Assessment for Critical Literacy

This semester’s Socials 9 curriculum was conceived with an intention to cultivate critical literacy, which I have come to define more and more as an ability to develop a praxis of reflection and action to continually discover and define meaning in an increasingly complex system. In learning from curricula, relationships or experience, individuals and societies alike are tasked with reinventing and transforming their reality as necessity and changing circumstances may dictate.

As I have attempted to re-imagine social studies as a venue for citizenship education, each of the TALONS classes have begun the semester with experiments in collaborative assignment and unit planning from the start. In considering our study of the English Civil War, there has been discussion of several questions:

What do we need to know? 

The class began by considering course outcomes and evaluating text and online materials to help guide the discovery of the unit’s main ideas, events and historical personages. Then set about generating criteria, a schedule and daily means by which the agreed-upon content could be learned.

In collecting, distributing and summarizing a range of primary and secondary sources on early 1600s England, What do we need to know was joined by What is there to be known about the topic? And as the readings’ various themes and ideas were identified and organized, the discussion shifted to consider What is important to know about these topics? As well as What do I think about all of this? 

But this was only one aspect of identification and collaboration to engage an agreed-upon problem. This is merely the deconstruction – the breaking into a million little pieces that could then be assembled into coherence anew through each learner/investigator’s reflection and action.

And it introduced a new question (and it’s a mouthful):

How do we know that we know what we’re now supposed to know (now)? 

In terms of reconstructing that knowledge, effective learning should also address the question How do we assess the learning that has taken place? But in considering critical literacy and consciousness, it becomes important that this question in particular is asked in such a way that it continues to be driven by the collaborative acumen and expertise of the group itself, just as the unit has been planned and carried out thus far.

This aspect of assessment is traditionally a means of learning owned and operated by the teacher. But the crux of this type of collaboratively-designed learning, and of the development of a continual praxis of behaviour, teacher and student are each challenged to engage their critical literacy, which may also be described as a kind of empathetic design research.

In their paper, Rethinking Design Thinking: Empathy Supporting InnovationMcDonagh and Thomas describe a process during which,

“as designers use empathy to support their research, ‘design moments’ emerge which provide them with more design-relevant data and supports product innovation.”

Here we see the designer’s role shift to that of a co-investigator, where

“the designer and user engage as collaborators, and together develop knowledge and understanding in order to generate appropriate solutions for real needs.

“Empathetic design research relies on the user being an active and participating partner within the information creation and designing process.”

Design’s quest for innovation begins to find itself within an emerging confluence of educational philosophy. Isn’t this innovation what Gregory Bateson might have described as transformative learning, or what Paulo Freire deemed a ‘limit situation‘?  This “simplicity of cause” comes as an affirmation of the ongoing praxis of co-investigation and co-creation that we might conceive of as critical literacy.

In looking toward assessing the English Civil War unit learning, the critical element arising out of the classes’ progress is the need for learners to acquire habits of mind and relation that make this continual praxis possible. For the TALONS (including myself), we may have found ourselves stalled and struggling to define and enact the required action for the moment. But while it may appear so on the surface, this moment of negative momentum is hardly an insurmountable obstacle. Indeed, it is the moment of tension in which true critical intelligences are asserted.

Critical Literacy in Assessment Methods

So we are confronted with the question, How do we know that we know what we’re supposed to know? It is a question of assessment, and one which is traditionally held at the end of units and courses of study as the sole dominion of the teacher. But such are the assumptions which bind both teachers and students to outdated pedagogies that may have fallen out of step with our stated intentions for learning: the apparent impossibility of imagining another way stops us from even considering it.

For my own part, even in projects and courses during which I have taken pains to co-investigate and instruct alongside my students as much as possible, the means of the learning still arrive at a point where my own voice is heard alone.

I arrive at a mark, and distribute feedback based on rubrics, course standards and report card criteria. And this isn’t to say that there isn’t still a place for this within institutionalized learning; indeed our competency and necessity as learning professionals is in many ways bound to our ability to evaluate and assess student learning.

