Willamette Promise Week Two

 

Chapter Three: The Referential Whole

 

Context confers meaning was the statement. To me it is a powerful recognition of the complexity of our lived world.

I remember thinking about the idea of the way things were all connected together. I was working on my Master’s Degree at the University of Oregon. I had stumbled across a book by Shoshana Zuboff called The Age of the Smart Machine. In this book she talked about how we understand word processing. In her explanation she pointed out the many connections to all our artifacts that bring meaning to word processing. This seemed a rather novel idea at the time, but she wrote her book at a time when the use of micro computers were just becoming popular. Since that time I have given a lot of thought about these sorts of connections that help us bring meaning to our physical and conceptual artifacts. Mostly I have thought about it when reading Martin Heidegger’s discussion of ‘referential struture.” The idea goes something like this?

 

The Referential Whole

Let me give you an example. In doing so I will attempt to reenforce the importance of experience as well as helping us consider how we might actually incorporate some of these ideas into our teaching.

I was making the point that your bodily experience informed your understanding.

When you first see the object below, it likely has little meaning. You are probably trying to draw on some contextual aspects to help bring some meaning to the object. In terms of neurons, you are probably not firing a web of neurons that help you contextualize this object. Perhaps you are looking at its properties. Perhaps, you say, it is made of silver, it is shiny, with a pin extruding from a rectangular box. You are bringing past bodily experiences to bear on the object. You have felt silver objects. You know from experience that since the rod sticking out of the rectangular piece is not sagging, the rod must be somewhat solid. Of course you would want to pick it up to feel the weight of the object. It might be very light, made of light-weight plastic. (How many of you have walked into a Costco or Home Depot and found that a large heavy-looking terra cotta garden pot that is actually light and made of plastic?). And then how big is this object. Is it one inch, one foot, one hundred feet in length?

 

 

I thought this would be a good object for discussion because I am fairly confident you will not be familiar with this. It is unlikely that you have had any experience with one of these. I have only had a couple of classmates in the past say that they knew exactly what this is.

 

No thing meaningfully exists independent of context. And context is informed by bodily experience.

 

I have an arrow pointing to the object below with a red drawing around it.

 

We draw on context to make the object intelligible. But physical properties alone do not make the object intelligible. For the object to be intelligible we need to know more than simply its physical properties.

 

 

As we watch the repair person handling the tine, we can relate because we can have used our own hands in similar ways. The picking up is familiar, the turning and twisting is familiar. The setting down is familiar.

 

We are gaining more context. But let us not forget that the context of hammering and vibrating is informed by our bodily experience. Hammering and vibrations are experiences that we know with our bodies. We have neuronal cell assemblies that help us understand hammering and vibrating. Ask a child what the word ‘vibration’ means (assuming they are familiar with the word), and they are quite likely going to show you with their body. They mimic the feeling of vibration.

 

 

 

 

So as you can hear, the Fender Rhodes has a unique sound–a sound very common in the 70s and 80s. A little hammer hitting the tine gives the piano its unique sound. The tine is similar to a string on a regular piano. But because the Rhodes piano is small and portable, it doesn’t use four foot strings. It is made with short tines of various lengths. When a hammer hits the tine, it vibrates, giving the Fender Rhodes its particular sound.

To this point we have contextualize the tine in a rather small “referential” context. We now know it’s shape, its size, what it is used for, how it is used, and the way some musicians and listeners have experienced the tine.

But there is more context.

 

The Referential Whole = The Context

 

For the tine to have a depth and breadth of meaning, we would have to understand (to have experienced in some way and then re-enact) its place in its referential whole. The referential whole points to all the different aspects that give meaning to the object. These different aspects are neuronal webs developed from our past experiences. We might call this an equipmental context. Objects and events are part of an equipmental context. Equipment doesn’t just exist on its own. A hammer doesn’t just exist as a piece of wood with a iron blob on the end. It is not meaningful simply as a result of its qualities. A hammer is meaningful to us because of nails, wood, tasks, buildings, our purposes, our abilities and skills, etc. A hammer is related to a context, or an experiential background.

Furthermore, these aspects of the context are aspects of experience–stuff we have experienced with our bodies.

Like the hammer, the tine is not intelligible simply as an object with properties and within a single cause and effect relationship (hit the tine with a small felt tipped hammer and it will vibrate). This tine is meaningful because of a whole host of other aspects that give the tine meaning. Without music, without metal, without tones and harmonics, this tine would not exist for us as it does. Without our bodily experiences with these things, we would not have the neuronal webs firing to have the tine neuronal web fire in a ‘meaningful’ way.

We could make a whole series of connections to this tine. For example this tine owes its existence to (to name just a few):

 

the Fender company
previous conceptions of pianos
vibrations
tone
pick-ups
damper felts
music
the size of our fingers
the portability of the piano
the scale
piano keys
metal
tuning
oscillations
length
harmonics
tone
sustain
attack
screw drivers
nut drivers
the type of music to be played
artists who have used the Rhodes piano
songs that have the Rhodes sound
octaves
volume
tone bar
pitch
weight

 

For the tine to be meaningful, to really understand the tine, we must know more than simply knowing that it is hit by a padded piano hammer even though that is a rudimentary cause-effect relationship. Furthermore, this is just a quick list off the top of my head. Each one of these aspects could branch off into further references enlarging the ‘referential whole’ even more.

Our own personal web of relationships bring meaning to our tine. The more we know (the more we have experienced with out bodies) of the referential connections, the more meaningful the tine becomes. And, in terms of embodiment, each of those aspects that the tine points to (or point to the tine) have been made meaningful to us through our past bodily experience.

So there seems to be a depth and breadth of experience to our perception and understanding. Not only that, it seems that we can perceive and know very differently depending on what context we bring to the object. Perhaps you are someone who has memories of one of your parents putting on the records of Morris Goldberg or Bob James and hearing the Fender Rhodes in their music. You might associate the music with warm feelings, or a living room with your father listening to the songs. Personally, I remember getting home at 2:00 in the morning, back from playing gigs, and having to carry the 130 pound piano out of the van and into the house in icy January Canadian weather. I also remember a lot of great times playing the Rhodes with various musicians. So when I pick up a Rhodes tine, I bring a context to the experience that would be difficult to share.

My background will change what the tine means even though the tine’s physical properties remain the same. Just as the images in the example share the same light wave lengths, they can mean something very different depending on the background.

We can easily put together a simple Causal Modality Frame to help us visualize that which would contribute to a depth and breadth of understanding.

 

We can also judge schooling practices that do little to help students develop a depth and breadth of understanding.

 

Teaching the Third Grade Child About the Tine

If should be even more evident now that having a child state a definition, even if deemed to be correct, has little bearing on the depth and breadth of understanding achieved. Clearly the child could be taught to state, when asked what a Fender Rhodes tine is:

“A Fender Rhodes tine is the vibrating apparatus, that when struck by a felt-tipped hammer, vibrates to produce a pitched sound.”

You might be saying to yourself, “Yes, but who would ever do that?” And yet how often have you memorized definitions with little understanding? How often have you memorized things for a test and then forgotten what you memorized because you did not have a depth and breadth of understanding?

