“A Teachable Time” by Heather Murray Elkins

Heather Murray Elkins - Spring 2013 MatriculationSpring 2013 Matriculation Address

The place, this space, this ritual is filled to overflowing with teachable times.  At our best we, you, me, all are teachers if we’re willing to be taught. We are profess-ors of the hope that is within us. Embodied cognition: to have our hearts/ears/lives opened so that we may know how to console the weary with a word.

I’d like to begin with stating the obvious.

Sensorimotor simulations of external situations are in fact widely implicated in human cognition.

Take mental imagery, for example

Imagery, including not only the well-studied case of visual imagery but also those of auditory imagery (Reisberg, 1992) and kinesthetic imagery (Parsons et al., 1995), is an obvious example of mentally simulating external events…

Long-term memory, too, is tied in certain ways to our bodies’ experiences with the world. The point is most obvious in the case of episodic memory. Whether or not one posits a separate episodic memory system, episodic memories are a class of memories defined by their content—they consist of records of spatiotemporally localized events, as experienced by the rememberer.  Phenomenologically, recalling an episodic memory has a quality of “reliving,” with all the attendant visual, kinesthetic, and spatial impressions. This is especially true when memories are fresh, before they have become crystallized by retelling into something more resembling semantic memories.[i]

Matriculation Book Signing Spring 2013What might a much-quoted essay by Margaret Wilson on embodied cognition have to do with this spatiotemporally localized event called “Matriculation”? It’s one way to explain why we have you sign the book.  We have visual, kinesthetic, spatial, embodied reasons. We call you by name, you rise, come forward, and write that name by hand in an old book, and by that act recreate a community of embodied learners.  We, the rememberers, relive other episodic memories, other times of hearing a name, and seeing someone make their mark in Drew’s book of life.

This is what we can call a teachable moment, a term that Robert Havighurst, scholar of Native American education, urban schools, and educating the gifted, made popular in his book, Human Development and Education.

Download Elkins-A Teachable Time-Spring Matriculation Address 2013, or watch the address on the Drew Worship Facebook Page.

[i] Wilson, Margaret, “Six views of embodied cognition”, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 2002, 9 (4), 625-636, Theoretical and Review Articles, University of California, Santa Cruz, California