Willamette Promise Week One



Let me introduce myself.



Hey all, welcome to our Foundations of education class. 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. So, now that you know I have two children, probably about your age, you will know that when I start giving you fatherly advice, like getting enough sleep or eating well, or trying to do your best in university, or not getting too stressed about anything, or being kind to others, you will know that the father-side of me that comes from caring for my own children is coming out and being directed at you. Well, I also care about your well being and success. I am glad you are here. Welcome to the course.  



A word about this class


Our course is called the Foundations of Education.

The first question we should be asking ourselves before taking this or any other class is why would we take this class? Why would we bother taking a Foundations of Education class? I think that is an important question. Presumably, as with any class, the classes you take will help you not only know something, but to do something now and in the future. But what? But what, what does one do with a Foundations of Education class?

Well, if you are planning to enter a teacher preparation program, this course will provide you with an introductory understanding of education and schooling that will, in turn, help you better understand what you are learning when preparing to be a teacher. The more background knowledge you have, prior to encountering any new content, as you will when you take other Education classes, the faster you will learn new material, the easier it will be to understand new material, and you will remember more of that new material you are learning. Of course, that is important. So, by taking this class, you are preparing yourself for future study and future teaching.

But there is something else that is important for you, that I hope you will start to make use of immediately. What is that? You will learn about education, and you will begin to think about what it takes to educate yourself. How does that work? Well, if we can gain some insight into the problems and methods of schooling, we will start to change our own learning practices. We might start to change the way we think about our own education. For many of us, that’s huge. Focussing on educating yourself can be life changing. Seriously.

I typically see three different groups of students. I see students finishing up an undergraduate degree proud of the fact that they were able to get through without reading a single book. Proud of the fact that they got their degree putting in minimal effort. They walk in to class on their first day of university, go through the motions, and leave after four years having cheated themselves out of an education. And, on the other hand, I know students who take it upon themselves to learn as much as they can, read as much as they can, interact with students and professors, ask questions, wonder, and in the end of their four years, they are proud to leave with the understanding worthy of the time and effort they devoted to their education. There is a third group though, and this is perhaps the most common group of students I see. They have good intentions of getting a good university education, and yet, because they were so used to pedagogical methods that don’t help students take control of their own education, they end up, rather mindlessly, going through the motions, reading the chapter, cramming for the test, gaining at best superficial understandings and rote knowledge, and ultimately being cheated out of a great education.

While I do want you to learn about the foundations of education so that you will be better prepared to enter the teacher education program, More importantly I want you, from this point forward, to begin the transition from passively being schooled to taking control of your own education. If you can do that, you will be well on your way to being a thoughtful competent teacher and a well educated individual.  I am inviting you to join me in an exploration of schooling and education, so that you will know some of the things good teachers know, and so that you will, from this point forward, develop yourself as an educated individual.


A word about your responses:

You will notice that I have questions interspersed throughout the chapters. If we were sitting down together and chatting, these are the questions I would be asking you to see if I am making sense. Your answers to my questions also show me that you are giving adequate thought and reflection to the course content. I am also able to support your own understanding after reading your responses to the questions when I respond back to you personally.

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 chapter itself. All of the questions will help you develop an understanding of the topics at hand.

Please include the question with your answer.

Questions Chapter One

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

1. Please tell me your name.

2. Are you taking this class because you would like to eventually enter the Education Licensure program?

3. What are your hobbies? Or, what do you like to do in your spare time?

4. What is something you are particularly good at?

5. What is your favorite subject in school?

6. Who was your most influential teacher in school? And, what made that teacher so influential?



Let The Story Begin


Over the next few weeks, I’d like to share a story, of sorts, with you. It is a story of how I think about education. I refer to this as a story because it is an account of incidents, events, and situations that bring schooling to life. It is, of course, one story among many. It is one that tries to reveal the very foundations of education and schooling.

The story is fascinating to me because it speaks directly to my interest in education as a student, a father, a teacher, a researcher, and a philosopher. As a student, I want to educate myself. As a father, I want to educate my children. As a teacher, I want to educate my students. As a researcher I want to search into education. And, as a philosopher, I want to know how education contributes to our life and well being. Given the importance I place on education you can probably see why I would have such an interest in schooling.

“Why a story?” you might ask. Well, from a distance, I can share a story with you. I can invite you into my story. And, in doing so, I am inviting you into my world of exploring schooling and education. I am inviting you to join me in thinking about education and schooling.

This idea of being invited to join me in thinking about education and schooling might seem a bit strange. You are probably more accustomed to thinking about a class as a place to accumulate as many facts as possible. Learn the information, take the test, and be judged against your peers. However, like many of our greatest educational theorists (such as John Dewey, Paulo Freire, Lev Vygotsky, and many others) I don’t believe that education is best served by adopting a transmission model of teaching and learning — or, as Paulo Freire would say, a banking model of education where the teacher fills the students’ heads with facts. The behavioristic practices that have been adopted and the industrial models that have infiltrated our schools do a great disservice, and are discriminatory in nature. That statement may not make much sense to you right now, but it will by the time I am finished my story.

You see, in my years as a teacher, researcher and philosopher, I have lost my belief in the idea that education is a means of acquiring knowledge — something to which modern schooling has long been committed.

I have asked several hundred undergraduate students over the years to share with me what they know about math, science, art, and language concepts. It might surprise you to know that very few could say what 5th and 6th grade science terms meant. Rarely could any student explain what the mathematical symbol pi meant. Few, having taken several years of a second language, would be able to communicate with any sophistication. But this is the knowledge that students were expected to learn. Textbooks are developed, with carefully designed goals that are aligned to carefully developed state standards. Teachers are taught how to write carefully planned lesson plans, with clearly stated goals, objectives, and assessments so that students’ learning can be carefully articulated, measures, compared and reported.

Ask one of your teachers to show you the teacher’s edition of the class textbook. Ask your teacher to show you the state standards they are expected to follow. Ask your teacher to tell you all the different people that have some say in what he or she does. You will get a glimpse into what I am talking about.

