The Best Bits of: Leonardo Da Vinci  by Walter Isaacson  Simon & Schuster 2017

Vision without execution is hallucination (4).

[Disciple of Experience] Leonardo was mainly self-taught. He often seemed defensive about being an “unlettered man,” as he dubbed himself with some irony. But he also took pride that his lack of formal schooling led him to be a disciple of experience and experiment… His lack of reverence for authority and his willingness to challenge received wisdom would lead him to craft an empirical approach for understanding nature that foreshadowed the scientific method developed more than a cent later by Bacon and Galileo. His method was rooted in experiment, curiosity, and the ability to marvel at (17) phenomena that the rest of us rarely pause to ponder after we’ve outgrown our wonder years. 

To that was added an intense desire and ability to observe the wonders of nature. He pushed himself to perceive shapes and shadows with wondrous precision. He was particularly good at apprehending movement, from the motions of a flapping wing to the emotions flickering across a face. On this foundation he built experiments, some conducted in his mind, others with drawings, and a few with physical objects. “First I shall do some experiments before I proceed further,” he announced, “because my intention is to consult experience first and then with reasoning show why such experience is bound to operate in such a way (18).

[Childhood Memories]  And it does not take a Freud to understand that sexual drives can be sublimated into ambition and other passions. Leonardo said so himself. “Intellectual passion drives out sensuality,” he wrote in one of his notebooks (20). 

[Education]  One skill that was emphasized was how to draw analogies between cases, a method that Leonardo would use repeatedly in his later science. Analogies and spotting patterns became for him a rudimentary method of theorizing (31).

Being left-handed also affected Leonardo’s method of drawing. As with his writing, he drew from right to left so as not to smudge the lines with his hand. Most artists draw hatching strokes that slope upward to the right, like this: ////. But Leonardo’s hatching was distinctive because his lines started on the lower right and moved upward to the left, like this: \\. Today this style has an added advantage: the left-handed hatching in a drawing is evidence that it was made by Leonardo (32).

[Verrocchio]  Piero gave the task to Leonardo, who decided to create a terrifying image of a dragon-like monster breathing fire and belching poison. To make it naturalistic, he assembled parts from real lizards, crickets, snakes, butterflies, grasshoppers, and bats. “He labored over it so long that the stench of the dead animals was past bearing, but Leonardo did not notice it, so great was the love that he bore towards art,” Vasari wrote. When Piero finally came to get it, he recoiled in shock from what in the dim light appeared at first to be a real monster. Piero decided to keep his son’s creation and buy another shield for the peasant. “Later, Ser Piero sold the buckler of Leonardo secretly to some merchants in Florence, for a hundred ducats; and in a short time it came into the hands of the Duke of Milan, having been sold to him by the merchants for three hundred ducats.”

The shield, perhaps Leonardo’s first recorded piece of art, displayed his lifelong talent for combining fantasy with observation. In the notes for his proposed treatise on painting, he would later write, “If you wish to make an imaginary animal invented by you appear natural, let us say a dragon, take for the head that of a mastiff or hound, for the eyes a cat, and for the ears a porcupine, and for the nose a greyhound, and the brows of a lion, the temple of an old cock, the neck of a terrapin” (39).

[Draperies, Chiaroscuro, and Sfumato]  “The first intention of the painter,” Leonardo later wrote, “is to make a flat surface display a body as if modeled and separated from this plane, and he who surpass others in this skill deserves most praise. This accomplishment, with which the science of painting is crowned, arises from light and shade, or we may say chiaroscuro.” That statement could stand as his artistic manifesto, or at least a key element of it (40-1). 

When mastering drapery drawings in Vercocchio’s studio, Leonardo also pioneered sfumato, the technique of blurring contours and edges. It is a way for artists to render objects as they appear to our eye rather than with sharp contours. This advance caused Vasari to proclaim Leonardo the inventor of the “modern manner” in painting, and the art historian Ernst Gombrich called sfumato “Leonardo’s famous invention, the blurred outline and mellowed colors that allow one form to merge with another and always leave something to our imagination.

The term sfumato derives from the Italian word for “smoke,” or more precisely the dissipation and gradual vanishing of smoke into the air. “Your shadows and lights should be blended without lines or borders in the manner of smoke losing itself in the air,” he wrote in a series of maxims for young painters. From the eyes of his angel in the Baptism of Christ to the smile of the Mona Lisa, the blurred and smoke-veiled edges allow a role for our own imagination. With no sharp lines, enigmatic glances and smiles can flicker mysteriously (41).

