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gods in the classroom Arrow vol 5 no 1 contents
About borderlands volume 5 number 1, 2006



Honouring the one and many gods in the classroom: Mythology, multiculturalism and postmodernism

Bernie Neville, Educating Psyche: emotion, imagination and the unconscious in learning. Second edition. Greensborough, Vic.: Flat Chat Press, Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE, 2005.

JV D'Cruz
Monash University


1. I have on my desk a revised and expanded edition of Bernie Neville's Educating Psyche: Emotion, Imagination and the Unconscious in Learning (2005), which was first published in 1989, but has been out of print for some time. Its re-issue is a cause for celebration. The ideas and practices that Neville explores are even more relevant today than when he first presented them.

2. In the past half century a number of alternative perspectives on education have emerged. The reaction to the perceived limitations of a positivistic psychology alone brought us humanistic psychology and a humanistic approach to education, through the work of Rogers, Maslow and Combs, among others. The psychoanalytic movement brought us the notions of Freud, Jung, Adler and others, many of whom made useful contributions to our thinking about education. In time imagination arose as a legitimate field of study, influencing our practice from such diverse apologists as philosopher Kieran Egan (1997), on the one hand, and archetypal psychologists like James Hillman (1989) and Thomas Moore (1998) on the other. In contrast to approaches that rise out of the Enlightenment, these alternative approaches are both more ancient and more in keeping with a postmodern sensibility.

3. To frame Neville in the context of recent writing on education, Educating Psyche stands along side Ron Miller's What Are Schools For (1997), Nel Noddings' The Challenge to Care in School s (1992)   and William Doll's A P ostmodern P erspective on Curriculum (1993) , as one of the key texts in what has come to be called 'holistic education'. [1] While this is still somewhat outside the mainstream, teachers are increasingly turning in this direction as the sterility and ineffectiveness of the current politically/ideologically driven education agenda becomes apparent. Education policy in Australia in recent years has manifested an obsession with quantification, assessment, competition and standardization . The times appear to be ripe for a re- appraisal of the relational, emotional, spiritual ecological and creative dimensions of schooling which the neo-conservative agenda has dismissed as insignificant.

4. The truth about education is very slippery nowadays. It is easy enough to project on the ideological spectrum some of the more extreme positions, which have a basis in formally constituted and recognized disciplines of knowledge, and which give one a sense of surety. But one cannot always do this. It is sometimes difficult to get a sense of coming to grips with any semblance of reality while adequately acknowledging the subtleties and complexities of knowledge.

5. True believers of the right and left can write with passion and energy to attack error and proclaim the truth. Those who write within the liberal academic tradition are at a disadvantage here. It is rather difficult to write passionately about balance and moderation, whether the attack on the centre comes from the left or right of the ideological spectrum. Nevertheless, in Educating Psyche , Bernie Neville appears to have found a way of celebrating the centre both passionately and persuasively. Curiously, some readers might find Educating Psyche genuinely conservative, while others might read it as genuinely radical. This is a book which goes counter to most of the current dogmas about the purpose and the implementation of schooling.

6. At first glance Educating Psyche appears to be a plea for a return to the alternative or counter-cultural approaches to education which had their moment of glory in the 1960s and 70s. A second glance shows that this is not the author's intention at all. His argument is richer and more complex than this. Neville certainly argues that the current ideological emphasis on skilling for economic recovery is perversely narrow and ultimately self-defeating, but he does not suggest another ideological position to take its place. Rather, he supports a pluralistic approach to ideology, which relativises the place of skilling and sets it alongside other equally legitimate ends of education, such as understanding, cultural transmission, personal growth, social critique, empowerment, the appreciation of beauty and the like. His approach is psychological rather than philosophical, and his end is not only to encourage a broader and richer understanding of the means and purposes of education, but also to instruct the reader in some of the teaching techniques which are appropriate to this broader and richer understanding.

