In his classic study The Hero with a Thousand Faces from the mid-20th Century, Joseph Campbell describes patterns of behavior and character that are found among heroes of all cultures around the world. Here is his summary of the “monomyth,” the universal story, of the human hero:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
According to Campbell, the hero is someone who ventures into uncharted territory, often sacred space, the realm of the gods, usually at the risk of the hero’s life, to bring back a gift for humanity—fire, writing, the wheel, etc. While the hero’s courage may seem obvious and is often emphasized, a hero must also possess qualities such as curiosity and creativity that would inspire him or her to “venture forth from the world of the common day” in the first place. Most importantly, hero stories rest on the assumption that it is only when people are willing to leave the realm of the comfortable and familiar that they are able to make discoveries, find new resources, encounter different practices, create valuable tools and wrest crucial insights and ideas that can come only from perspectives outside of everyday life.
This “heroic narrative” underlies a certain kind of article that is increasingly common in education. Of course, articles have always sought to bring to the reader something new, or else there would be little point in reading them. What’s common now is the approach to look for models completely outside the education field to illuminate the work in schools. This approach is found especially in articles that herald educational “disruption.” Often, writers turn to bestselling books about business innovation to provide insight into both the management of a school as well as educational design. Articles in the heroic mold aim to acquire methods and insights from the business world to help schools distinguish their “product” from other schools and market it to their audience.
At HaYidion, Prizmah’s magazine, this heroic type of article usually comes in the form of presenting new scholarship or insights from popular authors. Authors turn to “gurus” of leadership, management, innovation, and change to inform school leaders how to accomplish these goals. After all, most administrators came to their position from a background in education, not business management; they now find themselves doing work that requires knowledge from both fields, and the world of business is the one that is new, exciting but also mysterious and somewhat terrifying. They look to receive the boon that will empower them to steer their schools to financial health, “vitality and sustainability.” The author in effect sets him- or herself up not as the hero but as the prophet who heralds the insights of a hero and adapts them to our field of Jewish educators.
All this is prelude to explain what makes the lead article by Miriam Heller Stern in the spring issue of HaYidion special. The article (with a wonderful pun), “Lessons from Pixar Studios: Staying Animated in Leadership,” describes the lessons that she derived for educational settings from her visit “behind the scenes” at a business that takes the cultivation of employee creativity extremely seriously. Miriam, who heads the School of Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in LA, has spent years working with art teachers in day schools and has thought deeply about creativity as an educational goal. She doesn’t just summarize the work of other authors and explain their relevance to day schools. Her article is unusual for us in the sense that not only does she write a heroic article, but she herself is the hero of it (even though, I must stress, she is far too modest to portray herself in these terms). She “ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder” to bring back valuable lessons that day schools can use to cultivate creativity among employees—to create their own kind of Pixar Studio.
Question for schools:
How can you empower stakeholders of different kinds to “venture forth” and become heroes of your school community?