Schooling has long been education-for-knowledge acquisition. All the mechanisms in place attest to this. “Student-as-knower.” “Student-as-knowledge worker” etc. But what is it to know? Historically, to know is have an accurate representation of what is outside the mind. To have an understanding of knowledge, something we are interested in when we are thinking about teaching and learning, is to understand how the mind is able to access and retain that knowledge. So we could say that the central concerns behind teaching and learning have been to follow theories that have broken our lived experiences up into areas which presumably represent reality well, transmit that reality to the minds of students, and monitor and evaluate the success of that transmission and acquisition.

That probably sounds reasonable. However, the last 50 years of research (philosophical and cognitive) have show these ideas of knowledge acquisition of an external reality to be incorrect. That has to be interesting for any educator or anyone interested in educating. Not only might we find problems in our beliefs and methods, but more importantly we might invent new ways of thinking about schooling. But to understand what is going on, we have to understand something of the foundations of education. We should know something about the landscape in which we dwell.

I will share my story with you over the next few weeks. By the end of the story you will understanding something about education and schooling from a student’s perspective, a parent’s perspective, a researcher’s perspective and a philosopher’s perspective. More importantly, you will be better positioned to create your own learning environments that might make schooling better than it is now for many students. But first, I will have to share with you why education-as-knowledge acquisition is a poor idea. This is what my story is about.

As you know, each story should have a beginning. I begin my story with the idea of understanding. Now, as common as the word ‘understanding’ is, and as important as it is to education, it is remains somewhat elusive to those of us interested in schooling and education. We might think of ‘understanding’ as the main character in our story. Everything that is relevant in our story refers back in some way to ‘understanding’. Sure, we might think we know our main character well. We talk as if we do. “This is understanding. . . That is understanding. . . Ensure your students understand.” But, as you will learn in my story, many of us have forgotten about ‘understanding’ over time. And, as any good story should do, I will try to revive the depth and breadth of ‘understanding’ by the end of my story. I suppose you might think of my story as being about education-for-understanding.

“But why understanding?” you might ask.  And you are right to ask this. ‘Understanding’, to me, is necessary not only as the foundation of education, it is foundational to our life. It is because of our ‘understandings’ that we are able to live with others, care for others, and love others. It is because of understanding that we can dwell authentically in nature, the earth, and our lived world. It is because of ‘understanding’ that we have the capacity to wonder and to question. Being educated is having a depth and breadth of understanding. And if schools are concerned with educating, which presumably they are, they must concern themselves with ‘understanding’.

‘Understanding’ is foundational to education and schooling in much the same way that the idea of atoms are foundational to chemistry and physics. If I were to write a story about chemistry, I might begin with the atom and recognize its foundational role in chemistry. But our story is about education. Thus, a story about education, in my mind, must begin with ‘understanding’.

As I mentioned, ‘understanding’ is rather elusive or ill defined. So we will explore just what we mean by understanding so that we gain some clarity on the concept. This will be the subject of the second chapter of my story. I will call the second chapter “Context Confers Meaning.” You see, understanding takes place within a context. Things are understandable only within a context — not as abstracted, independent, discrete objects. Meaning exists because of context. Context Confers Meaning. That will be the topic of my second chapter.

In the third part, or third chapter of my story I am going to share with you a framework so that you can really see the way context contributes to understanding. I am going to introduce you a causal modality frame. Once you understand how this frame works, you can start using it immediately to help you understand things you are trying to learn. This framework will not only provide you with a way to visualize understanding, but it will also start to reveal how our schooling artifacts and methods were invented and why we do the things we do in school. That will be chapter three.

Once you are familiar with the way context confers meaning and that being educated is having a depth and breadth of understanding, I will launch into chapter four of my story. In chapter four I will talk about the way we, biological human beings, dwell within contexts. Here we will begin to see the biological nature of learning and the way our biologies understand, and thus, become educated.

In chapter five of my story, I will being weaving our schooling narratives into the story. Here we will see how schooling practices create contexts that lead to particular sorts of understandings and to particular ways of doing things. It is imperative that we recognize the way biological human beings use, and dwell in, language. Because schooling environments are language environments we will start to witness how language shapes the schooling contexts in which we dwell as well as the way we come to understand. We will hear a historicity inherent in our language contexts. In other words, our contexts, as expressed through language, are historical, arising out of past experience. We will also begin to see how schooling environments can be inclusionary or discriminatory based on some of the language practices we have adopted.

In chapters six and seven I will show you why some of our current schooling practices took hold — even when they don’t seem to work. I will show you where our ideas that language and experience mirrors an external reality came from.  And I will show you how many of our schooling metaphors and practices were derived from factories and business. It may surprise you to know that in many ways, you are thought of as a product, much like the products coming off or a factory assembly line.

By chapter eight we will be looking at schools and schooling practices and judging them based on our foundational understanding of education. This is an exciting part of the story because with a good understanding of education, we can begin to judge whether or not our schooling environments are living up the their responsibility of authentically educating students. As students and future teachers, you will become more authentically attuned to education. This is the part of the story that excites me about education and schooling. And, it is the part that excites so many of my students who want to become teachers. It is the possibility of doing something to make schooling environments more conducive to contributing to students’ well being.

Finally, our conclusion. If you understand the story I tell, you will leave with an awareness as to what accounts for best practice in terms of educating. You will also have a greater clarity as to how you can work to ensure that you are always educating yourself. And, you will



Chapter One: Understanding


Where to start? Where to start? Perhaps a good place to start my story is with a story. Stories always reveal something to us. Maybe we can learn something about schooling and education from something that I experienced a number of years ago. After sharing my little story with you, we will poke around at what EDUCATION might mean. Given that this is a Foundations of Education class, we should try to be clear on what education means. Shouldn’t we?

The Three Branches of Government Story


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?




7. Why do you think that a teacher would ask that a young student memorize something like the three branches of government? What do you see as problem with this sort of situation? 



What do you think about my three branches of government story? I imagine you experienced something similar at one time or another. I think, after hearing the story of the child and the three branches of government, we would agree that understanding is important — especially given that the child could state the three branches of government but didn’t understand what they meant. Do the ‘Foundations of Education’ have something to do with understanding?

Furthermore, I think it would be fair to say that if we are not getting the education we need in school, we should take it upon ourselves to educate ourselves. If we don’t, we may be left out of future opportunities.


