ED 615 Week Two (Fall 2020)

Welcome back everyone,

We are now into the second class of our ED 615 course.


So, last day we covered a number of topics:

1) I discussed the two hats you have to wear as you move through this program: one, the knowledge-creating-graduate-student hat; and, two, the licensure hat. Both are important and both require a somewhat different mindset. In this class we focus more on the knowledge-creating-graduate-student hat. We try to gain a deeper understanding of the foundational narratives so that we are in a better position to interpret what is going on in schools. We develop a deeper understanding of the foundations by listening closely to the narratives that help bring aspects of schooling into being.



This is a picture of Sam wearing his graduate hat saying, “Arr we sure we are doing this right?”


2) We considered briefly Verhoeven’s idea of wonder, the pursuit of wisdom, and the value of values.

3) I provided a brief but spectacular (okay, not spectacular) definition of Critical Inquiry.

4) I introduced the idea of narratives using an example of grades.

5) We listened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speak of the power and oppressive nature of a single narrative, as well as Greg Bryk talking about how one can create one’s own identity (largely through narrative).



We saw how important narratives can be in the way others perceive us, how we perceive others, and how we perceive ourselves.

Another important aspect of narratives is that institutions are defined and operate from the narratives that give them meaning. When our activities are couched within the institution, the institution’s narratives influence our own personal narratives.

The narrative contributes to the context by which we interpret who we and others are. For example, if the narrative says that high grades are good and I am getting low grades, I may feel that I am not good. The narrative, the context, gives meaning to the situation.

With Ms. Adichie, Ben Zander, and Alfie Kohn we were reminded how narratives are made up and often inaccurate — especially when a single narratives obscures other narratives. With Greg Bryk we were reminded that we do have some control over narratives and that they can be altered. When we change the narrative, we change the meaning of the situations.

I think it would help if I began today’s talk providing you with a sense of an overarching framework (a narrative of sorts) that has had a significant impact on our schooling narratives. The framework and resulting narrative is influential but remains largely hidden. It remains hidden because it is so prevalent. After I share this framework with you, I will be able to delve more deeply into specifics. I suppose I should have some sort of a forceful title for this section. Yes, I will call it

From Grades to God or From God to Grades.

Let us pull out our archeologist shovels and dig into this.

(dig, dig, dig)


(dig, scrape, dig)


(dig, scrape, brush)

Knowledge of the world as existing outside of us (external reality)

(dig, dig, dig)

William James

(dig, brush, scrape)


(scrape, dig)

Tabula Raza

dig (we didn’t have to dig very far to find truth)


(dig, dig)


(dig, scrape, dig, scrape)


(better stop here. I’m not even sure we can go any deeper)


What does all of this mean?  I will call this section


How God Gave Us Grades

or for the poetically inclined,

This is the Grade the Jack Got (based on the poem This is the House that Jack Built)


Grades: I started with grades. I could have started with any aspect of schooling and the framework would have been largely the same.

Grades, as we typically use them in schools, rely on a construct we call knowledge. One is graded as a result of what one knows. The school knowledge that presumably informs grading is deemed to be knowledge that mirrors something that exists outside of the student. This knowledge is somehow put into the student’s head. After making its way into the student’s head the knowledge is thought of as a representation of that which exists outside of the student’s head. The student then shares those representations and, depending on the accuracy with which the shared knowledge matches the external reality, the student receives a grade.

Students are taught knowledge using a variety of teaching techniques based on beliefs of how teaching and learning work.

Psychology: Much of the research that informs these teaching techniques and beliefs about learning have been based on psychological research on learning and behavior.

Psychologists adopted a framework laid out by William James.

William James: created a compendium of many of the ideas of the day in a 1200 page masterwork. His two-volume synthesis and summary of psychological ideas called Principles of Psychology, codified the thinking of the day. 

In his book James wrote extensively about topics such as mind, perception, memory, attention, association, conception, habit, the relation of mind to other things, consciousness, and self. These were the ‘made-up’  terms of the day. The terms stuck and became largely influential.  The research agendas of psychologists focussed on coming up with evidence to support these terms. In other words, the terms were adopted as existing and then research projects continued to try to come up with evidence supporting the terms. This continues today. Even today in educational research we talk about motivation, attention, association, etc. from this perspective.