[The Arno Landscape]  The glory of being an artist, he realized, was that reality should inform but not constrain (47). 

…doing something different: depicting nature for its own sake. That makes his Arno Valley drawing a contender for the first such landscape in European art. The geological realism is striking: the craggy rock outcroppings eroded by the river reveal accurately rendered layers of stratified rock, a subject that was to fascinate Leonardo for the rest of his life. So, too, is the near-precision of linear perspective and the way the atmosphere blurs the distant horizon, an optical phenomenon that he would later call “aerial perspective.”

Even more arresting is the young artist’s ability to convey motion. The leaves of the trees and even their shadows are drawn with quick curved lines that make them seem to tremble in the breeze. The water falling into a pool is made vibrant with flutters of luck stokes. The result is a delightful display of the wart of observing movement (48).

[Baptism of Christ]  An X-ray analysis of the painting confirms that the angel on the left and much of the background landscape and the body of Jesus were painted with multiple thin layers of oil paint, the pigments highly diluted, stroked on with great delicacy and sometimes dabbed and smoothed by fingertips, a style that Leonardo was developing in the 1470s. Oil painting had come to Italy from the Netherlands…(54).

This use of sfumato, the smokiness that blurs sharp contours, was by now a hallmark of Leonardo’s art. Alberti in his treatise on painting had advised that lines should be drawn to delineate edges, and Vercocchio did just that. Leonardo took care to observe the real world, and he noticed the opposite: when we look at three-dimensional objects, we don’t see sharp lines. “Paint so that a smoky finish can be seen, rather than contours and profiles that are distinct and crude,” he wrote. “When you paint shadows and their edges, which cannot be perceived except indistinctly, do not make them sharp or clearly defined, otherwise your work will have a wooden appearance.” Vercocchio’s angel has this wooden appearance. Leonardo’s does not (55).

In these acutely observed vortexes and scientifically accurate ripples, Leonardo delights in what will become his favorite pattern: nature’s spirals. The curls flowing down his angel’s neck look like cascades of water, as if the river had flowed over his head and transformed into hair (56).

[Motions of the Mind]  Alberti, in On Painting…”Movements of the soul are made known by movements of the body” (87).

[Despair]  From Dante’s Inferno: “Put off this sloth,” the master said, “for shame! Sitting on feather-pillows, lying reclined Beneath the blanket is no way to fame—Fame, without which man’s life wastes out of mind, Leaving on earth no more memorial Than foam in water or smoke upon the wind” (89).

[Plays and Pageants]  The steed was followed by the horde of cavemen and savages. It was typical of Leonardo’s desire to indulge in the scary and exotic; he had an affinity for bizarre demons and dragons (115). 

[Literary Amusements]  Many of the prophecy-riddles select Leonardo’s love for animals. “Countless numbers will have their little children taken away and their throats shall be cut,” is one prophecy, as if describing a brutal act of war and genocide. But then Leonardo, who had become a vegetarian, reveals that this prophecy refers to the sheep and cows that humans eat. “Winged creatures will support people with their feathers,” he wrote in another example, and then revealed that he was not referring to flying machines but “the feathers used to stuff mattresses.” As they say in show business, you had to be there” (126). 

[Outstanding Beauty and Infinite Grace]  The horses brought him “much delight,” Vasari wrote, as did all animals. “Often when passing the places where birds were sold, he would take them with his own hand out of their cages, and having paid to those who sold them the price that was asked, he let them fly away into the air, restoring to them their lost liberty.”

Because of his love for animals, Leonardo was a vegetarian fo much of his life, although his shopping lists show that he often bought meat for others in his household. “He would not kill a flea for any reason whatsoever,” a friend wrote. “He preferred to dress in linen, so as not to war something dead.” A Florentine traveler to India recorded that the people there “do not feed on anything that has blood, nor will they allow anyone to hurt any living thing, like our Leonardo da Vinci.

In addition to his prophecy tales that include dire descriptions of the practice of slaying animals for food, Leonardo’s notebooks contain other literary passages assailing meant eating. “If you are, as you have described yourself, the king of the animals,” he wrote of humans, “why do you help other animals only so that they may be able to give you their young in order to gratify your palate?” He referred to a vegetable diet as “simple” food and urged its adoption. “Does not nature bring forth enough simple food things to satisfy your hunger? Or if you cannot content yourself with simple things can you not do so by blending these simple foods together to make an infinite number of compounds?”

His rationale for avoiding meat derived from a morality based on science. Unlike plants, animals could feel pain, Leonardo realized. Hi studies led him to believe that this was because animals had the ability to move their bodies. “Nature has given sensibility to pain to living organisms that have the power of movement, in order to preserve those parts which might be destroyed by movement,” he surmised. “Pain is not necessary in plants (130-1). 