Sometimes it is wise to ensure that we are educating ourselves.


There was a time, when I first started teaching graduate students (teachers), that I would have them write a philosophy of education paper. Being a philosopher myself it seemed natural to me that teachers would be clear on their philosophy of education. But it didn’t take me long to realized, after reading many educational philosopher papers, that students had not distinguished any difference between schooling and education. I kept receiving philosophy of schooling papers. Students were not talking about education, they were talking about schooling and making the presumption that what schooling was education are the same thing. But are they? I have met lots of people who didn’t spend much time in school but were reasonably well educated. And, I have met many people who spent a great deal of time in school but didn’t seem to be very well educated. Why is that?



Where should we start in our endeavor of becoming well educated and fine future teachers?

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?


8. There seems to be a problem in the way the dictionary seems to be defining education. What is the problem or shortcoming?



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 is a distinction between education and schooling.



I don’t know how we can go on in our story without having a clearer sense of what education might mean? If you ask ten different teachers what education means, I bet you will get a number of different answers?


Education Defined


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 they 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 foundation of education is ‘understanding’. And schooling, if it is concerned with educating, has to contribute to the development understanding.



9. How does Dr. Barrow define education?

10. Dr. Barrow emphasizes understanding over knowledge. Why?

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



Summary of Chapter One

‘Understanding’ gives us a foundation from which to explore and talk about education and schooling. Disregarding the importance of understanding would be similar to the chemist disregarding the importance of atoms. ‘Understanding’  is the basis of everything we do in terms of education and schooling — or at least it should be. Regardless of the purpose of schooling — whether intellectual, social, economic, or political — without ‘understanding’, we are little more than automatons restating what we have been told. Without ‘understanding’ we risk being uninformed technicians, or worse, indoctrinated and obedient to other people’s agendas. Being educated is having a depth and breadth of understanding.

As a teacher, if I want my students to know something, its because I want them to understand the bigger picture. If I want my students to be able to do something, its because ‘that doing’ fits in to a larger context. By demonstrating that students can do something within that larger context, they are demonstrating their ‘understanding.’

So according to my story, when it is all said and done, ‘understanding’ is the foundation of what we are trying to accomplish when we are educating.






Chapter Two: Context Confers Meaning


‘Understanding’ takes place within a context —  a set of facts or circumstances that surround or envelop a situation or event. The word context comes from Latin meaning ‘joining together or weaving together.’

You can’t be told some obscure statement and claim to have an understanding if it is not couched in a familiar context. You can’t be told the three branches of government and be expected to make sense of of what that means without sufficient context (or background understanding). It is only when a statement, or thing, or object, is woven into a web of other familiar things that we begin to understand.

I am sure you have heard the statement, “they took it out of context.”


Our Story Continues

It is one thing to throw around the word ‘understanding’. But really, what does that mean? ‘Understanding’ seems illusive. It is difficult to pin down. Why is that? I have come to know that context has a great deal to do with that. Let me share this important idea with you. It will become part of our story.

Context. Did you hear me say context? This is huge! If we understand the role of context, we will come to see why ‘understanding’ is difficult to pin down.  Let me include another story within our story. It is the story of Bill and Mrs. Jones. The point to be made with this short story is this: Context Confers Meaning. By the end of this chapter you will feel just how important context is in articulating ‘understanding.’ Did you notice I said feel?


This story is about Bill and Mrs. Jones. You won’t believe what is about to happen!

Have you ever heard this song before? Have a listen. Close your eyes and imagine what is going on here. Because after you listen to this song, I am going to tell you a story that might just change the way you think about student-teacher relationships. The song will help put things in create the context for you. Have a listen. Feel the rhythm. The romance. The intrigue.


Me and Mrs. Jones

Me and Mrs. Jones, we got a thing going on
We both know that it’s wrong
But it’s much too strong to let it go now

We meet every day at the same cafe
Six-thirty, I know she’ll be there
Holding hands, making all kinds of plans
While the jukebox plays our favorite song

Me and Mrs., Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones
We got a thing going on
We both know that it’s wrong
But it’s much too strong to let it go now

We gotta be extra careful
That we don’t build our hopes too high
‘Cause she’s got her own obligations, and so do I
Me and Mrs., Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones

Well, it’s time for us to be leaving
And it hurts so much, it hurts so much inside
And now she’ll go her way, I’ll go mine
But tomorrow we’ll meet at the same place, the same time
Me and Mrs., Mrs., Mrs. Jones
(Same place)
We both know that it’s wrong
(Same time)
Everyday at the same place
(Same place)
We got a thing going on, you know it’s wrong
(Same time)
But it’s much too wrong
(Same place)
Me and Mrs. Jones

I don’t know about you, but I would like to know exactly what Bill means by “a thing, going on.” But I digress.



So you have listened to the song. Now for the story. But before I tell you the story, I want to tell you the moral of the Bill and Mrs. Jones story. I know that might seem a bit backward, but I am pretty sure you are going to appreciate the moral even more as you listen to the what I have to say.

The moral of the Bill and Mrs. Jones story is this: Context confers meaning.

What does this mean — context confers meaning? It means that things have meaning depending on the context in which they exist. I have to stress this. It is vitally important as we continue our story of the Foundations of Education. But before we take this nugget of insight — that context confers meaning — I will share the story of Bill and Mrs. Jones with you so that you can really feel what this means. Did you notice I said ‘feel’ again? This is the story of Bill and Mrs. Jones. After this story, you will feel what I mean when I say context confers meaning.


Context Confers Meaning


Imagine: we sit across from our friend in a restaurant listening to her talk about Bill and Mrs. Jones.

“Bill is going out with Mrs. Jones,” our friend says. “What do you mean?” we respond.

And there it is. In that brief instant we wonder, and we ask the question, “What do you mean?” (Children use this all the time: they say, “why?” But of course, we are not children). We ask the question “what do you mean?” Here is the moment in time that something just happened and our response was to wonder and question about Bill and Mrs. Jones. It is an experience that we all have. We know the feeling and we know the look when others wonder what we mean by something we say. It is fascinating, the moment of wonder and a desire for clarification. We search for clarity. When the question is satisfied, our brain gets a small dose of dopamine. And that feels good. We know the clarity comes from ‘somewhere’. It is that ‘somewhere’ that is particularly interesting.