One of the important overarching assumptions in all of this was that the brain is a passive device that perceived an external world — an idea that was popular among empiricists.

Important: the brain is a passive device that perceived an external world.

Empiricist (from ancient Greek word emperia meaning experience)

The empiricist narrative informed James’ thinking. Empiricists believed that knowledge comes primarily from sensory experience. The mind has access to that which exists in an external world, acting much like a spectator, creating representations of external reality — a mental copy of objective reality so to speak. Empirical evidence, it was thought, forms ideas.

We could say that empiricists look to the world as the source of all knowledge. Given that knowledge is derived from experience, it was thought that we must start with a blank slate (a Tubula Raza).

Tabula Raza (blank slate): This notion was fundamental in empiricist John Locke’s account of knowledge acquisition. The child is born with a mind that is much like a blank slate. Sensory experience, perception of the outside world, is imprinted on the mind. Having an accurate representation of that outside reality is truth.

Mind: We have a mind so that we can have access to the truth. Philosophers at this time talked about the mind as having access to truth. 

Truth: Knowledge is certain, or truthful, if what we know accurately represents the external world. What is the ultimate truth?

Philosophers at this time talked about the mind as being the way to God. 



Let me try to put this framework into a poem. I call it:

The Grade That Jack Got (based on the poem The House That Jack Built)

This is the grade that Jack got.

This is the question answered by Jack,
that led to the grade that Jack got.

This is the knowledge
that led to the question answered by Jack,
that led to the grade that Jack got.

This is the reality perceived by Jack,
referred to as knowledge
that led to the question answered by Jack,
that led to the grade that Jack got.

This is the psychology promoting reality,
perceived by Jack,
referred to as knowledge
that led to the question answered by Jack,
that led to the grade that Jack got.

This is the James who constructed the frame,
espoused by psychology promoting reality,
perceived by Jack,
referred to as knowledge
that led to the question answered by Jack,
that led to the grade that Jack got.

These are the empiricists who spoke to James,
who constructed the frame,
espoused by psychology promoting reality,
perceived by Jack,
referred to as knowledge
that led to the question answered by Jack,
that led to the grade that Jack got.

This is the slate the empiricists saw,
who spoke to James who constructed the frame,
espoused by psychology promoting reality,
perceived by Jack,
referred to as knowledge
that led to the question answered by Jack,
that led to the grade that Jack got.

This is the truth that wrote on the slate,
the empiricists saw,
who spoke to James who constructed the frame,
espoused by psychology promoting reality,
perceived by Jack,
referred to as knowledge
that led to the question answered by Jack,
that led to the grade that Jack got.

This is the mind, that perceived the truth,
that wrote on the slate the empiricists saw,
who spoke to James who constructed the frame,
espoused by psychology promoting reality,
perceived by Jack,
referred to as knowledge
that led to the question answered by Jack,
that led to the grade that Jack got.

This is the God who touched the mind,
that perceived the truth
that wrote on the slate the empiricists saw,
who spoke to James who constructed the frame,
espoused by psychology promoting reality,
perceived by Jack,
referred to as knowledge
that led to the question answered by Jack,
that led to the grade that Jack got.


There we have it. I suppose this proves that grades come from God.

Now, obviously one could argue that that is not the case. But it makes me wonder sometimes, when people are so intent on giving grades, do they think these grades come from some higher power?

Or is it all just made up? I guess we can continue to pick away at some of these ideas and see.

Reality. Really?

Today, let’s talk a bit about reality, necker cubes, the way aboriginal people might talk about directions, how a blind man might not recognize his own children when he is given sight, and how a failing grade might mean something far deeper than the red letter written on a student’s paper. But to start, let’s talk a bit more about narratives?


On the surface, a narrative seems to be a story told from a particular perspective. The power a narrative has is that it allows things to appear in a certain way. It is, you might say, a story of sorts with the power of making things appear.”Who controls the narrative?” we hear politicians say.

