A bit of a review:
Our experiences take place within, and are informed by, context.
We dwell in such a way that we experience materials, form, purpose, bodily comportments.
As we dwell, neurons that fire together wire together.
The foundations of education and schooling start here. — in its simplest form, two single neurons of the human body.
Without this linking, without neurons wiring together, education would be meaningless. Thus, it is worth our considering why this wiring together is such an important consideration when we think about schooling and education. For it is only when we consider educational and schooling aspects against the background of neurons that we can speak intelligently about the efficacy of schooling.
Everything that teachers do, whether they realize it or not, is an endeavor to wiring together neurons. Everything that schools do, for better or worse, affects this wiring together of student neurons.
Everything students experience is the firing, or enlivening, of these neurons that are wired together.
When critics critique schooling practices, whether deliberately or not, they are making reference to these neurons and the way they are being wired together.
As we dwell, neurons that fire together wire together.
It is necessary that we remember that our neurons extend throughout our bodies, and our bodily experiences perturb neurons in such a way that they are able to wire together.
With an increase of experience, we develop neuronal clusters, or cell assemblies.
The neurons are woven throughout our bodies even though the neural clusters are located within our heads.
Neurons that fire together wire together.
Once our neuronal cells are assembled into a web, if we happen to perturb one set of neurons, such as our sight neurons, they will trigger the other neurons that are woven together so that we can experience the object. When we see hot chocolate, we also re-experience what it smells like, looks like, tastes like, the environment we had hot chocolate, etc.
The same applies for taste. If we were to close our eyes and taste some hot chocolate, all of the connected neurons would be perturbed so that we have a full experience of the hot chocolate.
If we perturb some neurons but they are not connected to an assembly of cells, we don’t have any reciprocating experience. For example, in our word game, when I said, “The clown threw Platts Begoilla into the audience you experienced part of the sentence when you fired assemblies that allowed you to experience clown, threw and audience. You also had neurons firing that allowed you to experience the letter sounds of the word Platts Begoilla, but you did not have a full meaning of what was presumably happening because Platts Begoilla wasn’t connected to any assembly.
We can make connections between previously established cell assemblies and the new neurons being perturbed. Let me demonstrate:
Many of you tried to guess what Platts Begoilla might be. The teacher can help you learn new things by connecting assemblies you already have to a new context. You already have neuronal cell assemblies that help you understand what circuses are, what people with dwarfism are, and what mean behavior is and how it feels. Let me help you tie these cell assemblies together so you can now have an understanding of what the statement, “The clown threw Platts Begoilla into the audience.
Platts Begoilla was a clown. His first name was Platts. His last name was Begoilla. Mr. Begoilla was a little person and found work in the circus. He was mistreated by many of the people working in the circus — especially by one clown who was known to be a bully. Here are some pictures:
This is the day that Raúl Simone, a rather large bully of a clown, after being enraged by some earlier incident, chased down Mr. Begoilla and violently threw him into the first row of the audience.
When you first heard the statement, “The clown threw Platts Begoilla into the audience” the words Platts Begoilla did not connect to any cell assemblies.
Now that you have connected Platts Begoilla to your already existing neuronal cell assemblies, when you hear me talk about Mr Begoilla, you will re-enliven the neuronal cluster and have an understanding of what I am saying.
Rather than thinking about the artifact having meaning within a context, we can shift our thinking to recognizing that our biological bodies have meaning within a situation (or context).
We have already discussed at some length the necessity of having all aspects of the modality frame enlivened or activated to experience understanding. We can refer to this simple representation as a neuronal cell assembly, or a neuronal web, or a cluster of connected neurons.
We can recognize that a shift in any of the modalities can alter the context sufficiently that we experience a different context. We might think of our experiences as being multi-dimensional.
I would like to emphasize our multi-dimensional nature or multi-faceted background understanding because this speaks to the important idea of being able to dwell meaningfully in future encounters.