But without obliterating the role of the teacher altogether, it is still possible to re-imagine the role of teachers in helping students direct not only the initial aspects of a project or course of study, but the means of assessment as well. To adopt the praxis of Freire’s critical consciousness is to confront the inherent difficulty of creating learning institutions where

“knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”

While the teacher’s profession still involves the adjudication of academic or institutional success, the creation of a critical consciousness in schools still faces us with what Freire called “the teacher-student contradiction.” However, with the introduction of Russian philosopher Mikhail Bathkin‘s idea of polyphony, Alexander M. Sidorkin cultivates a third path between the ‘either or’:

“Bakhtin’s principle of polyphony offers a radically new way of conciliation of power imbalance within mutuality of relation. According to Bakhtin, an author of the polyphonic novel creates heroes that are fully independent of their creator. The problem of authority imbalance may be misstated; it is the specific kind of monological authority that eliminates mutuality, not authority itself. The polyphonic authority creates mutuality, and only this kind of authority should be used in education.”

Emergent Knowledge and Institutional Learning

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12

“…if educators wish to encourage the emergence of meaning in the classroom, then the meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

Deborah Osberg and Gert Biesta

A conception of learning I have been exploring and experimenting with in the last year has been attempting to design learning which imagines knowledge as an emergent event. Building on the constructivist perspective that knowledge exists in the act of its creation, meaning can be seen to emerge as it is assigned contexts of identification, value and purpose by individuals, as well as cultures. But even while such progressive perspectives on knowledge may be embraced by school administrators and teachers across institutionalized learning, the emergentist view presents a unique challenge to the design-minded educator.

In attempting to conceive of education within an emergent epistemology, Deborah Osberg and Gert Biesta explore the question of “whether it is possible to maintain an emergentist conception of meaning in an ‘educational’ context, which in turn raises the question of what is meant by education.” Educational designers are forced to consider such questions in providing a context for learning in which meaning can be created by participants, and yet still fulfill the mandated curricular aspects of a particular course of study.

Osberg and Biesta outline the pragmatic critique of such “unguided” learning thoroughly:

The idea that meaning can be ‘created’ in the classroom has, however, been regarded with a good measure of suspicion by many educators because of its association with the much criticized ‘romantic’ or ‘anti-authoritarian’ version of progressive education in which the role of the teacher is downplayed to the extent that it does not matter precisely what is learned as long as students are leaning something. It has been argued again and again by conservatives and radicals alike that this pedagogy has no real ‘educational’ value. On the one hand, the ‘untutored’ approach puts people in the position of having to ‘reinvent the wheel’ before they can egt anywhere, and, on the other, it allows for anything-goes inventionalism, where people can simply ‘make things up’ rather than deal with the ‘reality’ of the world. Dewey (1984: 59) himself – one of the foremost proponents of progressive education – claimed the ‘romantic’ approach was not only uneducational but ‘real stupid.'”

In reflecting on these learning experiences, I agree with the authors’ assertion that “for an emergentist conception of meaning to contribute to discussions about education it must not reduce the concept of education to untutored learning,” and hope here to shed some light on the role of instruction in an emergent setting.

Fortunate last semester to consider the curriculum of our locally-developed Philosophy 12 course alongside these ideas, last fall’s class’ Metaphysics unit took the form of a “discussable object.” For my part, I hoped to engage the content-aspect of the course curriculum here by experimenting with what Paulo Freire called “the program content of the problem-posing method,” which he proposed should be:

“constituted and organized by the students’ view of the world, where their own generative themes are found. The content thus constantly expands and renews itself. The task of the dialogical teacher in an interdisciplinary team working on the thematic universe revealed by their investigation is to “re-present” that universe to the people from whom she or he received it – and “re-present” is not as a lecture, but as a problem.”

