ED 632 Week One (Spring 2020)


Hi Everyone, welcome to ED 632, Cultural, Social, and Philosophical Issues in Education


And now, without further ado:

curtains, lights.
This is it,
the night of nights .

No more rehearsing and nursing a part.
We know every part by heart.

curtains, lights.
This is it,
you’ll hit the heights.
And oh what heights we’ll hit.
On with the show this is it


(Why on earth would I start with this? I do have an answer you know.)



Welcome to our on-line ED 632 class, Cultural, Social, and Philosophical Issues in education. 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.

This is actually one of my favorite classes. I love thinking about, or should I say I love being confronted by, the ideas we encounter. As you have probably read in the course catalog, we examine issues of learning and culture from a variety of philosophical perspectives, linking practice to theory and ideology. In doing so, we frame our own teaching and learning experiences by examining the role of culture in schooling and learning.

Now the trick here, as I see it, is that we don’t want to turn this into a history 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 see more than you saw before. Furthermore, you will perceive things you will want to change. And, 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.


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.



Step two: changing our perceptions. This is an extension of our variational method. This might mean 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..




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.




I don’t want to 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.

Now, maybe it wasn’t a statement. Maybe it was an act. I will give you a personal example. After I was hired at WOU I had some difficulty with some immigration paperwork. I was very concerned. I couldn’t afford a lawyer and I knew getting help would be a burden on anyone helping me get this resolved. I went to WOU President Minihan’s office to let him know about the situation. I knew he was very busy but I was hoping he might at least point me in the right direction. Instead, he put on hold what he was doing and for two hours he helped me write letters and fill out paperwork. I learned a lot from this. A lot about the way to treat people. Now, I could have taken a class whereby I was told that it is a good idea to give your attention to others. I could have even been presented with all sorts of research that stated that sharing your time with others is of great value. That wouldn’t have had nearly the effect that the act itself did. That single experience changed the way I now try to be with others–mindful. Perhaps I should admit, mindful with my share fare of flaws.


(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.

The same applies for those working on their pilot’s license. When you begin your flight training you feel little need to philosophize about the value of FAA regulations or the advantages of computer-based instrumentation versus analog instruments. You just want your flight instructor to tell you what to study, and what you have to know to pass the test and fly safely. But there comes a time when you feel interested and obligated to take part in the discourse that concerns veteran pilots.


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




Now, what does all this have to do with this class? We already know the fundamentals of schooling. We have spent a great deal of time in schools and have possibly been teaching for some time now. (If you are taking this class and you are not a teacher, please rest assured that you will find the content readily applicable to how you understand education). Now, we want to derive a deeper and more significant understanding of schooling and education. This is not to say that there are necessarily ‘right answers’ that apply to all of us. Many acts of significance are different for each of us. We often find them ourselves (or couple ourselves to them — another topic for future consideration). One of the mistakes many educational theorists make, and I am sure you have thought this yourself at one time or other, is that they suggest methods can be (or even should be) generalized to all contexts.



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?




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.


Before I go any further I should introduce myself.


Who Am I Anyway?

Now for those of you interested, let me briefly tell you about myself so that you know who is at this end. My name is Randall, but I go by Dana. For those of you who have taken a class from be before, you already know me, so feel free to skip this part.

Anyway, I did my undergraduate work at the University of Alberta, majoring in philosophy and English. Taught elementary and junior high for five years. Did my graduate work at the University of Oregon and Doctoral work at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. 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 and 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, etc.. At the time, all of this seemed pretty exciting. Of course, 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.

I taught for a number of years in the public school system, and maintained my technology interest as a teacher. 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 really experience the world and the way that schooling and education play 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 for twenty one years.

That’s enough—maybe even more than enough. Not enough of being here–enough talk about me.

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



Philosophy means “the love of wisdom.”

