Hi Everyone, welcome to ED 643 The Whole Child: Metaphors of Learning and Development

 

 

Let me introduce myself.


Transcript

Before we get started, I should briefly tell you about myself so that you know who is at this end.

My name is Dana Ulveland. My first name is Randall but I go by Dana. If you are wondering how to address me in your emails, you could refer to me as Dr. Ulveland, or professor Ulveland, or Dr. Dana, or Dana. That’s all fine.

I grew up in small rural town in central Alberta. Most of my recollections of childhood revolve around playing outside in the fields and forests, or down by the blindman river. I have lots of great school memories, and, many not so great memories. The good memories usually have to do with playing music in a variety of bands. Most of the not so good memories were in middle and high school. Though in high school, I did meet my wife, whom I am married to. That was a good memory.

Let’s see, as for jobs, before I started university I was a heavy equipment operator on a road crew, worked on the rigs in the oil patch in Northern Alberta, worked in a gas plant, did some carpentry work along the way. I guess it was working in 30 below weather on the rigs that I thought university might be a better sort of life. So, you are working on your degree here at WOU. This is a great university. I did my undergraduate work at the University of Alberta, majoring in philosophy and English. Then after studying French in Paris for a semester, I returned to the same university to get my degree in education. I taught elementary and junior high for five years. I did my graduate work at the University of Oregon, you know where that is of course, and I completed my Doctoral work at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. Some of my students in the past competed in sporting events at SFU, so you might know where that is.

As for my research, my research was in, and continues to be in, the philosophy of education, language, technology and media. My initial interest in technology and media developed while using music technologies (MIDI synthesizers and sequencers) personally as a musician, and then in the classroom. When I was in high school I turned my parent’s basement into a recording studio. It began as a fairly modest endeavor (this was before the advent of digital recording equipment). I had an 8 track reel-to-reel tape recorder, sound board, mics, effects, etc.. At the time, all of this seemed very exciting. Of course, as is often the case, like any other musician, I wanted to be able to replicate what the big recording studios were doing. And it was difficult to replicate what major studios were doing because they had the money to bring in any type of musician to play any type of instrument. Plus, the major studios had some pretty impressive sounding synthesizers and sound samplers (all in about the $50,000 range, which in today’s money would be closer to $100,000). Anything I could afford was pretty limited in comparison. But, as you know, computer-based equipment started to take off. Synthesizers started to become affordable. The personal computer was marketed as something affordable. And, before long, it was easy to be sitting with a 64 track digital recording outfit. Anyway, enough reminiscing. Suffice it to say that I became interested in computer technologies through music.

While teaching in the public school system I was the computer coordinator of the school, and I developed one of the first electronic music labs for student composition and performance in the province of Alberta. After teaching for five years, and completing a Masters in Computers in Education at the University of Oregon, I began my Doctoral research at Simon Fraser University. My area of study focused on the ontology of technology and the human-educational implications that emerge through phenomenological analysis and existential examination. That’s a mouthful isn’t it? What that means is that I like to come to understand how people experience the world and how schooling and education plays into that. Eventually I moved to Alabama where I taught at Auburn University at Montgomery for three years. Finally I moved to Oregon and have been teaching here at WOU for twenty two years.

As for my hobbies: I am a pilot, a downhill skier, a scuba diver and a musician or sorts. I am always trying to learn new things, and right now I am trying to learn Chinese and continue to try to learn Spanish. More importantly, I am a husband to my high school sweetheart, and a father of two girls who are also in university.  I am glad you are here. Welcome to the course.  

 

 

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For your first set of questions

You will notice that I have questions interspersed throughout the lectures. If you would, please answer each question as you move through the lecture. You will find that the answers to some of the questions will be found directly in the reading or the video. Some of the questions will expect that you come up with the answers yourself. These questions will be open ended, and the answers will depend on your understanding, and not on your ability to find the specific answer in the lecture itself. Also, keep in mind that your first set of responses will not be due until after week two, so compile your answers into one document so that you can share the responses from questions from the first four lectures. You will email your responses to me after you have completed lecture four at the end of the second week.

Please include the question with your answer.

Question Set Number One

  1. I told you a bit about me, now please tell me a bit about yourself.

 

******* Please note: Your Question Set Number One will continue through the first two weeks (first four lectures). So please hold on to your responses and submit them to me on (or before) Monday July 5th.

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Welcome to our  ED 643 class, The Whole Child: Metaphors of Learning and Development. I think you will really enjoy this course. I really want you to enjoy this class. Take your time, think, read, ponder, but most importantly, enjoy contemplating something that is obviously important to you–schooling and education.

Thinking about language and metaphors is something I really enjoy. In our time together, we will get a chance to examine issues of teaching, learning and culture from the perspectives of language and metaphor. In doing so, we will be able to reveal how perception and practice is informed by language. When we are finished, we should be in a better position to frame our own teaching and learning experiences by examining the role of language and metaphor in schooling and learning.

Now the trick here, as I see it, is that we don’t want to turn this into an information course. And we can avoid this by recognizing that we must go beyond merely framing our own teaching and learning—rather we must transform ourselves, our thinking, and our teaching. In other words, we don’t want to know things for the sake of knowing things. We want to know things for the sake of future action. Hopefully, after this course, when you walk into a school setting you will hear and see more than you noticed before. Furthermore, you will perceive things you will want to change. And, with an understanding of the way language and metaphor frames our perceptions and actions, you will have developed some of your own ideas as to how to make those changes.

(As I mentioned in the syllabus, the role of the graduate student is to develop new knowledge. This new knowledge should have some applicability. This is new knowledge for the sake of future action.)

We will encounter the idea of future action later on when I share with you an argument that the brain learns for the sake of action, not inert knowledge. In addition, we attempt to enlarge our own personal perceptions of the educational context. We want to learn things so that we are changed in some way. Actually, as I say this I realize that one can argue that learning is change. I don’t know about you, but I have taken a lot of classes that I learned the material but gave little thought to the way I should be changed as a result of what I learned. Hopefully you will give that some thought during this class.

 

Now, I have to admit, I am trying to slip some things by you rather quickly knowing full well that we will have to come back to some of this. For example, I have been throwing out terms like learning, knowledge, teaching and transformation as if we would all agree with what these terms mean. I know we don’t. But please follow along with me accepting that I will return to these concepts. In fact, in the next paragraph I am going to throw out the term ‘thinking’ as if we would all agree with the meaning of that term. Oh well . . . .

 

So how should we structure our thinking? How do we come up with new knowledge. Of course there are many ways, but I will suggest this for now:

Step one: developing a broader sense of what might be happening around us. We can do this by using a variational method of exploration. We look at practice and try to determine different ways of perceiving it. It is a bit like the necker cube example (when you look at the drawing of a three dimensional cube you see one side of the cube, but when you shift your perception slightly, it appears as if you suddenly see a different side of the cube). It appears as if there is one cube but by a simple shift of perspective we see a different variation.

neckecube

We do this with our perceptions of schooling, teaching and learning. We uncover different aspects of the experience and suddenly we see a different side of the experience. A lot more on this later.