#PhilsDayOff

Before delving into the explicitly content-oriented aspect of the unit (the nature of metaphysics), the class held a handful of discussions and negotiations to reach a rough agreement of the questions raised by the topic – essentially revolving around the seminal, What is? –  and sought consensus around how those questions would be explored, shared and represented.  As the group deliberated on the themes and ideas brought about in their own study of an individually chosen metaphysician, practical aspects of the unit plan were analyzed and revised to align the assignments’ form authentically with an emergent view of content.

From my perspective, the notion of not apprehending the direction or meanings yet to emerge from the collective inquiry created a challenge in defining my role as teacher, a topic I brought as my own part in the group’s investigation and inquiry. In developing a scope and sequence for the unit’s activities and assignments, my own obligations – to the Ministry of Education, our course curriculum, as well as the individuals in the class itself – were only one part of the collected spectrum of needs expressed in these formative discussions, and were integrated into the emerging course of action as we progressed together.

As a co-investigator and mentor, rather than de-facto leader of the group, I attempted to teach and facilitate by advocating for my own expectations as part of an ongoing negotiation that included each member of the class on (somewhat) equal footing. I was upfront about the contradiction of attempting to provide student freedom within the constraints of our school system where I was/am still tasked with rating and evaluating their learning numerically for the purposes of university admission and other future prospects.

Aesthetics Discussion

Given this reality, it was nevertheless my intention to provide the necessary space for an authentic synthesis of individual subjectivities to be discovered and expressed by the group, free of interventions on my part that unfairly leveraged my power as teacher.

However, just because I had intended to create a vacuum of authority in the classroom didn’t mean that it was immediately or ‘productively’ filled by students eager to seize control over their own learning. Through the course of the class’ initial discussions and unit plans, I found myself interjecting to highlight different aspects of the processes at work (variously successful and with room improvement) as the group attempted to reach consensus:

  • pointing out people’s unconscious tendency to seek my approval before progressing with a topic or question;
  • inquiring about ways different aspects of metaphysical thought might be applied to the class’ efforts to discover its individual and collective ideas;
  • and identifying moments during which I very well could provide the next step in synthesis, but wherein it would be more instructive for the group to reach its own conclusion.

Image courtesy of EmeraldInsight.com

These interjections might be considered efforts to facilitate the generation of dialogue and empathy around tacit and explicit meanings being uncovered throughout the unit. In attempting to sense the meanings and concepts emerging through the class’ discussions, my expertise as the teacher had indeed shifted from dissemination of the course content to a facilitation of the course process.

Building on the initial success of the Discussable Object, I viewed the course’s next unit – that of Epistemology – as an opportunity to synthesize our recently concluded learning into new paths of discovery, both for myself and the class. In looking past the first level of such spiral learning, each of us had to press beyond the understandings reached through the Metaphysics unit and seek out the questions and contradictions at the heart of epistemology, namely: What do we know? And How do we know it? 

Epistemology Unit Planning

Epistemology Unit Planning

Here, the class was aided by Julie in capturing a discussion that looked back at what had come out of our previous unit, as well as ahead at what the class intended to make of its next topic. There were elements of the Metaphysics study that many deemed essential to repeat, and ways in which the group could seek out new challenges.

For teacher and students alike, one of these opportunities involved the nature of my participation in the process. Previously, I had contributed to class discussions and learning by gently nudging the group forward with questions or interventions that sought to connect or create context between different aspects of metaphysics and the group dynamic. But in initially discussing Epistemology with the class, we began to see the possibility of meaning and understanding arising more genuinely through student creation, free of teacher input.

Without question this next level of autonomous learning would not have been possible without the more involved teaching that preceded it. Again during Epistemology I was forced to (re)consider my position in the room to best support the expressed intentions for the unit during class discussions, smaller-group inquiries, and individual development, working toward a series of peer-facilitated conversations where I attempted to resign myself position of observer, only.

In these discussions, there were many different moments when I would have liked to pipe up, offer my own thoughts or connections to the class’ collected momentum. At others, when the discussion stalled, I found myself reflexively wanting to help, and question, prod, or provoke some new angle on the conversation. But in each case, having let the moment of possible intervention pass, something spontaneous and meaningful arose from one member of the class or another.