Questions Chapter Three

1. How would you explain the referential whole to someone who has never thought about this before?

2. Why would it be important for a teacher to be thinking about the referential whole whenever s/he is teacher something?

3. Pick a hobby, activity, or object that interests you. Now create a drawing of the referential whole to show the beginnings of the myriad of connections that help contextualize that in which you are interested. 

 

Summary

I like the example with the tine. The tine is unfamiliar enough that it seems to make sense that we understand an object by all the references we bring to it. And all of those references are a re-enactment of own neuronal webs.

So, where are we at in our story?

We stared with the recognition that being educated is having a depth and breadth of understanding.

Understanding takes place within context — context confers meaning.

We can create frames that help articulate the context in a visual way.

We can also talk about these contexts as a referential whole — parts and things connecting and referring to each other thus composing the context.

But just think, every object we “encounter” is made understandable by our bodily experiences and references. To continue our story, it will be important to consider how our bodies encounter and make sense of objects. On to chapter Four.

 

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Chapter Four: Sensing Bodies

I mentioned to you earlier that my research interest has been in the phenomenology of lived experience. Thus, I have always been curious how we experience the world in which we dwell. It seems very obvious to me that our experience is much more than cognitively knowing something. In fact, reducing experience to knowable statements, as schools sometimes do, seems to eliminate much of what makes our lives interesting and meaningful. I think you will agree that our story must bring our senses into consideration.

When it comes to our bodies, the school narrative has presented us with an incomplete story. The narrative is one that privileges vision. What does that mean? It means we talk about things as if we can see them, as objects, from a distance. We talk much less about the way we (teachers and students) feel. We call this a hegemony of vision. Hegemony comes from the Greek hegemon meaning “leader.” In other words, vision has become the leader or the protagonist in the story. The narrative also suggests that that which we experience comes from outside our heads. Even the narrative that was created about senses came from thinking about our senses as being triggered from outside our heads.

 

Remember Aristotle and the four causal modalities?

 

Aristotle would have had a different answer for Harry if Harry asked him the same question he posed to the Professor. When it came to the senses, Aristotle had high regard for thinking about how the ‘outside world’ had an effect on the body. And because of this, Aristotle handed down to us a way of thinking about the senses. In addition, he handed down the idea that the senses were quite passive, just waiting to be triggered or perturbed by the outside.

Here is what he said back in 350 B.C.E.

But coming now to the special senses severally, we may say that touch and taste necessarily appertain to all animals, touch, for the reason given in On the Soul, and taste, because of nutrition. It is by taste that one distinguishes in food the pleasant from the unpleasant, so as to flee from the latter and pursue the former: and savour in general is an affection of nutrient matter.

The senses which operate through external media, viz. smelling, hearing, seeing, are found in all animals which possess the faculty of locomotion. To all that possess them they are a means of preservation; their final cause being that such creatures may, guided by antecedent perception, both pursue their food, and shun things that are bad or destructive. But in animals which have also intelligence they serve for the attainment of a higher perfection. They bring in tidings of many distinctive qualities of things, from which the knowledge of truth, speculative and practical, is generated in the soul.

Of the two last mentioned, seeing, regarded as a supply for the primary wants of life, and in its direct effects, is the superior sense; but for developing intelligence, and in its indirect consequences, hearing takes the precedence. The faculty of seeing, thanks to the fact that all bodies are coloured, brings tidings of multitudes of distinctive qualities of all sorts; whence it is through this sense especially that we perceive the common sensibles, viz. figure, magnitude, motion, number: while hearing announces only the distinctive qualities of sound, and, to some few animals, those also of voice. indirectly, however, it is hearing that contributes most to the growth of intelligence. For rational discourse is a cause of instruction in virtue of its being audible, which it is, not directly, but indirectly; since it is composed of words, and each word is a thought-symbol. Accordingly, of persons destitute from birth of either sense, the blind are more intelligent than the deaf and dumb.

You might not know this, but Aristotle was hugely influential in the way philosophers thought about the way we experience the world. He was even more influential than Professor Dumbledore.  Seriously. If Aristotle and Professor Dumbledore had thumb wrestled, Aristotle would have won. But that is beside the point. Aristotle came up with four/five senses because of the way he thought that reality came from the outside and into the head. Thus, the senses responded to the world outside. Professor Dumbledore realized that our reality comes from the inside of our head. At least he acknowledged the importance of the world inside our bodies.

Let’s think about the way we sense the world. Think for a second on how you sensed the bike video while on the bike and contrast that when viewing from a distance. Your body felt something different. Especially if you have ever been on a motocross bike or mountain bike. On a dirt bike you will feel your hands in the gloves twisting the throttle. The straining sensations in your legs. The scent of the exhaust. The continual sense of feeling like you are working to maintain balance. All of these sensory feelings, coming from your background experiences, help you perceive the bike videos the way you do. From the inside out.

To have the background experiences you do, you previously experienced the world around you so that you could perceive and make sense of everything you encounter. Our senses are vital in developing our understandings. Nobody would believe that anyone could appreciate Mama Davila’s cupcakes had they not held, tasted, felt, smelled, cupcakes.

How many senses do we really have?

Perhaps a good place to start would be to ask ourselves just how many senses we do have? Aristotle thought four or five. You probably learned five in elementary school. Considering our senses in greater depth might give us some clues as to how schools treat bodies–especially if the school is only taking into account a limited number of our senses.

 

 

How many senses did you say? Surely not only five!

 

 

 

 

Proprioception is important, though it is not a sense that we think of very often. But what would it be like if you didn’t have proprioception? Here is the story of one man who doesn’t have proprioception. Just think of losing this sense that we take for granted.

 

Living Without Proprioception

 

Muscle Sensors (Part III) – An Intro to Proprioception 

 

 

Here is an example chart of how we might think of senses.

 

 

Questions Chapter Four

1. Please view the following video clips. In each clip, focus on the bodies and the way the bodies sense (experience) the world. From the clips you view, tell me at least one example of the five common senses: sight, touch, hearing, taste, smell. Also find at least one example of Pain, Mechanoreception, Temperature, or Interoceptors.  While it will be easy for you to find examples of each of these senses in each video clip. You do not need examples for each video clip. But do try to find at least one example of each of the senses of Sight, Touch, Hearing, Taste, Smell Pain, Mechanoreception, Temperature, and Interoceptor. This will strengthen your ability to recognize the variety of senses we experience in our lives. 

Let me mention one thing about Mechanoreception. This term is one that might give you some trouble. You will have noticed lots of examples of Mechanoreception in the bike videos: we see Mechanoreception with the riders being accelerated, balancing themselves, and continually using their muscles and joints. 

 

The Bridgertons: Official Trailer

 

Dune: Official Trailer

 

Before I Fall: Official Trailer

 

The Hate U Give

 

Eighth Grade Official Trailer

 

All The Bright Places

 

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

 

 

Back to the Cup — Let the cup be our guide

Teacher: I want you to know the definition of cup.

Child: Definition of cup: a small container usually used for drinking, usually has a handle.

Teacher: Now you know what a cup is.