7. There is nothing unique or even particularly unusual in taking a pluralistic approach to notions of schooling. In the kind of postmodern world analysed by Lyotard (1984), we should expect to see a lot of this. What makes this book different from most postmodern writing on education, and what makes it attractive to the culturally literate reader, is the author's use of Greco-Roman mythology to provide framework and image for his argument. The psychology which gives shape to these reflections and suggestions is archetypal psychology, which is a post-Jungian perspective whose best-known voice is James Hillman (1989) , and which attempts to 'see through' the phenomena of human experience to the archetypal images behind them. Neville acknowledges his considerable debt to both Jung and Hillman. Indeed Neville's chapter on Jung is one of the rare attempts to examine what contribution Jungian thinking might make to our understanding of education and our practice of schooling. However, Neville's own position appears to be closer to that of postmodern Hillman rather than the more essentialist Jung. He is reluctant to reify and literalise the archetypes, and appears content to see the world metaphorically. While his writing is generally persuasive, it is often impossible to pin down exactly what he means. His approach to reality is aesthetic/poetic rather than rational/logical.

8. When Neville recounts the story of Prometheus, Psyche or Dionysos, he means us to see more in these myths than pretty stories. He means us to take them seriously as representations of patterns in human psychology and culture which are as present now as they were in 500 BC. He does not take a position on whether these patterns have their source in pre-existent forms, as Plato would have it, or in biology, as Anthony Stevens (2000) argues. He appears content with the notion that we experience the world as patterned, and that a suitable language for describing these patterns is to be found in the Greco-Roman myths.

9. The central myth in this treatment is that of Psyche and Eros, which we know best in the version recounted by the Roman writer Apuleius (1963). It is the story of the human soul in search of Eros, and provides rather different images of education than are provided by the myths of Appollo and Prometheus which Neville finds shaping contemporary notions of education. The images of Psyche's quest take him into a discussion of the part played by the unconscious, the indirect, the peripheral and the subliminal in learning and teaching. His discussion succeeds in two ways. First, he provides teachers with a great deal of information which they are not likely to have encountered during a conventional Ed Psych course. In his search for principles and understandings which will make immediate sense to teachers, he has sifted through the work of post-Freudians (Jung, Moreno, Asagioli), humanistic psychologists (Rogers, Gendlin, Gibb), cognitive psychologists (Gardner, Kegan), hypnotherapists (Coue, Ericson, Rossi, Haley) , neurolinguistic programmers (Bandler, Grinder), as well as others like Lozanov, Gurdjieff and Tart who dwell on the fringes of conventional wisdoms concerning human learning .   Secondly, he provides in this book a handbook of alternative classroom practice, and in doing so he maintains a strong sense of the limits placed on teachers' behaviour by societal expectations, by the demands of the curriculum and by institutional pressures.

10. Teachers who are using techniques, such as psychodrama, meditation, visualization, indirect suggestion, will be affirmed in what they are doing, and find in this book a solid informational basis to enable them to pursue and justify ways of teaching which they may have come to intuitively. Teachers who feel they are wasting opportunities for themselves and their pupils through the narrowness of their approach, may find the book an inspiration. Teachers who have settled into a mode of operation which accepts their own and their pupils' boredom as inevitable will find it silly or subversive.

11. Educating Psyche develops the argument that we have at present too few objects of reverence in education, and that the proper response to the monotheism which is being thrust upon us in the name of the national interest and the skilled society is not a competing monotheism but a rich and varied polytheism. We are right to worship Prometheus, the technologist, but let us not neglect Eros (Relationship ) Demeter ), Demete r (Mothering),   Artemis (Nature), Apollo (Understanding), and Aphrodite (Beauty), to name but a few. Too obsessive a devotion to Prometheus leaves us with a Promethean pathology rather than a Promethean empowerment. Neville's position on what is to be learned and what is to be valued is relativistic, but it is not value-free, nor does it pretend to be. It is clear that he believes all the quarrelling gods are to be valued and honoured, without giving a pre-ordinate position to any. Such a position entails valuing some perspectives that both conservative and radical critics of contemporary education will find unfashionable. For example, it is not currently fashionable to acknowledge the perspective of Demeter (Mothering) in schooling. Teachers, especially males, who engage in 'mothering behaviour' with students of any age are assumed to be acting out of their own pathological needs rather than in the interests o i f their pupils. Fundamentalists of both left and right are inclined to see mothering as inappropriate. From the right, it appears to interfere with the rigour and purpose which should be associated with the heroic pursuit of skills. From the left, it appears to substitute feeling for critique, and to engender dependence and submission where education should lead to resistance and change. Neville's position does not deny the potential pathology of mothering, as it does not deny the potential pathology of competition (Ares), relationship (Eros) or impulse (Dionysos), but insists that what is positive in each of these archetypal perspectives must be acknowledge d .