[Collaboration and Vitruvian Man]  Ideas are often generated in physical gathering, places where people with diverse interests encounter one another serendipitously. That is why Steve Jobs liked his buildings to have a central atrium and why the young Benjamin Franklin founded a club where the most interesting people of Philadelphia would gather every Friday. At the court of Ludovico Sforza, Leonardo found friends who could spark new ideas by rubbing together their diverse passions (159).

[Love this chapter: Chapter 10; Scientist; Teaching Himself]  Leonardo da Vinci liked to boast that, because he was not formally educated, he had to learn from his own experiences instead. It was around 1490 when he wrote his screed about being “a man without letters” and a “disciple of experience,” with its swipe against those who would cite ancient wisdom rather than make observations on their own. “Though I have no power to quote from authors as they have,” he proclaimed almost proudly, “I shall rely on a far more worthy thing—on experience.” Throughout his life, he would repeat this claim to prefer experience over received scholarship. “He who has access to the fountain does not go to the water-jar,” he wrote. This made him different from the archetypal Renaissance Man, who embraced the rebirth of wisdom that came from rediscovered works of classical antiquity (170).

A goldsmith from Gutenberg’s hometown of Mainz named Johannes de Spira (or Speyer) moved to Venice and started Italy’s first major commercial publishing house in 1469; it printed many of the classics, starting with Cicero’s letters and Pliny’s encyclopedic Natural History, which Leonardo bought. By 1471 there were printing shops also in Milan, Florence, Naples, Bologna, Ferrara, Padua, and Genoa. Venice became the center of Europe’s publishing industry, and by the time Leonardo visited in 1500, there were close to a hundred printing houses there, and two million volumes had come off their presses. Leonardo thus was able to become the first major European thinker to acquire a serious knowledge of science without being formally schooled in Latin or Greek” (172).

Thus Leonardo became a disciple of both experience and received wisdom. More important, he came to see that the progress of science came from a dialogue between the two. That in turn helped him realize that knowledge also came from a related dialogue: that between experiment and theory (173).

[Connecting Experiment to Theory]    As with so many things, this empirical approach put him ahead of his time. Scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages had fused Aristotle’s science with Christianity to create an authorized creed that left little room for skeptical inquiry or experimentation. Even the humanists of the early Renaissance preferred to repeat the wisdom of classical texts rather than test it.

Leonardo broke with this tradition by basing his science primarily on observations, then discerning patterns, and then testing their validity through more observations and experiments. Dozens of times in his notebook he wrote some variation of the phrase “this can be proved by experiment” and then proceeded to describe a real-world demonstration of his thinking. Foreshadowing what would become the scientific method, he even prescribed how experiments must be repeated and varied to assure their validity: “Before you make a general rule of this case, test it two or three times and observe whether the tests produce the same effects” (174). 

As a result, Leonardo became one of the major Western thinkers, more than a century before Galileo, to pursue in a persistent hands-on fashion the dialogue between experiment and theory that would lead to the modern Scientific Revolution. Aristotle had laid the foundations, in ancient Greece, for the method of partnering inductions and deductions: using observations to formulate general principles, then using these principles to predict outcomes. While Europe was mired in its dark years of medieval superstition, the work of combining theory and experiment was advanced primarily in the Islamic world. Muslim scientists often also worked as scientific instrument makers, which made them experts at measurements and applying theories (175). 

Meanwhile, Aristotle’s science was being revived in Europe during the thirteenth century by scholars such as Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon. The empirical method used by Bacon emphasized a cycle: observations should lead to a hypothesis, which should then be tested by precise experiments, which would then be used to refine the original hypothesis. Bacon also recorded and reported his experiments in precise detail so that others could independently replicate and verify them.

[Patterns and Analogies]  …he was able to see patterns in nature, and he theorized by making analogies…discerned recurring themes…based on similarities and analogies (176-7).

[Curiosity and Observation]  Kenneth Clark referred to Leonardo’s “inhumanly sharp eye.” It’s a nice phrase, but misleading. Leonardo was human. The acuteness of his observational skill was not some superpower he possessed. Instead, it was a product of his own effort. That’s important, because it means that we can, if we wish, not just marvel at him but try to learn from him by pushing ourselves to look at things more curiously and intensely (179). 

[Bird-Watching]  He not only got the basic principles of fluid dynamics correct, but he was able to turn his insights into rudimentary theories that foreshadowed those of Newton, Galileo, and Bernoulli (184). 

