In the story I told a couple of posts ago, the King immediately sets off, filled with a sense of righteous indignation and clear purpose, and yet suddenly finds himself languishing in prison. He’s stuck. Imprisoned.
There’s enormous pressure on the Queen to do something quickly. To act. To move things along. To stop sitting by the window and get serious. But she resists the temptation, and takes her time. She sits in the uncomfortable tension, and waits for something to emerge. This is the mythopoetic version of what Margaret Somerville (2007) has called a ‘methodology of postmodern emergence’.
The story ends with the Queen and King in an eternal embrace. I was unsettled by this image when I first heard the story, but I now know how important it is. Without the King’s courage and commitment to justice, there is no story.
The story of the King’s call to arms and the Queen’s journey is played out in schools and universities all the time, though we tend to forget the importance of the Queen’s journey and then wonder why the King gets stuck.
Here’s one example.
We want our kids to be competent in reading, writing and maths because we know this is a personal and public good. Too quickly, though, we go the King’s route, and set up Naplan and MySchools, learning outcomes and year level achievement levels, none of which are bad in themselves, but all of which are problematic without the deeper knowledge that comes from the Queen’s Journey.
The Queen is there to remind us that learning to read, or becoming adept with numbers, requires engagement, immersion, play, experimentation and time to make personal connections. It is, for most of us, never a linear process. The King is impatient, wants to step the children through a predictable and ordered and efficient process. (Brian Cambourne described this beautifully in 1995 in a little article called ‘Toward an educationally relevant theory of literacy learning: twenty years of inquiry’)
Teachers live in this tension, trying (often with great success) to create spaces for the rich meanderings, the engaging play, but egged on (not always productively) by the King’s voice telling them to get a move on, to get serious.
There used to be a lovely ten minute video on YouTube (it’s no longer there, unfortunately) where Professor Peter Elbow talked about the writing process. Based on his own undergraduate experience with writer’s block, Elbow tells the story of how he discovered the importance of ‘making a mess’ before trying to make more clear sense of whatever he was studying. Step One: you just played freely with ideas, not worrying about their relevance, their clarity, their intelligence. You just launched yourself into a rich but uncertain and meandering process. Step Two: you took a step back from the material and brought your disciplined and analytic mind to bear to make sense of what you had explored, to sift and order and structure.
This is the King and Queen in their eternal embrace.
Cambourne, Brian. (1995). Toward an educationally relevant theory of literacy learning: twenty years of inquiry. The Reading Teacher, 49(3).
Somerville, Margaret. (2007). Postmodern Emergence. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education,, 20(2), 225–243.