I’ve recently joined the list of contributors for a new project called Ethos: Arts, Humanities, and Public Spaces. Ethos is sponsored by the National Institute for the Humanities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and is being run by some wonderful people from the Department of English & Comparative Literature there. One thing that’s particularly cool about Ethos is that, in addition to being a peer-reviewed journal, they have two weekly blog forums, one on “Cultural Interventions” and the other, the “Intellectual Spaces” forum. The Cultural Interventions forum has some great pop culture stuff, like short essays on the cult of Infinite Jest, and my current favorite TV show, New Girl. The “Intellectual Spaces” forum has lots of interesting stuff about academia and related matters, like this post on embracing failure. I really like the work they’re doing, and, so, was very excited to be considered to contribute.
My first post for the “Intellectual Spaces” section appeared today; it’s on the director John Cassavetes’ film-making style as a guide for how to be a student-centered educator.
Here are a few excerpts:
American independent filmmaker John Cassavetes (1929-1989), in acknowledging his capacity for facilitating engaging, emotional performances from his actors, once stated that “the only talent that I might have is to get you to express yourself the way you want to, not the way I want you to!” His goal was to capture on film authentic expressions of feeling from his actors; everything on the set was organized around this aim. While more traditional filmmakers often require actors to conform to the demands of the camera, the technical constraints of lighting and sound, or the directors’ own vision, Cassavetes acknowledges that, from the actor’s perspective, such constraints are inhibitive. Cassavetes was truly what we might call an actor-centered director: he put their interests first. And while Cassavetes did have his actors pretty much stick to the script, he also took pains to allow his actors to express themselves in their own, unique way within these pre-existing forms. Cassavetes’ own vision for how the lines might be interpreted, or how the emotions of the scene might be played, was less important than the actors finding something in the script they connected to on a personal level
The student-centered educator is a Cassavetian director whose job it is to foster authentic expression of students’ personalities and interests within the confines of pre-existing forms. Their own vision for how students ought to be takes a backseat to who students really are. Truly supporting students’ autonomy in the classroom is, therefore, a deeply courageous act: it requires us to resist deep-seated societal convictions that tell us there is a certain way a person ought to be.
Our students need more Cassavetian directors in the classroom, ones with a sincere desire to understand the inner worlds of their students, and the courage to allow students to follow their own convictions. It will open up for students the possibilities for what a liberal education can truly be: a lifelong investigation into what it means to be a human being.
You can view the full post here.