Man-looking-through-magnifying-glass

 

Step two: changing our perceptions. This is an extension of our variational method. This might mean changing some of the language we use; changing how we see the students in our classroom; changing how we think of schooling; changing what we think of homework; changing what we think of ourselves. We try to get some ideas here from people who are already thinking ‘outside of the box,’ etc., etc..

 

box1

 

Step three: considering how we might change our own practice. This might mean changing what we do in the classroom; changing what we do for our students; or, changing how we treat ourselves. These transformations can happen by philosophizing about educational, social, and cultural issues. Ultimately, a transformation in thinking and practice means a transformation of what we think of ourselves and others. These transformations can also happen when we become clear on some of the foundational aspects of schooling and education.

 

Bali-Green-School-Eartbags

 

I don’t think of this as an ‘information’ course. Undergraduate courses are ‘information’ courses. As undergraduates we learn what others already know. This should be thought of as a course that gives us the opportunity to uncover aspects of experience or reality that are not already apparent. This uncovering elicits change, understanding and action. When we are getting into those spaces where no one has been before, we are in graduate territory.

 

 

While considering the material at hand I hope you find joy, increase your capacity to learn, feel more confident in challenging ideas, and think more deeply about the human condition.

You will probably find this class a bit different from many other classes you have taken–especially if this is your first graduate class. It is not a class where I am expecting you to memorize a lot of material. In fact, I am not asking you to memorize anything. (I recognize that I use the term memorize rather broadly here. Philosophically I am foreshadowing a future discussion on substance ontology, but you do not need to concern yourself with that now. ‘Memorize’ works fine for now).

I am not asking you to memorize anything. So I don’t see much point in testing you. This is in part because this is a graduate-level class that has a philosophical bent. I don’t have a textbook with all the answers. If I am doing a good job as a graduate teacher I am encouraging us to ask questions that allow us to think ‘into’ new ideas that have not yet been fully uncovered. Another reason is that I hope to “practice what I preach” — meaning that while many ‘schooling practices’ rely on models of memorization and testing, ‘education’ doesn’t. This is not to say that memorization and testing is unimportant. Memorizing (and testing in many contexts) is important. But in the right context. More on that later.

There is one more thing that I have found over the years. If we are concerned with changing our practice, whether personal or institutional, it is often “one small realization,” or “one small change,” that can snowball into a series of subsequent changes. The derivative effect of “one small change” can be significant. So, if we can really internalize one small significant change, we ultimately incorporate a whole series of subsequent changes. This happens with learning and with action. Example: start your day with a good breakfast and a number of derivative changes in your life occur. Adopt one great idea and incorporate it into your life and a number of your subsequent perceptions will appear differently.

How about with classes? The same applies. In fact I am sure you have experienced something like this yourself. You take a class and you try to remember reams of information. In two years you can’t remember what you learned (we might question whether that was even learning). In comparison, you have contact with someone and they tell you something that encouraged you to change something significant (or even not so significant) in your life. A single statement changed the way you looked at the world and as a result many of your practices and perceptions changed– much of what you subsequently learned could be attributed to that single insight changing the way you perceived the world.

 

(Sometimes I throw out statements I wish I had said.)

 

The same can be said with statements that people make. When I was a student, there were things that professors said to me that have made significant changes in the way I that I perceive myself, my work, my abilities, etc. While one professor encouraged me to drop out of university, another said she loved my work and suggested that I pursue further studies. Fortunately the second professor had more influence on me than the first. Well, of course, who is to say. Nevertheless, small nuggets (small encouragements) can be more valuable than a mountain of content (depending on what you do with it).

I think you get the idea. I know you have had many similar sorts of experiences.

 

Don’t get me wrong regarding information. There are classes that require attention to information. (Here I go again, talking as if we would even agree with what the term information is.) In these cases the information is already well defined and can easily be attained by the student (medical classes come to mind). But notice that I say “information that is already well defined.” The content we will be dealing with is not yet well defined (and may never be). This is what makes the philosophical analysis appropriate for the topics and ideas we are considering. In the initial establishment of understanding, medical students don’t need to philosophize about appropriate medical techniques. And, while there will be a time to philosophize, this can come after learning the fundamental practices.

The same applies to our initial training as teachers. There was a time in our licensure (undergraduate) program that we needed to know what to do, and how to do it, to ensure we could perform well in the school system. When we are in a training environment we need others to tell us what to do, who we are, and what we should think.

Once we can do something we just don’t need others telling us what to do.

 

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The Fundamentals of Schooling

Now, what does all this have to do with this class? Presumably we already know the fundamentals of schooling. We have spent a great deal of time in schools.

 

Now, as graduate students, we want to derive a deeper and more significant understanding of schooling and education. It isn’t enough to simply accept what we have been told in the past or are being told now. With experience typically comes the desire for deeper understanding. Our authority and authenticity comes not so much in simply performing methods that have been told to us, but rather in understanding the context in which we dwell. Too often we find ourselves in situations whereby we are expected to perform some practice because it has been deemed to be pedagogically efficacious because of some research.

 

 

 

For example: “Here is the greatest teaching technique that all teachers should adopt! Let’s make every fourth grade teacher in the nation adopt this practice!!!” You and I both know that a practice that works for the teacher down the hall may not work for you and your students. You are your own unique individual as are your students.

 

Why would we presume that a practice that works for one researcher’s small subset of the population would work for everyone? Actually, that’s a good question. But I will rephrase it: what is already in place that would even allow us to think that educational research is generalizable? We know from experience that it is not, and yet we talk as if it is. What is going on here? Shouldn’t we be questioning this?

 

question

 

I suppose we might say that much of this class is to help us ask questions. To encourage us to question. Question. Question. Question. And, in our questioning, we hopefully find meaningful motivators to help us take action to move ourselves (not the whole nation) toward the potential that each one of us possesses. Who would have thought? A class on asking questions. How can you not love this class? (Notice, that was a question.)

 

This course is more about questioning, thinking, understanding, and changing the way we think about things, than a course about memorizing specific material. The truth is, sometimes less is more when we need the time to contemplate. It takes time to internalize ideas or shift our thinking. This is what makes graduate-level work so much more difficult than undergraduate work. New ideas and new insights require shifts in the way we think about things–and that is difficult.

 

Anyway, let me talk more about this class and about the philosophy of education. I think this is so interesting. I hope you will too.

 

Let Us Begin Our Journey

Today I would like to begin our journey into understanding schooling and education. There isn’t one particular place that we would have to start. Explorations such as this are a bit like digging around an archeological dig site, scraping the topsoil to see if we can find any clues as to what might lay beneath the top soil.

 

(Professor Ulveland’s ED 632 Class searching for the foundations of education.)

 

Hopefully we have good success in our search.

 

Where to start?

Where to start? Where to start? Perhaps a good place to start is with a story. Stories always reveal something to us. After sharing a story with you, we will poke around at what EDUCATION might mean. Given that this is an Education class, we should try to be clear on what education means.