To be wise is to follow the right path or the right way. One comes to know the right way by coming to distinguish one way from another–by knowing alternatives–by knowing and having more than one choice. Philosophy is not learning what other philosophers have said in the past. That is history. And this is not a history class. You might think of our class as a wondering class. Notice that wisdom has to do with following the right path. That gets us back to this idea of action. Wisdom is more than knowing information. Wisdom has more to do with understanding and action.

I think that this idea of wisdom is important. Especially when we think of philosophy. So many people have associated philosophy with the history of philosophy–i.e. learning about past philosophers. But philosophy has more to do with wonder. And we all wonder, when the opportunity presents itself.

“Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.”




Now, I don’t know if Stevie Wonder ever said “philosophy begins in wonder,” but Plato said these words over 2000 years ago. This is where we start–not so much with Plato, but with wonder. So perhaps I should ask the question then, since it is philosophy into which we are to presumably embark, what does it mean to wonder? Okay, now I know you can’t get Stevie Wonder out of your head. Or maybe he was before your time.



Plato doing a Stevie Wonder number.



Anyway, why is wondering important?

According to Plato, wonder is the beginning of philosophy. And, as for our historical understanding, knowing that Plato said this is important. But we are wondering about schooling etc.. We are philosophizing about schooling (and all things schooling). Does knowing that Plato said these words introduce us to philosophy? If we were to know what all philosophers said, would we know philosophy? The answer is no. Verhoeven, in his book “The Philosophy of Wonder” spoke to this quite eloquently. This is what he says:

We have been introduced to, and are at home in, that which philosophy has left behind, what might be called the institutional framework of philosophy or, more harshly, the ashes of its passing. Philosophy is not knowledge of these ashes. An introduction to philosophy does not consist in holding out a handful for inspection, while keeping in reserve an entire Mountain for more advanced pupils. Philosophy is not knowledge; as a form of desire, it is more a pathos, a state, than an actual knowing.

So there is the history of philosophy (those institutional frameworks and events or knowledge), and there is wonder. Philosophy as a way of wondering.

Plato gives this pathos a name: wonder. If philosophy proceeds from wonder, then it proceeds from it completely and in every one of its manifestations. Every philosophical term that has not become mere ashes conveys the pathos of wonder. Every philosophical step forward must be a step backward in the direction of this pathos; every path toward established knowledge must be approached in its light. If the wonder is the beginning and principal of philosophy, then wonder will keep its grasp.

So, as educational philosophers (have we declared ourselves as educational philosophers yet?) we wonder.

If philosophy begins in wonder it remains as a form of desire, obstinately close to all that this desire arouses. It can be satisfied only by its own hunger. It lives not by possession and conquest but through its own boundless perspectives which it ceaselessly expands.

To introduce someone to philosophy is not to show him a stretch of the road and then to indicate expansively how that road continues. It means halting where this exploratory path begins and where all others begin; it means practicing philosophy at the place where philosophy begins and ends. The whole history of philosophy lies in a broad circle about the loose space of wonder, even when this wonder is regarded only as a starting point. What cannot be approached from there is not philosophy, however important it may be. . . . Whatever does not deal with everything, taking wonder as its starting point, deals with nothing from the philosophical point of view. . . . [P]hilosophy is a radicalization of wonder in all directions. . . .

An introduction to philosophy is an introduction to the wonder that makes philosophy move. Without this movement, philosophy is merely an institution with which we become acquainted from the outside as curious tourists or, taking the inside view, as mere office clerks. An introduction to philosophy is not the transmission of knowledge that will make a man a philosopher, for philosophy is not the fruit of the possession of any particular knowledge. It is not founded on knowledge nor has it knowledge as its goal. Rather it is an obstinate ignorance, as in Socrates the art of avoiding institutionalized and certain knowledge. Knowledge leads to science, not to philosophy. . . . There is a knowledge of philosophy that is not philosophy, and knowledge of the many statements made by the many philosophers in the course of the centuries. This knowledge in itself is not philosophy although it can be the gateway to it. One can be moved to philosophy by making a thorough study of these statements. Yet even this is a form of motion, a pathos, a leap from knowledge into unknowing, the endless deferment of certitude. . . . [T]he knowledge of philosophy does not make a man a philosopher, any more than knowledge of poetry makes a man a poet. ( pp. 9-14 Verhoeven, “The Philosophy of Wonder”)

Here, Verhoeven gives us an excellent sense of the nature of philosophy. Philosophy is about wondering. And if we don’t open ourselves up to wonder, then we are not acting as philosophers.