[The Skull Drawings]  “The originality of the skull drawings of 1489 is so fundamentally different and superior to all other extant illustrations of the time that they are completely out of character with the age,” according to Francis Wells, a surgeon and an expert on the anatomical drawings. …as far as is now known, he became the first person in history to describe fully the human dental elements, including a depiction of the roots that is almost perfect (216). …it was not until 1739 that this pithing experiment would again be illustrated and described correctly (218).

[Head of a Young Woman]  The angel, like the one he painted for Vercocchio’s Baptism of Christ, is an example of Leonardo’s proclivity for gender fluidity. Some nineteenth-century critics saw it as a mark of his homosexuality, especially since the positioning and outward gaze of the disturbingly alluring angel make him seem a proxy for the artist (233).

[Fantasia and Reality]  Take, for example, his advice about looking at a wall that is “spotted with stains or has a mix of stones.” Leonardo could stare at such a wall and observe with precision the striations of each stone and other factual details. But he also knew how to use the wall as a springboard for his imagination and as a “way to stimulate and arouse the mind to various inventions.” He wrote in his advice for young artists: “You may discover in the patterns on the wall a resemblance to various landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys and hills in varied arrangement; or again you may see battles and figures in action; or strange faces and costumes, and an endless variety of objects, which you could turn int complete and well-drawn forms. The effect produced by these mottled walls is like that of the sound of bells, in which you may recognize any name or word you choose to imagine…It should not be hard for you to look at stains on walls, or the ashes of a fire, or the clouds, or mud, and if you consider them well you will find marvelous new ideas, because the mind is stimulated to new inventions by obscure things” (263-4).

[Shapes Without Lines]  Nothing in nature, he realized, has precise mathematical lines or boundaries or borders. “Lines are not part of any quantity of an object’s surface, not are they part of the air which surrounds this surface,” he wrote. He realized that points and lines are mathematical constructs. They do not have a physical presence. They are infinitely small. “The line has in itself neither matter nor substance and may rather be called an imaginary idea than a real object; and this being its nature it occupies no space” (269). Leonardo’s insistence that all boundaries, both in nature and in art, are blurred led him to become the pioneer of sfumato, the technique of using hazy and smoky outlines such as those so notable in the Mona Lisa. Sfumato is not merely a technique for modeling reality more accurately in a painting. It is an analogy for the blurry distinction between the known and the mysterious, one of the core themes of Leonardo’s life. Just as he blurred the boundaries between art and science, he did so to the boundaries between reality and fantasy, between experience and mystery, between objects and their surroundings (269-70).

[The Return]  When Leonardo reached Florence in late March 1500, he found a city that had just lived through a reactionary spasm that threatened to destroy its role in the vanguard of Renaissance culture. In 1494 a radical friar named Girolamo Savonarola had led a religious rebellion against the ruling Medici and instituted a fundamentalist regime that imposed strict new laws against homosexuality, sodomy, and adultery. Some transgressions were punished by stoning and burning. A militia of young boys was organized to patrol the streets and enforce morals. On Mardi Gras of 1497 Savonarola led what became known as the “Bonfire of the Vanities,” in which books, art, clothing, and cosmetics were set aflame. The following year, popular opinion turned on him, and he was hanged and burned in the central square of Florence. By Leonardo’s return, the city had again become a republic that celebrated the classics and art, but its confidence was shaken, its exuberance dampened, and the finances of its government and guilds drained (300).

[Diverting the Arno]  Milan’s waterworks had existed for centuries, even before the Romans built their famed aqueducts in the Po Valley around 200 BC (347). Just before Pisa broke away, a major world event made Florence even more eager to control a sea outlet. In March 1493 Christopher Columbus returned safely from his first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, and the report of his discoveries quickly spread throughout Europe. This was soon followed by a flurry of other accounts of amazing explorations. America Vespucci, whose cousin Agostina worked with Machiavelli in the Florentine chancery, helped puppy Columbus’s third voyage in 1498, and the following year he made his own voyage across the Atlantic, landing in what is now Brazil. Unlike Columbus, who thought he was finding a route to India, Vespucci correctly reported to his Florentine patrons that he had “arrived at a new land which for many reasons…we observed to be a continent.” His correct surmise led to its being named America, after him. The excitement over what portended to be a new age of exploration made Florence’s desire to regain Pisa more urgent. [verruca means “wart”] (348). This would require moving a million tons of earth, and Leonardo calculated the man-hours necessary by doing a detailed time-and-motion study, one of the first in history. He figured out everything from the weight of one shovel-load of dirt (twenty-five pounds) to how many shovel-loads would fill a wheelbarrow (twenty). His answer: it would take approximately 1.3 million man-hours, or 540 men working 100 days, to dig the Arno diversion ditch (349).