Why didn’t we just respond, “Oh ya? So Bill is dating Mrs. Jones. So what?” Well, of course at times we do. At times we are told something and there seems to be little need to question or wonder. Sometimes acceptance of our traditions do this to us. We can even get so complacent and lacking in wonder that we simply wait to be told everything. But when that happens, how engaged are we? How curious are we? But in this case, when we were told about Bill and Mrs. Jones, we did wonder. “Bill and Mrs. Jones?!” we exclaimed. We felt it. The surprise. Perhaps the disbelief. We couldn’t help but wonder, and request further clarification. Something had to be clarified. Perhaps something was not right. Perhaps something was . . . . (and before we could finish our thought) . . . “Yes,” our friend replies. “Bill is ‘going out’ with Mrs. Jones.”

“Not ‘going out’? we exclaim.

“Yes, ‘going out.” The words hit us hard, unexpectedly. We look around the restaurant, as if this might be something others should not hear. Maybe there were family members or friends within earshot. Perhaps we felt that this should not be publicly advertised.

Why were we surprised? Why did we wonder? Something must have been unusual. If there seems to be something so out of the ordinary we might respond: “Going out? “What do you mean going out?” Perhaps this new development doesn’t seem to fit in with the narrative we already have of Bill and Mrs. Jones.

What is it that engages us? Why do children feel the need to know something? When do we feel the need to know something? Are we trying to make sense of story we are creating in our mind? Are we trying to create a narrative so that we can make sense of things?

As you go about your day, when do you ask why? Why did you ask why? What makes you particularly curious?

“Tell me the details,” we say to our friend, The details are, of course, that background context. Perhaps the hidden background context that we know is there but we need to know the details so that our friend’s statements make sense. We want to know that background context to make meaning of what we are hearing about Bill and Mrs. Jones. Background context confers meaning.

Well if you are wondering why we might be so curious and surprised. I mean, as you listened to my story, you probably wondered what would be such a big deal about Bill going out with Mrs. Jones. You have probably formulated a background contest in your own mind so that you could make sense of this story. But I bet this wasn’t the background context you wee thinking. You see I should should tell you, Bill is Mrs. Jones’ high school student.

Whoa!  You probably felt that. And they had a thing going on? That changes everything, doesn’t it?

Of course it does. You see, context confers meaning. Things mean something because of the context in which they are made intelligible. In other words, things are intelligible to us because of the context in which they (and we) exist. Bill and Mrs. Jones are not simply two independent discrete (meaning separate) objects that can be defined independent of context and who they are.

What may have initially seemed unproblematic to you, as you hear the story changes significantly when we learn that Bill is Mrs. Jones’ high school student. That one statement — that Bill is Mrs. Jones’ high school student — changed how we perceived the situation. The context changed what the ‘thing going on’ means.

Try listening to the song again. Because of the change in context, the change in meaning is significant.

But wait, there’s more! We shouldn’t jump to conclusions! We should ensure we know the context.

It is true, Bill is Mrs. Jones’ high school student. But I forgot to mention that Mrs. Jones was teaching a high school class for seniors. I don’t mean 12th grade seniors. I mean senior citizens. You see, Bill lives in Shady Oak Senior’s Center, he is 72 years old, and he never completed high school. Mrs. Jones, a member of the group ‘High School For Senior Citizens’ (HSFSC–for some reason acronyms add legitimacy to what we do) went every Monday afternoon, just after lunch, to Shady Oaks to teach 12th grade subjects.  Bill, was one of the students. Mrs. Jones, whose husband passed away 15 years ago is in her mid 60s. Out of respect for her husband she still goes by the name of Mrs. Jones. Bill has also been single for many years. The two, by a remarkable stroke of luck, met each other. What we have here is not a sordid indiscretion but rather a romantic love story. Two people who really needed some love, care, and romance in their lives found each other.

What we have here is an obvious example of the power of context. The context of the situation brings meaning to the events.

As much as I like wondering about Bill and Mrs. Jones, our purpose is understanding schooling and education–not the love interest between a teacher and her student. But perhaps we can learn something important from these changes in context: experiences are meaningful as a result of the context in which they exist.

Questions Chapter Two

1. Why did we get such a different feeling about Bill and Mrs. Jones’ relationship as the story progressed? What were the specific insights that we gained regarding the context that changed how we perceived the Bill and Mrs. Jones’ situation?

The Structure of Background Context

If background confers meaning, is there some way that we might structure our explorations into background context?


Mama Davila’s Cupcakes — Another story in my story


You may be wondering why I am standing here in a bakery kitchen. Well, I want to use Mama Davila’s Cupcakes as an example to help you understand a model, that we can use, to begin to tease apart some of the strands that make up the foundations of education and schooling.

I happen to like bakery goods, and I definitely like Mama Davila’s Cupcakes, so I think cupcakes might be a good place to begin to learn how we can understand foundations. By the time I am finished, you will begin to understand a framework that we can use to explore education and schooling, but I also want to share this framework with you so that you will be able to use it as you take control of your own education.

We want to get a handle on the foundations of education and schooling. But it would probably be wise to start with some simple examples and work our way up to schooling and education. So let’s start with a simple artifact,

I want to show you four causal modalities that brought this cup into being. At first there was nothing, and then there was cup. What are the four causes that brought it into being? (Or, what allowed it to be invented we might say. Regardless, It arrived. It came into being. Here it is. It was invented by someone. There are at least four causal modalities in the model I am about to share. A purpose. Material, Form, and a person. It has a purpose. What would that be? Well, the purpose of the cup is to hold, contain, or cup liquid. That’s the purpose. It is made of materials. This one is made of glass, or clay. That’s the material. It has a particular form. It is about the size of two cupped hands, easy to hold, and it contains the liquid without the liquid seeping out. That’s the form. And there is a person involved here as well. There is the person who made the cup or invented the cup. All of those causal modalities have to have been in play for the cup to have been invented, or to come into being. No purpose, no cup. No Material, no cup. No form, no cup. No inventor, no cup.