No longer were eyes and faces awaiting my permission or validation before proceeding; knowledge was being constructed between participants essentially without my guidance. But this characterization is misleading, as my ‘guidance’ had merely shifted its focus over the course of several weeks to accommodate and help bring about a more organic collective consciousness. Far from diminishing our part in the learning process, there is a niche to be explored and defined outlining the teacher’s role in an emergent classroom.

True to the epistemology from which such a pedagogy might take its inspiration, we cannot yet know where this might take us.

On 21st Century Schools

As I’ve explored at some length here, I think of schools today as guided by our mission statements and legal mandates to pursue an ageless ideal of education along the lines of how John Dewey characterized schooling as the act of “preparing students for the adult vocations needed for society to continue to exist.”

The question of whether our current schools / teachers / curriculum are preparing students for the 21st century involves an analysis of the implicit messages communicated by schools about education and whether they are in line with the values of enlightenment and learning: an investigation of what we might call the Hidden Curriculum 

José García and Noah De Lissovoy introduce the idea that “school curriculum at any given point in time can be marked by the cultural, political and economic structure of that particular society.” Building from this premise, they set about defining the momentary economic need addressed by 21st century school curricula:

“Capitalism in its current stage is marked by structural changes in the process of production along with the rise of a global neoliberal political order. This stage is characterized by the transition to a post-Fordist process of production along with the rise of a neoliberal political project to establish the conditions for capital accumulation and to restore the power of economic elites through the crafting of specific political and ideological structures and understandings (Harvey 2005; Wacquant 2012). The school, as an institution within the state, serves to produce the subjects that are required for the novel social conditions of the neoliberal era.”

Garcia and De Lissovoy frame their analysis within a context of precarious employment and financial instability – especially among young people – and “the carceral 1 turn in Neoliberalism.”

“Building from Michael Hardt’s notion of ‘prison time,’ we propose a notion of school time which links preparation and demoralization, as the subjectivity of students is organized as much for exclusion as for incorporation into familiar spaces of labor and citizenship.”

In doing so, they present a hidden curriculum which “lays the groundwork for an orientation of servility in relationship to authority and a condition of precarity in relation to work.”

Driving this evolution of the hidden curriculum, the authors suggest, is the advent of a “post-Fordist regime of production,” wherein labour are:

      • Flexible, mobile and precarious;
      • Highly adaptable to constant innovations in production;
      • Willing to move frequently between jobs;
      • Accepting of the fact that long-term employment is not guaranteed;
      • And able to merge the communicative processes with those formally thought as “production,” or instrumental tasks.

Part of the larger neoliberal political project, the evolution of post-Fordist capitalism has been nurtured by the cultivation of “discourses of efficiency, consumerism, choice and accountability in place of sense of collective responsibility.”

Under neoliberalism,

“Spheres of social activity organized on the basis of notions of the public good or social solidarity are branded as inefficient from this perspective, and neoliberalism demands that they be reorganized according to the bottom-line logic of the market (Klein 2007). The school has been one of the crucial sites of the broad neoliberalism of society (Hursh 2005; Saltman 2005).”

The authors incorporate Michael Hardt‘s (1997) idea of “prison time‘ into the school’s hidden curriculum in considering the course of a school day:

“In [school], the planning ahead of how time will be used, controlled and regimented by power signifies the domination over an individual‘s control of his or her time, and thus his or her freedom and sense of agency. Furthermore, the control and regimentation of time eliminates possibilities for improvisation in daily experiences; nothing is unforeseeable.”

If the schools of the Fordist era of capitalism can be seen adopting the narrative motifs of the factory – with the student the symbolic factory worker – we glimpse a hidden curriculum preparing labour to receive an altogether different induction into the “real world,” one where one’s publicly available education could ensure a stable career and income, mortgage payments and a pension.

As in the unionized factory where the symbolic ‘worker’ will take up his life’s profession, through the hidden curriculum the student is taught to contribute his skills and working life to the larger project of labour as a respected part of capitalistic society.

