To be is to feel

In Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, educational reformer Ken Robinson quotes Robert Witkin’s twist on Descartes: “I feel therefore I am.”

In conversation today with James Reed, he and I enjoyed another twist: “I feel therefore I may become.”

Here’s the passage from Robinson:

Descartes said, ‘I think therefore I am.’ As Robert Witkin pointed out, an equally powerful starting point would have been, ‘I feel therefore I am.’ Feelings are a constant dimension of human consciousness. To be is to feel. ‘Feelings’ encompass a wide range of subjective states, from calm intuitions to raging physical furies. Feelings are evaluations: for example, grief at a death, elation at a birth, pleasure at success, depression at a failure, disappointment at unfulfillment. Feelings are forms of perception. How we feel about something is an expression of our relationship with it. We experience a wide range of feelings precisely because of the complexity of our perceptions of events, other people and ourselves. …

Throughout the history of state education there has been a contest between the mainstream view that ‘reason’ and ‘objective’ knowledge should dominate education, and those who have argued for forms of education based on personal development and the expression of feelings. These views have come respectively from the rationalist traditions of the Enlightenment and the expressive traditions of the Romanticism. They have led to two different concepts of individualism. Both have compounded the division of intellect and emotion. This tension is not only in education. It bubbles up in many different ways in Western culture at large.

[Update: A related piece, from Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity.]

[P]eople ‘happen’ as wholes in process. Their ‘minding’ processes are simultaneous functions, not discrete compartments. You have never met anyone who was ‘thinking,’ who was not at the same time also ’emoting,’ ‘spiritualizing,’ and for that matter, ‘livering.’ When the old progressive educationists spoke of teaching ‘the whole child,’ they were not being idealistic. They were being descriptive. Teachers have no other alternative than to teach the whole child. The fact that teachers exclude ‘the emotions’ and ‘the spirit’ from their lessons does not, of course, mean that those processes are unaffected by what the teacher does. Plato said that, in order for education to accomplish its purpose, reason must have an adequate emotional base, and Dewey spoke often of ‘collateral learning,’ by which he meant most of the learnings that occur while the teacher is dealing with ‘the intellect.’

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