12. While it may be unfair to criticize an author for not doing what he did not in any case set out to do, some readers will be disappointed by Neville's decision, even in this second edition, to limit his mythology to the Greco-Roman pantheon. While the Greek myths are obviously congenial to him, and while, recognized or not, they have dominated European intellectual culture, every contemporary society draws its myths from many cultures besides that of the Greeks. Neville's multi-perspectiv ism , imaged as it is in the Olympian gods, is itself narrowly defined by the choice of this pantheon. The mythologies of other cultures may provide not merely a different cluster of gods which might be roughly interchangeable with Zeus and his family, as in Nordic or Middle Eastern mythology, but also a totally different way of imaging reality, such as in Aboriginal mythology. Teachers need to acknowledge the diverse cultural roots of pupils in many contemporary societies, and archetypal thinkers such as Neville need to apply their skills to exploring the implications of this archetypal diversity for teachers.

13. Furthermore, while modern societies attempt to forge exclusive common values and structures in public life, especially through a 'common' education system, there is a danger that pupils could ultimately become alienated if the state foists on them an exclusive uniformity, particularly if it had already kick-started the process of alienation by devaluing and ignoring inherited cultural forms and making them inaccessible for groups which are outside the mainstream. Alienation from one thing does not automatically convert to affinity to another; rather, it might result in lingering malaise over several or all things. Cultures are also hybrids at a certain level, ie, 'culturally mestizos , mixed', and 'there have never been individuals, communities or peoples not exposed to hybridization, whether in ancient times or now', as Estava and Prakash (2004:11) write. But, they add: 'reality is necessarily experienced from one's own horizon of intelligibility. The alien elements are understood (or not understood or misunderstood) from that horizon.' In a multicultural Australia, there is reason to be wary of excessive state-sponsored uniformity in its norms and structures, excessive and unqualified characterization of peoples as mere hybrids, and solipsistic withdrawals into cultural cocoons. One's own horizon of intelligibility (a psycho-socio-cultural construct laced through with cumulative hybridization) needs to be safeguarded and nurtured, for only thus can there be fruitful interaction with perspectives deriving from other people's horizons of intelligibility in the public domain.      

14. The current revival of interest in classical and other ancient mythologies is in itself a phenomenon worthy of examination. The imagery of the classical myths is as likely to be found in the service of science (eg, the Gaia hypothesis or cultural critique as it is in poetry. It is also pervasive in popular culture. It is tempting to see this move towards mythical thinking as symptomatic of what many are pleased to call the postmodern condition. Whatever their sources, the polytheistic psychologising of the archetypal school, the wholesale assault on orthodoxy, the globalisation of culture, the relativisation of values, the substitution of image for substance, the disillusionment with rationality, appear to be features of the same syndrome. What distinguishes the best of the archetypal thinkers, as I understand them, is firstly a readiness to include in their own multi-perspectivist position the notion that this grand narrative of theirs is itself but one perspective among many, and, secondly, their ability through their polytheistic conception of values, to escape the quicksand of postmodern nihilism which is the usual resting place of such radical relativism.

15. Writing out of this perspective, Neville is able to attack the narrowness of the dogmatic system which frames conventional approaches to education, while at the same time acknowledging and even celebrating the values affirmed by that system. He is able to point to the richness and promise of other values and practices, without having to argue for the abandonment of conventional wisdom.

16. European culture has been governed for long enough by an idea of the One--one God, one Truth, one Reality, one Way. It may be time to also recogni s z e, acknowledge and confirm the need of many ethnic and religious groups in a society who subscribe to an idea of the Many, an idea which informs many contemporary cultures as well as European antiquity. One justification for grounding a cultural analysis in the metaphors of the polytheistic pantheons of antiquity (eg, the classical Greek and Indian pantheons) is that they contain both the One and the Many (eg, Zeus/Brahma in the context of a multiplicity of deities.)