Take a look around your room right now. Pick out any one object. Now ask yourself, or say to yourself, “This object exists because ______. Or, this object was invented because _____. Now see if you can fill in the blanks — what is the purpose? What is the material? What is the form? And who make it? When you start to fill in the blanks, you are beginning to reveal the foundations of why something exists. You are starting to reveal the foundations of why something was invented. Keep in mind, though, this is a start. We will fine tune this causal frame as we go. But this is a start.

Now, as I said, both schooling and education are complicated. So, before we jump into the complexities of education and schooling, let’s look at another subject and develop our frame. Let the cupcake be our guide.

Here is the story. Mrs. Davila owns a very successful cupcake business. Her business is called Mama Davila’s Cupcakes. One afternoon I had the chance to visit with Mrs. Davila and ask her about her business.

“So how did you come up with the idea for your cupcake business?” I asked.

“Well,” she replied, “When I was preparing my son’s birthday party, I knew beforehand that some of his friends had different sorts of food allergies. And I knew that a couple of kids were fussy eaters. And I just wanted everyone to be happy. You know, for my son’s sake. And it isn’t as much fun if some of the children can’t eat the birthday cake. I went down to our local bakery and looked for a cake that everyone could eat. I couldn’t find one. I have to say, at that moment, I felt frustrated, and a bit disheartened. And then I saw a shelf of muffins. A whole variety. Some for vegans, some for people needing to avoid peanuts, some were chocolate, oatmeal, vanilla, you name it. So it dawned on me, rather than finding the perfect cake that everyone could eat, I would make beautifully decorated muffin-sized cakes that everyone COULD eat. Each one could be personalized. And what is a muffin-sized cake. A cupcake. Well, needless to say, I made them, and the children loved them. My business grew from there.

Let’s prepare our frame. Purpose, Materials, Form, Person (the maker) Mrs. Davila, the inventor, had a purpose — the purpose? To feed every child. Thus, the cupcake. Materials: She was influenced by the ingredients. Why the particular ingredients or materials? To accommodate each child’s particular nutritional needs. Form: Why the particular form of a cupcake? They were individually sized, could be eaten by hand. Thus the form. There we have it. A purpose, materials, a form, and the person to put it all together. You might think of each of these, the person, the purpose, the materials, the form, as a because, or a be-cause. Each is a causal modality. All have to be in place to bring the cupcake into being. Voila, a cupcake. It has arrived. We can’t remove any one of the causes. If we do, no more Mrs. Davila’s Cupcakes.

We have outlined, in a very preliminary way, the foundation of Mama Davila’s Cupcake. I asked Mrs. Davila about her business. I was curious about the foundations of her business. She talked about her business model. She talked about profits, her sales team, customer satisfaction, her employee satisfaction and healthy work environment. She also told me about the commercial kitchen she just moved into. And also how she has been packaging and shipping her cupcakes. We can put this business model into our causal frame. At the center of our frame is Mrs. Davila’s Business. The purpose: to create the cupcakes, to feed individual eaters, for a profit. The person who makes this happen: Mrs. Davila. The materials: of course the ingredients, the commercial kitchen, office space, employees. All of these parts of the business make up the materials of the business. Finally we have The form of the business: the business is listed by the state as a corporation. The form is a food production and distribution model. The form is also one that Mrs. Davila refers to as a family-oriented business. “It is small enough that I think of my employees as family,” she says. If we were to remove any one of these causal modalities — purpose, materials, form, person, Mrs. Davila’s business would not exist as it does. It is, like it is, because all of these causal modalities work together to make the business what it is.

So, we have two different frames. The cupcake frame and the business frame. While they may appear to be quite independent of each other, they do influence each other. The cupcake frame tells the business frame, Do not ever lose sight of me. I am the reason you exist. The business frame has to alway keep the cupcake frame in mind. The business frame says to itself, We must remain faithful to the cupcake as Mrs. Davila first envisioned it. So both frames influence each other. Each contribute to the foundation of Mama Davila’s Cupcakes. Let the Cupcake be our guide.


2. Why is understanding the Purpose, Materials, Form, Person (the maker) so important in understanding Mrs. Davilas’ cupcake business?


Context and Frames

What do the stories of Bill and Mrs. Jones, and Mama Davila’s Cupcakes have to do with schooling and education? Let me see if I can explain the connections.

I started chapter two with a story that demonstrated the importance of context. The context of any situation is meaningful depending on the context. The meaning of “going out” changed significantly as soon as the context of who Bill and Mrs. Jones were. When we had the impression that Bill might be Mrs. Jones’ young high school student, the fact that they were ‘going out’ seemed very inappropriate. As soon as we learned that Bill was a senior citizen, ‘going out’ took on a very different meaning. The context changed, and so did the meaning of of the situation.

This is going to be very important for us to understand as we work to develop our own understanding of schooling. The context in which schooling activities take place confer meaning on what and how we do things in school. If, for example ‘efficiency’ becomes an important part of the context, then what we do in schools will be influenced greatly by practices that are meaningful within contexts that privilege efficiency. If ranking students becomes an important part of the context, then we will find that many activities, such as grading, become meaningful within contexts that emphasize the importance of ranking students.

We will continue to keep an eye on background context as we move forward.

In the story of Mama Davila’s Cupcakes, I articulated a simple framework — that of a cup and a business — the framework helps us visualize how things are invented or how things come into existence. Using this framework will help us take any schooling artifact or method and begin to talk about it and analyze it.

I would like to demonstrate how the four-causal-modality frame and show you how we can put a simple framework into action. In the Mama Davila’s Cupcake story you heard about four causal modalities: Purpose, Person, Form, and Material. You will notice as we go along here that Purpose, Person, Form, and Material, will be in play.


Causal Modality Frame

This is where it gets really interesting. This is the idea that there are things going on in our language and our beliefs that we don’t really think about but without these ways of thinking, our schooling practices wouldn’t make any sense. In fact, we wouldn’t do certain things in school without these hidden background beliefs and understandings. We wouldn’t have the artifacts that fill up our schools if we didn’t have these background understandings. We could call that stuff that is going on without our direct thought The Hidden Background Context. It is not really hidden. We simply accept the background context with little question. For example, you might ask a teacher why students sit in desks, line up, do worksheets, grade students, take attendance, have 45 minutes for math, etc. etc. Many of our activities go unquestioned. “We have always done it that way,” we might hear when questioning why some procedure is followed. There is a context that encourages us to follow certain practices. The context, though not necessarily hidden, resides in the background giving meaning to our practices.