Another very interesting point here is the distinction between science and philosophy. Notice that he says, “knowledge leads to science, not to philosophy.” You see, science requires an observer’s view of the world. In philosophy we are wondering “into” the world. Too much? Let’s carry on.

Herein lies so much of what I would hope for each of you. If you can reach the point where you can focus more on really wondering about schooling and education than simply “completing the course because it is a requirement,” I think you will feel the glimmers of philosophy.


(Sally feeling the glimmers of philosophy)


We can all be trained to be technicians. We can be trained to teach. But to be an educational philosopher requires wonder and understanding. And you know the difference. You have felt the difference. We all have. We have all taken classes where we simply do the work to get it done. We are not really vested in it. It doesn’t transform us. It is simply one more jump through the hoops. None of us should want this, for ourselves or our students.



This course is a philosophy course in the extent that we wonder. You are a philosopher to the extent that you are able to open yourself up to wonder about things. It is an education class in that we wonder about schooling and education. It is not a technical/methods-oriented class. Technical/method courses are important in that they tell you what to do and how to act in particular regulated environments. Undergraduate courses are typically technical/methods-oriented classes. In our undergraduate courses we want to know ‘what to do’ and ‘how to do it.’ This course, though, asks you to wonder about what you are doing. That may sound easy, but as every philosopher knows, opening oneself up to other ideas and allowing one’s self to be challenged can be very difficult and very uncomfortable. Here, again, is the challenge that the graduate student faces.


Let me reiterate this: opening oneself up to other ideas and allowing one’s self to be challenged can be very uncomfortable. When we take an undergraduate class and we are given a recipe or a series of steps to follow to achieve the results that others suggest are important does not lead to the same disquieting feelings as changing the way we perceive things.


Larson Beaten Path


Being told what to do is often more comfortable, and requires less thinking, than does wondering what we are doing and why we are doing it.

“Just tell me what I am suppose to know,” you have heard your students say.


Of course, we might hear our students saying, “I wonder what we are doing?” That is more a response to confusion than true wonder. That form of wonder isn’t quite what we are after here.

We should be thinking of something like this:


We should resist this:


Let me make another point about what Verhoeven says regarding the history of philosophy but I will use the example of a poet. Many of us are very familiar with poetry. It is easy for us to understand that being a poet requires something that goes beyond knowing other people’s poetry. We might just as well say that about the artist, or the one who composes music. We could also say something similar about the difference between knowing what scientists have accomplished and the dispositions required to do science. I suppose we could even consider a sporting example. I might, for example, be able to tell you all sorts of facts about ski jumping (the distances, the equipment, the names and birth dates of the ski jumpers, etc.) but if I had never strapped on a pair of skies, sliding (in my case uncontrollably) down a 150 foot ramp and launching myself into the air, I couldn’t claim to be doing ski jumping. When it gets right down to it we might ask, is a ski jumper different from the observer’s point of view than from the ski jumper’s point of view? Is knowing different than doing? How is my experience of knowing a lot about ski jumping different from the experience of ski jumping?


Simon Ammann


I think this begs a similar question regarding teaching. Does knowing lots of facts about teaching make a teacher a teacher?