Sounds a bit like a passage from Charles Dickens’ Hard Times:

[Gradgrind says] Give me your definition of a horse.’

(Sissy Jupe thrown into the greatest alarm by this demand.)

‘Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!’ said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. ‘Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy’s definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours.’

The square finger, moving here and there, lighted suddenly on Bitzer, perhaps because he chanced to sit in the same ray of sunlight which, darting in at one of the bare windows of the intensely white-washed room, irradiated Sissy. For, the boys and girls sat on the face of the inclined plane in two compact bodies, divided up the centre by a narrow interval; and Sissy, being at the corner of a row on the sunny side, came in for the beginning of a sunbeam, of which Bitzer, being at the corner of a row on the other side, a few rows in advance, caught the end. But, whereas the girl was so dark-eyed and dark-haired, that she seemed to receive a deeper and more lustrous colour from the sun, when it shone upon her, the boy was so light-eyed and light-haired that the self-same rays appeared to draw out of him what little colour he ever possessed. His cold eyes would hardly have been eyes, but for the short ends of lashes which, by bringing them into immediate contrast with something paler than themselves, expressed their form. His short-cropped hair might have been a mere continuation of the sandy freckles on his forehead and face. His skin was so unwholesomely deficient in the natural tinge, that he looked as though, if he were cut, he would bleed white.

‘Bitzer,’ said Thomas Gradgrind. ‘Your definition of a horse.’

‘Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.’ Thus (and much more) Bitzer.

‘Now girl number twenty,’ said Mr. Gradgrind. ‘You know what a horse is.’

Dickens wrote this as a reaction to the factory, industrialization, models on schooling practices in England. But I digress. Suffice it to say, definitions and bits of information have little to do with understanding.

 

Now that we have briefly considered the importance of our sensory experiences, it should be evident to us now just how important those sensory experiences are when we are trying to understand something. An important aspect of our depth and breadth of understanding is derived from our sensory experience. To understand a cup (to take a very easy artifact) one would be expected to know the purpose of a cup, that cups come in various materials and have a form that suits their purpose. We might even extend those causal modalities to include a broad swath of the referential whole.

Now, we would question someone’s understanding of a cup if they lacked the necessary bodily experiences that one would require to make sense of cups. For example, if someone saw a cup on the table and tried to drink from it without lifting the cup up to their mouth, we would say that they don’t really understand ‘the cup.’ If we saw someone try to drink from a cup without bending their arm at the elbow, we would say that they don’t really understand ‘the cup.’ If we saw someone try to drink from a cup without opening their mouth, we would say that they don’t really understand ‘the cup.’ Our bodily experiences help inform our understanding of the artifacts we use. We know what a styrofoam cup feels like and sounds like when we rub the side. We know that metal cups have a metallic taste to them. We know that we can hold a warm cup with two hands if we are trying to warm up our hands while drinking hot chocolate. We know that our bodies should remain relatively stationary when drinking from a cup. All of these bodily experiences broaden and deepen our understanding of the cup.

Let’s try to visualize all of this (ah yes, the hegemony of vision).

 

First our four causal modality. We have the purpose, materials, form and person to create the cup.

 

 

We also have our numerous sensory modalities.. We couldn’t claim to understand the cup without having bodily experiences with the cup.

 

 

 

Also, importantly, we have environmental / social contexts that give contextual or situational meaning to the cup. We understand, and use, the cup differently depending on the context in which we find ourselves with the cup.

 

 

You will notice that each one of these contexts, and the way our bodies experience or live within each different context, will slightly change how we experience the cup.

 

Consider for a moment the implications of this. For you to really understand one seemingly simple artifact, such as a cup, you require a vast number of embodied experiences. You require some understanding of the purpose of cups; and an understanding of the form and material of cups; you require bodily sensory experiences with cups such as how one holds a cup, drinks from a cup. You require the sorts of contextual/situational (social and environmental) experiences in which we experience cups, such as in fast food restaurants, parties, or formal dinners. These contextual/situational (environmental/social) experiences help you understand how one deals with the cup. You would appear a bit odd to others if you were at party and you handled the red party cup delicately, with your pinky out to the side as one use a tea cup at a Japanese tea ceremony. And you certainly wouldn’t want to slam your tea cups together and say CHEERS at a Japanese tea ceremony as one might at a German Octoberfest.

Questions

2. Imagine you are explaining to an inquisitive child the importance of the three different layer of modalities: the causal, the sensory, and the environmental/social. Explain this using an object that the child would be familiar with. 

3. Choose something you are learning about in one of your classes. Now create a three-layer modality frame to demonstrate the many contextual sensory, and environmental aspects that could come into play to help you develop your understanding.

Becoming Educated Through Layers of Experience

To become educated, you need the depth and breadth of understanding that all these three layers of experience afford.

If you are a teacher you will try to help students develop aspects of all the layers of experiences as best as you can. Furthermore, teachers want to be assured that you are developing understanding within all of those layers. Your ability to articulate with some degree of clarity and precision, and to be able to discriminate between different experiences and contexts, in all the different layers of lived dimensions, allow the teacher to get a sense of what you understand.

For you to educate yourself, you will want to deliberately experience all of these layers.

 

There is one more thing we must consider when trying to understand ‘understanding.’ That is distance.

Distance

Sensing and Seeing: Our experience of distance

When you really “get into” a movie, or become totally enthralled in a book, you experience entering into the lives of the characters. It feels as if you are right there, totally immersed or enveloped within the situations. But we know what it feels like when we cant seem to ‘get into’ or a story. Sometimes we say, “I am not feeling it.” Even though we have developed our causal frames, it is important that we understand the way that ‘distance’ has an effect on the way we understand or talk about our understandings. I can talk about different characters in the movie clips. I can think about them as objects. Or I can ‘enter into the characters’ lives and lose the feeling that the characters are objects that I am viewing from a distance.

If we want to understand  ‘understanding’, educating, and schooling, we will have to understand something about the role that distance plays in all of this. We can experience from a lived perspective or a spectator perspective.

Many of our schooling practices rely on the spectator perspective (and something we call the correspondence theory of truth/reality).

 

First: Spectator from a distance.

Crowd View
RedBud 450 Moto 2: Ken Roczen vs. Trey Canard

If you watch the first minute or so you will get the idea of viewing from a distance.

 

 

So as we watch this we can see when Trey Canard has the lead over Ken Roczen. We can see them moving in relation to each other. We can see where they are positioned on the track in relation to the finish line. Both Canard and Roczen are discrete measurable objects–we are spectators. But we know that our distant perspective is not a good representation of the racers’ perspectives. They are, in a sense, letting themselves go, allowing their bodies to instinctually race.

 

Second: The lived view.

Have a look at Ryan Villopoto  racing at the Monster Energy Cup in 2012.

Again, a short viewing will give you the idea. Or if you are like me, you will crank up the volume, set the video to play full screen, and watch the whole thing 🙂

 

 

Of course both views are spectator views (viewed from cameras). But I hope you notice a significant difference here. You probably feel one clip much differently than the other.

Here are two more:

 

Observer, or spectator, perspective.

Video of the Year: Best Mountain Bike Shot Ever

 

Individual (lived) perspective.