Let me start with a story:

 

Transcript

A number of years ago, when my oldest daughter was in second grade, I asked her what she learned one particular day in Social Studies. She did not have her regular homeroom teacher, so I was curious. She informed me that she learned about the three branches of government.

Hmmm, the three branches of government I thought. Now this did not surprise me–though I did feel somewhat disappointed. I was disappointed because I had a sense that having her learn about the three branches of government wasn’t for her benefit. But, like any curious parent, I could figure that out in a hurry. Why was I not surprised? Well,  to my dismay, I had observed my own student teachers told to teach first grade children about the three branches of government. Why you might wonder why a teacher might be told to teach the three branches of government to first grade students? They were expected to teach this content because these  students would be tested in third grade about the three branches of government. To ace the test in third grade, why not begin the preparation in first grade. “Here is our worksheet,” my daughter said as she pulled the work sheet out of her backpack. Sure enough: lovely dictionary-type definitions of the three branches of government in her own third-grade printing.

“What are the branches?” I asked. Without hesitation she started spouting off the three branches, matching word-for-word the definitions she had printed on the worksheet.

“The legislative branch has the authority to make laws for the nation . .. . the judicial branch is empowered with judicial powers . . . . etc.” I knew my daughter well enough to know that she didn’t understand the what she was saying. She didn’t understand the vocabulary she was using. But I asked her what these terms meant anyway. As suspected, she didn’t understand what the words legislative, judicial, etc. meant.

“What does legislative mean?” I asked. A shrug. “What does government mean?” I asked. “What is a government?” Not much more than a blank stare. “What do branches mean?” I continued.

“You know Dad, like branches on a tree.”

“Do you mean groups of people when you talk about an assembly? Is that what you mean by branches?” I probed.

“No,” she responded. “You know what a branch is Dad!”

Then I had to ask, “And what will you be doing with this? Why is this important for you to know?”

“Well,” she responded, “the test is on Wednesday. So we have to know it by then.”

My daughter was one of the lucky ones. She memorized things easily. She did well on Wednesday’s test as she seemed to do on most tests. I should mention, though, two months later, she didn’t recall the branches of government. Did she recall any of those lessons you might wonder? Interestingly, in a sad sort of way, what she did recall was that tests were on Wednesday. We are aware that this happens. Teachers, professors, students, will tell you that material is memorized for a test, only to be quickly forgotten. We talk about the theory of learning, but seldom talk about the theory of forgetting. . And, of course, there are many examples. Some not so obvious. The piano student who is technically proficient, but would be incapable of telling you much about the music. The math student who will do very well on timed math drills but would be incapable of explaining how one would go about representing groups of objects using a different number base, or explaining what is going on when one fraction is multiplied by another, or the value of ratios. Why do we do this? Worse, why do we do this when we know it may not be the best model to follow? Anyway, what might we ask ourselves when considering the three branches of government story? Was the child being educated? Was the child being schooled? What’s going on here?

 

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Understanding

One would think that understanding is important. I am sure we got that sense when we considered the child who could state the three branches of government but didn’t understand what they meant. Perhaps Education has something to do with understanding. Simply doing by rote method might not be in our best interest.

 

Sometimes it is wise to ensure that we are developing understanding.

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Transcript

Perhaps we should begin by getting a sense of what education means. If you intend on taking control of your own education, it might be a good idea to know what education means. This might sound obvious, but interestingly, something as fundamental as education remains loosely, or ill defined.

Try this when you get a chance: ask several different teachers, parents, university professors, and friends, what ‘education’ means. You are bound to get a number of different responses.

Shall we see if a dictionary definition might help define education. Let’s consult the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

According to the dictionary, education means

1: the action or process of educating or of being educated (Well, I don’t think that helps much. Seems a bit circular doesn’t it. If we are looking up the term education, why are they using the terms educating and educated in the definition. )

2: education means the (Okay, knowledge and development from a process. That helps a bit more. At least we are talking about knowledge and development, though I am not too sure what exactly those terms mean either.

3: education means the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in schools (Okay, that’s our field of study. The suggestion here is that we deal mainly with methods of teaching and learning that take place in schools.

That helps a bit. Let’s see if we can narrow things down further with the definition of educate.)

1:  educate means to school or educate children at home (Okay, so one might educate in school or at home. I think we would agree with that).

2:  educate means to train by formal instruction and supervised practice especially in a skill, trade, or profession.

3: educate means to to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically especially by instruction.

And 4: educate means to to provide with information : to INFORM

Those are all reasonable, and they tell us a bit more than we might have started with. We get the sense that education can happen in school with instruction, by having a person develop mentally in some way by methods and procedures that provide information. But what about the second grade child who was provided schooling instruction, developed mentally in some way by that instruction, and was clearly provided information. She, for example, memorized statements that defined the three branches of government, and yet didn’t understand in any meaningful way the three branches of government. Would we say that she was educated when ultimately she didn’t understand what she was saying? And, furthermore, after a short time she forgot what she had memorized? She was trained by formal instruction and supervised practice. Was she educated? No. Had she been schooled? Yes.

We haven’t looked at the definition of educated yet. Let’s look at that. Perhaps we will learn something we didn’t know. According to the dictionary, educated means: 1: having an education. (Now we are back into these circular definitions. Being educated is having an education, and having an education is being educated.) 2: educated is giving evidence of training or practice. And 3, educated is based on some knowledge of fact. Again, we are hearing definitions that point to all the things that can take place when a child is forced to memorize something. Training takes place, practice is incorporated, and facts are learned. But is that sufficient? Something is missing. But what?

Question Set Number One (Continued)

2. There seems to be a problem in the way the dictionary seems to be defining education. But is it a problem? Do you think the fact that ‘education’ tends to be ill defined is responsible for some of our mis-steps, or misunderstandings in our practices and discussions of schooling and education? 

 

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Let’s talk Schooling

 

Definition of schooling

1instruction in school EDUCATION
2training, guidance, or discipline derived from experience
3the cost of instruction and maintenance at school
4the training of a horse for service especially the teaching and exercising of horse and rider in the formal techniques of equitation

 

We know that someone can go to school and never really become educated. And we know that someone can be very educated never having gone to school. So it would seem that there can be a distinction between education and schooling.

 

Perhaps we could begin by questioning the purpose of education. As soon as we start to think about the purpose of education it becomes evident that there might be more than one. Imagine any group of friends together talking about the purpose of education.

 

Sally: I think the purpose of education is to get a job!

John: No it’s not. The purpose of education is to make the world a better place!

Margaret: You are both way off–the purpose of education is so that students can learn about our culture.

Juanita: Who’s culture?

Sally: Good point.

 

Four purposes of Education ( of course there are more) But notice the word PURPOSE here. 

Let me share with you what Ryan, Cooper, and Tauer list as four purposes of education: Intellectual Purposes, Political and Civic Purposes, Economic Purposes, and Social Purposes.

