As a college professor and magician, I have spent a long time thinking about this profound question.
One reason for my focused attention is fairly obvious: I am in the “education business” and an “educator” so it seems pretty important to get clear about what I should be doing. But another reason is that “education” seems to have become a problem in the subculture of magic.
Why do I say that? Well, for many years I have been bombarded by questions, calls, and e-mails from magicians — young and old, amateurs and pros — who are hungry for education in magic. They seem to sense that, despite all the instructional DVDs and so-called “lectures,” they are not really becoming “educated” in their art and craft. They are frustrated and want something more, but don’t know how and where to go.
I understand this frustration and try to offer my best support and advice. I think they are right that “education” in the best, full sense is lacking in the usual patterns of magic conventions, club meetings, and DVDs. So first, I want to say a few words about why that seems true and then point you in a couple directions to get more and better magical education.
Let’s start with the word itself: “Education” is rooted in the Latin word and concept “educare.” This concept was a central one in Roman life and civic culture. In short, it means to “bring up,” “bring out,” and “bring forth” a hidden potential in someone. To educate then, is to work carefully to bring out the very best that is inside a student; to be educated is to have undergone that process so your own best potentials are shining forth.
Pretty cool, isn’t it? Once we see this, I suspect that each of you will remember a teacher, professor, or classroom in which this discovery of your own potentials happened. To experience this is an amazing and literally transformational thing. And when we don’t get much of it, or we are fed substitutes that have other goals (like getting you to buy something or “buy in” to something), then we start to wilt a little bit, starved for sun, feeling stuck and stunted rather than on the path of growth and development.
So what can we magicians do to get educated? The very first step, I think, is simply to recognize, with great clarity, that a lot of things going on in the magical subculture have other goals than uncovering your best potentials. That doesn’t mean those things are “bad” things. Not at all; they just aren’t “educational.”
OK, then, what kinds of things are educational for us magicians? My first answer is as ancient as those Romans: reading and writing. Not just any old books (the Romans used scrolls), but excellent books that challenge our static patterns of thought and seek to help us find our potentials. My own view is that these kinds of writings are fairly uncommon in magic magazines and online. Most magic writing is descriptive (like news-reporting), reviews, or explanations of tricks. Again, these are fine and sometimes important, but not in themselves educational. However, educational magic books and essays do exist, and I am sure you can all think of some of them. (In a future “Museletter” I will share some of my favorites with you.)
But reading and writing is almost never sufficient for the best education. That’s because virtually everybody needs some person, some “teacher” to inspire, challenge, and encourage growth. The basic truth, long recognized among educators, is that you cannot really “educate yourself” because you are the one hiding your best potentials!
So we need teachers. We need guidance, advice, and insight, not from “screaming heads” on TV, critics, or from people trying to sell stuff, but rather from educators, directors, magic coaches. Where can we find them? Well, you probably already know some of them. They are those rare people in your Ring or Assembly who have that special way of helping you see something new in your work. Or they are those people you know with theatrical or directing experience who can help you develop those skills.
But there is another important resource to which I have always directed my magic students: Jeff’s Magic & Mystery School.
Many of you know that in recent years I have partnered with Jeff on several projects related to the School. For example, I have worked closely on the program for the Magic and Meaning Conference (which is deeply “educational” in its focus). And this past January, I co-taught a weeklong Master Class in Las Vegas.
2009 Magic & Meaning Participants
After these first-hand experiences, I want to tell you that Jeff’s School is genuinely and deeply educational. I have seen it time and again: magicians and magic enthusiasts who come to the School — to its programs and classes — have transformational experiences in which their own hidden potentials and best selves come to light.
I invite you to read that last sentence again. The programs and classes are not about “indoctrinating” people and they are not about turning people into “clones.” On the contrary: they provide content-rich experiences in which a person’s own inner hidden potentials are brought to light. Simply put: people go home from these experiences positively glowing.
As far as I know, there is no other organization or program in magic that is offering this kind of on-going, intensely educational experience for its participants. This is why I have committed my work and talents in the service of the School: because it really is a school. And it is why I am deeply pleased and honored to have been recently named “Associate Dean.”
I believe in education. I think it is one important part of feeling happy and fulfilled in life. We do not have to starve for it in our magical pursuits, and once we clearly see the goal, we can take conscious, strategic steps to experience more education in our magic.
The good news is that your magical education is the explicit mission of Jeff’s Magic & Mystery School. I sincerely hope you will join us some time in 2010 to experience that in yourself.