Dreams in the classroom:
Teaching Dreamwork to Inner City Youth
“What is more empowering than knowing oneself, one’s inner life, one’s dreams, one’s potential? …It was only in the classroom that I fully recognized the powerful potential and endless possibilities inherent in teaching a course on dreams at the high school level.”
Why do we hear almost nothing about dreams in school?
We spend almost a third of our lives sleeping; dreaming is, as we all know, a wondrous aspect of being human. Psyche loves stories. We love to listen to stories, we tell stories to others, we tell stories to ourselves in our dreams. But we do not talk about dreams in school. WHAT A WASTE! There is so much we can learn from our dreams.
What happened in class?
A variety of things. In one of the first classes, as an introduction to talking about images, the students made collages, picking out images that appealed to them from a pile of magazines. We talked about some of the images. For example, cars turned up in a lot of the collages. So we talked about cars. What is a car? How is it different from other modes of transportation? What might a car mean in a dream?
The students were most interested in understanding their own dreams, so we spent a lot of time working as a group on dreams in a Jeremy Tayloresque fashion. Sometimes the class would enact a dream through role-playing, creating a kind of dream theater; sometimes the students would use pastels to draw a response to their dream. Sometimes the class would write about their dreams – dream the dream on (continue the story), or dialogue with one of the dream figures. The students also wrote about their earliest memories, family stories, their own personal histories – that is, the imaginal context of their lives and their dreaming. To understand projection and our tendency to color what we see, a couple of classes were devoted to projective tests, the Rorschach and the TAT. We talked about the literary use of dreams in novels and short stories, and dreams in movies.
Many of the students reported dreams of police. A fairly typical dream involved the student being engaged in some drug-related activity and hiding from, arguing with, or running from the police. I asked the class, “If the dream is a reflection on an inner state or conflict, who is the cop?” their own inner authority figure, their conscience? If the student can consider the cop as an inner figure and the image of the dream reflecting an inner conflict, then there is the possibility of taking some responsibility for the choices being made and not unconsciously acting out, projecting the disapproval onto the outer cop/parent/authority figure.
Many of the young women dreamt of having a baby, and usually jumped immediately to a concrete interpretation-the baby in the dream represented the baby they wanted to have with their boyfriend. Teenage pregnancy is a real problem for many of these girls. Two of my 16 year old students were teenage mothers. What if the baby in the dream is understood as some young part of the dreamer, some potential that needs to be mothered? If the child in the dream can be considered as an inner child, inner potential, that needs to be mothered, cared for, educated, there is a possibility of choices and chances of escaping the hopelessness and despair of being poor and uneducated with few options.
Four benefits of high school students studying dreams:
- By considering the images of their dreams as metaphors and imaginal expressions of their feelings and concerns, students move from concrete to more abstract, symbolic ways of thinking, thereby increasing their capacity to think symbolically.
- By studying and reflecting on their dreams and in tapping into their imaginal worlds, students get a sense of their own cast of characters and inner literature, both as a source for their own creative expression and as a bridge to literature, to the imaginal worlds of others.
- By imagining dream figures as aspects of themselves and the dream as an expression of their inner conflicts, students begin to know themselves better. In dreams we find missing parts of ourselves that point the way to our psychological development; we also find the rejected parts, the inner enemies, the seeds of prejudice.
- Increased self-awareness fosters self-empowerment, self-esteem, a fuller sense of agency, and more responsible life choices, all of which have social implications. To the extent that one is more psychologically conscious of inner conflicts, the less likely one is to project these conflicts (this toxicity) onto the world and the less likely one is to act out in self and socially destructive ways.
Originally published as “Teaching Dreamwork to Inner City Youth” by Jane White-Lewis, ASD Newsletter Volume 10, No. 4 Fall 1993.