[Draining the Piombino Marshes]  This inability to ground his fantasies in reality has generally been regarded as one of Leonardo’s major failings. Yet in order to be a true visionary, one has to be willing to overreach and to fail some of the time. Innovation requires a reality distortion field. The things he envisioned for the future often came to pass, even if it took a few centuries. Scuba gear, flying machines, and helicopters now exist. Suction pumps now drain swamps. Along the route of the canal that Leonardo drew there is now a major highway. Sometimes fantasies are paths to reality (353-4).

[Analogies]  “Though human ingenuity may make various inventions,” he wrote, “it will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple, more direct than does Nature; because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous” (403). 

[Floods and Fossils]  Leonardo thus became a pioneer of ichnology, the study of fossil traces, a field that did not come into full existence for another three hundred years (440).

[The End]  [The final words written by Leonardo de Vinci:] “perche la minestra si fredda,” he writes. Because the soup is getting cold.

Poetry for Professionals by J. Coleman

Wallace Stevens was one of America’s greatest poets. The author of “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” and “The Idea of Order at Key West” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1955 and offered a prestigious faculty position at Harvard University. Stevens turned it down. He didn’t want to give up his position as Vice President of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company.

This lyrically inclined insurance executive was far from alone in occupying the intersect of business and poetry. Dana Gioia, a poet, Stanford Business School grad, and former General Foods executive, notes that T.S. Eliot spent a decade at Lloyd’s Bank of London; and many other poets including James Dickey, A.R. Ammons, and Edmund Clarence Stedman navigated stints in business.

I’ve written in the past about how business leaders should be readers, but even those of us prone to read avidly often restrict ourselves to contemporary nonfiction or novels. By doing so, we overlook a genre that could be valuable to our personal and professional development: poetry. Here’s why we shouldn’t.

For one, poetry teaches us to wrestle with and simplify complexity. Harman Industries founder Sidney Harman once told The New York Times, “I used to tell my senior staff to get me poets as managers. Poets are our original systems thinkers. They look at our most complex environments and they reduce the complexity to something they begin to understand.” Emily Dickinson, for example, masterfully simplified complex topics with poems like “Because I could not stop for Death,” and many poets are similarly adept. Business leaders live in multifaceted, dynamic environments. Their challenge is to take that chaos and make it meaningful and understandable. Reading and writing poetry can exercise that capacity, improving one’s ability to better conceptualize the world and communicate it — through presentations or writing — to others.

Poetry can also help users develop a more acute sense of empathy. In the poem “Celestial Music,” for example, Louise Glück explores her feelings on heaven and mortality by seeing the issue through the eyes of a friend, and many poets focus intensely on understanding the people around them. In January of 2006, the Poetry Foundation released a landmark study, “Poetry in America,” outlining trends in reading poetry and characteristics of poetry readers. The number one thematic benefit poetry users cited was “understanding” — of the world, the self, and others. They were even found to be more sociable than their non-poetry-using counterparts. And bevies of new research show that reading fiction and poetry more broadly develops empathy. Raymond Mar, for example, has conducted studies showing fiction reading is essential to developing empathy in young children (PDF) and empathy and theory of mind in adults (PDF). The program in Medical Humanities & Arts (PDF) even included poetry in their curriculum as a way of enhancing empathy and compassion in doctors, and the intense empathy developed by so many poets is a skill essential to those who occupy executive suites and regularly need to understand the feelings and motivations of board members, colleagues, customers, suppliers, community members, and employees.

Reading and writing poetry also develops creativity. In an interview with Knowledge@Wharton, the aforementioned Dana Gioia says, “As [I rose] in business … I felt I had an enormous advantage over my colleagues because I had a background in imagination, in language and in literature.” Noting that the Greek root for poetry means “maker,” Dana emphasizes that senior executives need not just quantitative skills but “qualitative and creative” skills and “creative judgment,” and feels reading and writing poetry is a route to developing those capabilities. Indeed, poetry may be an even better tool for developing creativity than conventional fiction. Clare Morgan, in her book What Poetry Brings to Business, cites a study showing that poems caused readers to generate nearly twice as many alternative meanings as “stories,” and poetry readers further developed greater “self-monitoring” strategies that enhanced the efficacy of their thinking processes. These creative capabilities can help executives keep their organizations entrepreneurial, draw imaginative solutions, and navigate disruptive environments where data alone are insufficient to make progress.