That’s Why We Wonder. Really, why?

When we wonder, we can begin to understand the hidden background context that has us do what we do. Now, notice we are referring to this as a context and not a cause. The context does not provide a direct ’cause-and-effect’ relationship, The context is much broader, encompassing many different causes or influences. The context might be thought of as the unconscious rules that govern our behavior. ‘Rules’ might even be too strong a term. There is background context that we are aware of, and there is background context that we might not be aware of. Perhaps we should simply say that this hidden background context is our unconscious ways of thinking, our unconscious beliefs, or our unconscious ways of being. This context might involve one’s biology, bodily tendencies, history, current circumstances, social dynamics, etc. All of these different aspects might well play a role in bringing about an individual’s, or a group of individuals’ actions. No single cause and effect but rather a context. We aren’t always aware of the background context that influences our actions. But, as as story continues, we will continue to get a better idea of what that hidden background context might be.

Feeling a bit confused by all of this? Don’t worry. I guarantee that it will become clearer in time. The idea of multiple causes or influences aren’t something we talk about all that often — especially after the Enlightenment. But we will address that later. Let’s push forward.


Aristotle, more than 2000 years ago, talked about multiple causes.

Aristotle. take it away:

Aristotle: The Four Causes

We call a cause (1) that from which (as immanent material) a thing comes into being, e.g. the bronze of the stature and the silver of the saucer, and the classes which include these. (2) The form or pattern, (i.e. the formula of the essence, causes of the octave) and the parts of the formula. (3) That from which the change or the freedom from change first begins, e.g. the man who has deliberated is a cause, and the father a cause of the child, and in general the maker a cause of the thing made and the change-producing or changing. (4) The end, i.e. that for the sake of which a thing is, e.g. health is the cause of walking. For why does one walk? We say “in order that one may be healthy,” and in speaking thus we think we have given the cause. [1013a24 – 35]




Sure enough. For something to come into being, according to Aristotle, would require a material cause (what the object is made of), a formal cause (the form of the object), an efficient cause (someone making the object) and a final cause (the purpose for even having the object. Not as broad as context, but certainly the implication is there.



How Something Comes Into Being  or How Something is Created From Nothing

Let’s use Aristotle’s example of the Statue

Imagine, some people thought that it would be nice to beautify the local park. “Perhaps a statue of some sort would be nice,” one of the people said. Then a second piped up and said, “My aunt Sally is an artist. I will talk with her.” And so the saga started. We know the purpose, and the person.



So Sally the sculptor was consulted and was told that a group of people were interested in beautifying the local park. The group was thinking of a statue of some sort.


Sally and the group started talking. It was decided that a statue of a horse might be nice. So now we have the person (Sally the Sculptor), the purpose (a statue to beautify the park) and what the form of the statue will be (a horse). We have the Purpose, the Person, and the Form.


Sally was an excellent stone carver, so she suggested the material the statue would be made from would be stone. Good choice I thought. Thankfully Sally wasn’t an ice sculptor.


So, as we can see, a number of causal modalities were responsible for the statue coming into being. Without any one of the four causes the horse sculpture, in its present state, would not have come into being.

Aristotle referred to these four causes as the Final Cause, the Efficient Cause, the Material Cause, and the Formal Cause. We will do just fine starting out with Purpose, Person, Material, and Form.


The Cup

Let’s try another example using the cup

Imagine a time before cups. A person got tired of trying to always drink by cupping her hands together and drawing water up out of a stream.

I would like to cup water without using my hands, the person thought.

I think I could create something that is in the shape of my cupped hands — a cup shape.

The person who wanted to draw out water from the stream wondered what a good material would be to gather water to drink. She had an abundance of trees all around, so the though, I will carve my cup out of wood.

Voila, a cup is born.



3. Now it is your turn to make a causal modality frame. Pick a familiar object in your school or in your home and develop a causal modality frame, similar to what I did above. We will keep this first one simple. 


These frames are interesting, but how will these causal modality frames help us understand education and schooling?

Even though we are still learning about these frames, in the near future we will be using these frames to see how schooling artifacts and methods come into being. For example, lesson plans, standardized testing, textbooks, worksheets, seating plans, administrative hierarchies, etc. were all invented by someone. Our frames will show us how that happens.

Let’s Add Another Dimension

Phenomenological Variations — How frames connect

You are probably familiar with the Necker Cube. If you focus view on A you will see the top of the cube. If you focus your view on B, the bottom of the cube will come forward. When we see it one way, that is one variation of the way we can see the cube. When we see it another way, that is a second variation on the way we can see the cube. By the time this lesson is over, I will show you two variations of food products. But not yet. We must be patient.


Let us imagine that one situation might appear one way if the causal modalities were of one sort, and the situation might appear another way if the causal modalities are of another sort.

For example, let us say that we drew a tea cup on the blue side of the cube. The purpose was to drink tea, the material was ceramic, the person was someone who wanted to have a cup that was representative of an elegant setting, and the form was a cup shape with a delicate handle.

But what if we changed the purpose or the material or the form. We might get a slightly different cup.  Let us say that the purpose was to measure flour for making bread. When the Purpose changes to measuring rather than drinking, the cup might well take on another form. This time Purpose requires standardization of volume. The form might be the same (a form that allows for containment, though the cup might have a handle that would be suitable for dipping the cup into that which we are measuring.  We would see a variational shift from the tea cup (on the blue side) to the measuring cup (on the pink side).





What I am showing you here is simply an way of thinking about different variations that occur when the purpose, or the materials, or the forms, or the people change. The purpose, form, and materials might have similarities, but there may be something that changes the situation to mean something quite different. I will show this again to you below.

But now let me give you an example so that you can see these variations in action.