It is probably worth mentioning that the dodecahedron is simply used as a metaphor to help us visualize the different neuronal webs and the multi-dimensional web structure. This would be a representation without the dodecahedron.
How do school environments contribute to, or hinder learning and understanding?
Now that we understand understanding, we are in a better position to consider how schools influence the development of our understanding. We have already argued that understanding is a necessary aspect of education and thus should be a necessary consideration for schooling. This is not to say that schools do not have an agenda that extends beyond understanding, but without helping in the development of understanding, we would not be educating (assuming we are correct in our belief that being educated is having understanding).
It is important that we understand the neuronal/biological underpinnings of learning and understanding because without that understanding, it can be difficult to know why some educational environments are successful at helping students learn, and what might be responsible or attributable to the difficulty teachers and students might be facing.
We began our explorations by considering understanding within single contexts — what does one have to learn to understand something or some idea. We have extended this thinking to include the question of ‘how’ one develops understanding. This consideration reveals to us that neuronal cell assemblies that share commonalities with that which we are trying to learn can be ‘wired’ to the new experiences in such a way that we can connect or rewire our already established assemblies to new developing assemblies.
In our sporting example, as we watch a game of rugby for the first time we perceive what we perceive as a result of what we have already established from our previous experiences. If we have a great deal of neuronal assemblies already established from watching American football in the past, the activation of those assemblies will provide us with a familiarity and we will be quick to connect the new with the established. If we have played American football in the past, we will have an even greater web of neurons to begin to weave together and to make sense of the new sport of rugby we are watching for the first time.
This idea of understanding as a result of activating neuronal cell assemblies is, for us, a foundational or fundamental understanding of education and with a recognition and focus on this key idea it becomes easier for us to evaluate, judge, and create schooling environments that are educational.
We can question the influences
John Taylor Gatto
Neurons that fire together wire together
One Dimensional Objects: Lack of Future Possibility (Worker Model)
Pipeline Communication Assumptions
Privileging Knowledge Over Understanding
Oh, that reminds me . . . .
Question: How do you light a bulb with a battery and a wire?
We can think of a response to any statement or question as, “oh, that reminds me . . . .” When we hear something we are reminded of past experience. In other words, when we hear something neuronal cell assemblies are being activated that has us re-create aspects of previous experience. When we hear, “The dentist opened a can of beans with his drill” we activate clusters (assemblies) of neurons that have us re-experience what we have experienced previously with dentists, dentist drills, dentist chairs, cans of beans, and opening cans. When we hear the statement we are, as one might say, re-minded of past events.
Consider how this occurs in a learning situation and how that, “oh, that reminds me . . .” can impede what one is supposed to be learning.
The high school student in Mr. Carter’s physics class who was asked to light the bulb with a battery and wire was presumably “reminded” of past experiences with bulbs. We can reasonably expect that she had had previous experiences screwing lightbulbs into sockets. We can reasonably presume she had experiences with batteries with the recognition that a battery will provide the necessary power to light a bulb. She had some experience with wires because she was clearly aware that they could be bent and twisted.
As the documentary shows us, the student was asked, prior to her classes on batteries, bulbs, circuits, and electricity, to draw a picture of a bulb being lit by a battery.
The connections that that student provided in her drawing wouldn’t have illuminated the bulb.
In class she was instructed on what was necessary to light a bulb and also had the chance to light the bulb with a battery, two wires, and a bulb socket.
The interesting point that is made in the documentary is that the student was unable to light the bulb with a battery and wire without the use of the socket.
Furthermore, the mistakes that she made in trying to configure a circuit were the same mistakes she made prior to taking the class.