Compared to the worker being groomed in the schools of the 21st century, we might forgive the many failings of 1950s institutions – racism, sexism, or violence against those outside the white mainstream – for their ability to maintain the intellectual ideals that would create the space for the civil rights movements that fought to create greater human freedom across the capitalistic experience. Today’s students are prepared to enter a world of labour created by the post-Fordist, neoliberal era where, for Hardt, Garcia and De Lissovoy, the societal metaphor at work in schools’ Hidden Curriculum has evolved in kind: “society is no longer a factory, it is a prison.”

“…in neoliberalism, freedom is understood as choice […]. The choices are already prescribed and we express our freedom by choosing from the given options. Life even outside prison has thus become regimented and void of meaning, for we no longer have autonomy to decide what and how to use our time beyond exercising our freedom to consume.”

Gregory Bateson defines the type of learning within such a set of choices as Learning I, where development is achieved through a “correction of errors of choice within a set of alternatives.” 

From Learning 0 to Learning IV, Bateson introduces a Hierarchy of Learning in his book, Steps to an Ecology of MindLearning II, Bateson says, would exist as corrective change in the set of alternatives from which choice is made.”

In Learning II, there might still be a test, or a report card; but participants are invited to be engaged in the process.

“Within this seemingly inescapable reality of domination,” Garcia and De Lissovoy concede, “there are nevertheless moments in which inmates and those outside prison resist the drive of power to control time, in authentic encounters with others and the relationships that arise from such encounters.”

Indeed.

As Bateson’s hierarchy moves to Learning III, we see a glimpse of schooling which encourages a corrective change in the system of sets of alternatives from which choice is made, a truly transformative act of learning that schools are also charged with providing. For the act of learning, and of schooling, is not merely to prepare the required labour for the dictates of an all-powerful market society; it is to prepare the minds and citizenry capable of creating a society, economy and culture that honours the best of what the Project of Enlightenment promises, and critiques the status quo, imagines what could be alongside the asking why things are the way they are, and has the skills to create a meaningful tomorrow.

Through such an education, 21st century schools might realize what Paulo Freire called the creation of:

a critical and dynamic view of the world, [which] strives to unveil reality, unmask its mythicization, and achieve a full realization of the human task: the permanent transformation of reality in favor of the liberation of people.

  1.  Latin: carcer – prison

Design Thinking as Critical Literacy

Untitled

TALONS Kinetic Art w/ Jay Bundy Johnson

“Design thinking asks students to become investigators in their world, attempt to solve problems, bridge gaps of knowledge independently, collaboratively, and resourcefully.”

So decrees Lee-Ann Gray of the ability of Design Thinking to “make school more like real life.” Gray positions her view of schooling’s purpose clearly in her opening paragraphs, where she notes that, “These are skills that are highly relevant in today’s job market.”

To cite a source explored in more depth on this blog recently, they might also be referred to as “what creative people in all disciplines have always done.”

Gray highlights a notion of Design Thinking which

“involves immersing students in what [Mary Cantwell, Design Thinking Coordinator and IT Faculty Support at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School] calls situations for discovery. Situations for discovery encourage a wide range of relevant and active learning. In them, students are prompted to consider the community, areas of need, the environment, or challenges they face. DT gives students ownership of their work, which is a hallmark in igniting the love of learning.”

Last semester much of my subsequent exploration of citizenship learning began with the discovery of critical literacy as a central piece of creating of “student ownership” of learning. The foundation for this thinking was shaped by the work of Paulo Freire, who talks about learning as a process of discovering our individual and collective “generative themes” and rehearsing the process of transcending them:

“To investigate the generative theme is to investigate the people’s thinking about reality and people’s action upon reality, which is their praxis. For precisely this reason, the methodology proposed requires that the investigators and the people (who would normally be considered objects of that investigation) should act as co-investigators. The more active an attitude men and women take in regard to the exploration of their thematics, the more they deepen their critical awareness of reality and, in spelling out those thematics, take possession of that reality.”

