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Learning Together: How to Foster Creativity, Self-Fulfillment, and Social Awareness in Today's Students and Teachers

reviewed by Ronald Gross - 1972

coverTitle: Learning Together: How to Foster Creativity, Self-Fulfillment, and Social Awareness in Today's Students and Teachers
Author(s): Elizabeth Monroe Drews
Publisher: Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs
ISBN: , Pages: 314, Year: 1972
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The difference between a teacher and a mentor, writes Norman Gurney in his brilliant essay, "Friends as Mentors," (Big Rock Candy Mountain, edited by Samuel Yanes and Cia Holdorf, Delacorte Press, 1972) is that a mentor invites you to share his life. The most precise and noblest of recent writings on education affirm this truth. George Dennison, William Arrowsmith, Richard Gaines, John Holt, Jonathan Kozol, James Herndon, Herbert Kohl all proclaim or imply the need for working towards a new authenticity in the relations between young persons and those who seek to help them grow.

If our profession is to undergo renewal in the seventies, then that big, drab, fearsome giant is going to have to burst open into a thousand little flowers of joy, wit, and courage. We are going to have to learn together, joining with each other in genuine colleagueship and camaraderie, joining with our students in creativity and social awareness. If this sounds beamish, I fear that reflects how far we have drifted from our true vocation.

To find the way back, we need not merely more expertise, more knowledge and understanding, more technology and support. We need, even more, mentors of our own—friends and colleagues who will share with us their lives, their commitments, their insights. One such person may be more useful than a hundred ERIC centers, a thousand White House Conferences, God knows how many consultants' reports.

Elizabeth Drews has built onto her house, in Portland, Oregon, a large living room especially designed as the regular meeting place for her classes. This simple, handsome act symbolizes much of what this extraordinary woman has to share with us. If I had enough space to tell only one thing about her, that is what I would write.

Professor Drews has won all the "professional" recognition sought by most educators. Currently professor of education at Portland State University, she has long been acknowledged as an authority on creativity and the superior student. Formerly professor of education at Michigan State, she is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Her previous books include the scholarly The Creative Intellectual Style in Gifted Adolescents and the speculative Values and Humanity (with Leslie Lipson).

Her research in the sixties (under six Office of Education grants) earned her a solid academic reputation, but for Professor Drews, this work was merely a springboard for the far more exacting enterprise reported in Learning Together. She wants to understand and to suggest the implications of the new values and perspective abroad in our society, and by so doing, to propose, for herself and for us (if we are smart and plucky enough to respond to the challenge), a conceptual launching pad for future action.

Learning Together is about "the self-actualizing person," defined by a set of capacities, a style of learning and teaching, and an attitude towards one's self and the world. The concept developed out of two sources, one empirical, the other theoretical. This dual genesis in practice and speculation gives the concept both the richness of experience and the resonance of theory. Like good teaching, it starts with the person, in all his complexity and contingency, but does not stop until it shudders on the edge of history. It is a potent idea.

Professor Drews herself summarizes the scope of her book accurately:

In this book, I shall raise several questions . . . and shall try to suggest some answers. What can we do to develop our creative gifts and use them for the common good? How can each of us continue to grow individually and, at the same time, socially—in a constructive community with our fellow beings? What is there in our present thought patterns and practices and institutions which dams our energies and diverts them so often along harmful directions? How can education be humanized so that learning becomes a joyous experience in which the student eagerly wants to participate? What has been happening in America to lead so many people to question the values of the established system and the wisdom of its controlling authorities? How can we find our way to higher values than those we generally practice? In the course of discussing these questions, I shall tell about some students whom I have known, of how they felt and thought; about the family patterns of the 1950s and 60s, and especially the role of the mothers; of the orthodox school system and the types of teacher who staff it; and of the protests which the young have expressed in recent years—whether loud, soft, or silent, violent or peaceful, visionary or concrete, down-to-earth or up-in-the-clouds.