The researchers attribute this lack of learning to the idea that students come to lessons with ideas already established and they hear what they want to hear and are resistant to changing ideas even if the ideas are incorrect. Using our language of neurons, we could say that students come into a context (or instructional context) with neuronal cell assemblies already established. They perceive (hear and understand) what they already have available because of those assemblies, and they disregard what is unavailable. The student has experience with bulbs, sockets, batteries and wires and those cell assemblies are activating. But, even though Mr. Carter said, “You have to make a complete circuit,” if the term circuit is not being activated in any meaningful way, then the necessary idea of circuit is not being included in the lighting of the bulb. Mr, Carter used the words, bulb, battery, wires, and the student is responding, “Oh, that reminds me that every time I have handled light bulbs I have screwed them into sockets. Sockets are necessary.” And the student is thinking about this, and enlivening these neuronal cell assemblies while Mr. Carter is also saying loops and complete circuits.
Mr. Carter rightfully says, “We can provide students with excellent explanations but that doesn’t mean that students will understand what we think they understand.”
This might suggest that we have to be very clear what we want students to understand and continuously deliberately help students make those neuronal connections.
Deliberate Neuronal Connecting
Multi-dimensional experiences and the foundational strand.
For every in-order-to or for-the-sake-of we can have many representative contexts that share that in-order-to.
These individual contexts contribute to our multi-dimensional understanding that represent each in-order-to.
When the-in-order-to isn’t clear, we find ourselves learning something for-the-sake-of learning that thing rather than developing a multi-dimensional understanding that will then contribute to our meaningful dwelling in the future.
Let us begin by recognizing that we each have the potential for multi-dimensional understanding.
So while of course I do all the schools standards, we do Shakespeare because I personally love it, and my passion is passed on to the students.
I’ve used Shakespeare as kind of a microcosm to teach the children all of the things that I want them to learn because it’s not really about Shakespeare.
These kids are not Shakespearean actors.
They’re not going to be Shakespearean actors.
By learning Shakespeare, these children are learning enormous amounts of vocabulary, enormous amounts of discipline, team work, the respect for one another, so that when one child is on stage, the others are learning maybe it’s my time to be quiet and let him have this moment.
And I will tell you that my students who go through the Shakespeare program come back five years later, 10 years later, and tell me it’s what they learned on this stage that helped them get to Princeton or to Harvard or to UCLA or USC.
You know what Hamlet is really about in one word?
But in one word that starts with a D. It’s the big issue.
It’s about death.
I mean, think about it, what’s the first thing that happens in the play?
The very first thing that happens?
It starts with a death.
I mean, the whole play is set in motion with the death of the king.
So many people die in this play that at the end of the play, there are bodies all over the stage.
Towards the end of the play in the great scene in the graveyard– Right?
They got the scene in the graveyard, and they’re throwing skulls out of the graves.
No, I mean, to the point where Hamlet actually picks up this skull and goes let me think about the meaning of this.
I think you’ve got to say this play is about death.
And let’s face it, it’s something we all think about.
Let’s see if, now, we all hear this speech a little bit differently than we once heard it before.
The reading scores in this class are very high, and if you hear the kids ooh and ah and beg for more, that’s what reading is supposed to be, a thrilling adventure.
These kids read very well, and more importantly, they keep reading.
Many of the great books that we read in this classroom have to do with the struggles of being young and growing up, and the kids really relate to them because they’re young, and they’re facing the struggle of growing up.
So we read Huck Finn, we reach Catcher in the Rye, we read A Separate Peace, we read Lord of the Flies, and we always read To Kill a Mockingbird.
We read the biography of Malcolm X. We always read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
I had a lot of favorite books in Rafe’s class, but one of my favorites was Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because Mark Twain– he puts us in Huck’s spot, and he makes is choose if we should always follow the society or be our self.
In chapter 31, in just a few minutes, it will be time for Huck, finally, to do the right thing and turn Jim in and make him a slave. And that is the right thing, isn’t it boys and girls?
It is the right thing.
Don’t you think?
That’s what society’s telling him.
“And then I happened to look around and see that paper. It was a close place, and I held in my hand.
And I was a-trembling because I’ve got to decide forever betwixt two things, and I know’d it.