In Design Thinking, Gray says, “the teacher becomes a facilitator of learning, and students become active learners.” How facilitation differs from “teaching,” she doesn’t reveal; however, she does assert that this type of active learning leads to “higher and faster” information retention and skill development.

Presenting a similar “problem-based” dialectical approach, I found Freire more helpful in sketching out the role of the teacher:

“The program content of the problem-posing method – dialogical par excellence – is constituted and organized by the students’ view of the world, where their own generative themes are found. The content thus constantly expands and renews itself. The task of the dialogical teacher in an interdisciplinary team working on the thematic universe revealed by their investigation is to “re-present” that universe to the people from whom she or he received it – and “re-present” is not as a lecture, but as a problem.

That Freire’s ideas have been a staple of progressive educational philosophy for more than thirty years casts Gray’s framing of “Design Thinking” as something of an overstatement:

“Design Thinking is […] a major game changer for teachers. Teachers have no preconceived idea about the direction DT projects will take. This model shifts the teacher’s role considerably, as the outcome and how students will reach it, are unknown at the outset. In DT, gone are the days when teachers have a plan of how it should all go. In my opinion, this represents a great shift in pedagogy.”

That all being said, Ian Grivois makes a compelling comparison in highlighting that the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein talked about

language being a ‘form of life‘ (Kindersley, 2011), meaning that it is intimately connected to the context in which it is spoken. Language is molded by the character of the speaker and meaning is recreated in the understanding of the listener.”

“Similarly,” Grivois says, “Design can be considered as an active language of practice, even if it is an especially visual language.” Here I think the tenants of Design Thinking in education align neatly with the aims of Freire’s Critical Pedagogy and Literacy. Grivois reveals design “as a process of discovery, learning, and addressing needs,” and that it “combines creativity, empathy and rational analysis to help realize successful outcomes.”

There is the familiar ring of Freire and the idea that education is the act of enabling a “critical perception,” which

“is embodied in action, [and where] a climate of hope and confidence devel­ops which leads men to attempt to overcome the limit-situations. As reality is transformed and these situations are superseded, new ones will appear, which in turn will evoke new limit-acts.”

The design process visualized by Stanford’s d.School  (Ratcliffe 2009).

The design process visualized by Stanford’s d.School
(Ratcliffe 2009).

Here we begin to see a meaningful congruence between the principles of design and the emancipatory endeavour of critical pedagogy. Other quotes from Grivois’ paper, On Design Thinking and Education that struck me as particularly Freireian: 

“Through questioning, research, observation and a playful discovery, a clear understanding of the needs and goals will often reveal a solution.”

“The collaborative relationship implies that there is development internally and externally – as an individual and as a community.”

“It works best when the designer and the user group are on equal terms as they explore the design and challenge together, a collaboration.”

Far from the novelty of 21st century “game-changer,” I am confident that one could find similar sentiments scattered throughout philosophical and educational texts going back to Socrates, which makes the question of the week, “Does Design Thinking Work in Education?” a particular challenge.

If this type of “thinking” isn’t appropriate for K12 learners – as Debbie Morrison argues in her post “Why ‘Design Thinking’ Doesn’t Work in Education” –  when does it become appropriate, if ever?

Morrison asks:

Do K-12 students really have the education background to engage in Design Thinking?  I suggest that teaching this process to K-12 students is not only unfeasible, but unnecessary and limiting.  Rather than spending time teaching a structured, cookie-cutter problem-solving process, time might be better spent teaching, and facilitating learning in a breadth of subjects. Rather than give students more structure, they may benefit from less, yet more learning. To think outside of the box, to have multiple perspectives, students require an education grounded in the humanities.

I am confused by the idea that, “Rather than spending time teaching a structured, cookie-cutter problem-solving process, time might be better spent teaching, and facilitating learning in a breadth of subjects.”

Why must these aims be separate?

The problem solving method of Design Thinking as asserted by Grivois and Friere can hardly be described as “cookie-cutter,” or “structured.” Furthermore the implicit skills evoked through this type of discovery process are of vital societal necessity, and help create a context for learning about the value of the humanities, as well as the interdisciplinary nature of intellectual and democratic progress congruent with such enlightened goals.