This class is an opportunity for us to do philosophy of education against an educational, social, and cultural background. However, as philosophers of education, we have to develop the appropriate dispositions, not just knowledge of educational theories and philosophies. We are wondering about education. And, Verhoeven makes it quite clear that our job, or responsibility, as philosophers of education, is to enter into a state of wonder. We must become questioners, with an openness to possibilities. It is to put into question all that we believe to be true. It is to put into question our taken-for-granted understandings. It is to bracket out our prejudices. For to do otherwise would place us in the realm of general education–to act, as Verhoeven says, as ‘curious tourists’ or ‘mere office clerks’.

We do not want to merely learn what other philosophers have said, (or other educational theorists) and then frame our own teaching in terms of those sentiments. “[T]he knowledge of philosophy does not make a man a philosopher, any more than knowledge of poetry makes a man a poet.” pp. 9-14 Verhoeven, “The Philosophy of Wonder.” We might add, the knowledge of teaching does not make a person a teacher. But somehow we have to make the transition from someone who knows to someone who lives the knowledge.

Let us give this a little more consideration. One might ask, what is it that a poet does that differs from someone who merely knows a lot about poetry? What does a composer do that differs from someone who merely knows a great deal about music? What does an artist do that differs from someone who merely knows a great deal about art? What does a teacher do that differs from someone who merely knows a great deal about teaching? Any one of the people involved in knowing could easily manipulate bits and pieces (the technology so to speak) of the medium in which they are involved, but that doesn’t necessarily make them much of a creator (or artist). Or does it?

Perhaps a strong background understanding allows for a different intentionality. Perhaps this, in part, separates the expert from the technician. Or the teacher from the technician.


From The Paradox of Education:A Conversation
Humberto R. Maturana and Bernhard Poerksen

Responsibility of the Teacher

Poerksen: Immanuel Kant writes in his essay Über Pädagogik that the wide field of education is governed by a fundamental paradox. On the one hand, we want free and self-determined individuals to leave our schools; on the other, we impose a syllabus on the future individuals, force them to attend schools, punish their failures, and persecute their noncompliance. There is, if we follow Kant, an inescapable relationship of tension between the goals and the means of educational efforts: They contradict each other. Would you agree?

Maturana: No. Education, the commentary of an observer, is the process of transformation resulting from the co-existence with adults. We become the adults we have been living with. This means: If freedom and self-determined thinking are the goals of educational activity, then we have to live together in a way that is supported by the mutual respect for the autonomy of the other. In my view, the paradox formulated by Kant does not exist at all. The way of life, the manner of living together, shapes and transforms people. If you want to teach autonomy and reflection, you cannot use force as a method but must create an open space for communal reflection and action. There must be no contradiction between goals and means.

Poerksen: Surely, there must also be constraints? It must be laid down when everybody has to be present, what the task is, who the teacher is, who has authority.

Maturana: Compulsion will emerge if the teachers do not succeed in presenting their material in a thrilling way and in making school an attractive place of being together. Their failure will lead to force.

Poerksen: The teacher is totally responsible for everything that may happen in school. Is this not an exaggerated claim?

Maturana: No. If a teacher behaves respectfully, if he does not intimidate his pupils, if he listens, encourages cooperation and reflection, then a special form of interaction will emerge. The way of living practiced by the teacher, including the goals of teaching, will be the source of profitable learning for the pupils. This also implies that three questions and tasks must be sorted out cooperatively in education. First it seems necessary to me to debate the educational ideal to be chosen—what should the future adults be like when leaving the school one day? Should they be democratically minded and responsibly acting citizens? Or are they to be authoritarian and commandeering hierarchs, lords who feel superior to everyone else? It is then necessary to anchor a way of life in the school that permits acting and thinking according to that ideal. Finally, there is the essential task of preparing the teachers for their job in such a [End Page 25] way as to do justice to the desired goals—to enable them to live what they have to achieve.

Poerksen: This would mean that teaching has nothing to do with the stepwise elimination of ignorance, as is commonly thought. The transmission of knowledge is secondary. The primary requirement is a way of life that corresponds with one’s ideals, a particular form of living together, out of which the material topics will arise in due course.

