Let your teaching be full-blooded

20th June 2008 at 01:00
The best lessons are charged with `erotic passion', says academic. Adi Bloom reports

The best lessons are charged with `erotic passion', says academic. Adi Bloom reports

They are moodily brooding long-haired poets, who wander lonely as a cloud, musing on the nature of love as their ruffled shirts trail in the blustery wind.

They are also role models for teachers, each of whom should aspire to be a Byronic Romantic hero, regarding their pupils as their "beloved", according to David Halpin of the Institute of Education in London.

Professor Halpin argues that the best teaching is infused with an "erotic passion" reminiscent of the Romantic poets. Teachers, he suggests, are disinclined to use the words "love" and "pedagogy" in the same sentence, except in the context of prurient gossip. But he says the Romantic love of 18th-century poets is different from the type of love for pupils that gets some teachers hauled before the courts and disciplinary tribunals at the General Teaching Council.

The Romantic poets, aesthetes and intellectuals spoke of three types of love: eros, or passionate yearning; philia, or fondness and appreciation of the other; and agape, charitable love freely given.

Different poets valued different versions of love. Shelley made eros his ideal, emphasising the sexual elements. Coleridge held up friendship, or philia, as the paradigm of love.

Professor Halpin believes all types are equally applicable in the classroom. "Teachers may simultaneously yearn passionately to succeed in their work and derive extraordinary satisfaction from doing it well (eros)," he said, "while maintaining a strong commitment to the school in which they are employed and the pupils they teach (philia), respecting unequivocally the right of them all to receive the fullest possible education (agape)."

Teachers should love what they teach and express this to the full, even with little mutual return.

"A good teacher is someone who is in love with their facility to teach," Professor Halpin said.

He draws comparison with the need for lovers to love themselves; people who do not like themselves very much often find it difficult to sustain meaningful relationships.

And just as lovers want to provide the best for their beloved, so teachers should want to take the best possible care of their learners.

The teacher becomes a classroom Byron, initiating pupils into "the love they have for the truth that resides in the subjects, personalities and topics they teach about", a love that can "nourish their souls".

And once teachers value the role of love in their own lives, Professor Halpin believes they will see the cultivation of love as vital. Children learn about relationships by observing adults, he says. So it is the duty of teachers to model healthy relationships for them by "being open, sensitive, sincere, concerned, connected, empathic, tolerant and respectful." Education becomes a Romantic "love affair". Professor Halpin speaks of "erotic learning", a process with "commitment, intimacy and passion".

He acknowledges that bringing the language of love into the context of teaching can be incendiary. Many teachers will be reluctant to make comparisons with Byron, a notorious philanderer who is believed to have had an incestuous relationship with his half-sister.

But Professor Halpin said: "Sexual passion is clearly not an aspect of any of this. Teaching through such loving relations demands a dynamic that is intimate and earnest, bordering on the passionate."

Passion left unchecked, he says, can often overwhelm pupils. Romantic teachers encourage pupils to learn in different ways. "Pupils are helped to see the true value of what they are invited to study," he said.

`Pedagogy and Romantic Love', by David Halpin, will be published in `Pedagogy, Culture and Society' in 2009.

Three Romantic role models

George Gordon Byron

"Friendship may, and often does, grow into love, but love never subsides into friendship."

The archetypal Romantic, Byron was described by a former lover as "mad, bad and dangerous to know". His best-known works include the narrative poems `Childe Harold's Pilgrimage' and `Don Juan'.

Along with numerous love affairs with women and men, he is believed to have had a sexual relationship with his estranged half-sister, Augusta.

In 1823, he travelled to Greece to fight in the war of independence against the Ottoman empire. In 1824 he died of a fever, aged 36.

William Wordsworth

"The best portion of a good man's life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love."

Renowned for strolling among daffodils in the Lake District, Wordsworth helped launch the Romantic movement in 1798 with the publication, with Coleridge, of Lyrical Ballads. He drew considerably on his own life as material for his poetry, and his masterpiece is generally considered to be The Prelude, an account of his early years.

In 1843, Wordsworth was named poet laureate by Queen Victoria. He remained in the position until his death, at the age of 80, in 1850.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"I love but few - but those I love I love as my soul."

Coleridge's supernatural-themed poetry is believed to have helped fuel the early 19th-century craze for Gothic literature. He is best known for `The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', in which a benighted seaman complains that there is "Water, water everywhereNor any drop to drink".

In 1816, he published `Kubla Khan', a poem that he claimed was inspired by an opium-induced dream, rudely interrupted by the arrival of a person from Porlock. Coleridge, one of 10 children of a Devon vicar, died in 1834, at the age of 61.

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