 

GoPro: Backflip Over 72ft Canyon – Kelly McGarry Red Bull Rampage 2013

 

I hope you enjoyed the comparisons.

So, what did you notice between the different clips? The first clip of each set showed the event from a distance. We sometimes refer to this as a spectator view. The second clip shows the lived-body experience. Of course it is not a true lived-body experience, but we feel the experiences differently. Spectator from a distance; lived-body close up. We can sense a different involvement.

Did you also notice that you didn’t have the same sensory experiences when you were watching the clips from the spectator view? What if every learning experience we had was from the spectator view? What if our books didn’t help us ‘get into’ the story so that we could feel what it was like to be the character? What if our learning experiences emphasized facts and information rather that lived-experience? I fear we would have something akin to the child memorizing the three branches of government.

Questions

Becoming sensitive to objective / visual interpretation of schooling is important if you are to make future distinctions between practices and ultimately compare different situations with some clarity and precision. So I ask you the following two questions to help you develop your sensitivity to these two perspectives:

4. Imagine you had to explain the difference between the lived-body experience and the spectator view to a 5th grade student. In a couple of paragraphs, what would you say?

 

We have uncovered two important aspects or perceptions of experience. We can now begin to discriminate between the spectator view and lived-view.

  1. We all have bodies. While that seems self evident, we can clearly articulate differences between the way our bodies experience the world when riding a bike or watching others ride.
  2. We can clearly describe at least two different perspectives of experience — one perspective is the ‘outside observer’ perspective. The other is the ‘lived’ (bodily) perspective.

 

Does this suggest anything about schooling and the foundations of education? It does.

Schooling practices rely heavily on the spectator view, or the objective view. Why?

  1. Science relies on the spectator view. To observe and measure, we need objects that we can measure and manipulate.
  2. Educators wanted schooling to be a science. Scientific perspectives were incorporated into schooling practice. We will learn more about this when we talk about scientific management.
  3. To know is to accurately represent that which is outside the mind.

 

If schooling practices rely on the spectator view, what happens to all of those sensory experiences one would presumable need to have to really understand something?

 

Questions

Becoming sensitive to objective / visual interpretation of schooling is important if you are to make future distinctions between practices and ultimately compare different situations with some clarity and precision. So I ask you the following two questions to help you develop your sensitivity to these two perspectives:

5. If you really wanted to understand riding a bike, how might having access only to the spectator view impede your understanding?

6. If you really wanted to understand riding a bike, how might the lived-body experience deepen and facilitate your understanding?

Summary

Where are we now in our story? We started with the idea that being educated is having a depth and breadth of understanding. We came to understand that context confers meaning. We then learned about causal modality frames to help us visualize the complexity of understanding. We begin to appreciate that complexity by our thinking about the referential whole.  Finally in this chapter we began to consider just how important lived, bodily, sensory experiences are in the development of our understanding. Why is all of this important? We are positioning ourselves to understand what schools have been doing, are doing now, and might do better in the future.

We know a bit more about the importance of the senses, let’s carry on by deepening our understanding of the biological body.

 

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Chapter Five: Biological Bodies

 

So let me briefly review what we have considered up to this point.

In chapter one I told you the three branches of governments story. This story, of the second grade student memorizing the three branches of government for Wednesday’s test suggested to us that our thinking about education and schooling might be incomplete. It seemed obvious that the child wasn’t being educated. That led us to question what  education means.

It was at that point that we tried to get a clearer, and more precise definition of what education means by consulting the dictionary. But that didn’t seem to help all that much.

After consulting the dictionary we listened to the analysis of analytic philosopher Dr. Barrow. After considering what he had to say, we arrived at what seemed to be a more adequate definition of education — at least for the time being. . . . We were left with the definition that education had to do with the development of a depth and breadth of understanding. And while that was a good starting point, we developed that definition of understanding further by including aspects of lived bodily experience. 

The next big idea was the idea of the importance of understanding context. Things have meaning because of the context in which they are situated. In chapter two we solidified the idea that context confers meaning. I tried to make the point of how context confers meaning with my Bill and Mrs. Jones story. Understanding that “context confers meaning” opens up a way of approaching our analysis of education and schooling. It suggests that we have to examine context if we want to understand educational artifacts and processes. As an example, if we want to understand why we administer grades in school, we have to examine the context in which grades seem to make sense. In some contexts, such as a play school, grades might seem very inappropriate. The context makes grades meaningful.

To help you start thinking deeply about context, I introduced an initial frame for us to work with. It is an adaptation of Aristotle’s four causal modality frame. . . . To help you understand the frame, I used a cup, a statue, sushi, and a Big Mac as examples. It became apparent that the McDonald’s context brings forth a very different food product than the sushi restaurant. Context confers meaning.

In chapter three, I introduced the importance of the body in the way we perceive and interact with the world around us. The way we experience the world around us with our bodies is another big idea that will become very important when we start to analyze schooling.

I also introduced you to the lived-view and the spectator-view. The spectator-view changes the way we talk about schooling and education. Why? Because we talk about things as if they are distinct and separate from us. We talk about things as objects.

Now in chapter five I am going to help you develop an even deeper sense of how our whole bodies ‘perceive’ the world around us, how our whole bodies ‘experience’ the world around us, and how our whole bodies ‘are necessarily intertwined’ into the way we learn. We will start to understand how our body neurons contribute to the development of neuronal webs, or assemblies, from our past experiences.

A neuronal web is simply a web of neurons. Neurons are the cells in our body and brain that receive and send sensory signals through our body. So a neuronal cell assembly is simply an assembly of cells. We will begin to learn how these cell assemblies, or neuronal cell assemblies, connect with each other in such a way that when we do perceive something, we actually re-activate those neuronal cell assemblies so that we, in essence, are always re- experiencing what we experienced in the past. . . . That idea of re-experiencing that which we already experienced will become evident as we learn about grasping neurons. By the time we finish this lecture, you will realize just how important bodily experiences are in our development of understanding. Once you begin to understand the ideas in this lecture, you will be very well positioned to start to interpret and evaluate many educational and school practices. We will be a a great position to talk about understanding, and to also begin to dig into the foundations of education and schooling.

 

Let’s start!

We continue our story be developing a deeper understanding the way our bodies experience our environments. In addition, we will see what a bodily perspective might offer us in terms of how we understanding schooling and education. By doing this, we might become more aware of how the body plays a crucial role in the educational process. We might become increasingly aware of narratives that support, neglect or even suppress the human body.

Ultimately an understanding of the importance of thinking of the body as a biological organism might help us develop more appropriate narratives when it comes to our own interpretations of education and educating ourselves.

There are four parts to this chapter on biological bodies and understanding.  I start with Bodily Consideration Part I:

 

Bodily Consideration Part I:

Back in the Day

In the 80s and 90s I was working a lot with music recording.

Not this far back.

 

 

About this far back:

 

Cedar and colorful carpets were the rage — as were 24 track tape recorders and lots of outboard gear.

And then this happened:

 

For those of you too young to know what this is, it is an Apple II computer. What a beauty. Look at it sitting there, with its big old 5 1/2 in floppy disk drives.