I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself all right, then, I’ll go to Hell, and tore it up.” Danielle, will you read, Danielle?
“And I started thinking over how to get at it, and turned over considerable many ways that I might, and at last fixed up a plan that suited me.” [SOBS QUIETLY]
I told you, it’s powerful stuff.
It’s real powerful stuff.
So what decision did Huck make?
The climax is over.
He’s going to be?
He’ll be a bad boy.
He’ll be a bad boy.
At least according to this world, he will, but what he’s really going to be is he’s going to be himself.
He’s not going to let the society tell them what to do.
And isn’t that a decision that all of you have to make? Society’s going to tell you how to dress, what to play, what pop group to listen to, how to cut your hair. Isn’t that ridiculous?
Each of you is so individually special.
I hope you guys make these kinds of decisions in your life.
My favorite book that we read in Rafe’s class is the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain because it really holds the mirror up to our nature.
It really shows how we really are, how humans think.
We try to find a balance in this class, so we have days where the kids are working very hard.
And now it’s Halloween, and I want these kids to feel like they’re Americans.
And that’s part of the tradition of being an American, so we have a day of just complete silliness.
And there’s nothing being learned today except that even in the structure of this craziness, the kids do a good job cleaning up.
They’re kind of each other.
They wait for each other in turns.
So even on a day when there’s supposedly no learning going on, there’s still a lot of learning going on, and that ‘s the mark of a good classroom. Once they’re in a culture of excellence, I don’t care what color they are, they do fine.
You know about political correctness, we actually have classes now like how to teach Latino kids mathematics or how to reach Asian children.
You know, 2 and 2 is still 4.
We’re making it so complicated.
If you think about the mission of my class, be nice, work hard, that’s two good things to be, a nice person and a hard worker.
I don’t care what your background is, you remember those things, you’re going to do fine, and these kids are living proof of it.
The best thing about the Hobart Shakespeareans is that they know what they’re saying.
We work very hard– I know you work hard, and you understand every single word.
And that couldn’t be said of all actors who do Shakespeare.
I come to school every Saturday because in my early years as a teacher I was really failing.
I got fifth and sixth graders up to a very high level, and they’d go off to middle school, and it would be right over a cliff.
Gangs and drugs, and my greatest fear, they became ordinary, which really is what I’m trying to teach the kids not to be.
I want them to be extraordinary because I know that they are.
I know that they have it within them to have extraordinary lives, do extraordinary things, but it wasn’t happening.
And I realize that if, after a year of me, the only thing they learned was Rafe’s a cool teacher, or I had a fun year, that’s failing.
The real measure of teaching is where are these kids five years from now, 10 years from now, so I started the Saturday program.
As a result, the kids are studying for the SAT, studying higher mathematics, Shakespeare of course.
But more important than the study, it’s a chance for these old friends to get together, kids that have gone off to different schools, and now they get back together with their old mates in an environment where their striving for excellence is cherished.
Going to college is hard.
Can you do it?
Absolutely, you can.
But you better listen when you’re young, and you better make some good decisions when you’re young, or else you’re going to be like a lot 18-year-old kids going, gee, I should’ve done this, I should have done that.
And if you think, hey, I’m smart, I’ll get there, it takes so much more than being smart.
Here’s a classic thing about college.
Here’s one group that wants people to join the Navy, and then here we have another group that’s demanding that we stop war.
So you get two different kinds of people all in a cause.
That’s what a university’s all about, every idea works here.
This is what college is.
It’s a lot of work.
Make no mistake about it, there are no shortcuts.
You want to be a top student at anything, you got to work, unless you’re a genius.
Any of you geniuses?
It’s quiet here.
It’s not like Hobart school.
Nobody bothers people.
People show respect for each other.
This is the life you’re working for.
How many would like to be a part of a place like this?
You can do this.
Using What We Know To Transform Ourselves
We have already talked about how food items can come into being.