17. The notion of evaluating curriculum or methodology from a standpoint which is genuinely polytheistic, rather than one which is monotheistic or even henotheistic, does not come easily to most of us. However, if postmodernism and transculturalism continue to take us in their present direction, it may be unavoidable. In the context of multicultural societies, one might argue with some urgency that teachers, especially teachers of intercultural and multicultural studies, must develop a capacity to explore multiple perspectives. This is a notion which is central to Neville's understanding of an adequate curriculum and methodology. His notion that the image of Dionysos is as valid a starting point for the development of a curriculum and a teaching methodology as is that of Apollo or Prometheus is challenging enough. The acceptance of this argument leads us to the further notion that we might with equal justification plan curriculum according to the model of Aphrodite or Artemis, the latter a deity much neglected in our schools. However, this notion still belongs within the framework of Greco-Roman culture within which Neville is working. Neville takes us this far into multiple perspectives, but a genuinely multicultural approach to education would need to take us further and be more inclusive. We need to learn how to explore the possibilities and limitations of an education framed within the image of Brahma (Creator) Sakti (Energy), Vishnu (Conserver), Sarasvati (Wisdom/Knowledge/Arts), Parvati (Femininity) and Siva (Destroyer), not to mention local village gods, such as Sitala (who grants protection from disease), as well as the deities of Celtic, Amerindian and Polynesian societies. Indeed, it is time that Aboriginal mythology was approached and acknowledged in this country as a primary source of inspiration and wisdom, which might free us from the conceptual traps in which our thinking about education has been held captive for too long. We might ask: How might the Rainbow Serpent change our vision of life in general and education in particular?

18. Educating Psyche covers a vast amount of ground without being trivial or boring. It is well written--it is rich in imagery, and deals honestly both with the minutiae of research findings and with questions of ultimate meaning. It has implications which go far beyond the classroom. It ought to be of particular value to teachers of intercultural and multicultural studies. Whether they will easily come across it and read it is more doubtful. It seems more likely to be read by those with an enthusiastic interest in Jungian psychology. However, I believe that if teachers do read Educating Psyche, with or without a knowledge of classical mythology, they will find more to assist their reflection on the purposes, processes and practices of education than they will get from reading yet another treatise on classroom management.

19. Neville's intentions in this book are clear: it is to provide a way of understanding the learning process which will lead to more engaging and effective methods of teaching. Indeed, Educating Psyche is in large part a manual of such methods. However, underlying the suggestions about better ways of teaching i s a philosophy, even a cosmology, which is occasionally made overt. One core idea is that we are living in an organic universe, not a mechanical one, an idea which leads into an ecological understanding of education and its promise. Another characteristic of Neville's thinking is its pluralism, multiperspectivism or polytheism. Neville draws the latter term from archetypal psychology and elaborates on its meaning in the final chapters (written for this edition), which he calls 'Gods in the Classroom'. In his more recent work (2004) Neville has focused on the corporate world, applying and develop ing the polytheistic framework to the observation and analysis of organizational cultures .  

20. There are hints in Educating Psyche that Neville has a lot more to say about both ecology and what he calls polytheism as they apply to schooling. I trust he will find the opportunity to say it.


JV D'Cruz has published in the areas of education, culture and politics, and is Adjunct Professor in Australia-Asia Relations, Monash Asia Institute, Monash University.


1. To position one's self in this discussion: More recently we have seen a focus on psychoculture and the attendant notion of a concrete-abstract cultural continuum --a specific interest of mine and that of some colleagues such as Grace Tham (formally RMIT School of Nursing; eg, D'Cruz and Tham 1993) and William Steele (research associate at Monash Asia Institute; eg, D'Cruz and Steele 2003)--which has emerged partly in reaction to the excessive preoccupation with the discreteness of concrete detail in the work of some social scientists and partly in reaction to the excessive aridity and unanchored intellectual abstraction of some critical theorists. In effect, ours is an attempt to transmit through education a deliberate selection of the more salient concrete and abstract aspects of whole and lived cultures.


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D'Cruz, J. V. and Steele, William (2003) Australia's Ambivalence Towards Asia: Politics, Neo/Post-colonialism, and fact/fiction. Clayton, Vic.: Monash University Press/Monash Asia Institute.

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Estava, Gustavo and Madhu Suri Prakash (2004), "Introduction: A Dialogue with Ashis Nandy", in Ashis Nandy (2004) Bonfire of Creeds: The Essential Ashis Nandy. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Hillman, James (198 9 ) Archetypal Psychology The Essential James Hillman: A Blue Fire. New York: Spring. Harper and Row.

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Neville, Bernie (2004) Olympus Inc.: Intervening for Cultural Change in Organizations. Fremantle: Contemporary Arts M edia.

Noddings, Nel (1992) The Challenge to Care in Schools. NY: Teachers College Press.

Stevens, Anthony and John Price (2000) Evolutionary Psychiatry: A New Beginning. London: Routledge.

© borderlands ejournal 2006



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