I use Ishmael with several other works that focus on how myths and the stories we grow up with impact how we perceive reality (Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, Campbell’s The Power of Myth, and Hamilton’s examination of creation myths, In the Beginning). I bring in current headlines and news stories to show how the actions of our society belie our rhetoric and invite students to share some of the stories they grew up with (about relatives, kids in the neighborhood, etc.) and recognize how those stories have shaped their perceptions.
Then I introduce Ishmael, and we analyze how we perceive the world based on Quinn’s Takers and Leavers: Do we really perceive the world differently than native cultures? If so, why? What’s the basis for that belief? Are we pretending we have stolen the knowledge of the gods (because, of course, we can’t really steal it) and acting as if we can determine the fate of all around us? Is our society/civilization really crashing? What evidence is there for positive answers to any of the above questions? Finally, what can we do to change the course of our descent?
I then build on the students’ newly gained perception to examine Native American, Tibetan Buddhist, and Pagan views of humanity’s role in the world with Storm’s Seven Arrows, Yongden’s Mipam, and Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. I don’t suggest any single one of these philosophies is better than another. But, believing that teaching without values is an ineffective way of teaching, I emphasize that we’re crashing and we better begin looking around to see how we can change our pattern of imagined flight (à la Ishmael). I initiate and encourage discussion of cultural patterns as they’re evidenced in our treatment of native peoples and the environment and within our family and economic structures. During the course, students are assigned several essays, which reflect the focus described above.