In her studies of creatively and intellectually gifted students, Professor Drews discovered three types of achievers: the Social Leader, the Studious, and the Creative Intellectual. The first are those who are best "adjusted" by conventional definition. They are well-adapted to the school and the society, accept the current definitions of success, and are motivated by conventional self-interest: status, power, material rewards. The second group, the Studious, while motivated by the desire to please others, are also strongly inner-directed, having developed some strong, autonomous values.

The final group, the Creative Intellectuals, are characterized by the dominance of personally developed values, humanitarian and altruistic. Individuals in this group, in their fullest development, approximate the self-actualizing person as described by the humanistic psychologists, which in turn conforms strikingly to the human ideal articulated by the major religious and philosophical systems of both Western and Eastern cultures.

Drews argues that self-actualizing persons are, quite simply, better people than the rest of us, and that the future of our common life depends on such people, on our nurturing more of them, and on the rest of us becoming more like them. The young, she believes, know this intuitively.

It is this kind of individual that the young people—at least the Creative Intellectuals among them—are looking for, as they seek good vibrations. Youth have been speaking out and reaching out to find better human beings and to become like them.

Self-actualization, in the somewhat special significance given to this term by the humanistic psychologists, is at the heart of this human program. Drews defines it evocatively:

Self-actualization is a pattern of ultimate growth that embraces the Socratic triad: the good, the true, and the beautiful. To paraphrase Fromm, this means: "in science the search is for truth, in art it is for beauty, and in human relationships for love and understanding." Such an optimal use of intellect and imagination results in those rare combinations which were traditionally called Superior or Beautiful or Good Persons. In no sense do these terms refer to one who is narrowly developed. A Superior Person is an individual who is not just coolly cognitive, but is also developed in aesthetic and moral ways. Similarly the term Beautiful Person does not describe physical beauty or outward adornments. It signifies instead the ideal type of individual who has been traditionally respected by the Chinese and the Jews. Finally the Good Person is the one who does good works and has good character.

Contrasted with the traditional Western ideal of human excellence, this concept is more distinctive than one might suspect at first. For example, it differs sharply from the romantic notion of genius, as exemplified in, say, Goethe, Shaw, or Frank Lloyd Wright:

Self-actualization, so conceived, differs from genius in at least one important respect. The latter is also an expression of a very high order of creative intellectuality. But unlike the self-actualizing, the genius is not necessarily mature; nor does he or she always feel a deep social concern.

By contrast, self-actualization always involves a high ethical concern for the good of others along with insight into, and acceptance of, the self. These are qualities of the generous heart—which is more basic than the cultivated mind and stands on a plane above it. The self-actualizing are not good just in the conventional sense. Nor are they those whose pious self-righteousness denies the joyful use of capacities and rejects openness and expansive-ness of spirit. They reside in the light, they live to the hilt, they are buoyant and open-handed. They respond in generous ways to others. When someone talks to them they truly listen. They think well of others, always they expect the best of their family and friends, they empathize and encourage. Their human and emotional sides grow.

Having located the source of the revolution in values, Professor Drews explores in detail the cultural, political, and social changes which have swept through American society during the last decade. Her major distinction is between those who have pursued the "outward" route of militant social protest and reform, and those who sought an "inward" way of personal withdrawal and cultivation of personal values.

Some recent evidence suggests that these two streams may be coming together in promising ways. A figure like Michael Ross-man exemplifies the impulse to mesh radical politics and cultural transformation. His recently published Learning and Social Change, a perfect pendant to Professor Drews' book, is essential to understanding this possibility. Far from undermining Professor Drews' typology, such a convergence actually supports its basic conclusions and confirms the significance of the trends which she identifies as the most critical among the youth vanguard.

Subsequently, Drews applies the same three-fold typology of major groups of students, to delineate the major types of teachers: the Social Teacher (success oriented), the Standard Teacher (professionally oriented), and the Self-Actualizing Teacher (creatively intellectual). Here, it seems to me, she conveys a too favorable image of the teaching profession as a whole. The reader may easily overlook the fact that she has taken a typology applicable to the most able, and most alive students, and then applied it to teachers as a whole.