Delivering on educational outcomes without engaging students in this critical process is something I think Gert Biesta would warn against, as he asserts:

“Young people learn at least as much about democracy and citizenship – including their own citizenship – through their participation in a range of different practices that make up their lives, as they learn from that which is officially prescribed and formally taught.”

“The context in which a thing is learned,” Gardner Campbell reminds us, “frames the nature and purpose of that learning.”

If Design Thinking in Education is truly to be a “game changer,” it needs to be aligned with the transformational values at the heart of cultivating a critical literacy in each member of society, and offer opportunities for learners to own and create the contexts and purposes of their own learning.

Blogs as Documents of Learning

Documenting Learning. Electronic Portfolios: Engaging Today's Students in Higher Education

Giulia Forsythe’s visual notes on Tracy Penny Light’s session on Documenting Student Learning with Electronic Portfolios.

I started blogging with the TALONS class (since expanded to two) a little more than four years ago. In that time I’ve learned a great deal about the capacity for such digital publishing tools to help realize aspects of the larger purpose of schooling; part of this has come through developing my own informal network and community of practice constantly interrogating the same question, and lately has included both a graduate community of SFU diploma students, and my own masters cohort. Including my own classrooms, every learning space I move through is suffused with discussion and debate about the purpose of school.

I’ve written about this a few times on this blog, as a matter of fact. Back in May, 2009, I began documenting my Adventures in a Gifted Classroom by quoting Nabakov:

The only way back to objective reality is the following one: we can take these several individual worlds, mix them thoroughly together, scoop up a drop of that mixture, and call it objective reality.

For Nabokov’s objectivity to be realized though is to realize the paradox of Einstein’s relativity (one degree of separation between Nabokov & Einstein: a productive Monday morning!): the more we know about the object’s speed, the less accurately we know its location, and visa versa. Any definition we seek – for Truth in the religious sense, to the tenor of our elected officials and the implementation of our education systems – must be constantly reevaluated, re-calibrated and ready at every moment to be torn down to make way for the New.

And while I still agree with the general direction struck up now four and a half years (and a few hundred thousand words) ago, a quick survey of my blog archive charts the evolution of my theory and practice in the time since:

21st century Learner

Giulia Forsythe’s 21st Century Learner

Breakdown of Posts by Category (from a total of 224) 

As broad terms, Pedagogy and Technology might be expected culprits in a teacher’s blog these days (and I am more than a little glad to see Pedagogy edging to the win here… phew); but I think the focus on Learning Networks and Classroom Communities is more revealing about the larger purpose of schooling I’ve been uncovering in posts on grammar, music, and outdoor education these last four years.

Across these topics, I have striven to refine a pedagogy that empowers learners to take ownership over their learning. As published in my most recent post, I believe that:

the skills attending to student “ownership” of learning are essential elements in the ongoing creation and maintenance of a democratic society.

In four years of blogging, I’ve refined my process in cultivating space in the TALONS class for students to find what Clare found, back in 2009:

“Writing, I think is both a way to think aloud and preserve ideas I’ve come to a conclusion about in my head or random observations; the blog is just an archive in that sense. I also have a draft saved on my email account where I journal on-and-off, as well as a word document on my desktop, but I think the stuff on my blog is more developed in terms of exploring what I have to say. Sometimes when I post something, I secretly hope that other people will read it and offer their opinions, other times I forget about it as soon as I click ‘publish.’ Blogging provides a lot of revelation and I’m still guessing at its destination, but I do know that it’s going somewhere good.

Untitled

Revelation without destination strikes me as a noble purpose for a school system concerned with creating lifelong learners that shifts our focus from product to process. But even while this has been a foundational piece of my beliefs about education since I began teaching, I have continued to refine the role that blogs and the development of student learning networks and communities play in this process.