Restaurant Variations

I am now going to contrast two different worlds — the world of sushi, and the world of the fast food hamburger. I use restaurant examples when I introduce these ideas because I know you are familiar with restaurants so the results will be obvious. The reason I am doing this is this will demonstrate how different Purposes, Materials, Forms, or People will create a context that brings particular things into being. Understanding this will help us make further connections to schooling practices when we begin looking at the way different Purposes, Materials, Forms and People bring meaning to school artifacts and activities.


Let me repeat this: Understanding the following restaurant variations will help us understand how a change in Purpose, Materials, Forms and People bring meaning to artifacts and activities. These obvious examples will help us understand the way our causal frameworks can inform our understanding of schooling environments and practices.


Let’s start with Sushi

Remember, context confers meaning. You will see how aspects of the background context will help shape very different sorts of products.


Let me share with you the World of the Sushi Master. (I deliberately say world here because we can think of contexts as worlds). We have the World of the Sushi Master, the World of the carpenter, the World of the teacher, the World of the soccer player, etc. Just different ways of living. Here are a couple of clips to give you an idea of the context. We will use what we note in these video clips to develop our frames.


A Day In The Life Of A Sushi Master • Tasty


Jiro Dreams of Sushi (11/11) Movie CLIP – Always Elevate Your Craft (2011) HD


Always strive to elevate your craft. I like that.


Let’s create our frame:


We start with our framework and we can fill in the person — our Sushi Chef, and the purpose — feeding people in the traditional form of sushi. Notice also that I have included the saying ‘for-the-sake-of’ by Purpose. When wondering what your purpose is you can always say to yourself, ‘we are doing this for the sake of . . . . .’. I am doing this for the sake of beautifying the park. I am doing this for the sake of feeding the hungry. I am doing this to get an ‘A’. (But don’t say that in front of Mr. Kohn).



The Purpose and the person are connected here. The person starts with the purpose. “What is my purpose?”




The form is probably the next thing to think about. The Sushi Chef knows the purpose. The way the feeding will be presented will be the form. Of course Material might also come into play as we noticed in the video clip. The form might change depending on the available sea food.



All four aspects, or causes, come into play as the thinking and making take place.


And, out of nowhere, right out of nothing, a Sushi comes into being. (I know there is a name for this, but I am not well versed in Sushi).




Let’s incorporate some background into our frame

Of course there is more in the hidden background that comes into play. As you watched the video on the Sushi Chef you heard a variety of things that provided the context to this. But this is a start.

Notice how the Purpose, Material, Form and Person are all influenced by the background context. Take a close look at those background aspects. We will make great use of our ability to reveal background context when we examine schooling and education.



Let’s Talk McDonald’s

Now let’s take a similar purpose, feeding people, but this time we will see just how background context can influence the final product. We will, in a sense, see a shift from one side of the cube to another. Or, another way of saying this, we will see a different variation, or a variational shift.


We have a similar purpose — feeding people, and yet the context can create very different forms and experiences for all involved.

Here we will use the Big Mac as another food item that has come into being. Let’s start by looking at the following two videos.


Real Egg Crackdown | McDonald’s


Why is it that an egg cracking competition seems appropriate in this context and is would seem very odd to think of having a sushi making speed context in the previous clips?


How It’s Made | The McDonalds Big Mac


Let’s develop our frame:

Here the purpose is, as with the Sushi example, to feed people. And like the Sushi example, we have a cook, materials, and form. But notice the how the background context confers meaning on what comes into being. The Big Mac comes into being because of the context. And the Big Mac makes sense within this context.

On the other hand, the Sushi World, the World of the Sushi Chef would not come up with a Big Mac. It just wouldn’t make sense. All the pieces are not in place.

The only problem that might arise is if the Sushi Chef walked into a McDonalds looking for a job. I don’t think he or she would be very happy. And I don’t think a customer would be very happy walking into the Sushi restaurant hoping to get a quick high caloric meal that she could eat while driving home from work.

We should be clear that I am not saying that one is better than the other. They both serve their particular purposes. They both have their own contexts. Each context suits the pursuit. Each food creation is, in a sense, a different variation of the other. Almost like two sides of the Necker Cube.



4. Compare the sushi frame and the Big Mac frame. What are the primary differences between the purposes of each frame?

5. When we compare the sushi frame and the Big Mac frame, what are the primary differences between the Person causal modalities of each frame?



If we were to look into the Purpose, Person, Materials, and Form of pancakes from the Pancake House Restaurant, we could add another variation to our cube.



There would be just enough change in context that would account for each different variation.


6. Hopefully you are starting to get a sense of how we can depict human made artifacts with a causal modality frame. I would like you now to create a second causal modality frame. This time pick out a common object or artifact in your home or classroom and include the four causal modalities. However, this time add some additional background context that clearly influences each causal modality. (I included additional background context in green text in the sushi and Big Mac example above). 


Summary of Chapter Two: Context Confers Meaning

We started with the idea that being educated is having a depth and breadth of understanding. Then we wondered what ‘understanding’ was. Our initial story of Bill and Mrs. Jones revealed to us that understanding takes place within a context. Each time Bill and Mrs. Jones’ context changed, our understanding of the situation changed. Context confers meaning.

Context comes from Latin meaning joining together or weaving together. You can’t be told some obscure statement and have an understanding of the statement. We can’t be told that Bill is going out with Mrs. Jones and have a reasonable understanding of what that means. It is only when that thing or statement is woven into a web of other ‘things’ that we begin to understanding. You have heard the statement, “they took it out of context.” That is saying that that which the took out of context is not longer woven in with the other pieces that, contextually, confers meaning. So we know that the set of facts or circumstances that surround or envelop a situation or event gives meaning to the situation in question.

I then shared with you a causal modality frame that we can use to allow us to have a better sense of how context confers meaning. I wanted you to see just how important context is and the role that context plays in our understanding. I deliberately chose two restaurants to show how the change in context creates different environments and different products.

What does this have to do with school?

If the primary role of schooling is to help students ‘understand,’ then it would seem that schools should support ‘understanding.’ And to support understanding would necessitate ensuring that students have knowledge (or understanding) of the causal modalities.

When we think back to the child learning about the three branches of government and consider the causal modalities encountered by the child, we will find a very stark rendition.


