ED 200 Week Two Part 2 (Fall 2022)

Hi everyone,

 

Last day we altered Aristotle’s four-causal modality frame into a five modality experiential frame. We included a specific reference to a body sensory modality. We did this to better reflect our experiential nature. We provided recognition of the way the body experiences its environment. We also included a ‘situational’ modality that allows us to better reflect the social and potential aspects of experience.

We ended our thinking last day by giving some thought to the wide array of assumptions inherent in any schooling event. A simple image to represent the vast number of assumptions in operation using our five modal framework can be viewed as such:

 

We recognized the vast number of assumptions inherent in any single activity. Of course, each activity that takes place in school is couched within the broader school context. So, we are able to zoom in and zoom out of school contexts to look for the assumptions that make up the context providing meaning to any artifact or event.

 

 

One of the interesting things that those who critique schooling practices do is reveal the assumptions that we might have and then offerer alternatives that will result in activities being experienced differently and, hopefully changing a whole raft of school practices. I say they try to reveal those assumptions because we often operate or live within environments without really even noticing the assumptions that we hold.

In a sense, theorists attempt to shift the cube face from the McDonald’s experience to the Sushi experience, or to the pancake experience, or vice versa.

 

Of course, using a five sided modality experiential frame, we might be better off thinking in terms of a duodecagone with many sides to represent the multiple shifts in experience we might derive.

 

 

Tradition

I looked up the term tradition. Here is what was listed in the online Webster dictionary:

Tradition is:

1 : a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time

2 : the stories, beliefs, etc., that have been part of the culture of a group of people for a long time

3 : an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom)

4 : a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable

5 : the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction

6 : cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions

7 : characteristic manner, method, or style <in the best liberal tradition>

 

Now, keeping tradition in mind, I would like to throw in two points that I think are important for all of us to keep in mind: First: Much of what we do makes sense in the context in which we live. I better put that in a box, because it is an important point.

 

Much of what we do makes sense in the context in which we live.

 

That’s better. So, in other words, if we accept a particular tradition and that tradition becomes the narrative through which we make sense of things, then our practices are made meaningful by the tradition (the narratives) handed down to us. In other words, we often do things because the context suggests that we do those things.

Second: Our traditions can make us impervious to what is going on. We might not even question what is going on around us.

 

Our traditions can make us impervious to what is going on.

 

Is it time to throw in the being human question?

Furthermore, do traditions support a limited view of human being (or being human)? Traditions might be limiting or liberating I suppose. Traditions limit what humans living within the tradition do and think. Tradition limits what and who people become. On the other hand, traditions might very well encourage us to do things we might not otherwise do.

 

What about traditions that are limiting?

What if our schooling discourse has unfolded within a tradition that supports a limited view of being human (or human being)–what might that say about our schooling practices?

As far as schooling goes, we seem to accept what is told to us about schools, and we seem to accept that there are ways that schools should operate. End of story. I have taught hundreds of classes and very few students ever ask ‘why?’ “Why do we do this in schools? Why do we do that in schools?” It seems that we are conditioned not to question. And I also know it is easier for me if my students don’t ask why? Because for the most part, I didn’t ask why, and nobody told me why we did what we did when I was becoming a teacher. And I don’t always know why because nobody asks why. ‘Just accept it!’ we are told.

Of course as educational thinkers we have an obligation to question—to ask why? And now that you have taken the Oath of the Educational Philosopher you are obliged to ask questions as well. (Did we take that oath yet?)

 

Is it tradition?

So why do we accept so many schooling practices without question? Is it tradition? Have we been schooled in such a way that our schooling has become an accepted tradition?

 

Now, when we think about questioning, we direct our questions into a particular, established, discourse, or a domain. What I mean by this is if I were to ask a mathematical question I would seek an answer (or response) from within the domain of mathematics. If I were to question love or mothering, I would not look toward the domain of mathematics to find answers to my questions. If I have questions regarding music, I would look toward the domain of music for a response (perhaps mathematics if it pertains to mathematics, and perhaps mothering if my music question has something to do with mothers singing to children). This domain, or discourse, is metaphorically a sphere of knowledge and activity (I am using these terms loosely at this point). All the pieces (the knowledge and the activities) relating to the particular domain just seem to fit together–they just all seem to make sense. So much so that there doesn’t seem to be much point in even questioning anything relating to the field. I think it would be fair to say that the domain of American public schooling seems to fit together in such a way that everything seems to make sense (or be reasonable). This is not to say we always like it, but it seems to make sense–at least until we start asking some probing questions–some deeper questions.