Even knowing that education can be seen as having different purposes should begin to empower us when we converse with friends and colleagues. It helps us articulate our positions and form our arguments and understandings when we are clear on where our ideas are coming from, and where the ideas of friends and colleagues are coming from. Here is how Ryan, Cooper and Tauer define the purposes of schooling:

The intellectual purpose of school is to help develop students’ intellect through academic achievement. We hear the language of intellectual purpose in mission statements that call for academically rich learning environments, challenging curriculum, and the development of thinking skills. We also hear this language in the No Child Left Behind Act with the call for accountable academic performance.

We hear the discourse of political and civic purpose of schooling in the call for students to develop the skills and virtues needed to participate in a democracy. We see this played out when students are expected to address the needs of the less fortunate, take an active interest in governmental process, and learning about our democratic process.

The economic purpose of schooling is concerned with preparing students to enter the American work force and to be a contributing member of our economic well-being. It has been thought that to become a good worker requires certain skills, and that these skills should be addressed in school–such as respecting authority, being compliant, meeting deadlines, and being rewarded for quality work–basic workplace habits. Students are often differentiated or tracked so that they can fulfill different positions in the workforce.

We hear the social purposes of schools emphasized when we hear talk of having students learn to adapt to social conventions. With social purposes in mind, students learn acceptable ways to interact with others, how to act appropriately, and are expected to “fit into society.” We see evidence of this in extracurricular and classroom activities and emphases. Sports teams, clubs, appropriate language, etc. emphasize the social purpose of schooling.

 

I don’t know if you noticed this, but it seems to me that each of these purposes referred to schooling and not education.

 

Question Set Number One (Continued)

3. Is there a particular purpose of education / schooling? If so, what is it?

 

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Let’s Consider Understanding

Transcript

Dr. Barrow When I was in my Doctoral program, I took a class from an analytic philosopher. His name is Dr. Barrow. Simply, an analytic philosopher analyses what words and language mean.

Education, according to a Dr. Barrow, is the achievement of a depth and breadth of understanding. What does this mean, a depth and breadth of understanding? This is what he says in his book The Philosophy of Schooling:

It may be argued that schooling, . . . should concern itself with the whole [person]  . . .  What I am suggesting here is that education, far from being concerned with all dimensions of the personality, is essentially to do with the mind and is purely cognitive (to do with knowledge, understanding and perception).  “Surely it does not strike one as intelligible to reckon whether a [person] is more or less well educated by reference to such things as … physique, … athletic prowess, … capacity for love, … moral stature, … emotional maturity, … imaginative powers or … creative capacity. The fact that somebody is morally repugnant to me does not in itself show [that person] to be uneducated. The fact that somebody is emotionally immature is likewise not an indication that he [or she] is uneducated, and the fact that somebody has a great capacity for love, though no doubt admirable, is not to the point either.

So, already according to Dr. Barrow, we have narrowed down what we might consider being educated to mean.

What, then, do we look for in estimating whether a person is more or less educated? We judge him by his understanding and his capacity for discrimination. (By discrimination he mean having the ability to discriminate between one thing and another. In other words, someone who can tell the differences between one thing, or one idea, or one situation and another would be showing signs of being educated. If you don’t know the difference between a bicycle and a wagon, we would wonder how well you understand either) He continues:

To educate a person is to develop such an understanding and such a capacity, and schools, if they are seeking to educate, must contribute to such development. (Did the second grade teacher teaching the three branches of government to second graders do a good job of helping them understanding aspects of government well enough to discriminate between one thing or another? No. No even being able to state the three branches from memory indicates any sort of discrimination. He continues:

I deliberately say “understanding” rather than “knowledge” because the word “knowledge” can imply mere possession of a stock of information, and that does not seem appropriate. A walking Guinness Book of Records or a Mr. Memory is not, as such, an educated [person]. . . . [W]e expect the educated [person] to have understanding of the reason why of things or a grasp of the underlying principles, and not simply know-how or a collection of pieces of information. (Did the second grade child know the reasons why we have three branches of government? No. Did the child know the underlying principles that contributed to the formation of the three branches of government? No. Was she a walking Ms. Memory? For a short time, yes.

“[W]e expect the educated [person] to have understanding of the reason why of things or a grasp of the underlying principles, and not simply know-how or a collection of pieces of information” Barrow said.

The fact that you know that Franklin D. Roosevelt was re-elected President of the United States for the third term of office on November 5th 1940 . . . does not reveal to us whether you are relatively well or poorly educated. Nor would the fact that you also know the election dates of all the other American Presidents suggest any the more that you are an educated [person]. But if it becomes apparent that, besides knowing the date of Roosevelt’s third term, you also have some sensible things to say about how and why he won it, you are beginning to show the sort of signs that we look for in judging whether people are more or less educated.

Barrow makes an important point here now. He says: Just to be on the safe side, let me stress the phrase “the sort of signs.” I am not suggesting that knowing about Roosevelt is a necessary condition of being educated. I am using Roosevelt as an example to illustrate the sort of thing educated people, by definition, should have the understanding of: explanations of political success rather than dates.

So, even if our second grade child remembered the definitions of the three branches of government, would she be, by definition, educated? No.

. . .  Education implies some breadth of understanding, rather than narrow specialism, however profound or erudite that specialist knowledge might be. (Erudite means having or showing great knowledge). (So he is saying that even if you have a great amount of knowledge in a very narrow area, that alone wouldn’t make you educated. He says: A brilliant historian or a front-rank scientist is not necessarily an educated [person], and if a [person’s] historical . . .  [common sense or practical intelligence] or understanding, or [that person’s] scientific know-how was all that [that person] had, we should not take [that person] as the epitome of an educated [individual]. Furthermore not only is deep knowledge, if confined to a very limited sphere, not sufficient to constitute education, but such exceptional specialist knowledge is not a necessary condition of being educated either. Being educated is not synonymous with being clever. One might be a well-educated person and not very brilliant in academic terms, and one might be extremely clever in some particular field such as science or history and yet not very well educated, since that term suggests a wide range of understanding. Breadth rather than brilliance, good sense rather than genius are characteristics of the educated mind.”

So, we are already further along than our dictionary definitions. We have the sense that the educated person must have a breadth of understanding. But does everyone need that same understanding?

Barrow says. . . [A]ny educated person must, by definition, have a breadth of understanding, but different people may arrive at a breadth in different ways: a scientist who knows no history, but knew something about literature and bee-keeping might reasonably count as being to some extent educated, whilst a theologian who was also something of a botanist and a philosopher, though having little specifically in common with the scientist, might also. (Implicit in everything I have so far said is the obvious truth that education is a matter of degree. People are not simply educated or not, they are to a greater or lesser extent educated.)

Is that it, or is there more?

