Notational, No. 8

“Meanwhile, I follow my principles of education and give of my best in my prime. The word ‘education’ comes from the root e from ex, out, and duco, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in a pupil’s soul. To Miss Mackay it is a putting in of something that is not there, and that is not what I can education, I call it intrusion, from the Latin root prefix in meaning in and the stem truro, I thrust.”

♦ Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

This is a pretty aphorism that Miss Brodie pronounces to her coterie of impressionable, and somewhat dazzled, young girls. The irony, of course, is that she is setting out to have them “for life,” that she strictly and narrowly inculcates with her doctrine of opening out, of liberating—and this prompts a frisson of realization: there is a paradox lurking in the prospect of teaching someone how to be free. “Leading out” of the boundaries of oneself can be a strict, methodical undertaking. Circumscriptions accrete around the soul from the very moment of birth, we emerge into them, and part of the process of maturity is the determining of where and how one might breach the superstructures of law and the word. What must go in for there to be a breaking out? And how might one lead with assurance, without inscribing fresh proscriptions onto formative psyches that are responding to promises of licence and self-fulfillment?

Yet who does not want to be led towards a more expansive expression of one’s own self? If only we might simply open doors from the exterior and allow the interior to flourish into the open air. It would be a grand practice of proud pedagogy, even if it is a process fraught with narcissism.

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