For someone like me, who grew up with typewriters and “Lost in Space” this beauty was a real bad a . . . . Apple. A blast into the future.

 


Lost in Space television show.

 

My Music Story

 


Transcript

It was an especially exciting time because of the new computer technologies being developed. Editing recordings by splicing analog tape and hiring musicians to record different acoustic instruments was giving way to electronic editing and multi timbral multi track sequencing. Now anyone could have access to the marvelous digital music technology.

Finally I could create music tracks with sampled sounds that replicated brass instruments, string instruments and percussion. More amazingly, from a teacher’s perspective, I could have my students orchestrating songs—as young as elementary—and that’s what I did—I created one of the first music keyboard labs in the Province of Alberta. I received a rather prestigious award for my work. And, I was getting just enough praise from others to cloud my judgment. Feeling confident in what I was having my students do, I published an article in a music journal detailing my (or should I say my students’) accomplishments.

And then it happened—a turning point in my understanding of learning and schooling. You see, upon publication of my article, I received some quick critique from other musicians. “These children should be in band and orchestra, not playing keyboards,” was the typical response.

Here it was, the first challenge I had received to my work. Darn, maybe I wasn’t so smart after all. (I wasn’t)

None of the critiques said exactly what children were missing. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely clear at the time. Perhaps at the time it was more of an intuition. But according to many other musicians, something did seem amiss. At first I tried to convince myself that what I was doing was in the best interest of the students. By looking at the school system’s music goals and standards, my students were achieving more music knowledge faster than other traditionally taught students. I could argue that conceptually my students were learning more. I suppose I could have left it at that.

Notice I said ‘conceptually.’ That’s a problem. It was then, and it is now — especially when we are thinking about bodies and not just brains.

Now, from our current perspective, it might be immediately obvious to you just how clouded my judgement was. But keep in mind, this was riding the the wave of the future — like a cool surfer dude. I thought I was the Andy Irons of teaching music. Things always look a little different when we look back.

It took me a long time to realize that what I was doing to my students was actually a disservice. You see, I didn’t take into account that my students had bodies.

Bodies, you don’t say!

Yes, bodies! I didn’t take into consideration that learning and understanding begins with the body and becomes conceptual later. This seems so obvious now that it almost seems hardly worth mentioning. But when you are living in a language discourse that privileges one form of thinking and action over another, it is easy to overlook what should otherwise be obvious.

How could I have overlooked the obvious? Well you see, I was an experienced musician using computer-based digital technologies to replicate what I had already experienced. Every time we perceive something we are actually re-firing (so to speak) established neuronal cell assemblies (to put it simply).

One more time–this is actually a very important statement: Every time we perceive something we are actually re-firing (so to speak) established neuronal cell assemblies.

I already knew how to play percussion instruments, brass instruments and string instruments. I knew what playing these instruments felt like. I had neuronal cell assemblies already established in my brain that re-fired when I heard a particular sound. You can’t be the Andi Irons or Bianca Valenti of teaching if you forget people have bodies.

 

Bianca Valenti and Andy Irons have bodies. How could you surf without a body?

 

 

 

Chase

When I play a trumpet sound on a keyboard, I feel the experiences that I had experienced at an earlier time—the tightening of the embouchure, the pursing of the lips, the breathing, the other musicians beside me, the down beats represented by the arm movements of the conductor. One keyboard trumpet sound re-fires all these cell assemblies so that my experience is very rich in comparison to a novice (a child) who had not had similar bodily experiences. Conceptually a child can know and play a high G trumpet sound on a keyboard. But as far as bodily understanding, the child’s experience is barren. His/her understanding is stunted. A child, or novice, lacks the corporeal understanding (the re-firing of neurons that make the body feel something that it has experienced before) that gives “life” meaning. The understanding that a child, or novice, might achieve from playing the trumpet on the keyboard is reduced to bodiless information–nothing that could be said to represent a trumpeter’s body.

If you are a trumpet player, you will re-feel what it feels like to play high notes when you hear this. You will feel in your hands what it feels like to hold the trumpet. You will feel the breathing, the way the left hand wraps around the valves and the tips of the right hand press the keys down. You will feel what it feels like because you will re-fire neurons in your brain that you wired together when you initially learned how to play the trumpet. If you don’t play the trumpet, sorry to say, you will not have the same experience–even if you wanted to.

 

 

Since you probably listened to this a number of times because it is so cool, let me repeat: If you don’t play the trumpet, sorry to say, you will not have the same experience–even if you wanted to.

This might seem obvious in hind sight. Of course one can’t experience this like a trumpet player would. That should be self evident. Why would I have thought otherwise? Or perhaps more importantly, why didn’t I even think about the importance of previous body experiences when I was a teacher? Did I think that I could simple put something in my students’ heads? Did I think that I could just pour in meaningful information? It astounds me now why, as a professional teacher (as we are deemed to be once we are licensed), I had overlooked something that seems so blatantly obvious. But I suppose, in my defense, I was encouraged to focus on the conceptual, on the abstract, on information and efficiency. Schooling goals, standards, and objectives toward those rather abstract concepts, encourage an obscuration of the body. In other words, all of those textbooks, goals, standards and tests seem to be more concerned with students being able to state something rather than experience something.

 

Rock Climbing Anyone?

I have never climbed a rock climbing wall. I see lots of people doing it. My children have done it. But not me. So when I see someone climb a rock climbing wall, I can imagine what it ‘might’ feel like. But I do not have neuronal cell assemblies re-firing from my past experience. I don’t have the same ‘grasping neurons’ re-firing when I see someone grasp one of those colorful holders. I try to imagine what it might feel like, but it is only in comparison to other things I have grasped that give me some sense of what it might be like to climb a rock wall.

If you have ever climbed one of those walls, you will experience this next video differently than I do.

 

 

If you have climbed one of these walls you probably had many bodily sensations as you watched this that I didn’t have. As soon as I clicked play on the rock climbing video, I felt myself playing my old DX7 synth, tapping out the chords. That was what triggered my previous experiences.

I’ve never bungee jumped either. I can try to imagine what this feels like, but it won’t be the same feeling that those of you who have bungee jumped will feel. I didn’t really feel too much of anything. It looked as though it might be a bit frightening, but I can’t say I really felt it 🙂

 

 

Why don’t we all experience watching something the same way?

What we see is not simply a visual image. When we see something, we re-experience touching it, feeling it, holding it, being moved by it.

 

Questions Chapter Four

1. When two people watch something on a video, or see a picture of something, why don’t they experience what they see the same way? In other words, what would account for their different experiences?

2. Please give me an example of something you might see on a video that you would really feel because of your previous experiences. 

 

 

Let’s use an apple example — I mean a real apple–the fruit.

Consider all the experiences you have had with apples–the contexts in which you have experienced them, felt them, tasted them, the weight, fresh, rotten, color, in store bins, on tress, cut up in your lunch, in salads, etc. In a recent undergraduate class of mine, we brain-stormed different experiences we all had with apples and in four minutes we came up with over 120 completely different experiences with apples. Students came up with ways they understood apples. Every single experience was something we could all relate to. Apple sauce, candy apple, sliced apples in lunch, apples with cheese and apples on trees, and on and on and on.