Maturana: Exactly. The children do not learn mathematics in school; they learn how to live together with a mathematics teacher. Perhaps they will one day carry on this enjoyable and exciting kind of being together independently—and become mathematics teachers or mathematicians themselves. Teachers do not simply transmit some content; they acquaint their pupils with a way of living. In the process, the rules of arithmetic, the laws of physics, or the grammar of a language will be acquired. My claim is: Pupils learn teachers.

Poerksen: What about children who systematically refuse to cooperate? What is to be done with them? The classical answer is, of course: bad marks, relegation, exclusion from the winning circles.

Maturana: The so-called difficult children about whom teachers keep complaining often only struggle to be seen and accepted, while the whole world expects them to behave in a calculable manner and to adapt to strange demands.



Encouraging Acts of Wonder

My job as the instructor of this course is not as conveyer or purveyor of information, but rather, to encourage acts of wonder that will further lead you toward transformation, new insight, and new knowledge. I kind of like that: Encourage Acts of Wonder. “Jim, did you hear the news? He has taken it upon himself to encourage acts of wonder.” It sounds almost spiritual doesn’t it (or a bit trekie: “Jim, he plans to take us where no one has gone before”).

Anyway, if wonder resides at the forefront of what we do, then a thorough questioning and deconstruction of what currently exists in our day-to-day educational discourse must be priority. Hmmm. After that statement I kind of like “encourage acts of wonder.”


As in all my classes, we want lots of this:






Very little of this:






and none of this:





So, let me restate this. Philosophy has much to do with the act of wonder in the pursuit of wisdom. We could just as well replace ‘philosophy’ with graduate work: ‘Graduate work’ has much to do with the act of wonder in the pursuit of wisdom. Wisdom, or being wise, is an aspect of understanding whereby we come to recognize the course of right action. We are, when not caught up in mindless technique and technicalities, wondering and pursuing wisdom. This is important for us for it speaks to our values.


In our wondering, we are, in a sense, trying to clarify our values. Without clarity, we experience uncertainty and, worse, confusion. According to Louis Raths, before something can be a full value it must meet seven criteria.

A value must be:

1. chosen freely. To be a value, it is not something that can be forced on you.
2. chosen from among alternatives. It is only by recognizing alternative positions that you are able to make a choice.
3. chosen after due reflection. A broad range of choices requires thought and reflection.
4. prized and cherished. One must believe that what they value is of great importance.
5. publicly affirmed.
6 acted upon. I can not say, “Yes, I truly value reading, but I don’t read.” Or, “I truly value the time I spend with my family, I just don’t seem to be able to find the time.”
7. part of a pattern that is a repeated action.

According to Raths: People with few values tend to be apathetic, conforming, inconsistent, and what psychologists call ambivalent (the simultaneous existence of conflicting emotions, such as love and hate). The less we understand about what we do, and the values we hold, the more confused our lives are. The more we understand about what we do, and the values we hold, the more we are able to make satisfactory choices and take appropriate actions.

How important is this for us as educators? I don’t know about you, but I can feel very uneasy about certain schooling decisions until I am very clear on why we are doing something and the values I hold regarding the decisions that lead up to action. You will see evidence of ill-defined values when people say one thing and then do another. How many of you have taken a class where you are told you should teach one way but the class does not seem to reflect the same values. Is it easier for us to practice what we preach when we are clear on our values and we truly value those values we value? How many of you have been told to do something in your job because it is “a great opportunity” when clearly that which is asked of you doesn’t seem to resonate with your own values. How often to we emphasize the importance of democracy, free speech or creativity in schools only to squelch anything that begins to threaten the status quo?