The sad truth, however, is that many teachers are not only not self-actualizing, they are not even success- or professionally-oriented. They are dead men and women. Their commitment to an authentic helping role was never sparked, and their general intellectual development is the closest cultural counterpart I know to a black hole in space. These are hard truths, and not designed to ingratiate a professional audience. But my own work with teachers who have had the most advantages and are in the most favored professional positions has forced me to this conclusion. And in this category I must include most teachers of teachers; as Drews notes, "As a group professors are seldom exciting, optimistic, self-actualizing creatures."

How can this situation be rectified? Clearly, teachers need a new kind of professional and general education, not much in evidence today except at a few places like the New School in North Dakota and the education department of the University of Massachusetts. One of the most valuable elements in this book, in fact, is a three-chapter section devoted to portraying one of Professor Drews' exemplary courses, a model of the kind of learning experience which could create true teachers. The students largely design and run the course; they create their own personal anthology textbooks; they get to know each other and the professor; they engage in self-inquiries into their own learning processes; they dance and cook and sing for and with each other, in short, they experience, rather than learn about, the open classroom.

Having offered herself as an example, Professor Drews earns the right to offer us her experience in designing other learning environments. She gives us three: first, how she introduced a new curriculum and new teaching approach in a conventional city school for academically superior students; second, an already classic account of a rural free school ("Fernwood"); third, a visionary plan for establishing a learning community encompassing an entire section of a large city, embracing all ages.

This sketch for a "New Community" devoted to individual and social growth, is the culmination of Professor Drews' present thinking. It carries the notion of an "intentional community," being explored by young people in their communes, to the larger realm of grassroots social planning. While Utopian, it takes off from what is or could well be; it urges us to "find the seeds of community under our feet, dormant in the very ground where we are standing now. Professor Drews indicates its origins:

What I shall sketch out is a composite. Much of this has actually happened, is happening or could happen. It draws from and incorporates many features of small communities, both past and present, with which history and travel have made us familiar. There are touches here of Thoreau's Walden and a Japanese garden, of the Athenian agora and a medieval piazza, of Grundtvig's Folk High School and Copenhagen's Tivoli, of the workshop and the scholar's study, as well as open classrooms, free schools, adventure playgrounds, and the work of the teachers and philosophers and the architects and landscape gardeners who envision a new society. What is important in the New Community is that it can be a comprehensive whole, and can combine the best of all worlds.

In spelling out the design and workings of such an urban growth community, Professor Drews wisely draws together the inward and outward impulses which she kept separate in her analysis of students and teachers. "Thoughtful, inward studies" and "helping people" are conjoined in each person's lifelong learning.

In projecting such a Utopian community of learners, Professor Drews joins other far-sighted educators who realize that the educational imagination must now transcend the realm of institutionalized schooling if it is to generate visions adequate to our needs for learning and growth. For example, her model calls to mind Ivan Illich's principle that the education of all can only be achieved through education by all. It should also be compared to an experienced school superintendent's scheme for creating a true urban community based on education: John Henry Martin's, in his recently published Free to Learn. These convergences are no accident; as Michael Rossman says, its "steam-engine time" in the field of social invention.

Learning Together, like the comparable works of Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, George Dennison, and James Herndon, shows us, by example, what excellence in our profession looks and feels like. From it we can absorb, perhaps, a little wisdom, even greatness. Through learning to understand, care and struggle—in this profession so mired in mindlessness, unconcern, and passivity—we may begin to grow into our true vocations.

To help us with this is the chief value of the new breed of writer-teachers who have emerged in the past five years, and whose ranks Elizabeth Drews now joins and graces. They share with us not only their ideas and experiences, but their lives and spirits. This is all we can ask; it is more than we deserve. Only through our responses will we reveal whether it is enough.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 74 Number 2, 1972, p. 278-282
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1546, Date Accessed: 12/4/2021 9:02:33 PM

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