 

1000w_q75

This is a picture of Jim encouraging Marge to ask deeper questions.

This is a picture of Marge asking Jim if Jim he would stop standing on her air hose.

 

We find ourselves living and working within an official theory of schooling. Our school environment is so obvious to us that we seldom find any reason to question into it. Also, the domain of schooling is coherent enough that it is easy to contrast one domain (the official theory) with, say, home schooling or learning a hobby on your own. Interestingly, the current official domain of schooling is so ingrained and seemingly coherent that it is difficult to even imagine using ideas and methods from outside the domain and incorporating them into the official domain.

 

Back to my initial reasons for questioning:

We want to adopt a questioning mindset.

We want to become more sensitive to our school environment.

In our recognition of different narratives, we become ‘poly-observant’ in a sense. We develop a polymorphic understanding.

We may, in the final analysis find aspects of tradition that are obscuring, limiting, or oppressive.

 

Listening to those who question the tradition

We can question. But to become more sensitive to our school environment–to recognize the patterns of activities and the artifacts/tools in use–we can learn from others who have not questioned the validity of the tradition. They help us think outside of our tradition. They allow us to see our tradition from a different vantage point. These voices can then be used as a comparison. It is definitely easier to recognize the intricacies, the strengths, or shortcomings, of something when you are able to compare and contrast.

You will find that theorists who seem to be challenging the dominant or official theory of schooling will be pointing to formalistic aspects. In other words, they are not challenging the things that are going well. They typically challenge those aspects of schooling that we do without reasonably understanding why we do them.

 

Teacher of the Year

I would like to share with you a speech given by a man who won the New York Teacher of the Year award twice, and taught for 30 years in the public school system. He is someone who loves education, but doesn’t much care for the institution of schooling. You see, institutions have particular narratives that sometimes support the institution rather than the people the institution was designed to initially support. His name is John Taylor Gatto. This is the speech he gave when being awarded Teacher of the Year. As you read his speech I know that many of you will find it a bit disturbing. Some of you will feel angry with what Mr. Gatto says. I know that. But in all fairness I have to make something explicit before you read this because without knowing Mr. Gatto’s other writings, it might be a bit out of context for you. You might feel as though he doesn’t like teachers. It is important here to know that Mr. Gatto is very supportive of education and teachers. But he questions practices that are either not in the best interest of students and teachers, and he questions practices that are being done without adequate understanding — formalistic practices in other words. He came to many conclusions regarding unfortunate ways the institution (the system) treats students and teachers. He is looking into the cracks of the official narratives of schooling.

 

Mr. Gatto is very supportive of education and teachers.

As I said, Mr. Gatto was a school teacher for many years himself. So as you read his talk, try not to misunderstand what he is saying. Mr. Gatto is opposed to “Systems and institutions” that operate for the sake of the “system” and then drag us along with it.

 

Why are we reading this? 

I am glad you asked that. We are working to get glimmers of the schooling environment that might not be readily apparent to us. Why? They are part of our tradition. We perform and accept without question. Mr. Gatto looks at aspects of schooling that we don’t normally talk about. That’s not to say that every thing he says is right. And that is not to say that what he says doesn’t apply to my school or my teaching. However, if might apply to some schooling. And if we don’t talk about something, we might not see it. Perhaps he views the school environment from a different lens. To use a Marshall McLuhan aphorism, he is trying to help us see the water from the fish’s perspective.

 

fish-did-not-discover-water-marshall-mcluhan-in-fact-because-they-are-completely-immersed-in-it-they-live-unaware-of-its-existence-similarly-when-a-conduct-is-normalized-by-a-dominant-cu

 

So if Mr. Gatto isn’t opposed to teachers and education, what is he opposed to? What narratives is he addressing?