Philosophers spend a great deal of time on values. Philosophers wonder about life, and what is of value. In philosophic fashion we wonder about life and what is of value to us. Let me say that in another way: As teachers, when given the chance, we wonder if what we are doing is right and in the best interest of our students and ourselves. In some cases, our values may have lacked the type of commitment that would have our value become “a pattern that is a repeated action.” At this point what we might be describing are goals or purposes; (in these cases we speak more to aspirations, interests, feelings, beliefs, activities and attitudes). So we have to ask a lot of questions.

Let me rephrase these last two sentences: At times we interact with students in a way that does not entirely reflect our true beliefs and values. We do one thing because of our job requirement even though we don’t believe that that practice is best for our students. If you have forgotten district expectations, have a look at a current job description — chances are you will find a lot more about institutional expectations than teacher-student interactions. You are unlikely to find statements such as “finding joy” or “the love of wonder” or “happiness.” But maybe that’s a good thing. Perhaps our institutions would be in a state of turmoil if we were more concerned about love, care, and happiness. But then again, maybe not.


For philosophers, the ‘good life’ has long been an important concern. Perhaps it should be for all of us. When we know what we value, and we are able to live a life that supports our values, we find ourselves living the ‘good’ life. We derive a certain amount of happiness when we do and act in ways that we ‘know’ to be right. Ever wonder why so many teachers burn out in the first five years?


Opening Up?

We are not doing philosophy if we simply take the technologies at hand (in this case, other philosophies) and manipulate them in such a way as to make them our own. It is very easy (and perhaps quite typical in philosophy of education courses) to say, “here is what the realists say (or idealists, pragmatists, etc.)–if you think the same way, you must be a realist (or idealist, pragmatist, etc.) and might just as well adopt the educational theories and practices that arise from such thinking. But I am trying to have us ‘do’ philosophy, not simply manipulate that which has already been thought. We must begin by being open to the world and allowing ourselves to wonder without prejudice. Why go where everyone’s been. Let’s find our wisdom (our right course of action) by going where no one has gone before.


Let us be clear

Again, we have to be clear that we are not doing a history of cultural and social issues and philosophical perspectives. Nor are we doing science. Science comes after the philosophy—after the wondering. Please keep in mind, if you wonder about something during this class that really fascinates you, you may want to test out your thinking in a research project or for your thesis.

Wisdom means transformation into the right course of action. We are ultimately looking to transform ourselves and others. So we must be very clear. A philosophical approach is not about accumulating information—it is about revealing, understanding and transformation.


Course Expectations

What does this mean, then, for course expectations? If our goal were to accumulate a mass of information, then a demonstration of learning would be to show that you have amassed large masses of information and I would evaluate your accumulation accordingly. Now if you were a medical student removing an appendix or treating a kidney infection, I would want to be sure that you knew the difference between a kidney and an appendix. But this is not our purpose. This is a course on wisdom, transformation, insight, and new knowledge. We are looking for ways that you might transform your self, your teaching, and your students. As a graduate course, it is also our responsibility to come up with ‘new knowledge,’ ‘new ways of thinking,’ or ‘new ways of understanding.’

If you were children I would incorporate pedagogical methods that would have you do what I expected of you. But we are adults–so we acknowledge that and share in andragogical interactions. In our journey I may lead the way at times, but you are free to point to aspects that you perceive and jump off the path to take a deeper look. (The old journey along a path metaphor 🙂

So while new knowledge is something you might eventually demonstrate in your graduate exit requirements (project, thesis, or comprehensive exam–whatever the case may be) how does one demonstrate transformation? In other words, how do you demonstrate that you philosophize or (wonder about) educational, cultural, and social aspects of education and schooling, in the process becoming wise, and then, in turn, transforming your, and others’ worlds? (Okay, that sounds a little grandiose). How does one demonstrate transformation? Well, we have to have some sense of where we are now (current practices and beliefs), reflect openly on the ideas with which we are confronted, and then demonstrate (or articulate) a change in thought, purpose and behavior. In doing so we develop our own insights and new knowledge.



