Precedent Chaos. Or Marrow Work: A Poetics of Education

Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Title

2017 Bergamo Conference on Curriculum Theory and Classroom Practice

Conference Location

Dayton, OH


This paper sets out to theorize what the mysterious, irrational, uncertain, metaphorical, literary, personal, and aesthetic--in short, the poetic--can offer us as educators. As young doctoral students already all-too-jaded with a systematic schooled culture backed too often by education research bent on framing “good practice” in terms of “standardization, efficiency, predictability, and operationalizing student understanding” (Judson & Egan, 2012, p. 39), we are skeptical of the demand for the gold-standard of social scientific and evidenced-based justifications for teaching. Instead, we draw on the work of poets and scholars of education in order to attend to the complexity of teaching, not as a problem to solve or an undesirable element to be removed but rather as the very heart of what makes teaching meaningful work. We think the poetic offers a pedagogy that embraces complexity and uncertainty in search of wonder, dependent on figurative language that has the ability to “gesture beyond and outside itself” (Fendler, 2012, p. 6).. Specifically, we are interested in poetic dispositions like Collins (2003), who seeks to teach students “to waterski / across the surface of the poem.../or take a poem / and hold it up to the light / like a color slide” (p. 3). We want to think about what it means to take seriously poetic ways of teaching rather than dismiss them as indulgent or even--god forbid--lacking rigor.
What we’ve found is that a poetics of education prioritizes the relational aspects of teaching as well as recognizes the limitations of literal language, seeking to engage with multiple interpretations through figurative approaches. Teaching has always been a relational endeavor, but a poetics of education is a “reclaiming [of] the relational role of the teacher” (Bingham, 2011, p. 517). The teacher, furthermore, creates “the capacity to experience meaningful coincidence of context” (Zwicky, 2013, p. 19). Enacting a poetic disposition attends to the micro-contexts of education; it acknowledges the (re)forming of connections dependent on moment, time, place and person. A poetics of education emphasizes the personal, human side of teaching, as language acts as a conduit of connection. Through this lensing, we also examine how figurative language encourages possibilities of interpretation; it “may catalyze, spark, inspire, generate, move, provoke, and/or persuade” (Fendler, 2012, p. 7). This approach seeks to create spaces that indulge in wonder, that not only linger in uncertainty but sit with it, wrestle with it, and exhaust previous conceptions of knowledge in order to move towards varied ways of interacting with each other and the world. We resist the narrowing of knowledge in education; rather, we propose a poetics of education to complicate conversations and expand perspectives, interpretations, and imaginations through the interplay of precedent chaos (uncertainty) and marrow work (the relational).


English and Comparative Literature