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 context for you. Have a listen.
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
We both know that it’s wrong
Everyday at the same place
We got a thing going on, you know it’s wrong
But it’s much too wrong
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 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 story.
The moral of the story is this: Context confers meaning.
What does that 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 journey into our explorations of the Foundations of Education. But before we take this nugget of insight — that context confers meaning –I will share a story with you so that you can really feel what this means. This is the story of Bill and Mrs. Jones. After this story, you will know what I mean when I say context confers meaning.
Story of the Day
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 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, a 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 the story we are creating in our minds? 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 were thinking. You see I 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.
Question Set Number One
As you learned more about Bill and Mrs. Jones’ context, how did that change the way you thought about their relationship?
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
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 a 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 makes 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 a 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 like 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 always 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 contributes to the foundation of Mama Davila’s Cupcakes. Let the Cupcake be our guide.
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 today’s lesson 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 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 confers 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 efficiency contexts. 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 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.
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.
That’s Why We Wonder. Really, why?
When we wonder, we can begin to understand that 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 we continue our journey in this class, we will continue to try to get an idea of what that hidden background context might be.
Feeling a bit confused by all of this? Don’t worry. I guarantee it will become clearer in time. The idea of multiple causes or influences isn’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.
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.
Let’s Add Another Dimension
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 the cup on the blue side of the cube. The purpose was to cup water, the material was wood, the person was someone who wanted to drink water, and the form was a cup shape.
But what if we changed the purpose or the material or the form. We might get a slightly different representation, in the same way, we might see another side of the cube. Let us say that the purpose was to eat porridge. The material might stay the same, and the form might be similar (but perhaps bigger in size) and the purpose is to eat rather than to drink. We would see a variational shift from the cup (on the blue side) to the bowl (on the pink side).
What I am showing you here is simply a 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.
Let me give you an example so that you can see these variations in action.
I am now going to contrast two other worlds — the world of sushi, and the world of the fast-food hamburger. The reason I am doing this is this will help us make further connections to schooling practices.
Let’s start with Sushi
Let’s try another one here. 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 seafood.
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.
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.
W 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 it 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 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.
Question Set Number One (Continued)
When we compare the sushi frame and the Big Mac frame, what are the primary differences between the purposes of each frame?
Or, 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.
The context would be different for each variation. Perhaps there is a moral in all of this.
Question Set Number One (Continued)
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 your own causal modality frame. Let’s keep the first one simple. Pick out a common object, perhaps one in your home, and try creating your own causal modality frame. At a minimum include the four primary causal modalities. If you feel as though you are getting comfortable with the frame model, see if you can add some additional background context. (I included additional background context in green text in the sushi and Big Mac example above).
Moral of this story: be clear on the purpose. Understand the context.
Just to provide a bit of foreshadowing, in our everyday thinking, we are most used to the single cause-effect thinking — the effect that results from the influence from the efficient cause. This single cause-effect perspective became highly influential during the enlightenment and is the basis for much of scientific experimentation and mathematical understanding. We are very familiar with the cause-effect relationship. It is a major part of our life. It is woven into our thinking. The cause-effect relationship is necessary to move science forward. There is linearity, and the ability to replicate well-defined procedures. And while this is necessary for science, it would seem to be narrow when trying to understand many human interactions. In our quest for understanding schooling and education, we are adopting a broader perspective that was initially outlined by our friend Aristotle.
Questions Anyone? Coffee Break One
Can you talk just a little bit about what you see as most important in this class?
Sure. Well, this is a foundation 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 of 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 do 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 educators. 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 meals. 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 McDonald’s. 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 McDonald’s 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?
That’s all for today. Until next time 🙂