Introduction to our first response question.

Warm Up: Asking Questions

Let us begin our class explorations by thinking about what we do and how we typically think about schooling and education. In other works, let us begin by considering our schooling narratives. I think an easy way to think about ‘narratives’ is to think of the ‘stories’ that inform our practices. Or another way of thinking about this is to ask, “what are the beliefs behind our actions?” For example: When I first started teaching, I walked into a classroom with all the textbooks I would need to teach the class, all neatly stacked on a table at the back of the classroom. Not once did I ask “why?” Why textbooks? And why those textbooks? I just accepted text books as a necessary part of school. I used text books as a student, and now as a teacher.

But now in this class I am encouraged to ask why? Why text books? What do we believe that makes textbook-use a legitimate practice?

So, by stating (or articulating) the things that we do (often without question), and then asking why we follow that particular practice, we are forced to question more deeply into the very foundations of our schooling practices. When we ask why we do certain things, we begin to reveal the narrative (the story and belief) that says why we should be doing these things.

We can search for glimmers of our schooling narratives by revealing aspects of our schools and teaching by developing a list of questions. While the idea here is to begin to uncover or unravel the narratives, it is also to help us get into the habit of asking “why?” Here are some examples:


1. I wonder why teachers use worksheets? Why do we use worksheets? Where did the idea of using worksheets come about? How does the use of worksheets shape how teachers think of students? What do students become when they are given a worksheet? How does the use of worksheets define the teacher? Is there a narrative here?

Let me tell you why I started with the worksheet example. I was reflecting about a past student of mine who was teaching a class of second graders. She just finished reading a wonderful story to them. When she was finished reading, many hands went up and the children were itching to talk about the story. My student teacher simply said, “hands down, I have this worksheet I want you to work on.” And then she quickly handed out the work sheet.

Now a more experienced teacher would have engaged the children in a conversation, finding a way to address all the items on the worksheet, bringing even more breadth and depth to the story. Why did she do this? I know she would have rather had an enjoyable conversation with her students. But really, my student teacher can not be blamed for disregarding the potential learning that might have occurred. She was expected to produce some data for her education work sample to ensure that she was an accountable teacher. That was the narrative informing her actions. That is what we told her was important–that was the story she believed. And that was the narrative that she lived out with her students. (Hopefully this has you thinking a bit about the accreditation and testing policies we have in place).

So what sorts of processes were in place here. The worksheets were part of a learning/assessment process that was already systematized by an institution (all in an attempt to produce and show learning gains). The children’s immediate needs were disregarded, and the student teacher blindly followed procedural expectations. Little was done in the name of education or in enhancing student-teacher relationships. In this case, the children were thought of as little more than objects from which to produce data or demonstrate results.

Now let me say one more thing here. I am not saying that learning gains are not important. And I am not saying that doing work sheets is not important. That is another question completely. What I am encouraging all of us to do is to start to look closely at our practices, and then ask ourselves what sort of a story (narrative) is making those practices seem so necessary.

This is one of the first steps in the philosophy of education–why am I doing this? Do I know? Am I doing this because it is something I have simply been told to do? Are there good reasons for what we are doing? Are we all just automotons acting out someone else’s agenda? (Okay, that is probably taking it a bit too far. Or is it?)

I will just throw out a few more examples:

2. I wonder why we group students into similar age groups? Where did the idea of grouping students into similar age groups come about? How does the use of grouping shape who teachers are and what teachers do. And, what is the impact on the relationship teachers have with my students? Is there a narrative here?

3. I wonder why schools use bells? Where did the idea of bells come from? How does the use of bells shape who we are and what we do and what is the impact on the relationship between teachers and students? Is there a narrative here?

4. I wonder why we have students do homework? Where did the idea of homework come from? How does homework shape who we and what we do and what is the impact on the relationship between teachers and students? Is there a narrative here?