As a common occurrence we might think of a neighborhood gossip. The neighborhood gossip can tell a story one way, while the gossip’s target might give a very different version. We experience conflicting stories or narratives all the time.

How is it that one story can seem to relate something quite different from another when presumably both are relating the same event? We might agree that it has something to do with the context in which the narrator exists. Things show themselves within particular contexts. Situations derive their meaning within contexts.

As thinkers, we can interest ourselves in how things appear. This becomes increasingly important to us when we realize that schooling already makes assumptions how things are to appear or what things mean. Furthermore, our understanding of schooling practices are complicated when these assumptions are given to us as if they are real and true and justified.

“Research says . . .” we hear the professor say, as if research has provided some insights into reality that objectively exists whether we agree with it or not (or perhaps more importantly, whether we agree with the premises or not). “Best practice . . .” we hear the administrator say when it is in someone’s interest to convince us of a framework as if it is indeed real and to be followed. We are told ‘what’ things are and why we are to do them’. The ‘why’ is followed by a quick ‘because.’ “Have your students do this test because we need the results for our data collection.” Haven’t we all heard that we are in a culture of evidence. Thus, we often experience the why not as an explanation and justification of educational value but rather as perceived expectation of compliance.

The test means something specific because the context tells us so. The grade has a particular meaning because the context tells us so.

If we were a receptacles that our superiors could pour these important bits of information into, and if we were merely technicians expected to carry out the demands place upon us, I suppose our task would be simplified. “Believe what I say to be true,” we are told, “because the research says it is.” “Do what I tell you to do because you are compliant, and you will get rewarded in the form of financial compensation.” What a delightfully clear narrative.

As thinkers, or perhaps better stated, as authentic thinkers, that sort of compliance is not so easy.


We know that things do not appear the same way to everyone. Everyone of us knows that there are two or more sides to every story. We have said that, haven’t we. “I’d like to hear Marge’s side of the story. . . . Well of course she would react that way — consider everything that happened to her last month.” Why is it that we find it easy to consider “the other side of the story” when we react to a gossip’s narrative? Why do we not see that schooling is built up on narratives?

We are quick to do this with people, to consider their circumstances, but seemingly less quick to challenge schooling mandates. What would we call someone who believed everything the neighborhood gossip said without question. We question the gossip. But isn’t gossip unsubstantiated? What counts for substantiation? Couldn’t we say the same for schooling protocols?

In schools, a challenge that we face is that we expect things to appear a certain way. We have been told things will appear a certain way. The seating plan, the grade book, the hall pass, the assembly, etc. all are expected to mean something and to appear a certain way. Even when we study something, and deem it to be problematic in school practice, as soon as we walk through the doors, everything seems to fall into place, in its proper organized, logical, way.

As thinkers we work to resist this organized belief, not because it is wrong, but because it is a shallow, superficial understanding.

As thinkers, we resist the single narrative and see other ways things might appear. We resist taking the gossip’s “word for it” and try to see other perspectives. And to see other perspectives we consider the different contexts that give each of these perspectives meaning. We believe less in a particular “truth of the matter” and lean toward a greater adequacy of understanding that, while it may not lead to ‘truth’ leads to something that might be deemed more truthful or more adequate.

We know we have prejudices, expectations, when we look into schooling practices. Thus as thinkers we develop the ability to put aside our pre-conceived ideas. If we already have preconceived ideas about Marge and the gossip seems to confirm what we already thought, we might be quick to discard any alternative view. This is a great challenge, indeed, when it comes to schooling practices. We went to the same school as the gossip. We grew up with the same stories—the same narratives. As authentic thinkers we have to deliberately put aside our expectations. We remind ourselves that there is more here than meets the eye. We must not let our preconceived beliefs dictate what we see.

Schooling has a particular logic. A school logic. This logic sets up a framework of actions and perception. This framework reveals some things in some ways and obscures other things. We adopt this logic, or are initiated into it, and then think and act accordingly to this logic.