Mr. Gatto is opposed to a tradition that privileges efficiency systems and compliance-based institutions.

Mr. Gatto is opposed to “Systems and institutions” that operate for the sake of the “system.”

Mr. Gatto is opposed to systems and institutions that limit our own personal freedoms.

Is he right to suggest that the school environment is a system and and institution? Is he right to suggest that systems and institutions limit our own personal freedoms? Are people’s personal freedoms limited in school environments? What is a system-produced (or politically-produced) phenomenon? If you have ever wondered why on earth you are doing so much testing when you think that it is unnecessary, then you may be witnessing a system-produced (or politically-produced) phenomenon.

There are a number of aspects regarding the “school system environment” that Gatto brings to the surface that we might want to see more clearly:

curricular sequence
subjects
facts
theories
sequences
school subjects
class position
numbering students
competition
testing
scores
grades
lessons
objectives
projects
bells
authority
rights
discipline
control
individuality
classification
intellectual dependency
experts
theories
resistance
enthusiasm
employers
conformity
resistance
counselors
self-esteem
report cards
cumulative records
regimentation
basic skills
global competition

 

Becoming attuned to these aspects of schooling is great for us. As we become more aware of these aspects of schooling, we are in a better position to begin to ask the questions as to why many students and teachers experience schooling in particular ways. We might begin to ask, “why are things the way they are?”

Now, let me emphasize that you don’t have to agree with what Mr. Gatto has to say, and you don’t have to like what he has to say. Regardless, there is something powerful in developing the ability to see that which is often obscure from our view. Mr. Gatto forces us to look more deeply at the system of schooling, and he helps us begin to tease out the educational aspects of learning from the systematic techniques of schooling.

 

Please don’t make this mistake

I would like to share something else with you before you read Mr. Gatto’s talk: Some of my students in the past have misinterpreted something in Gatto’s talk. When they read Gatto saying that he confuses students, or that he teaches provisional self esteem, etc., they presume that he is intentionally teaching students to be confused, compliant, etc.. This is not what he is saying. Gatto is saying that there is a system in place that creates environments that are detrimental to students and teachers–a system in place that is designed in such a way that teachers are expected to teach in a manner that creates confusion. And, as a teacher working within the system, he was expected to enforce the system without question. So, he doesn’t deliberately confuse students and he doesn’t think we should confuse students. Confusion is forced upon them as a result of the nature of the system. We often end up teaching not what we believe to be right, but what is expected by the institution.

 

Please take some time to read Gatto’s Seven Lesson School Teacher.

 

Here are some things to think about as you read The Seven Lesson School Teacher

1) What are the seven lessons that Gatto talks about;

2) What is institutional logic (Gatto also refers to this as the logic of the school mind)?; and,

3) Can we make the connection between what he is saying and formalism (unquestioned adherence to procedure)?

 

As you read his talk, you will learn more about his position on schooling. This will help you think about this week’s questions.

 

 

Gatto’s Seven Lesson School Teacher.

Call me Mr. Gatto, please. Twenty-six years ago, having nothing better to do at the time, I tried my hand at school teaching. The license I hold certifies that I am an instructor of English language and English literature, but that isn’t what I do at all. I don’t teach English, I teach school — and I win awards doing it.

 

Please read John Taylor Gatto’s Seven Lesson School Teacher

SevenLessons PDF

 

__________________

 

We can see how he is trying to reveal the hidden assumptions in school, and how we might begin to make some shifts in our practices to make schooling more positive for students.

While it may sound as educational theorists are simply criticizing, it is important to remember that critique does not necessarily mean to criticize. The critic has an important role to play in revealing that which may be hidden from our view because of its familiarity.

John Taylor Gatto: Classrooms of the Heart (short version)

 

John Taylor Gatto: Classrooms of the Heart (long version)

 

Let me return to something that I said just prior to introducing Mr. Gatto:

What if our schooling discourse has unfolded within a tradition that supports a limited view of being human (or human being)–what might that say about our schooling practices?

It would be worth spending some time trying to understand an important aspect of being human that schools often leave out of the pedagogical practice — that is the way the human body experiences the world.