Inept Acting and Better Teaching: Terry Eagleton's "The Significance of Theory"
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
bell hooks cites Terry Eagleton’s observation that children make the best theorists. Her citation warranted a visit to Eagleton’s essay, The Significance of Theory.
I like this essay for four reasons.
1. Eagleton writes that children take nothing for granted. Consider all their Why this and not that? questions. Brecht calls this the alienation effect. Don't identify with a character in a play. That way, you can muse about the performance as a whole. This alienation effect describes Critical Digital Pedagogy. Stepping back from we may otherwise do by rote can result in fresh thinking about how we teach as much as what we teach.
To effect this awareness, writes Eagleton, we can regress to childhood (question everything). Or we can become an inept actor. (See #1). This inept actor model correlates with my prior writing on hooks and theatre.
2. With jargon-free and practical terms, Eagleton notes when theory is (and is not - see #3) needed. At times, activities we take for granted (in our case, teaching) may come unstuck. This requires us to reflect on teaching. As Eagleton writes, The practice has now been forced to take itself as its own object of inquiry. By turning inward, (teaching) transforms itself. The result? For us, a revised teaching philosophy.
How so? With purposeful amnesia. He cites how thinking about kissing messes up the actual kiss. This corresponds to hooks' prescription of spontaneity in the classroom.
3. He discusses the irony that emancipatory theory has a built-in self-destruct device. Theory responds to something amiss. Once we resolve the problem, it’s no longer urgent.
4. Eagleton writes that emancipatory theorists can’t be megalomaniacs. hooks writes as much, too. They are too aware of themselves and their task to be dominating and self-serving. Along with their students, they are colleagues in the learning process.
My takeaways here, on my path to a revised teaching philosophy, are:
Understand the causes of this teaching crisis to better find a solution. I'm thinking, first, technology. It's assumptions, it's implementation, and its implications.
Emphasize the nature of spontaneous, free-flowing play in the classroom. We don't always have to follow a script.
Realize that change takes a long time. We’ll only know we’ve achieved our goal when we don’t have to ask ourselves, What’s wrong here? In the meantime, we must keep asking ourselves Why? Why? Why?
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