The Genius Within? I found it in my PhD research!

“Each of us has some genius to bring to life and each life is a meaningful story trying to unfold from within.”  

– Michael Meade, ‘The Genius Myth’ 

Michael Meade is spot on. The veteran cultural anthropologist and author shows in myriad ways in his 2016 book, The Genius Myth how our birthright is to serve our innate genius nature, and that our paths to genius are necessarily unique. In other words, there’s no blueprint: some traits of genius are revealed early in life, others take years of experience, thoughtful reflection, and practice to hone. 

I recently submitted a draft of my PhD dissertation (yay!), focused on exploring the nature of learning through a phenomenological lens. In this case, the phenomenon is the subjective experience of learning, that is, how each person experiences learning. 

In a nutshell, my research confirmed to me the potent and idiosyncratic nature of learning residing in each person. In other words, the protean potency of learning fused to our living, AKA the Genius Within

My research comprised two parts:  a 9-month research project interviewing six teens, about every six weeks, about their learning lives, and a pilot study (preludic to the main research) of insights into learning as revealed through autobiography. 

Both projects were really interesting and revealing. Below I share a couple of autobiographical excerpts that demonstrate a scope and wonder about learning that sparked in me deep interest to explore this further: 

Unfolding Learning – through languaging experiences (author-disability rights activist Helen Keller, age 7): 

As the cool stream gushed over one hand (my teacher) spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten—a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away. … I recall many incidents of the summer of 1887 that followed my soul’s sudden awakening. I did nothing but explore with my hands and learn the name of every object that I touched; and the more I handled things and learned their names and uses, the more joyous and confident grew my sense of kinship with the rest of the world. (Keller, 1905; loc. 263-264; 276)

Helen Keller autobiography, 1905

Unfolding Learning – through interest-area immersion (Academy Award-winning documentary film-maker Michael Moore): 

I looooooved the movies. I always did. … I came of age as a teenager when the great films of the late sixties and early seventies blasted their way onto the screen. … At seventeen, I saw Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and then I saw everything else by Kubrick, and after that there was no looking back. I was hooked on the potential and the power of cinema. … Two years later I opened my own “art haus” in Flint where, for just two nights a week, I would show everything by Truffaut, Bergman, Fassbinder, Kurosawa, Herzog, Scorsese, Woody Allen, Buñuel, Fellini, Kubrick, and the masters of cinema. Each film would get four showings, and I would spend my Friday and Saturday evenings watching all four shows. On the first viewing I would sit close and enjoy the experience. On the following three screenings, I would sit in the back and study them, sometimes taking notes. This became my one-room, one-student film school. (Moore, 2011; pp. 398-399)

Michael Moore autobiography, 2011

I included many more such excerpts as part of the pilot study to my PhD research. I’m sure you agree the excerpts here reflect a ‘contact’ with subjective learning that is personal and potent.  

To revisit Michael Meade, “If each person has natural gifts and innate talents, then the true nature of education must involve the awakening, inviting, and blessing of the inner genius and unique life spirit of each person.” 

(to be continued) 

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