… I think, for I now want to argue that there are certain elements (more specific than the formal necessity for breadth) that are necessary to being educated. Firstly, [to be educated we] must have some awareness of our place in the totality—awareness of the cultural and historical tradition to which we belong and of rival traditions, and in addition awareness of [our] place in relation to the wider story of the universe. . . .Secondly, [we must be able to appreciate, and be alert] to people as individuals and to the power of individuality. . . . A third and vital aspect of being educated will be the ability to distinguish logically distinct kinds of question. . . . There are empirical questions (an empirical question is based on observation or experience), there are aesthetic questions (these are questions based on beauty) and there are moral questions (these would be questions concerned with right and wrong) and, he says, there are others and also hybrid questions). Educated people should be able to recognize such distinctions, as well as basic logical distinctions such as those between explanations and justification or cause and correlation. [In other words, you should be able to know whether your concerns are empirical, aesthetic, mortal, etc.] Finally, he says,  there is what I call the capacity for discrimination, by which I mean the ability to think in terms of precise and specific concepts rather than blurred and general ones. [You know enough to discriminate between the carriage and the electric car]  The possession of precise and particular concepts gives one discriminatory power by which phrase I refer to the control, maneuverability and penetrating power in thought that the ability to make fine discriminations provides. What I say here is simple and important. In discussion about matters as diverse as whom to vote for, the merits of Evelyn Waugh as a novelist or the acceptability of capital punishment, one’s contribution will be the more significant and illuminating, one’s thinking will be the better, in so far as one is in possession of more, clear and specific concepts. If you cannot get beyond broad and general concepts (communist/capitalist, comic/realistic) you cannot contribute much. We must remember that it is a question of both clarity and specificity.” pp. 38-44.

Ask ten different people what education means. Do they give you educated answers? Is there clarity and precision to their response? Are them making clear distinctions? Are they able to discriminate between schooling and education or do the boundaries seem blurry?

Rightfully, I believe, Barrow makes the important distinction between knowledge and understanding. One might know something, but not understand it. Also, someone possessing a good deal of information does not suggest that they have a depth or breadth of understanding or are in any way educated.

I think what Barrow says is interesting. If our concern is to educate, then, according to Barrow, our responsibility is to help students achieve a depth and breadth of understanding. So we might ask, with every pedagogical activity we undertake, are we helping our students achieve a depth and breadth of understanding?

Presumably, had the second grade teacher asked herself whether her students were achieving a depth and breadth of understanding she would have realized that the activity was inappropriate. Presumably, had the administrators asked themselves whether or not children were developing an understanding by forcing them to memorize the three branches of government for a state test, they would have realized the pursuit was a waste of time. Had the test makers and the politicians who forced standardized tests onto schools, teachers, and children has a genuine concern with understanding, they would have realized the form of testing was inappropriate.

This idea of understanding seems simple enough—am I fulfilling my responsibility as an educator if I am educating my students? Am I helping my students achieve a depth and breadth of understanding?

But what is understanding? We know that understanding in not simply knowing something. For example, I may know the three branches of government, and be able to state what those branches are, but that is no indication that I understand anything about legislative, executive, or judicial workings. I think we could say that Barrow believes that understanding has to do with a re-cognition of causes. Understanding is based on language and reason. Understanding exists within a context. Simply put, if I have an understanding of something, I can give reasons why things are the way they are. If a child understands the three branches of government, presumable that child can say something about the reasons and (the purpose, the form, the materials, the people involved, the background ) as to why we have three branches, the reasons and (the purpose, the form, the materials, the people involved, the background ) why we have a legislative or judicial branch, reasons and (the purpose, the form, the materials, the people involved, the background ) why we have governments.

 

So what does this mean for us as future teachers? Regardless of the purpose behind the schooling, we are educators. Our job is to educate students. Education is the achievement of a depth and breadth of understanding.

We should now recognize that schooling and education are not identical. Schooling is, hopefully, something that is meant to help people become educated–though we know that is not always the case. It is clear to us that one does not need to attend school to become educated. And yet it is also clear that school can be a very powerful place for some individuals to become educated.

The foundations of education is really the foundations of understanding. And schooling, if it is concerned with educating, has to contribute to the development understanding.

___________________________

Question Set Number One (Continued)

4. What do you think about the way Dr. Barrow is defining (in part) education? 

5. Dr. Barrow emphasizes understanding over knowledge. What do you think about that? 

6. In your own words, how would you articulate the difference between education and schooling?

 

_________________________________________

 

So there you have it for our first lecture. In many years of thinking about education and schooling, I continue to believe that ‘understanding’ is the one necessary condition of education and schooling. This is not to say that there aren’t many schooling purposes and many practices. I am well aware that the roles we play as teachers and the responsibilities that we take on go far beyond what might seem to be a rather narrow condition — understanding. But as I think about every purpose, every act, every attempt, without ‘understanding’ we would be falling into training, entertaining, or indoctrinating. And while one could argue that there are indeed times when we might decide to train our students, entertain our students or indoctrinate our students, those acts seem to fall outside the realm of actual educating.

 

Question Set Number One (Continued)

7. Can we become educated without developing understanding? What are your thoughts on this?

 

 

Part II

Neuronal Cell Assemblies, the Referential Whole, and Language

Language Speaks Us

Words fire neuronal cell assemblies. When we hear someone say cinnamon bun (two words in this case), neuronal cell assemblies in our brains are fired so that we feel the words. If I say, “warm sandy beach” to you, you will feel something very different that if I say, “frozen ice cube.”

We may not be able to change the system, but we can chance the words we use. Different words, different neuronal webs firing. Different re-enactments. Different realities.

_____________________________________

The language of school

“What would happen if we removed the terms information and efficiency from our schooling vocabulary?” What if we didn’t have these words firing our neuronal cell assemblies? This raises the question of how our language shapes our reality–how our metaphors shape our reality. When I think about the good times I have had with my friends and family, or the enjoyable times I have had reading a good book or watching a great movie, I don’t think in terms of efficiency and information. I can say I have learned a lot in all of these informal settings, and yet not once did I have to reduce any of it to information and efficiency. The funny thing for me is now that the words ‘information’ and ‘efficiency’ comes to the forefront of my thinking, I start seeing schooling activities strangely defined by these ideas in very unfortunate ways. For example I have an article on my desk entitled, “The Negative Impact of Rewards and Ineffective Praise on Student Motivation.” Ineffective praise? Why? Think about this for a moment. Even the research has made assumptions regarding motivation and rewards and put the “effective” and “efficient” lens on it. When we think back to some of the alternative school settings, would it be fair to say the lived environment doesn’t emphasize efficiency and effectiveness? How about motivation. Remember Daniel Pink’s talk. Is motivation part of our experience or is it a construct from an external observer (recall the motocross example of observer and lived). Children go out and play. At what point do they start experiencing ‘motivation’? This is not to say that we can’t stand back wearing our goal oriented lens and look for actions that would seem to be motivated, or having our efficiency lens in place and look for efficiency. Are these constructs part of our lived learning experience or are then labels that have been created for observers. There is a difference. There is a difference between living in an environment and step back and analyzing someone living in an environment. Do the schooling narratives privilege the latter?