Restaurant: : a business establishment where meals or refreshments may be purchased
You would likely feel insulted if someone walked up to you and asked, “What are you?” Clearly a more appropriate question would be, “Who are you?”
‘What’ presumes one is asking about an object. And people do not experience themselves as objects. We are multi-dimensional. We have many facets to our lives. Our lived experience brings out those many unique dimensions. We are not a single thing. Nor are we one-dimensional.
We are not one-dimensional objects. Rather, we come into being in unique ways in unique situations. We might be quite different when we are alone than when we are with friends. We might act and feel differently when we are at work than we do when we are in school. We might seem to be a different person when we are playing a competitive sport than we are when we are sitting in the audience enjoying a classical music concert.
We do not think of ourselves as objects. And there is not one single objective fact or set of facts that define us. Even though we could be said to be physically the same person in each different context in which we dwell, each different context brings forth different ways of being who we are. Our experience is an experience made meaningful by the context in which we dwell.
In our dwelling, our lives have meaning. We feel as though our lives are meaningful within the context in which we dwell. At one point we are who we are because of the relationship we have with our friends or family. During our experience with family, we are a mother, a father, a brother, son, sister, daughter, etc. How we are with our family might not seem relevant when we are at work, or at school, or in the theater. Who are we when we are in school? Perhaps a teacher, or a student. Who are we with when we are playing a musical instrument? Perhaps a musician. We are meaningful within the context in which we find ourselves.
The contexts in which we dwell have lead to our own development of neuronal cell assemblies so that when we encounter similar contexts or situations, we re-experience ways of acting. We have learned (and we understand) how to act at home when we are eating dinner with our family. When we encounter a similar situation, such as having a meal at a friend’s family’s home, we re-enliven those same neuronal assemblies that have us act in appropriate ways.
If we were one-dimensional, we would seem to be acting inappropriately in any number of situations that called for specific ways of acting.
As you get older, you become very aware that there are different ways of acting in different situations. You become aware that there is a core idea or central idea behind all of the ways we act. The central idea is that ‘we act in ways suggested by the context’.
Not only do we dwell within contexts, we dwell with others and with things. When we dwell with things, we find meaning within the context in which we dwell with things. The fish hook (spinner) has a different meaning for me if I am standing in the store considering spinners than if I am on a boat tying a spinner to my fishing line. My trumpet has a different meaning to me if I am in the football stands ready to play a cheer than if I am sitting on stage in a symphony orchestra ready to play a solo part. While the spinner, or the trumpet doesn’t physically change, they are made meaningful as I experience them within a context. Just as we experience a friend differently in different contexts, so too is our experience with things.
To substitute ‘what the physical object is’ for ‘how the object means within a context’ would be to miss the depth and significance of our dwelling with the thing.
We don’t simply experience a food item. We experience a food item within a context. Eating a Big Mac is a different experience when pulling it out of a bag as we pull out of the McDonald’s drive-through than eating a hamburger at Denny’s. The object is not simply an object unto itself but within a context is an event.
Things come into being (come into existence) within contexts. The context of the restaurant brings some menu items into existence rather than others. We also come into being in a particular way when we dwell with things within the contexts. For example, the taco comes into existence within the Taco Bell. The sushi comes into existence in Momiji’s. The Big Mac, in McDonalds, etc. The context of each restaurant is such that these things seem to be meaningful not simply as objects but as food experiences within the appropriate context.
In other words, we can understand the pizza, or the taco, or the sushi by taking into account all of the experiential modalities. But each menu item, when in the context of a particular restaurant, provides us with an additional, contextual experience.
For example, sports do have commonalities. Changes in the materials, or the form, or the in-order-to, or the bodily movements change the context enough for us to experience a different sport.
We often find that one who understands one or more sports can understand a new sport with little difficulty.
Those who already possess a good understanding of American football can understand rugby with little effort. One who understands baseball might find little difficulty in coming to understand cricket.
As we experience different sports our multi-dimensional understanding is developed.