Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Imagining A to Z: U is for Unlearn Master Myths

The Hob, Plymouth England (iPhone)

U is for Unlearn Master Myths

Keri Facer (2011) defines myth as that which
"comes to act as an unquestioned cultural resource, to function as a dominating narrative that allows educators, policy-makers, parents and designers, without too much reflection, to make decisions and take action in the present" (Kindle Locations 240-242).
Roland Barthes (1957) tells us that myth is
"a type of speech...a system of communication...Myth is not defined by the object of its message, but by the way it utters this message" (p. 107).
James Gee (1996) describes master myths as prevalent stories we have internalized as truths, as the way it is, as what is normal.

Such mythologies are influential in our lives. They shape what we think is possible and not; truthful or false, and normal and abnormal. 

The imagination, oddly enough, may be limited by these mythologies that tells  us how to behave, how to be.  Last week I was in England and one of the things I wanted to do was to make images of people playing 'on the street'.  I did not want to capture images of organized play (football, etc.).  I spent a good portion of two days roaming about looking and I found just three accounts of public play:
  • three boys on skateboards
  • an elderly couple and their dog and a ball
  • a mom and two small children each with a scooter
One of the master myths we live with is that as we age and mature we become more respectable, less likely to be silly, playful or messy--especially in public.  This myth makes me wonder how such a truth limits our imagination. For example, a friend tells me that she grew up in a home where making visual art was not done because it caused too much of  a mess.

"I couldn't leave anything out. Everything had to be put away right after playing. Our house had to be presentable at all times in case someone dropped in."

Not only did the house have to be presentable, but I imagine the inhabitants, especially girls and women needed to be presentable, neat, pretty at all times.

Take a look at the mythologies in this older advertisement aimed at girls. What is suggested as 'normal'? How is cleanliness and beauty aligned?

Or take a look at this more recent commercial:

Why is being clean situated as critical, essential?

So today I am wondering about what myths I need to unlearn?  I'm wondering which ones get in the way of creating? Imagining? Being?

Note: In this series of post during the month of April, I am participating in the A to Z blogging challenge, with each day focusing on a letter.  In order to bring some cohesion to this process--releasing the imagination is the focus of each post.


  1. There are lots of myths about what math is and how it's done. In my (soon to be published) book, Playing With Math: Stories from Math Circles, Homeschoolers, and the Internet, I talk about these myths and more importantly, the truth hidden behind them.

    Vi Hart's lovely videos may do more toward undoing the power of these myths than anything written could do.

  2. My Mum was of the presentable type. We weren't allowed to sit on our beds after making them, and they always had to be made in the morning. If you sat on the sofa after it had been 'straightened' she'd get annoyed. At the same time, though, she was always very playful and silly (just not messy), she has one of the 'youngest' outlooks I know of and I'm sure it's helped keep my parents' marriage together.

    I'm much messier. Mostly that's a lack of time and a difference of priorities. Sometimes I wish I was neater, because the house will get to the point where something absolutely has to be done because it's not functioning anymore and then cleaning it is a whole day job. My brother seemed to sort out the neat thing better. I'm going to blame it on the writer in me.


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