Finally, poetry can teach us to infuse life with beauty and meaning. A challenge in modern management can be to keep ourselves and our colleagues invested with wonder and purpose. As Simon Sinek and others have documented, the best companies and people never lose a sense of why they do what they do. Neither do poets. In her Nobel lecture “The Poet and the World,” Wislawa Szymborska writes:

The world — whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence … is astonishing …Granted, in daily speech, where we don’t stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like “the ordinary world,” “ordinary life,” “the ordinary course of events” … But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone’s existence in this world.

What if we professionals cultivated a similar outlook? We might find our colleagues more hopeful and purposeful and our work revitalized with more surprise, meaning, and beauty.

Poetry isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to every business problem. There are plenty of business leaders who’ve never read poetry and have been wholly successful. But to those open to it, reading and writing poetry can be a valuable component of leadership development.

by J. Coleman

Paulo Freire

One of the most influential radical educators of our world. Developing methods for teaching illiterate adults to read and write and (as he would say) to think critically and, thereby, to take power over their own lives. Where teachers and students have equal power and equal dignity.

Wrote: Education for Critical Consciousness, The Politics of Education, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Revised Edition, Learning to Question: A Pedagogy of Liberation and Pedagogy of Indignation.

Because teachers could be said to have something that their students lack, it is impossible to have a ‘neutral’ classroom; when teachers present a subject to their students they also present a point of view on that subject. The choice, according to Freire, is fairly simple: teachers either work ‘for the liberation of the people–their humanization–or for their domestication, their domination. A teacher’s most crucial skill is his or her ability to assist students’ struggle to gain control over the conditions of their lives, and this means helping them not only to know but ‘to know that they know.’

Freire edited, along with Henry A. Giroux, a series of books on education and teaching. In Literacy: Reading the Word and the World, a book for the series, Freire describes the interrelationship between reading the written word and understanding the world that surrounds us.

The “Banking” Concept of Education

[margin notes: teaching = too much talking. Further: this is why I use real world examples]

For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.

[margin note: acknowledge what the students bring to the table; what they already know. Let them know you do not know everything; you are learning as well]

…both are simultaneously teachers and students.

…the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world.

To transform that structure so that they can become ‘beings for themselves.’

…critically consider reality. …ontological vocation to be more fully human.

…reality is really a process, undergoing constant transformation.

…engage in critical thinking and the quest for mutual humanization. …a profound trust in people and their creative power…be partners of the students in their relations with them.

[footnote: conscientizacao: According the Freire’s translator, “The term conscientizacao refers to learning to perceive social, political, and economic contradictions, and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality.” margin note: being woke.]

…a person is with the world or with others…a re-creator…a conscious being…

…one must seek to live with others in solidarity. Solidarity requires true communication, and the concept by which such an educator is guided fears and proscribes communication.

Yet only through communication can human life hold meaning. …thinking that is concerned about reality happens through communication.

Thinking, action, creative power.

But the inability to act which causes people’s anguish also causes them to reject their impotence, by attempting “to restore [their] capacity to act. But can [they], and how? One way is to submit to and identify with a person or group having power. By this symbolic participation in another person’s life, [men have] the illusion of acting, when in reality [they] only submit to and become part of those who act.”

…they cannot use banking educational methods in the pursuit of liberation…

But one does not liberate people by alienating them. Authentic liberation–the process of humanization–is not another deposit to be made in men. Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it.

Those truly committed to liberation adopt instead a concept of women and men as conscious beings; as consciousness intent upon the world…the posing of the problems of human beings in their relations with the world. ‘Problem-posing’ education, responding to the essence of consciousness–intentionality…embodies communications…being conscious of…consciousness as consciousness of consciousness.

…acts of cognition…the cognizable object…intermediates the cognitive actors… Dialogical relations–indispensable to the capacity of cognitive actors to cooperate in perceiving the same cognizable object…

…problem-posing education: its function as the practice of freedom. …teacher-student with students-teachers. The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teachers, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow. …authority must be on the side of freedom, not against it. People teach each other, mediated by the world…

…a medium evoking the critical reflection of both teacher and students.

He does not regard cognizable objects as his private property, but as the object of reflection by himself and the students. In this way, the problem-posing educator constantly re-forms his reflections in the reflection of the students. The students–no longer docile listeners–are now critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher. The teacher presents the material to the students for their consideration, and re-considers her earlier considerations as the students express their own. The role of the problem-posing educator is to create, together with the students, the conditions under which knowledge at the level of the doxa is superseded by true knowledge, at the level of the logos.