Now consider this: what could you learn about and understand about apples if your only access to them were the experiences you could have with the iPad? It is easy to realize the limiting nature of the two-dimensional visual medium. Think about your expertise at picking out bodily senses.

Daphne Bridgerton: Simon, your love is as sweet and juicy as a ripe red apple picked from our apple tree.

Simon Basset: My dear, I have no idea what you are talking about. I have only witnessed apples on my iPad.

 

This is interesting thought, how many of curricular standards could ostensibly be met by interacting with a two dimensional screen? Notice I said ostensibly. I guess we will have to talk more about curriculum and standards in a future lecture. But rest assured, there is an odd belief that children should have access to technology like iPads. I wonder who gave them that idea?

Daphne Bridgerton: But Simon, why are you so fixated on using iPads.

Simon Basset: Well my dear Daphne, there is a few vendors in town who have been saying that we should all be using technology. It is the wave of the future.

Daphne Bridgerton: Oh my, please fetch me my horse and carriage.

 

 

The Glorious Cinnamon Bun

 

 

 

My Cinnamon Bun Story

Transcript

You probably have some memory of the cinnamon bun. As soon as you hear the words “cinnamon bun” your brain is firing neuronal cell assemblies that allow you to not only perceive cinnamon buns, but to also re-experience some of what you previously experienced with the cinnamon buns.  Your brain does that quite naturally. Cinnamon-bun-sight-neurons are wired to cinnamon-bun-taste-neurons are wired to cinnamon-bun-touch-neurons are wired to cinnamon-bun-kitchen-neurons etc. etc.. (These, by the way, are not the scientific terms:) . 

As soon as these neurons are firing you perceive cinnamon buns and are ready to learn something new as long as we can fire neurons that will connect to your already established cinnamon bun neurons. For example, you already have neuronal cell assemblies that fire when you hear the word cinnamon bun. Your body re-sees a cinnamon bun, it re-feels a cinnamon, it re-holds a cinnamon bun, it re-smells a cinnamon bun. Those webs of neurons are re-activating to help you re-experience the cinnamon bun.

You also have background experiences with hats. When you hear the word hat, those hat neurons fire so that you imagine hat. You have neuronal cell assemblies that re-fire to help you re-experience the way a hat looks, feels on the head, its weight, its texture. Now, we can get both those sets of neuronal cell assemblies to fire at the same time by saying Cinnamon But Hat. Now all of those neuronal cell assemblies fire at the same time, the cinnamon bun neurons and the hat neurons, so that you can imagine a Cinnamon Bun Hat. If we think of a Cinnamon Bun Hat enough, we will eventually get those neuronal cell assemblies to connect together. 

Here is another example. Consider this:

The first cinnamon bun was created in the 1920’s just after the First World War. Because Sweden was a neutral territory during the war, there were heavy restrictions on the import of goods including sugar, eggs and butter. By the time the 1950’s rolled around, the average Swedish household was pulling in more money, meaning they were able to purchase the pricey ingredients necessary to make a cinnamon bun. It was around this time that the pastry began to really become more popular. 

If you happen to be Swedish, or you have been to Sweden and have neuronal Sweden-related cell assemblies already created, or if you have First World War neuronal cell assemblies, or if you have sugar-eggs-butter neuronal cell assemblies already wired, you would have, quite likely, activated those cell assemblies along with the cinnamon bun neurons when you heard the little story about cinnamon buns that I just told you.  And, given adequate time and strength of neuronal firing, your neurons will wire together. It is something that happens quite naturally. Your brain does it without you even having to work at it. That’s why learning is easy as long as we have sufficient and appropriate experiences to make sense of what we are perceiving and learning. But if you have no experiences with sugar, eggs, and butter, or you have not had the opportunity to learn about the First World War and have no neuronal cell assemblies developed, and you haven’t even seen a cinnamon bun, you won’t be wiring together any neuronal cell assemblies. Furthermore, it is unlikely you will remember, or have any interest in, the history of the cinnamon bun.

This should be a clue to you why some students will learn something easily in class, while others might struggle and not seem to “get it.” 

Whenever I see cinnamon buns I have neuronal cell assemblies fire that have me re-live my childhood experiences of laying on my back on the floor with my feet pressed up against the window of the oven door while my mom baked cinnamon buns. You see, growing up in Canada, we would play outside in the winter cold until it felt like our feet were frozen. So it was common to warm up standing on heater vents or pressing your feet up against the oven door. Those life experiences are, in part, the way I perceive the cinnamon bun. We understand the cinnamon but, not as something separate and removed from us. It exists within a social setting, with multiple bodily experiences being reactivated. 

We don’t experience the cinnamon bun as discrete information that can be acquired by sight alone, or even by simply being told what a cinnamon bun is. This seems to obvious to us. We wouldn’t have a second grade child learn the definition of a cinnamon bun, and then test her on Wednesday thinking that she really had any understanding of cinnamon buns.  And real learning about cinnamon buns isn’t difficult.  We can learn about cinnamon buns with our whole bodies, effortlessly, without any testing, without memorizing.

Is it possible that some of our teaching models are wrong? Isn’t part of our teaching narrative suggesting that we can simply tell students something new and they will be able to learn it? Does our teaching narrative suggest that communication is linear –- passing ‘information’ back and forth as if through a pipeline? Do our narratives suggest that children can learn without much interaction with their body? What if that is all wrong?

What if we believed children could learn about cinnamon buns on an iPad? No, we wouldn’t believe that, would we? How could then wire all those wonderful neurons together that would let them know how cinnamon buns taste, smell, feel? They would have a sort of blindness toward cinnamon buns. No taste, smell, or feel, no proprioception.

Let us let the cinnamon bun be our guide.

 

If we want to develop a depth and breadth of understanding, we need to use all our senses. We come to understand the cinnamon bun with our bodies.

Marge: I don’t know why my student can’t seem to learn about cinnamon buns. She has been doing worksheets all day, and I have tested her four times.

Jack: Perhaps she has cinnamon bun blindness.

Marge: I don’t know. She wears a cinnamon bun hat.

 

 

Questions

3. I used the cinnamon bun to explain why we use all of our senses to develop an understanding. Please choose another object that you are familiar with and explain why we would need all of our senses to understand your example.

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Bodily Consideration Part II:

Let’s take a quick look at neurons

Our brains are not containers to be filled with information. If I would like you to learn something about cinnamon buns I can’t simply tell you facts about cinnamon buns and expect you will store those facts away in some sort of storage container. You don’t have a storage container. You have neurons and neuronal cell assemblies.

What is a neuronal cell assembly? A web of neurons. Neurons form webs as a result of bodily experience. These webs are distributed throughout the brain.

Watch this”

Migrating Neuronal Cells

 

What is learning?

 

Neurons and Memory Formation

 

Neurons That Fire Together Wire Together: Excerpt from Joe Dispenza

 

 

Questions

4. What does the phrase, “Neurons that Fire Together, Wire Together” mean?

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Bodily Consideration Part III

A Grasp at Grasping Neurons

We not only sense objects in our world, we re-experience bodily actions that we have had in the past whenever we encounter an object. Have you ever heard of grasping neurons?