This can be a difficult idea to come to terms with. I remember as a student reading the statement in somebody’s book, “gravity is not part of the child’s ontology.” I thought, “what?” Children experience gravity. It took a while to start distinguishing between what we experience and how an objective observer talks about things. The child is not playing in the yard thinking, “okay, this is gravity holding me down.” The child doesn’t ‘think’ about gravity. Gravity does exist, of course. But it is the objective observer thinking about gravity who sees the child on the swing and then saying gravitational forces are at play.

I don’t want to belabor this point. But there is philosophical reasoning that suggests that it is during breakdown (when something in our experience doesn’t go smoothly) that things like gravity come to our awareness. For example, a hammer is “too big” when the space you are trying to hammer in is too narrow. Too narrow leads to breakdown. The size of the hammer all of a sudden shows itself.

This is the case with such things as efficiency. Somebody is standing back, looking at a situation from an objective position, and begins making determinations as to what is, or is not efficient, or need extra encouragement to reach goals.

 

A man wearing his efficiency monocle.

monocle guy

 

 

Does it seem to you that the language we use strongly influences how we see the world around us?

Think back to how Ben Zander deliberately shifts language away from goals and toward possibility. As he does this, you had neuronal webs firing that had you think of something more akin the Smith’s classic theory.

We watched this in session two. Just to think back for a moment.

Zander works to help us change our own metaphors of what we do in the classroom and how we treat ourselves and others. Listen to how he juxtaposes two different frames.

 

 

In Ben Zander’s talk we hear him contrast two frames (more on frames below) and metaphors. The one perspective, based on our current schooling, consists of downward spirals, goals, expectations, must, need, ought, blame, fault, threat. The second view (frame, metaphors) is based on possibility, vision, requests, apologies, bringing people up.

Both views are made up. According to Zander, we have the ability to chose one over the other. And that is what most motivational speakers tell us. We have the ability to alter our frame and metaphors.

Didn’t Frank Smith do the same? I think he did.

Is this one of the ways we might change schooling practices we are not happy with?

Perhaps this is how we begin to make changes in our own schools and practices. We manipulate the language we use. We manipulate our actions. To me this seems very powerful. Remove one word from your vocabulary and incorporate an alternative and things start to change.

Have a look at your district’s job descriptions. Have a look at the language that specifies what the position entails and who the person has to be to get the job. In many cases, you might be surprised, unless you already know that the official theory is at work.

Consider how changing the language in job descriptions could change the way we think of our work–and more importantly, how we are treated within institutional settings.

Consider how changing the narratives change the way we experience.

 

The Real Mission of the Mission Statement

Now, before I get into some specifics on the workings of metaphors and frames, I thought I would do just a quick search of school mission statements to see if there were any metaphors and frames that seemed to shape the thinking of the school. Quite honestly, of course, I don’t know any of the schools I read about, but I think I can give you a sense of how metaphors and frames might shape the reality of a school or district. Here is how I proceeded. I found a web site that listed the mission statements of 101 schools. I then did a word search using the word ‘work’. Of course there were lots of schools that talked about work in their mission statements:

 

Yokayo Elementary School: Productive Workers who perform collaboratively and independently to create quality products and services that reflect personal pride and responsibility.

Kimball Elementary School Mission Statement and Goals: Every student differs and must be challenged to work to his/her greatest capacity.

Tiskelwah Elementary: To be encouraged to work to optimum potential in reaching the academic skills outlined in the school curriculum.

Silver Oak Elementary School: to develop the intellectual, physical, and emotional capacities of each child to the fullest extent possible so that each can lead a productive worker, citizen, and individual in our society.

Knowlton Elementary: We provide experiences for students which build the real work world skills required for the future.

Crescentwood School: Practice a positive work ethic.

Shaffer Elementary: We are committed to educating students so that they have the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to be effective communicators, complex thinkers. responsible citizens, self directed learners, ethical persons, and quality workers. Establish standards that demand excellence and build a solid foundation for lifelong learning, workplace skills and citizenship

Cherokee Elementary School Mission Statement: Our mission is preparing our Cherokee students to become successful citizens and workers in the twenty-first century.

Silver Oak Elementary School is to develop the intellectual, physical, and emotional capacities of each child to the fullest extent possible so that each can lead a productive worker, citizen, and individual in our society.

 

It probably seems evident  that the purpose of school has something to do with work. Good enough.

Next, I did a quick search using the word ‘love’.

 

Westridge School Community, where children are treasured, is to foster a love of learning in an innovative, cooperative climate which empowers all students to be competent, productive, caring and responsible citizens.

Jamieson Elementary we are committed to each and every child. We are committed to encouraging our children to possess the following qualities: A mastery of academic skills and a love for learning.

At Pine Tree Elementary, we believe that each child is a valued and unique individual. We believe that our educational process should be student-centered and that Pine Tree Elementary’s mission is best achieved by an active partnership involving students, parents, and staff. Furthermore, we want each child to embrace the love, joy
and value of education. The following emphasize our beliefs: We want each child to embrace the love, joy and value of education.

William Penn Elementary School: to provide an environment where each child is treated with respect and love.

Rosemont Elementary: The culmination of our efforts is to instill in our students a lifelong love of learning.

 

And the list goes on. I don’t know about you, but I find it interesting that when we are thinking about frames it seems that the schools whose mission statements talked about having students being prepared for becoming productive workers didn’t seem to use the words leadership, love or joy. Now, this is not meant to be an exact science, and it would be unfair to generalize about anything here, but it might suggest that different frames (world views) might create different sorts of reality.

 

Reality: Re-enacting through Language

 

Do we create our own reality?

Metaphors: By considering metaphors (and frames) we begin to get a deeper understanding of why particular things show up for us, and why we perform particular tasks and perceive certain aspects of schooling.

Even though we touched on metaphor, I would like to go into this in a bit more depth with the intention of moving us toward understanding embodiment.

 

Part III

First Frames, AKA, Frames First

First we should try to develop a bit of an understanding of frames.

From Lakoff: in his own words or summarized

 

Framing

You think in terms of structures, called frames. . . . Every institution is structured by a frame, and a frame has two parts: frame elements and scenarios. . . . Every word in every language is defined within a frame. Metaphors are learned very early, by different parts of the brain being activated as we experience something over and over again.

 

 

 

 

As I think about metaphors and frames, the first thing that comes to my mind, when thinking of people who are masters of changing our metaphors, is motivational speakers.

Yes, how are motivational speakers (and theorists) using language to shift the way we think and act?

You have probably noticed that motivational speakers help us change our lives by having us change the metaphors that shape our own life narrative. They work to ’empower us’ so that we are not ‘victims’. They work to ‘direct us’ if we find ourselves ‘floundering.’ Now, for a moment, think of how a researcher might need to change the metaphors currently enframing us and provide us with new metaphors to help us adopt his/her new practice.

 

How about letting us in on the magic of frames?