5. I wonder why we use grades? Where did the idea of using grades come from? How does the use of grades shape who we are and what we do and what is the impact on the relationship between teachers and students? Is there a narrative here?

6. I wonder why we use textbooks? Where did the idea of using textbooks come from? How does the use of textbooks shape who we are and what we do and what is the impact on the relationship between teachers and students? Is there a narrative here?

7. I wonder why we use standardized tests? Where did the idea of using standardized tests come from? How does the use of standardized tests shape who we are and what we do and what is the impact on the relationship between teachers and students? Is there a narrative here?


At first the answers to all of these artifacts and actions probably seem evident. I use worksheets to help students learn the material, we group students together in age groups because it is easier to teach them, bells help us all transition from class to class or subject to subject, etc., etc.. But herein lies part of our challenge for this course. When we are so close to something we begin to take our activities and use of artifacts for granted, not even noticing the effects that these activities and artifacts have on us and our students.


And while answers to these questions may seem obvious, the idea behind true wonder is to get into those spaces that might reveal something more about the artifact.


Do these artifacts and activities point to something about our schooling environments that deserve our considerations? Maybe. Perhaps we can develop our ability to question more deeply. With practice perhaps we can, in a very short order, pick out many different examples as we go through our day. I hope you begin to look closely at the activities and artifacts you experience and begin to wonder where these come from and why we follow them.


Finally the question:

If you can, try to think of some examples on your own. Imagine walking around your classroom. Look at the environment around you and start asking “why?” You might find this easy, or it might be quite a challenge. But, the more you can reflect on this, the easier it will be to start seeing below the surface of our teaching and schooling. Imagine walking through a school and asking yourself, “I wonder why s/he is doing that? Where did that sort activity or artifact come from? What sort of thinking produced that sort of thinking or activity? Does someone have something to gain when that artifact or activity is used? Does someone have a vested interest other than the student?

Activity / Response 1 (To be included in your first class response due the week of April 23rd) In other words, please include the first three weeks of reflections in a document and email them to me after you complete Week Three material 🙂

If you can, try to write down five different examples of artifacts or activities that we could question.

Why are we doing this?

Perhaps this seems easy and trivial. But hopefully by doing this you begin the process of changing the way you look at your school surroundings. That can be more difficult that we think.

When we are so close to something, it is often difficult to even question what we are doing.



To Summarize

I think that is enough for now. Actually, keeping with the questioning theme, “I wonder if that is enough for now?”


To quickly summarize:

1) We have a sense that this class will encourage us to question and hopefully develop a greater sensitivity to the schooling/educational environment.
2) We will listen to the voices of other critics and theorists, not for the purpose of memorizing what they have to say, but rather in an attempt to perceive aspects of our environment that might be obscured from our view.
3) We will try to expand on the ideas we encounter and develop our own original insights and knowledge.
4) We have the freedom to interpret the meaning of others’ ideas, as well as our own ideas, without the fear of having to state what we think the professor wants to hear and without trying to be compliant just to receive a good grade. This is graduate school.
5) We begin to question why we do the things we do.


Reading: Please try to get Smith’s book as soon as possible and begin reading. (See the syllabus for details).

This is not a long book. And it is not expensive. But I urge you to read this book–not for me, but I honestly believe you will find value in the time spent. It is a simple book that may change the way you understand school.

Here is a copy of the first chapter of his book so that you can get a start reading if you are waiting to get your own copy.

Smith Text


Let’s wrap this up

Now, to wrap things up. If you ever feel discouraged in this class; if you feel fearful; if you ever feel alone, finding yourself crying silent tears full of pride. If you ever forget just how much fun you are having in this class, and you need just that little burst of energy, please play the following. Hear the music, close your eyes and feel the rhythm, let it wrap around and take a hold of your heart. Dance, sing, and throw your hands in the air! OH WHAT A FEELING!!!



Okay, too far?

That’s a question.


Until next time!