If you will, please look at each of the following photographs. Look at each one, individually. Pause. And then after a couple of seconds, move on to the next image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You have an understanding of each image. You have a familiarity with each object. But, you don’t simply have a picture of the image in your brain. Your understanding of the object is created in your brain, or woven throughout your brain. When you see the object, you fire a web of neurons that allow you to re-experience the way you interact with the object. In very simple terms, when you look at each object, shape neurons fire in one part of the brain, color neurons fire in another part of the brain, texture neurons fire, and grasping neurons fire. All of these different neuronal cell assemblies fire to allow you to make sense of what you just saw. (Its more complex that simply shape neurons and color neurons, etc. But that is the idea).

 

Grasping Neurons.

When you looked at each image there were neurons in your brain that fired that helped you feel what it would be like to grasp the object. Scientists have metaphorically referred to these as grasping neurons. As soon as we see the mug we have neurons fire that trigger our previous experiences of grasping mugs of this shape. Our wrist neurons fire to indicate a particular twist of the wrist, our finger neurons fire in such a way as to indicate wrapping around the handle, and our arm neurons fire so that we recognize the weight of the object. All of this, just by looking. It is as if our brain fires the same neurons that previously experienced objects like this. Our hands don’t move, but we feel it.

As soon as we see the tea cup our finger neurons trigger in a very different way from when we look at the mug. Our finger neurons recognize the different grasp. The use of the forefinger and thumb. A slightly different wrist action. We experience the object in a very different way than when we look at the mug.

When we see other objects, our neurons fire as if reaching for a hammer, a tennis ball, or a pencil even though we just look at the object on the screen. To see the object meaningfully, all sorts of different neurons all fire together to bring meaning to the object.

But what happens when we haven’t had previous experience with the object we are looking at. We don’t have the same neurons being activated. Our experience is lessened. Of course if you had been a dentist a hundred years ago, you might well have neurons fire when you see this picture.

 

Without previous experience with the object our experience is shallow. Fewer neuronal cell assemblies are firing than if you had had experience with this object. When you look at this object you don’t feel the rich sensations that you feel with the other objects. Not knowing the size or weight, how do we pick this up? Is it heavy? Our arm muscle neurons don’t fire. We have not established neuronal cell assemblies to give this meaning. In essence, you are experiencing the object as a child would when experiencing an object by iPad alone. It is a sight response without accompanying bodily responses.

We have neurons that fire that help us understand the shape and possibly the texture. But is it made of plastic, metal, ceramic? Does it feel smooth, rough? Is it flexible, stiff?

 

We might say, “Objects move us.” In other words, when we see an object, we are moved (even though our bodies don’t actually move) to re-experience the way we are with the objects. Visual objects–that are familiar–move us.

Questions

5. Why is it that for each graspable object we see we can almost feel how we would grasp it? 

The story behind grasping neurons

 

Do you know the story about grasping neurons? This is so interesting.

In 2005 Giacomo Rizzolatti (2006) and some of his graduate students were working in a laboratory in Italy. In their midst was a Macaque monkey, strapped to a chair with fMRI electrodes glued to its head. The researchers were looking for specific neurons that would fire when the monkey performed a specific task. After some time the researchers were able to pinpoint neurons that would fire when the monkey grasped an object. While this was an interesting discovery, a more notable phenomenon occurred when one of the graduate students reached for, and grabbed, an item from a table within the monkey’s sight. The monkey’s grasping neurons fired again even though this time the monkey had not moved. This set off a series of experiments that have suggested that understanding is, in part, related to having action neurons re-fire when witnessing other’s actions. In addition, further research has found that hearing words will trigger the firing of action neurons. If this is the case, we might well be convinced that not only do the sight of objects move us, but words speak us as well.

 

We learn more about grasping neurons here. You will notice that the talk is about mirror neurons. I should mention that there is dispute whether or not “mirror” neurons exist. “Mirror” may be the wrong term. Perhaps we should stick to thinking about re-activating established neurons that were assembled during past experiences.

 

NOVA scienceNOW : 1 – Mirror Neurons

 

 

Giacomo Rizzolatti on the discovery of canonical motor neurons

 

Giacomo Rizzolatti – Mirror neurons: from monkey to human

 

Questions

6. Please explain what we mean by grasping neurons.

7. What do grasping neurons have to do with understanding?

 

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Bodily Consideration Part IV

 

Mrs. Jones has a particular way about her. She is, what we might say, very proper. She never leans on the table in front of her. When she writes on the white board, she holds the marker delicately, but her strokes are quick and precise. She has a particular way of speaking, enunciating each syllable of her words. Her ‘p’s are slightly plosive. And she seems to hang on to the endings of words–especially the end of Billllllllll. Her hands waive about as she talks, as if she were pointing out objects, and molding shapes right in front of her. And joke! She loves to joke! Along with each joke comes a little chuckle, that delicately shakes her body with each sound.

Bill, is quick to laugh. And he seems to hold on to what seems to be a perpetual smile. His back is straight–though not supple. When he turns to look at something behind him he twists from the waist, as if his head were fastened to his shoulders.

Ah, those two.

Here is a picture of Mrs. Jones, and a picture of Bill (or at least a neuronal representation).

 

 

 

If only we thought of this entire body as our brain. If only we hadn’t gotten caught up in the discourse that suggested that body and brain are separate. We might have a better realization of how our perceptions and understandings depend on our bodily experiences.

Let’s cut the head off this neuronal body. Not so easy. Even this cropped image shows the mass of neurons that connect the face to the brain

.

 

 

When you read about Mrs. Jones and Bill, you could feel them as I described them–assuming you tried to twist from the waist or puff your p’s. You could feel their actions if you have picked up a marker, or laughed both a delicate and deep laugh. But you need your entire body to know the way those movements feel.

When you watched the series of video clips I shared with you in Lecture Three, you felt what the characters were experiencing because you were re-experiencing the same sorts of movements with your own bodies.

Would our schooling be different if we really believed that students required their whole body to learn? Is there a problem with the school narrative?

Questions

8. Why is it important for us, as future teachers, to be aware of the multitude of neurons that run through our entire bodies?

Did you know there were some researchers in Sweden who suggested children were becoming finger blind because of their decreased use of their hands and fingers in exploring the natural world around them. In other words, children were thought to be overly engaged in technology-barren environments (environments that did not sufficiently develop bodily neuronal cell assemblies. Did these researchers recognize the importance of touch in the formation of neuronal cell assemblies? Perhaps.

Has our schooling discourse somehow lost sight of the fact that our bodies and brains are connected? Have we inadvertently obscured the fact that our body is instrumental in the development of our neuronal cell assemblies? Have we lost the realization that learning happens with the body and not just the brain? Have we neglected the fact that the body is covered with neurons (our nervous system) that sends signals to the neurons in our brain? Are these signals not instrumental in the formation of our neuronal cell assemblies?

When we think of the importance of having our bodies experience our surroundings so that our brain can develop neuronal cell assemblies, perhaps a bit more time outdoors is important. It might alleviate some of that “finger blindness.”

The more we witness children spending an exorbitant amount of time behind two dimensional screens, finger blindness doesn’t seem like such a stretch.