I will allow George Lakoff to tell us more about frames in a talk that I include a little further on. But quickly, frames not only consist of metaphors (ways of thinking and perceiving), but also processes (or rituals). Faster: frames not only consist of metaphors (ways of thinking and perceiving), but also processes (or rituals).

 

Now, what I find particularly interesting, is when we look back to our initial questions (the ones you posed in week one), we can begin to look at the language and metaphors that support those artifacts and processes. Furthermore, we can also begin to notice that there are a lot of rituals that we follow to ensure those processes and artifacts come-into-being in particular ways. I think we would agree that much of what Frank Smith, John Taylor Gatto, and Ken Robinson point out are the rituals in place in the official theory of schooling. And Ben Zander picks a big ritual to make his point–the ritual of giving grades.

Ben Zander encourages us to change our frame of reference (as does Smith, Gatto). Each suggests we have to change the frames and metaphors to morph our our practices into something better. If we change the frames and metaphors, we begin to see the world differently.

 

How we perceive the world

or if we want to change the frame

How the world perceives us

 

or try these two:

How I control the world

vs.

How I am controlled by the world around me.

Recall Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Greg Bryk.

 

Much of our schooling practice has been based on the idea that there is an external true reality that share and that we aspire to know. This has been the case with philosophy as well.

This sets up a particular frame. It is a frame that suggests that reality is there already, we don’t create it. But is it that simple? Is our reality a mirror of what exists ‘out there’?

Recall the blind man regaining sight in the David Eagleman Reality documentary.

 

 

George Lakoff on Embodied Cognition and Language

 

We have been considering embodied cognition and language. We have been considering how our experiences within particular contexts, experiences that are experienced through our bodies, shape our reality. To help us understand this in a little more depth I have included another talk by George Lakoff.

Now, the following video lecture is quite lengthy. But if you are able to view the first 30 minutes you will get the gist (I have tried to write out the main points below if you don’t have time to view that talk). It is insightful and can give you some further depth in how you understand education through language. If you think this will be of value to you in your graduate work, you may want to view the entire clip.

 

This video does not have cc but let me share with you the main points made by Lakoff:

We don’t see a common reality, we create it. We have a topographic maps in our brain. We have a number of maps of our body in our brain. These maps can pick out motion, distance, and other spatial relations. We can compute our image schemas with our embodied maps.

Neural binding allows schemas to connect.

You think with your brain. Most of it is unconscious. Why? Could all of your thought be conscious? No. Why couldn’t it? Because consciousness is linear. And the brain, in terms of the circuitry it has, is parallel. It has thousands of parallel connections going to all sorts of parts of the brain, like ‘to’ and ‘in’ and the bindings between them.

Also, when you make a conscious decision, your brain is doing it half a second before, unconsciously.

You are your cognitive self conscious, and most of it you don’t know about.

First there are frames, frames are combinations of these image schemas that we have. Frames have structure.

Chuck Fillmore pointed out that every word in every language is defined relative to a frame. If you take a word like waiter, or menu, you are going to evoke a restaurant frame—all the things you expect in a restaurant. You also expect a certain scenario and the elements in the scenario are called semantic roles—roles of the waiter, the cook, customer, etc.

Every institution has a frame. You know the elements, what happens in it, and what doesn’t happen in it.

The point of this is, the restaurant frame is made up of three other frames: the food service frame, the business frame, and the host-guest frame. When you go to the restaurant, you are the guest, and your are the eater, and you are the customer—three frames bound together — neural bindings between those three frames in different parts of the brain. When they are all bound together you get a restaurant. When they are not bound together you have different businesses, different food services, and host-guest environments, but no restaurant.

From this you get hierarchical structures. All words are defined with respect to them. When we say waiter, the whole restaurant frame comes up. These structures are build up of various image schemas, things and activities we do with our bodies. And these movements and activities have schemas. These physical image schemas can be then metaphorically placed on abstract ideas.

All thought is physical.

neural recruitment. When you have a certain structure in your brain, as you are learning, you activate certain structures in your brain. The more you activate them, the stronger the structures get. When they get strong enough they become permanent circuits. When you learn something new, the easiest way is to learn it relative to the circuits that are already there.

You can’t learn anything if there are not the neural circuits there in advance. The neural circuit that allows us to understand ‘in’ and the neural circuit that allows us to understand ‘to’ can be bound together to allow us to understand ‘into.’

 

So is there something here?

1) does context shape what we perceive?

2) do we devise a narrative to make sense of what we perceive?

3) did the context give meaning to Mrs. Jone’s actions?

 

Even though we want to be careful not to generalize too quickly, let us at least consider some provisional claims.

No ‘thing’ meaningfully exists independent of context. (Please keep in mind that meaningful means the way something means to us. This is not to say that something does not exist independent of us.)

No context is established independently of our physical body. The experiences we have had with our bodies gives meaning to context and ultimately the ‘thing’ itself.

We create narratives (re-enact stories) to make sense of (or justify) what we perceive and what we do.

Our language/narratives (including the metaphors we use) point to the ways we perceive the world and reveal our beliefs.

Now, you may be thinking of another political ramification when it comes to narratives (something I will point out now but will get into in more depth later). That is: those who control the narrative shapes reality and our perceptions. I guess we all knew that when we were told what and how to teach.

Furthermore, you may be recalling an argument Smith seems to be making. That is: learning, from the official point of view, is about memorizing and accumulating information. Teacher teaches, student learns. We fill the empty vessels with knowledge. The expert tells the story clearly, and the student builds up the knowledge (memorizing if necessary).

Learning, from the classic point of view, is about adopting new narratives. Allowing neuronal webs to form naturally. We are always learning new narratives, whether from friends, parents, and authorities. We become the narratives that we adopt.

 

If the classic theory is right, teachers have to be in the business of helping students weave together neuronal cell assemblies and create narratives (and even change the narratives they currently hold–though that can be very difficult). Maybe impossible–though I hate to think so.

 

Now, these are some pretty big claims. It is not the narrative I was told when I was studying to be a teacher. And even now I feel as though I have to force myself to bring the ‘narrative argument’ to the forefront of my thinking. And as much as I may be convinced of the classic view, as soon as I enter the classroom, the official narrative encourages me to think in terms of providing information to students. And I if I do it well, following the appropriate objectives and skillfully assessing, I should be very successful at providing the information that will have students learn what I have taught.

 

Part IV

More Pigs?

Categorization and Classification

 

We have been thinking quite a bit about language, metaphors, and frames. We have been considering how these aspects of language shape how we perceive the world around us and how we live within that world. Hopefully you are becoming a bit more sensitive to the educational metaphors that seem to shape your own thinking. Hopefully you are starting to ask, as you think of activities (such as having your students line up to move from one class to the next), what sort of language or presuppositions encourage us to do this.

There is one more framework (or way of manipulating our perceptions) that I would like to consider today–that is the use of categories. We are all familiar with categories: those classes or divisions of people or things regarded as having particular shared characteristics. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines category as: any of several fundamental and distinct classes to which entities or concepts belong.