If we were raised, as children, with the neighborhood gossip, who always seemed to find the negative or unsavory aspects in everybody else’s lives, we might, unfortunately, adopt that way of seeing others. As soon as we are introduced to someone our gossip framework would come to be activated and our judgements might obscure our other potential perceptions.

As authentic thinkers we would want to bracket the seemingly obvious frameworks and attempt to describe a more realistic, appropriate or truthful description. Descriptions that have more than adequate renditions. We would consider a different narrative.


We are looking, or should I say listening, into narratives. We are doing a phenomenological analysis so to speak. We are examining variations of schooling. You might say we are becoming multi-lingual, multi-perceptual, as we develop additional understanding–multi-lingual in the sense that we are working to see more than one variation of schooling. In Phenomenology, we would say that we are doing a phenomenological analysis in an attempt to gain a polymorphic understanding. That means that our understandings or perceptions are not limited to single understandings.

Once we see something from another perspective, we no longer have simply a single perception or understanding. Furthermore, our additional awareness allows us two perspectives–or perhaps even multiple perspectives. It is a bit like seeing the necker cube. Once the second view is achieved you can no longer simply understand the cube from a single perspective. It doesn’t mean that the single perspective was wrong–only inadequate. With each perspective gained, we gain a greater adequacy.

Of course it probably seems obvious to most of us that there are two different perspectives here — one way of perceiving has us see ‘A’ in the front and ‘B’ at the back while the other way of perceiving has us perceive ‘B’ closer to us and ‘A’ further away. Would it concern us if someone tried to convince us that there was only one way of perceiving the cube? Perhaps. It might be more problematic if they told us that seeing one way was the correct way. Would it concern us if people were telling us that there was a correct (or official) way of schooling?


Why are we able to shift our perception from seeing the top and then the bottom of the cube?  Well, it has something to do with our previous experiences with cubes.

Our experiences make it difficult not to see a cube. If we lived in a world without cubes, we would not perceive the necker cube as a cube. If we only saw objects from the top, we wouldn’t perceive the cube in the same way.

If we lived in a world with only circular objects and no cubes:

the cube wouldn’t make sense.


What on earth does this have to do with our considerations of schooling?

Quite simply this: our experiences are intimately woven in to our perceptions, And, we give language to those experiences and perceptions.

Of course.. We would all agree with that. It is even a part of our school narratives. I am sure you have heard the narrative — connect what you are teaching to what students already know. We honor students’ experiences, don’t we?

Time to pause and wonder for a moment.

Time to pause and wonder for a moment.

Time to pause and wonder for a moment.

Time to pause and wonder for a moment.

Do we really, REALLY, take into consideration students’ experiences.

Or, do we simply go about our school business with little consideration how others might perceive something? Do we go about our school business, perceiving what we have been told to perceive, in the way we have been told to perceive it, and disregard how other’s experiences are “intimately woven into their perception”? Should we refer to that as someone’s reality? If you only perceived one way of viewing the cube, would that be your reality?

But wait, doesn’t the prevailing narrative suggest that there is an external reality that, as a teacher, I somehow put into my students’ brains? Or is that even right?

If I am an authentic teacher, wouldn’t I have to try to have some sense of my students’ realities? Are my students perceptions woven together from past experiences? Do I really understand grading if I only perceive grading from the schooling perspective? Wouldn’t that be rather superficial? Do I really understand something like grading if I only perceive it from one perspective when the lived experience of grading has great breadth and depth.

Please read the following, Phenomenological Reflections on the Failing Grade.

Reflections on the Failing Grade

The “grade” experience has a richness that is seldom talked about in schooling. As teachers we seldom think deeply into the experience of grades and the profound impact grades can have on all of us. When was the last time someone ever asked you to really reflect on what grades mean to students? It seems to be the case that we are told that we are expected to grade.

Does Language have anything to do with it? (Far off in the distance we can hear Tina Turner singing gently, “What’s language got to do, got to do with it.”


I would like to transition to language for a time. Perhaps our understanding of language will give us some insights into the way we understand our schooling practices.


Dr. Boroditsky and Language

I will try to further this point by introducing you to the work of Dr. Boroditsky. She is a cognitive scientist who studies language and cognition. I will pull bit of an interview that I think you will find relates well to our own work.