Problem-posing education involves a constant unveiling of reality…the latter strives for the emergence of consciousness and critical intervention in reality.

Students, as they are increasingly posed with problems relating to themselves in the world and with the world, will feel increasingly challenged and obliged to respond to that challenge. Because they apprehend the challenge as interrelated to other problems within a total context, not as a theoretical question, the resulting comprehension tends to be increasingly critical and thus constantly less alienated. Their response to the challenge evokes new challenges, followed by new understandings; and gradually the students come to regard themselves as committed. [margin note: problem-posing leads to commitment]

Education as the practice of freedom… Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man nor the world without people, but people in their relations with the world.

In problem-posing education, people develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation. Although the dialectical relations of women and men with the world exist independently of how these relations are perceived (or whether or not they are perceived at all), it is also true that the form of action they adopt is to a large extent a function of how they perceive themselves in the world. Hence, the teacher-student and the students-teachers reflect simultaneously on themselves and the world without dichotomizing this reflection from action, and thus establish an authentic form of thought and action.

…problem-posing education sets itself the task of demythologizing. Banking education resists dialogue; problem-posing education regards dialogue as indispensable to the act of cognition which unveils reality; it makes them critical thinkers. Problem-posing education bases itself on creativity and stimulates true reflection and action upon reality…persons as beings who are authentic only when engaged in inquiry and creative transformation…problem-posing theory and practice take the people’s historicity as their starting point.

Problem-posing education affirms men and women as beings in the process of becoming–as unfinished, uncompleted beings in and with a likewise unfinished reality. The unfinished character of human beings and the transformational character of reality necessitate that education be an ongoing activity.

Education is thus constantly re-made…problem-posing education–which accepts neither a ‘well-behaved’ present nor a predetermined future–roots itself in the dynamic present and becomes revolutionary.

Problem-posing education is revolutionary futurity. Hence, it is prophetic (and, as such, hopeful). Hence, it corresponds to the historical nature of humankind. Hence, it affirms women and men as beings who transcend themselves, who move forward and look ahead…

…movement must begin with the human-world relationship; in the here-and-now. To do this authentically they must perceive their state not as fated and unalterable, but merely as limiting–and therefore challenging.

As the situation becomes the object of their cognition, the naive or magical perception which produced their fatalism gives way to perception which is able to perceive itself even as it perceives reality, and can thus be critically objective about that reality.

[This paragraph has a star, so I must have really liked it:] A deepened consciousness of their situation leads people to apprehend that situation as an historical reality susceptible of transformation. Resignation gives way to the drive for transformation and inquiry, over which men feel themselves to be in control. If people, as historical beings necessarily engaged with other people in a movement of inquiry, did not control that movement, it would be (and is) a violation of their humanity. Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence. The means used are not important; to alienate human beings from their own decision making is to change them into objects.

This movement of inquiry must be directed towards humanization in fellowship and solidarity.

…it also enables people to overcome their false perception of reality. The world…becomes the object of that fransforming action by men and women which results in their humanization.


Slavery, Race, and the Making of American Literature

In 1820 the English critic Sidney Smith downplayed the emerging literature coming out of America and tied his critique to the practice of slavery: “Finally, under which of the old tyrannical governments of Europe is every sixth man a Slave, whom his fellow-creatures may buy and sell and torture?” The paradoxical fact that a nation founded on the principles of equality would develop into a slave holding republic was not lost on writers of the early national and antebellum period. American writers began to concern themselves with slavery issues. Tensions between the realities of slavery and the ideals of freedom inform much writing of the period.

Thomas Jefferson, author of the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, celebrated the democratic ideals while making clear that he regarded those ideals as best realized by whites. He presents black people as inferior to whites. African American writers regularly sought to counter such claims. Much African American writing of the period sought to abolish slavery, improve the condition of the free blacks, and challenge the hierarchical claims of the racial ethnologists by invoking (or reclaiming) the principles of the Declaration. [We can see in this example that two groups used the same document in different ways.] Others expanded the parameters of slavery and equality. Women reformers saw themselves as especially qualified to contest slavery, which they regarded both as a specific institution in the slave South and as one of many manifestations of patriarchal power.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s work, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was meant to humanize African Americans, but ended up in many ways having the opposite effect. She was hemmed in by stereotypes, not only regarding her subject matter, but against women writers in general. The spawn push-back. The debates on slavery exerted an especially strong influence on the literature of the 1840s and 1850s. If whiteness was the culture’s default and “superior” category of human existence, then, for many white writers blackness posed the threat (and sometimes appeal) of a dangerous otherness.