When we read this we probably have the impression that categories are simply divisions of some sort of pre-existing reality. Categories really exist independent of ourselves and we simply plug in the things or people as appropriate. But is this the case? Are categories simply made up to suit somebody’s purpose? And if so, are our educational/schooling categories simply made up to suit some peoples’ purposes?

 

Are you familiar with Michel Foucault’s work. Some of you may be. He was a French philosopher, historian, and social theorist. I was reading one of his books the other day–“The Order of Things.”

Foucault begins the preface of his book considering how the ‘familiar landmarks of [our] thought,’ the order and meaning we give the things we encounter, is something that is unstable.

 

foucault

 

What an interesting idea. We think of things, and those things we think about seem to have meaning and order to them. But Foucault is suggesting that these things are unstable. Let’s focus on classifying.

 

animalClassification

 

We classify–and those classifications provide meaning to a context. But seldom do we ask who is doing the classifying or where the classification came from. It seems at times as though our classifications came out of some external truthful reality. Take our classifications of animals, for example. What Aristotle began (with his classifications of plants and animals) and Cesalpino deepened (with the advent of the optic lens), Carl Linnaeus revolutionized and finalized (at least for us, as things stand) with his 1735 Systema Naturae. Finally, a standardized naming system for plants and animals.

 

Linnaeus(1735)

But things could have been different, and perhaps in the future they will be. For us, the way we think and talk about animals is largely a result of Carl Linnaeus. But Foucault is struck with another idea. He is struck by the idea of how things are not as stable or secure as we might believe. He writes:

This book first arose out of a passage in Borges . . . . [A]s I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought – our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography – breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other.

This passage quotes a ‘certain Chinese encyclopedia’ in which it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies’. In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that.

I love this idea. Even the metaphors Foucault uses–landmarks of our thoughts, bearing the stamp of our age and our geography. The feeling that classification systems breaks up the ordered surfaces and planes of our thinking. Imagine how different, as suggested by this encyclopedia, animals could have been perceived.

Think how different things might have been for us if Bloom hadn’t wielded his mighty taxonomy.

 

Foucault continues:

But what is it impossible to think, and what kind of impossibility are we faced with here? Each of these strange categories can be assigned a precise meaning and a demonstrable content; some of them do certainly involve fantastic entities – fabulous animals or sirens – but, precisely because it puts them into categories of their own, the Chinese encyclopaedia localizes their powers of contagion; it distinguishes carefully between the very real animals (those that are frenzied or have just broken the water pitcher) and those that reside solely in the realm of imagination.

 

What do sucking pigs, sirens and stray dogs have to do with schooling and education?

 

pigsSuckingstrayDogsiren

 

I find this interesting, especially when thinking about schooling and education. I find it interesting in terms of how we might question how we understand education. If categories are made up, why were they made the way they were? Were they designed to suit particular people and situations–some powerful schooling emperor? Perhaps the “Efficiency Emperor.”

In education/schooling we have our own categories, landmarks of thought, ordered surfaces and planes. Let me further my thinking with a concrete example. I will use a personal example that happened while some of you may have been working on your undergraduate degree..

 

When our college of education was preparing for our NCATE accreditation a few years back we were expected to demonstrate that we were proficient in a number of standards. Standards that fall into particular categories are stated and evidence must be provided to show that the categories under scrutiny are thoroughly accounted for. We have to show the accreditors evidence for such things as “Conceptual Framework,” Candidate Knowledge,” Diversity,” “Qualifications of Faculty,” etc.

 

Our College of Education conceptual framework had been formalized as such:

 

ConceptualFramework

 

I know that it is probably difficult to see (or read), but that is not what is important here. Let me continue: A number of years ago, when we developed our conceptual framework, it was expected that a conceptual framework such as this was vital to successfully achieving accreditation–VITAL.

VITAL VITAL VITAL VITAL

One’s conceptual framework is the foundation upon which one bases his/her actions. This is important. Right? During the accreditation review, faculty were expected to be able to talk about the framework. Students were expected to be familiar with the framework. We put posters of the framework on our college walls. We included them on our syllabi.

 

So what is the point Dana?

 

What I find interesting, and the piece that connects to Foucault’s writing, is a conversation I had a short time ago. I was informed that after 2015, NCATE examiners would no longer concern themselves with conceptual frameworks. What? How can something so educationally vital one year be completely disregarded the next? (Of course this is just one example. You will have many of your own that you will be able to pick out of your teaching or personal lives.) Next year the categories will ensure we dance a different dance. It is always worth asking who is playing the music at the time. (“Hey, Did you hear that Pearson Publishing is playing tonight!”).

 

Here are some of the connections to our work that I make from this (and you will see that this is also one of the main points that Smith is making in his Book of Learning and Forgetting). The categories that we adopt tell us what is important, how to look at things, how to interpret our work, how to think, how to plan, etc. etc. I should highlight that:

 

The categories that we adopt tell us what is important, how to look at things, how to interpret our work, how to think, how to plan, etc. etc.

 

At one time in some far away land, it could have very well made sense to categorize animals into a category of ‘belonging to the emperor.’ Especially if the emperor is in power. And at one point, for NCATE, it might have made good sense to think that the adherence to conceptual frameworks was imperative.

(Now I am not coming right out and saying it, but you might be thinking about all the categories that we have in place in our own public schooling institutions).

(And I am not saying this yet, but I bet Gatto and Smith believe that there are other categories that would be more significant for educating than the ones currently adopted by schools).

 

Back to NCATE: So, why the change? What is missing? Values? A clear understanding of what eduction means and how to achieve it? On another point, why is it that, seemingly out of nowhere, all of a sudden it was imperative that technology be incorporated into every classroom and every teacher requiring competency to use it? Why do accrediting agencies, at the moment, expect alignment, critical thinking, and a sensitivity to learning styles, and not a sensitivity to feminist issues, oppression, corporeality, empowerment, and how happy students feel? When will the standards start talking about homelessness or the environment? Oh, I forgot, homeless people don’t have powerful lobby groups speaking on their behalf.

 

I am not trying to be critical of the choices, but as educational philosophers, and askers of questions, we should at least give some thought as to how categories might frame our current practice–especially if the categories are made up. In addition we might begin to consider how one might develop some clarity on the purpose of education so that the categories are developed from an educational standpoint rather than a political (or as Smith might add, a psychological and historical) standpoint.

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Response Question

Can you think of any examples of language worth changing or adopting in your classroom or your own life that would make life better for you and your students?

If you do have some ideas of particular language changes you would implement, how would you be able to remind yourself regularly that you are making this change? In other words, how do you adopt/make change without falling back into the old language and perceptions?

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I hope you enjoyed thinking about today’s ideas.

I will leave you with, what I think is a funny thing that a student told me one time: a number of years ago a graduate student of mine just finished reading Lakoff and Johnson’s book Metaphors We Live By. She started paying attention to the language being used all around her. She told me the book was revelational for her–she finally understood why her husband was always wrong. He was using all the wrong metaphors!

 

Have a great day!