Dr. Boroditsky’s work with an Aboriginal community in Northern Australia sheds some light on the ways that our language shapes how we perceive and think about the world.

I use these arguments to help us better understand how the language of schooling shapes what we do in schools and how we think about education.

Have a listen to this first part. Dr. Boroditsky takes us to Cape York.


Click here for transcripts of the following four audio segments.



It is interesting when we think about directions. We have internalized the concepts of left and right. Of course it doesn’t have to be this way as we find out in the description of the Aboriginal experience. It is interesting to think that our language contributes to our reality.


Those of you who have studied other languages are probably well aware that in many languages nouns are gendered–either masculine or feminine. But have you wondered how that gendering might affect how people think about the objects those nouns re-present?



Here is another interesting study regarding noun gendering that Dr. Boroditsky talks. Listen to how the gendering affects reality. It is an artist study. I find this so interesting.





This clips takes us back to my initial comments about polymorphic understanding. And, it relates to what I am thinking about in terms of our own schooling beliefs. Imagine the monolingual person saying chairs are masculine because they are masculine. That is a bit like us saying that grades are good for ranking students because they rank students. That is the way it is. But have we internalized things and actions from our language and believe that they are right for no other reason than that they have been predefined for us? How often do we even feel the need to question these structures? Does the language reflect the true structure of the world? Or is the structuring dependent on the language? Is the structuring simply a formal property of the language? When we begin to see on polymorphic ways, do we start to see through the structures of schooling that have been bestowed upon us via language and as a result of our own unquestioned adoption of the language of schooling?


As we begin to develop our polymorphic understandings, our “bi-lingual or multi-lingual perspectives of schooling,” we begin to think a bit differently about things. (I am not really sure this ‘lingual’ way of expressing this is the best way).


It might be time to take a detour into the questioning of REALITY.


Many people will say we learn about the world around us. Now philosophers have already complicated this–some will say there is an external reality that we can know, others will say we can’t know a shared external reality. So, what can we know? What do we perceive when we look out the window? What do we perceive when we hear a child crying? What do we perceive when we hear a familiar tune? When we learn, are we capturing some sort of image or the outside world?

So, how does the information around us, the external world, get into our minds? Or does it?

What if the world around us was nothing more than an illusion that we create in our minds?


Reality — Really?

So what is reality? It’s whatever your brain tells you it is. Or is it?

And what might this mean for the way we understanding schooling? Or understand our students? Or understand ourselves?

Please try to watch the following documentary. Not only is it very interesting, and has a direct relation to how we talk about reality, communication, teaching, and learning, but it will challenge how we think about the narrative that we have objective representations of reality in our heads.

The documentary is called: What is Reality. If the video does not show up as embedded within the page you can lick on the link and it will take you to WOU’s Films on Demand where you will also have the Transcripts of the documentary. You will have to log in using your WOU login and password if you are not already signed in to your portal.

Click the link.

What is Reality? Part 1: The Brain with David Eagleman – Full Video (59:12)



I hope you enjoyed that.


I do have a response questions. If you would, please try to email your responses from session one and two to me by Monday, October 12th. Thanks.

Here are my questions to you: I am very interested in your initial reactions to many of the things considered up to this point. Please feel free to speak to any, all or none of these. What are your thoughts, to this point, on what you have read in the Smith text? Hopefully you have started–even if only my scanned copy. Also, what did you think about the Eagleman’s Brain documentary? What are some of your take-aways?

Personally, gaining more insight into the experiences necessary to actually see something was so interesting for me. Are you thinking of grading (and other school procedures) differently after reading Reflections On A Failing Grade? Are you able to relate to what is being said? I sure am. Are you developing any interest in beginning to understand those contexts that give shape and meaning to what we do in schools even though much of that context seems to be hidden from our immediate view? What else interests you right now? Are you feeling okay about the state of the world? Have you and your family been doing okay health-wise?


Take care and I will talk with you soon.



Oh, just in case you are interested, here is a TED Talk with Lera Boroditsky. Much the same as her early interview clips. But interesting nonetheless.