What have we here, a child developing finger blindness because he is no longer allowed to play outside? The institutional requirement is that all children should be able to connect two shapes. Fortunately we have the technology to help this child achieve these educational goals. Look at the dexterity in those fingers while he connects those dots!

 

 

Of course putting a child on an iPad is a good instructional practice if we are trying to see how many dots the child can connect in a certain amount of time.

Teacher: “I am very proud of your child Mrs. Smith. His dot connecting ability increased four fold over the span of two weeks.”
Mrs. Smith: “Well he takes after his father you know.”

Easy to research, easy to count, easy to observe, and easy to relate to district, state, and parents. The narrative calls for such. But isn’t this a big part of the problem? If we are asking questions and developing instruction around things we can quantify, are we actually doing our students a disservice? It is not easy to know exactly what students are learning outdoors. So just eliminate it. In fact, good schools are eliminating recess altogether I have been told.

 

 

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Bodily Consideration Part V

 

But what happens to the narratives if?

But what happens if we look at our students’ learning and the environments we create from the perspective of the body? What happens if we concern ourselves with how well we can help students wire together neuronal cell assemblies–assemblies derived from bodily experience? Then the efficiency, information, factory model no longer makes sense. I can’t expect learning to take place simply because I have students do a task. Each student has different neuronal wiring and I have to be very sensitive to what they already understand and how they understand it. I can’t follow any predetermined timeline moving on just because it is Wednesday. Furthermore, how could I possibly even say what they understand? Another point Smith makes.

 

Perhaps we should always give consideration as to how the brain doesn’t develop when it is prevented from having bodily experience.

 

 

Question Set Number One Continued (more below)

9. According to the Colin Blakemore experiment, what happens when animals are prevented from having visual experiences?

10. Can we make a similar claim when it comes to children lacking bodily experiences in nature?

 

Finger Blindness?

When we think of the importance of having the body experience it’s surroundings so that the brain can develop neuronal cell assemblies, perhaps a bit more time outdoors is important. It might alleviate some of that “finger blindness.”

Should we be asking, how are we using the peripheral nervous system to develop neuronal cell assemblies?

 

 

Forest Kindergartens Video

 

 

Question Set Number One Continued (more below)

11. What do you see as some of the advantages of having children participate in Forest Kindergartens? Please list four advantages.

 

If we think very seriously about the way the body experiences the environment, with touch, movement, thought, sound, smell, etc. can we begin to sense how one environment might be better suited to develop neuronal cell assemblies?

 

Example One: Modern play ground picture.

 

 

Example Two:

 

The Land Video: A really modern playground (just like the good old days).

 

 

Question Set Number One Continued (more below)

12. What do you see as some of the positive outcomes of allowing children to play in Junkyard (or Adventure) playgrounds? Please list four potential positive outcomes. (Please think in terms of neuronal activation).

 

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Coffee Break Two

 


Transcript

So, would you mind giving a brief summary of what we have covered so far?

Sure. We started with the story of the three branches of government. From there we questioned whether or not what the child was learning was of value, given that she simply forgot the definitions she memorized. That got us thinking as to whether or not the activity was educational. And then, after looking at some definitions of education and educated, we found that the dictionary didn’t really provide us with a sense of what education means. We then consulted the work of Dr. Barrow and listened to the way that he defined education. It seemed to make good sense — a depth and breadth of understanding and the ability to discriminate between concepts and ideas with some degree of clarity and precision. With this definition in hand we are in a better position to evaluate schooling environments. If schools are in the business of educating, which we presume they are, they will be helping students develop a depth and breadth of understanding. This will also help us see if schools have some practices in place that are advancing or hindering students’ education.

From there you moved into Frames.

Adopting a frame will help us visualize and analyze that which we explore in terms of schooling. Our initial frames, based on Aristotle’s four causal modality helps us visualize how things are invented, or come into existence. We have a framework in place now so that we can visualize how things come into being. And, we can presume that one would have to have some understanding of the causal modalities to claim understanding of any artifact or process. Recognizing these influences also help us develop a deeper understanding of the background context of the thing in question. Keep in mind though that we have only started examining the Frames. We will do more now as we move forward. We will also incorporate some additional strands to this four causal modality frame that will help us incorporate bodily experiences into the frame.

Can you tell me what you mean by incorporating bodily experiences into the frame?

The next step in our journey will be to begin to question how it is that we are able to perceive these artifacts in question. Perception is a necessary condition of understanding. If we are unable to perceive something, we will be unable to make sense of it and understand it. We are able to perceive things, and find things intelligible, after we have had sufficient bodily experiences to make sense of that which we perceive. That will make sense in the next few lessons. Suffice it to say, you can’t make sense of something if you haven’t had previous experiences to allow you to perceive it. When you see a picture of a cube, it is intelligible to you because you have had experiences with objects that are cubes or have similar attributes.

You also talked a bit about a visual bias. Can you explain what that means?

Now that we have had a chance to explore our senses, we should have a pretty good understanding that we make use of all of our senses to understanding something. Not just one or two senses. We will find, as we move forward that schooling practices are heavily biased toward visual metaphors and visual ways of thinking. Our quantitative research is visually biased. The way we talk about information is visually biased. The way curriculum was created was had a visual bias. We will get to these ideas as well. But I wanted to at least begin to plant the seed of the idea of visual bias in schools. As we move forward, I will continue to draw on examples that I have already given you.

Is this why you showed us the video clips of the motocross riders and the mountain bikers?

Our schooling narratives lean toward objective, visual explanations. We talk about things that we are trying to teach or that we are trying to learn as if they exist outside of us. . . as if they exist at a distance. Knowledge and information are often perceived to exist as distinct entities separate and distinct from our bodies. We can contrast those narratives with narratives that talk about personal experiences of things — as if we live the experience. The child who memorized the three branches of government didn’t have bodily experiences with the content. To develop a depth of understanding, we have to experience it with our bodies. I can’t develop a depth of understanding of Mama Davila’s cupcakes if I only look at them from a distance — especially if I have never had any experience with cupcakes in the past.

Is there anything you can say about neuronal connections?

Perhaps the most important point here, at this point, is that we are biological animals. Even though we have had a long history of being defined as machine-like, we are biological. And, our learning must reflect the biological nature of our being. As we start looking closely at schooling practices, we will find many references to students as being automatons or machine-like. This, as you might imagine, distorts what might be considered good educational practice.

Great! I am looking forward to learning more about that.

I think you’ll like it.

 

Summary

I is likely very obvious to you by now the problem associated with the ideas that learning has to do with pouring information into students’ heads. The very idea of outside knowledge, that represents something external to our lived bodies, should seem obviously mistaken. You should also be wondering why anyone would believe that having children memorize statements that are then judged in accordance with someone else’s belief of reality is a good thing. You might have knowledge (as a statement) of what a cinnamon bun is. That doesn’t mean that you have any understanding. You might have knowledge of the statements that make up a definition of the three branches of government mean, but that doesn’t represent understanding.

Our bodies are biological organisms that commune with other biological organisms. Commune? Or do I mean communicate? That’s next in Chapter Six.