Look at how the context created an environment that justifies having the child memorizing and stating statements. The purpose is to perform will on the test. The materials used were worksheets and definitions. The form was memorized statements.

I think we all agree that there is something wrong with this picture.


Questions Anyone? Coffee Break One


Here you go, Some non-caffeinated Hibiscus tea.

Can you talk just a little bit about what you see as most important in this class?

Sure. Well this is a foundations of education class. And the Foundation of ‘education’ is what? Well I argue that the foundation of education is developing a depth and breadth of understanding. Being educated is founded on achieving a depth and breadth understanding. If you are developing a depth and breadth of understanding that shows indications that you are being educated. And, if schools are to concern themselves with education, which we would presume they are, schooling would be focussed on developing student understanding. That’s not to say that there can’t be a variety of purposes of schooling. Some people may think that you go to school to get a job, or to become an educated citizen, etc. But, the necessary aspect behind everything is to ensure that students are developing a depth and breadth of understanding. We could, of course argue what that understanding should be about, but that is a different question.

So how about teachers, what’s their role in all of this then? Most of your students are wanting to become teachers.

Well a teacher’s primary role is to educate. Thus they must concern themselves with the advancement of student understanding first and foremost. They must concern themselves with educating students. That probably seems blatantly obvious. But when we examine schools, we find that in many ways, the advancement of understanding is overlooked. The institution often demands something of teachers that does not have to do with developing students’ depth and breadth of understanding. It may have to do with socializing students in some way, or even indoctrinating students in some types of beliefs. And of course we are concerned with our students’ overall well being — as teachers we may feel compelled to address our students’ social needs, and emotional needs, etc. But, if a teacher is not educating, or developing students’ depth and breadth of understanding, they are not fulfilling their role as educator. And, as we will find as we work through our course, there are many institutional practices in place that hinder a teacher’s ability to address students’ depth and breadth of understanding. But even when that is the case, even when teachers face institutional or political obstacles, they still find a way to shift the focus toward student understanding.You will find that good teachers are highly attuned to the ways students achieve understanding.

Teachers, lacking a sensitivity to the way students come to understand, are mediocre at best, and not fulfilling their responsibility as a teacher. It would be like a chef who has little concern for the flavors of food. He or she might be able to put together a meal by following a recipe, but by not being attuned to the nuances of the experience of eating, the nuances of flavor and taste, they will never rise to the level of head chef. I’m not even sure a good short order cook would do well disregarding the importance of flavor and taste. So the foundation of being a chef is to be highly sensitive to flavors and taste, and the actual experience of eating? Yes, I am saying that. A chef has to be highly sensitive to flavor and taste.And, also to the way people experience food and eating. This is foundational. That is part of what makes a chef a chef. Of course there are many skills a chef must learn, such as using utensils and cooking equipment, understanding the chemical processes that occur when foods are heated, combining ingredients, and so on. But these skills exist, or are in place, as a means of satisfying, in some way, the chef’s concern for the experience of eating. I think of fine teachers as exhibiting a sensitivity to understanding and the experience of learning much like the chef who has a sensitivity to flavors and the experience of eating.

You said that you think that is important that students educate themselves.

Yes. Think of the chef as an example. The chef embodies a sensitivity to food. They don’t just turn on or off their interest depending on whether or not they are in the restaurant. This sensitivity is part of who they are. Invite a chef into your own kitchen and ask them to cook you an omelet. Watch and listen. They will demonstrate a concern and sensitivity to even the simplest of meal. That is who they are. They are attuned to the nuances of flavors, food and eating. Similarly, the exceptional teacher is attuned to understanding. They embody the importance of understanding. We sometimes sense it in what we call passion. The teacher embodies a concern for understanding. They can’t help but be interested in learning and understanding. Let’s say you go over to your friend’s house and her mom happens to be a teacher. The next thing you know, your friend’s mom is trying to teach you something. You’re thinking to yourself, do we have to do school on Saturday. But importantly, exceptional teachers are also deliberately developing their own understandings as well as the understandings of their students.

Is that why you want your students to educate themselves?

If a student doesn’t have an interest in becoming educated, and I know many students don’t know how to educate themselves, but if they show little interest in becoming educated, that is developing a depth and breadth of understanding, they surely won’t do a good job of helping their future students develop understanding. As an example, I can’t think of any great coach who didn’t have a passion for the game. They may not have been the best players, but they became excellent coaches. Why would we think for a moment that a teacher who exhibited little passion for the development of understanding, would be a very influential teacher? The student who demonstrates to me, a curiosity, inquisitiveness, wonderment, a desire to figure things out, asks probing questions, works to formulate distinctions and clarity of thought, shows interest — I can tell that they are on the right track to becoming a fine educator, because they are educating themselves. They might not be the best test takers, they might not have the highest GPA, but they will be, because of who they are as learners, good role models for their own future students. They will model what it takes to become educated. Being educated is having a depth and breadth of understanding. My students, by educating themselves, will be able to model how one develops a depth and breadth of understanding.

Can you explain a little bit about the importance of context? You have the story of Bill and Mrs. Jones. That makes a lot of sense. How is this important when we are studying the foundations of education?

Context is hugely important. We have gotten so used to going through our lives without examining the context that brings meaning to what we are doing. This is especially important in schools. It is easy to go about our schooling business without ever questioning why we do the things we do, or why we have the artifacts we have. We have to get in touch with that background context. It is the way into understanding what is really going on in schools. So is that why you have the frames — the four causal modalities? The four causal modality framework is just one way of helping us organize our thinking and explorations. It is a simple way to remind us that there is more to our schooling activities than any single cause-effect relationship. It helps us begin to see some of the many influences that are playing out in everything we do. We will add to our framework and include bodily experiences — but one step at a time. Regardless, once you start perceiving the many influences playing out in every school activity and artifact, you will never see schooling the same way again.

You used the examples of the sushi restaurant and McDonalds. Is there any reason you used those particular examples, besides the fact that you are especially fond of food.

I did deliberately use these two examples. You will notice that McDonalds is production oriented with an eye to efficiency. Our modern public schools have much in common with McDonalds, as we will see as we move forward. More tea?