do so by choosing to act without control. The products of such actions can be amazing.

The concerns of education, schools, teachers seems to be all about control. Our preservice teachers loose sleep over the question of how to achieve it. The practicing teachers we work with developing inquiry approaches to teaching worry about test scores and covering the curriculum--questions deeply rooted in issues of control. David as a practicing engineer is faced daily with creating particular things for particular audiences on demand. Margery is heard to mutter that she wishes people would do what she tells them. We suggest, however, that maybe much is to be gained from celebrating our successes when we are not in control, when the unexpected happens. However, choosing to advocate children or teaching or even science "out-of-control," ecstatic, makes us uncomfortable. Such a discomfort seems more than one purely about teaching and the purposes of education. In writing this essay we talked about this discomfort at length. David wrote this in an email to Margery:

I acknowledge the place of ecstacy in my life and the role of joy in my science, however, ... I have dark thoughts. Reading the January '00 Harpers, I find the comments of a hereditary peer, Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, in favor of "action against cruelty to animals, particularly fishing with rods. All cats to be muzzled outside to stop the agonizing torture of mice and small birds." I hate catch and release fishing, which seems like fish torture to me. But I am uncomfortable with outlawing it. I can accept the violent dismemberment of mice for the joy of cats. Are mice necessary to ecstasy in cats? These words make me uncomfortable. I am in favor of pleasure but against torture. I favor joy but not ecstasy. Words have meaning and yet...I am progressive, not puritanical. I am more than "progressive," a word for a cautious liberal or a rambunctious conservative. I love the wild, uncontrolled, dangerous, joyous, ecstatic.

I've been listening to Fred Eaglesmith's song "Wilder than Her."18 "She's a summer storm, I'm a hurricane. One blows through town, one blows town away... When we go driving in our cars, racing through the night she can drive as fast as me but she stops at all the lights." I recently bought a four seat convertible. This is the paradox, the paradox between joy (the convertible) and self-control (4 seats, seat belts, how I drive it (stopping at lights), where I drive it (taking my two kids to scouts)). Learning and teaching. How can one as wild as me teach, how can one less wild?

There is something ineffable about the concept of joy. It seems that it is good if we recognize it in retrospect but if we pursue it maybe not. We return to Greeley’s writings on ecstatic ways of knowing, he is discussing ways of knowing beyond the rational and logical:

The fourth form of knowledge, the mystical, resembles the metaphysical in that it is concerned with the ultimate, is like the mythopoetic in that it does not deal with logical propositions or the laws of discursive reasoning, and is like science in that it comes into contact with the hard data of external reality. It is different, however, in a number of critically important ways. It is daemonic (in Rolo May’s sense) in that it takes possession of the whole personality far more than any other knowledge. It is immediate. One comes into contact with the real without the need for either prose or poetry; it requires neither logical proposition nor symbolic representation. The real is encountered directly and as it is. […It] cannot be expressed adequately in symbols because it is obtained without them–co-naturally, as it were, through the immediate union of the knowing subject and the object known. (p.60)

There is the quality of this "immediate union of the knowing subject and the object known" in all the stories we tell. We describe a form of experience involving more than the intellect, one which involves the whole person. In reflecting on our experiences with this we are tempted to argue that pursuing such a way of knowing drives us in our research and teaching and maybe in stating this we are arguing for the recognition that this drive articulates something basic about the human condition. In calling this union "joy" we are describing the emotional state we feel when we achieve this union. This reflects a tension, a paradox: there is a passive aspect in this as well as an active one for we need to create the conditions under which joy occurs but then relax our control so that it can happen. Joy reflects a position of power, power over and acquiescence to power. It is an acknowledgment of power and that power is magic.


1Ellsworth, E. (1997). Teaching Positions: Difference Pedagogy and the Power of Address. NY: Teachers College Press.

2For example see Eisner, E. (1998) Does experience in the arts boost academic acheivement? Arts Education 7-15.

3Osborne, M.D.. Brady, D.J. (2000) Imagining the new: Constructing a space for creativity in science. In E. Mirochnik, D. Sherman (Eds.) Passion & Pedagogy: Relation, Creation, and Transformation in Teaching, NY: Peter Lang. Osborne, M.D. & Brady, D.J. (accepted). A Comparative Exploration of Art and Science. Arts & Learning. Osborne, M.D. & Barton, A.C. (in press). The Love We Call Science: Constructing A Womanist Science from Observations of Practice NY: Peter Lang.

4Perloff, M. (1996). Wittgenstein's Ladder: Poetic Language an the Strageness of the Ordinary. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Wittgenstein, L. (1983). Philosophical investigations. Oxford: Blackwell.

5Sohi, M.E. (1993) Look What I Did With a Leaf! New York: Walker.

6Osborne, M.D. (1999). Constructing Knowledge in the Elementary School Science Classroom: Teachers and Students. NY: Falmer.

7Schon, D.A. (1984) Generative metaphor: A perspective on problem-setting in social policy. in A. Ortony (ed.) Metaphor and Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

8Dreyfus, H.L. 1991. Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger's Being and Time, Division I. Cambridge: MIT Press. Winograd, T. and Flores, F. (1987) Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design. New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

9This paragraph is derived primarily from D’haen, T.L. (1995) Magical realism and postmodernism: Decentering privileged centers. In L.P. Zamora, W.B. Faris (Eds.) Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community. Durham North Carolina: Duke University Press.

10Yenawine, P. (1996). "Difficult Viewing: Unsafe Subjects in Recent American Art." Miller Committee Lecture, University if Illinois at Urbana- Chamapign.

11Jorge Luis Borges. "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertious," in In Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings (New York: A New Directions Book, 1962), 3-18.

12 For a discussion of magical realism in academic writing see Elizabeth Ellsworth, Teaching Positions: Difference, Pedagogy, and the Power of Address (New York: Teachers College, 1997) especially chap. 11. For an extensive discussion on the origins and theory of magical realism see L.P Zamora & W.B. Faris (Eds.) Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995).

12Bettelheim, B. (1975). The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. NY: Vintage. Coles R. (1968). Children of Crisis; A Study of Courage and Fear. New York, Dell.

13L.P Zamora & W.B. Faris (Eds.) "Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community," 6.

14Ibid., 3.

15Greeley, A.M. (1974). Ecstacy: A Way of Knowing. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall.

16Bachelard, G. (1971). On Poetic Imagination and Reverie (Tr.) C. Gaudin, Dallas TX: Spring Publications.

17Eaglesmith, F. (1995). "Wilder Than Her," Drive-In Movie. Poughkeepsie, NY: Vertical Records.


About the Authors

Margery D. Osborne
Margery D. Osborne is an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research focuses on issues of reflective practice, and feminist science teaching. She is the author of Constructing and Framing Knowledge in the Elementary School Classroom: Teachers, Students and Science (1999, Falmer Press) and of "Responsive science pedagogy in a democracy: dangerous Teaching," in Theory Into Practice.

David J. Brady
David J. Brady is an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Beckman Institute , University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research focuses on optical systems. Most recently he has been developing computational imaging systems for 3D video and microscopy using distributed mixed analog and digital processing.

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