NOTES ON Moffett, “Censorship and Spiritual Education” (1989/1990)

Moffett, “Censorship and Spiritual Education” (1989/1990)

Moffett argues that true spiritual education (that which enables one to rest in the oneness behind the plurality of things) is the best model to use for literacy education, education which, more specifically, encourages exposure to the universe of discourses, texts, and voices — with little or no controlling that exposure by teachers.

M beings by defining spirituality in contrast to religion and morality. The latter have to do with group meaning; the former with “perception of oneness behind the plurality of things” (113).

M then describes a textbook controversy that took place in 1974 in West Virginia. Protestors feared losing their children to outside influences. “They believe that most topics English teachers think make good discussion are about matters they consider already settled” (114).

M points out that the “real enemy” is the “outsider,” because outsiders attack authority in general. Then M simply says that it’s easy to make a connection between attacking authority and attacking the nuclear family.  He then provides examples of two pieces of literature that censors claimed showed parents as failures: Gina Berriault’s short story “The Stone Boy,” and Oscar Lewis’ The Children of Sanchez. 114

Censors feared also that Christ himself was being attacked. M says censors were upset with poems that, as M states it, “try to make Christ real to today’s secular readers” (115).  These include T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magic” which is called “mocking and blasphemous.”

Censors feared also attacks on the state. In his own program, M was using or planning on using transcripts of testimony from Vietnam vets. These censors thought to make students feel guilty (!). M then points to the way in which the censors were trying to avoid self-examination, and then points to psychological research on “authoritarian or dogmatic personalities” which points to the way in which these personalities are accompanied by “anti-intraception” or fear of inwardness (115). [LDM – hence also why personal writing, or even process writing, any self-aware writing can be so helpful.]

But M goes on to say that “Know thyself” is the “supreme tenet of spiritual education” (116). [LDM cf Augustine?]

The censors would calls personal or self knowledge “invasion of privacy.”  Which in turn, says M, the censors connect to “morbidity and negativity which, if denied in oneself, becomes targets in books” (116).  [LDM VERY INTERESTING POINT, and one no one else I’ve read has made]

M then lists five pieces of literature that one censor listed and gave reasons for rejecting: They include Alfred Noyes, Kipling, Poe, Jack London. For example, “”Danny Deaver,” Rudyard Kipling – Poem concerning a military hanging” (116) or “To Build a Fire,” Jack London – A man freezes to death” (116).

M then points out that the “case the censors make differs not a great deal from Plato’s reason for banishing the poets. Dwelling on Barth’s “bad news” just keeps you down. Why not keep fixed on the good news, gospel, the word of God?” (116). IN other words, we become what we think about (so the sayings go).

But M reminds us that literary artists try to WORK as good news “even though it may be wrought from the bad news of self-examination and other worldly realities, because they feel the transformative effect of the imagination.  In its secular way literature tries to act as gospel. But if read shallowly, both holy writ and literature can be dangerous, because their rhetorical power and spellbinding stories can attach readers even more to surface forms than they already are” (116). GOOD REMINDER.

M then spends a couple paragraphs developing his claim that “schools will become spiritual to the extent that they reduce manipulation” (117).  Otherwise we “infantalize” students. [cf Salman Rushdie’s use of that word in “Imagine There’s No Heaven…”]

—– > put students “in a stance of responsible decision making and in an unplanned interaction with other people” (117)
1)    drop textbooks. Use trade books. [LDM find where I saw someone else saying that – check eng 588 notes]
2)    “go strongly for” individual and small group reading
3)    no syllabi. Instead a classroom library
— >because “Any specific presenting and sequencing of texts… shorts circuits the learning process and undermines the will of the student” (117). (emphasis in original) [LDM Counter to some of what we discussed in 588 – re the need to sequence texts in ways that promote intertextuality, etc]

“Pluralism is central to this process because spirituality depends on widening the identity” (117).  And knowing = identifying

We need to expose students to:
    all kinds of discourse
    all heritages
    all kinds of voices

[LDM but M doesn’t talk about making these assumptions explicit in the classroom Cf Bizzell.]

M then contrasts his now-developed concept of spiritual education with its opposite: AGNOSIS (118).  Agnosis is the “not wanting to know” that happens when our sense of selves as individuals and groups fear learning anything “that will disturb such identifications” (118). “Agnosis is self-censorship.” 118

[whole paragraph] “Creek preachers aren’t the only ones afraid of reading and writing. We all are, and that is the real reason that reading and writing have proved inordinately difficult to teach. Literacy is dangerous and has always been so regarded. It naturally breaks down barriers of time, space, and culture. It threatens one’s original identity by broadening it through vicarious experiencing and the incorporation of somebody else’s hearth and ethos. So we feel profoundly ambiguous about literacy. Looking on it as a means of transmitting our culture to our children, we give it priority in education, but, recognizing the threat of its backfiring, we make it so tiresome and personally unrewarding that youngsters won’t want to do it on their own, which is when it becomes dangerous. This is an absurd state of affairs, but it is a societal problem going beyond schools alone to the universal fear of literacy – a fear based on ethnocentricity – and to the educational goal of transmitting the culture” (188).

M then asserts that really we worry too much about transmitting culture – because culture is “caught, not taught” (118).  So, basically, “if we pulled out all the stops on literacy, quit fearing it, and gave it to youngsters wholeheartedly for personal inquiry, we would produce a nation of real readers who would be far more familiar with great books than they are today. Overcontrolling the content of reading, writing, and discussing has the same effect as censorship. Let’s not castigate those bigots over there if we’re doing our own version of the same thing” (188).

“The world is warring right and left because the various cultures strive so intently to perpetuate themselves that they end by imposing themselves on each other. These lethal efforts to make others like oneself burlesque the expanded identity that would make possible real global unity. The secret of war is that nations need enemies to maintain definition, because differences define” (118-119).

M ends by kind of philosophizing or theologizing that the reason cultures HAVE religions or anything (like “great books”) that tries to transcend its own (cultural) exclusivity is because that exclusivity is so dangerous [and M must think cultures are at least somewhat self-conscious of that danger].  “Actually, I think the deepest spiritual teachings in all cultures have tried to achieve this goal but, in doing so, seem subversive, which is why they had to go underground, where historians rarely find them. If schools [as opposed to religions? or spiritual traditions?] took on the transcending of cultural conditioning, it would hardly mean more than fulfilling the already professed goal of teaching the young to think for themselves” (119).

But, he points out, “truly free inquiry” always conflicts with the goal of “cultural transmission and identity maintenance” and so “we have sabotaged our own noble aim” (119).   He ends by saying “If we educate youngsters to transcend their heritage, they will be able to transform it…” (199).


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