Monday, January 18, 2010

Critical Thinking in Astrology

I have visited this subject several times in these public forums - here, and on You Tube, but I am very concerned about the way that astrology is taught.

One of the effects of the fact that astrological education is ad-hoc, is that many extremely well-meaning people have taught it over the years. Enthusiasm may be necessary for good teaching, but it does not make a good teacher by itself. Many people who have taught astrology for years, but had no formal training in education themselves, have adopted the general idea - simplify the concepts, then have everybody do their own charts, and watch the ah ha! moments accumulate. Then follow this up with continued work with everybody's transits or progressions, family or famous, and therein lies an astrological education.

Sadly, no. What this method of teaching conveys to 90% of the attendees is that astrology "works" - but that wasn't in question! The problem is: much as people find their own charts and those of nearest and dearest compelling, this does not provide systematic training. It's like the lab in a biology course without the lecture part - no theoretical framework to hang it on. I may be known for giving a lot of practical examples in my own teaching, but you cannot do the examples without providing a coherent system to go with them - because every chart is different, and then people don't know how to apply your methods to the unknown chart.

A good teacher has to understand curriculum as well as how to approach a chart. There was a considerable trend in the 70s and 80s to simplify the astrological vocabulary. This trend originated primarily out of the work of a very few teachers who had taken on the job of teaching astrology from the ground up to groups of people who could best be described as of New Age persuasion - all in the course of a long weekend or a week.

Now let's be honest: you cannot really learn astrology that way. You can learn a few rudiments. But these ideas were being presented as full systems. As full systems, these had the potency of a fifth of scotch thrown into a reservoir. Nobody's getting drunk on that!

Why did this happen? Well - among other things, my experience as a teacher of biology, martial arts and astrology over forty-somthing years tells me that Americans hate to memorize. So if learning is going to be "fun," just take the memorization out! You're then left with people who have oversimplified concepts, and some cookbooks at home that they use to look up a reading. These people are not success stories in the realm of astrology.

Learning astrology is hard: but it doesn't have to be made harder by inappropriate teaching. Good teaching doesn't leave out the memorization: but then, it has to teach how to logically and systematically engage the concepts and derive a meaning by logical application of those concepts as they relate to the circumstances at hand, which themselves are also analyzed.

This is the key. But it must be applied rigorously.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Year's Resolution

Maggie asked me yesterday if we were too old to make resolutions. But then, since I don't have a Capricorn Moon, maybe this doesn't bother me!

One of my resolutions that has achieved additional force each year is to try to be more honest: not just with others, but with myself. Now, some of you may think I have too sharp a tongue to begin with! But one of the features of the decade of the fifties (age, not birth year, although right now, they correspond) is that you discover that there really are things that you will not have time to get back to. Not that there is no future, either! But one learns that one really should prioritize and not waste the time remaining on useless endeavors. Strangely, this makes time seem to speed up.

At any rate, my subject for today is that I want to skewer one of the most insidious phrases in astrology:

"It works for me."

We've all used it - and it's time to stop.

Here's why: what does it actually mean?

  • Does it mean that you don't know why it works, and haven't bothered to investigate?
  • Does it mean that you've never examined the history of the technique you're being asked about, so you don't know its original basis, logic or context?
  • Does it mean that you know it doesn't work for other people?
  • Does it mean you are just thinking off the top of your head, and you don't know what else to say?
  • Are you such an important authority that what you say is sufficient answer?
  • Are you simply trying to get your audience to move on?
Now I've used the expression too, so I'm not just being critical of others. But I began to expunge it from my vocabulary about ten years ago. The thing is: when we give talks, classes, or write articles, we are mostly in teaching mode. And when you are teaching - you need to know that there are things you can say which inspire learning and curiosity: and there are things that shut people and learning down. Argument by authority, which is what this used to be called, is one such shutdown. If you say that, how do I disagree with you without challenging your integrity? And it's not your integrity - it's your method that I may be questioning.

But if you join me with a New Year's Resolution to get this out of your cliches, then what do you do to substitute for it, or help to train you to choose other phrases? Here are some suggestions:

  • I have found...
  • I have not yet had an opportunity to study the history of this technique fully, so I can only give you my preliminary results....
  • When I attempted to apply the methods of ___, I found I could only get results by doing this....
It is not inappropriate do do something different or new. Even as august an authority (in my book) as William Lilly not infrequently made reference to the "Ancients" doing X, and then Lilly would propose Y. The point was that Lilly told you that the Ancients did X before he then proposed Y. In other words, he put all the cards on the table.

In my job as Academic Dean at Kepler College, I often have interviewed people who wanted to challenge some of the astrology courses that we teach. Oftentimes, my first question is to ask people to name five astrology authors they have read and enjoyed. Then I ask them to distinguish between the work of those authors. More frequently than not, they cannot - or they think that by saying that So-and-So is transpersonal and Thus-and-Such is Jungian, they have answered my question.

If you do not study your sources well enough to tease out what they are actually doing that is different from other sources, then how can you actually distinguish what is unique in your own work? And how can you hope to enlarge your horizons?