In 1857, the Supreme court ruled in the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford that blacks could never become U.S. citizens and were inferior to whites. That ruling, which robbed Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence of its ambiguities and potential, made clear that the debates on slavery and race were debates about the nation. Much of the black writing ideals had them fleeing America altogether.

Tecumseh  (1775 ?-1813)

Was called by some the Greatest Indian. Tecumseh was unwaveringly hostile to the white Americans who relentlessly encroached on the lands of his people. When Indians began giving away land, Tecumseh attempted to organize a multi-tribal resistance to the Americans. In 1811 William Henry Harrison decisively defeated the Prophet’s (Tecumseh’s brother) forces at Tippecanoe. Tecumseh as not present at the battle. The defeat left the Prophet’s followers disillusioned, and Tecumseh had no further success in bringing the tribes together in resistance. He fought on the side of the British in the War of 1812 and was killed at the Battle of the Thames. The brief speech here derives from the “captivity narrative” of John Dunn Hunter, published in 1823. Hunter taken captive by Osage Indian as a baby and lived among them as a youth. When he was about ten he heard a speech made by Tecumseh. We must treat the following speech as such, but John Dunn Hunter was very moved at the time and the contents seem to match what Tecumseh was going through at the time.

Speech to the Osages

The white man wants to take us down so we must all stick together. When the whites first came here they were so weak that we had to take care of them. “Brothers, the white people are like poisonous serpents: when chilled, they are feeble and harmless; but invigorate them with warmth, and they sting their benefactors to death.” They are not our friends. They want ALL the land. They want to kill us all. They cheat us, despise us and think we are not good enough to live. We need vengeance. Make the tomahawk fat with blood and drink the blood of the white people. We are brave, but there are too many whites. We need the tribes to band together. “If we all unite, we will cause the rivers to stain the great waters with their blood. ” If we do not band together then they will simply take us down one tribe at a time. They are trying to turn us against each other. God wants us to win. Why should we fear the whites? They are not fast; easy to shoot. God will help us if we work together to destroy them. “We must be united; we must smoke the same pipe; we must fight each other’s battles; and more than all, we must love the Great Spirit; he is for us; he will destroy our enemies, and make all his red children happy.”

Cherokee Women

In traditional matriarchal Cherokee society, women held authority within their families, supervised land usage, occupied political offices such as Beloved Woman (or Ghighua), and participated in diplomacy. Motherhood was an organizing concept used to ground women’s claims to power. The diplomatic rhetoric of Cherokee women often focused on the physical and emotional bonds between mothers and children as a compelling reason to sustain peaceful relations with rival powers. In this address of Sept. 8, 1787, to Benjamin Franklin, then serving as the governor of Pennsylvania and as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, several representatives of the Cherokee Women’s Council ask Congress to pay attention to their desire for peace.

To Governor Benjamin Franklin

This side has smoked the peace pipe; hope your side will too. Consider that woman is the mother of All. We pull children from our own bodies; it is only right that people listen to us. I want to keep my children living in peace.

Logan  (1725 ?-1780)

Exact origins and identity of the man known as Chief Logan are not entirely clear. In English they called him John Logan. Agent of Virginia governor provoked a brief war in a bid for Indian lands in which Logan’s pregnant sister was mutilated along with her unborn child. This event was known as the Yellow Creek massacre and took place on the upper Ohio River. Afterwards, Logan was asked to attend a treaty meeting with Dunmore. He refused, but apparently sent a message that eventually was transformed into a speech in English known as “Logan’s Lament.” Not all points mentioned are factual. This speech was said to have been heard by a few who transcribed it, but the mystery surrounding the text deepens in light of the discrepancies between the historical facts as they have been uncovered and various statements attributed to Logan. He was later killed by his nephew who thought it a way to preserve his legacy. It remains unclear just how much of this speech represents the words that Logan actually spoke. It is the most famous instance of Indian oratory as a popular nineteenth-century American literary genre.


From Chief Logan’s Speech

Notes on the State of Virginia, Query VI

There is an introduction by Thomas Jefferson who says that in 1774 a robbery was committed by some Indians. The whites undertook to punish this outrage. Cresap and Great-house surprised a traveling and hunting party of the Indians, having their women and children with them, and murdered many. Among these families was Logan’s. This provoked his vengeance. The Indians were defeated. Logan disdained to be seen among the suppliants. He sent by a messenger the following speech to be delivered to Lord Dunmore.

Logan remained an advocate for peace. Such was my love of the white people. Col. Cresap, unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not sparing even my women and children. This called on me for revenge. I have sought it: I have killed many.