More and more, both as a reflective practitioner and someone trying to create learning spaces and opportunities for others, I think this revolves around the praxis outlined by Freire – and explored into more than one recent blog post here – of a cycle of reflection and action. Blogging – and tweeting, and taking pictures, and journals, and many other acts of preservation – creates an object of those experiences that can be viewed in reflection, and can be manifest in future opportunities as wisdom.

Social Media and Personalized Learning Project(s) Update

ThursdayRun

Given the way my own learning had unfolded this semester, it’s not surprising, perhaps, that I would be coming to identify (and experiment) with the idea of emergence in my classrooms and the extra-curricular projects I’ve undertaken. My goals of a month ago talked about my intentions:

“to create […] space to reflect on this year’s learning environments, and gradually engage in a manner that seems most appropriate to my own learning and thinking about teaching, facilitation, and collaboration.”

What might otherwise be seen as a failure to commit to any one thing in particular is something I’ve found aligning with emergent educationists Gert Biesta and Deborah Osberg:

“…if educators wish to encourage the emergence of meaning in the classroom, then the meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

I’ve been thinking about how this type of emergence arrises in transformative learning on both an individual and a cultural level, and how the skills and behaviours required for this type of ongoing, lifelong learning might also be a requisite societal competency in maintaining a democratic society. Paulo Freire has added to these ideas, as has (again) Gert Biesta, who cites Wilfred Carr and Anthony Hartnett‘s assertion that citizenship education is a process by which

“individuals develop those intellectual dispositions which allow them to reconstruct themselves and their social institutions in ways which are conducive to the realization of their freedom and the reshaping of their society.”

These are a few of the ideas guiding me with the various threads I’ve been exploring in my classrooms and other learning spaces this semester as part of my personal learning project.

Philosophy 12 

While it might not qualify as Massive, my ‘open learning’ coursework this semester has found a natural home in critically reflecting on my work teaching and learning in the open with a group of grade eleven and twelve students (and occasionally Stephen Downes) in Philosophy 12. Setting out, my hope was

“that as we move[d] forward, both this semester and into future cycles of the class, we have an organic means of establishing a set of pathways for future exploration of the site, and the philosophical knowledge that is discussed, shared and stored on the site’s various pages and posts.”

But this direction didn’t seem inclusive of the – very real – hybrid nature of the classroom environment; Philosophy 12 has never been composed merely of its online components, but exists fundamentally between the connections of its daily face-to-face participants. In the class’ study of Metaphysics, I was particularly aware of Jesse Stommell’s post on Hybrid Pedagogy:

“When we build a hybrid class, we must consider how we’ll create pathways between the learning that happens in a room and the learning that happens on the web.”

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12

Here, the class’ personal studies went into the wild (with #PhilsDayOff), and returned to the classroom to be shared in a process that was both individually, and collectively, an act of synthesis. All of it was documented and ‘captured’ on the class site (and live on the web as it unfolded).

But this only accomplishes one aspect of the task: to cultivate – alongside the present artifacts of learning – a set of navigable pathways through the layers of annual learning ‘objects’ the course site will continue to house.

Screen shot 2013-10-26 at 3.43.29 PMOn the Philosophy site, there are already a number of means by which online participants and visitors (as well as for-credit face-to-face students) can locate content relevant and meaningful to their own exploration of philosophy. The Widgets sidebars on the home page have organized content by Recent Comments, Units of Inquiry, and a Tag Cloud of topics, themes and ideas generated over the course’s one full-semester.

This year I have looked to integrate ongoing class assignments into the connecting and filtering of course content by assigning for-credit students to act as members one another’s comment groups (so far either randomly drawn or organized by themes of inquiry). These groups are responsible for engaging one another in discussion and dialogue that will further the author’s exploration of the Screen shot 2013-10-26 at 12.11.11 PMoriginal topic, and help put each assigned post into context with larger class themes and ideas; we have also begun experimenting with a rating system of both posts and comments (corresponding to class-generated criteria) that introduces site visitors to a class-sourced collection of recommended site content.

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Finally, as we approach the course’s mid-term, and a unit on Epistemology, participants are preparing portfolios of their collected work throughout our units and various assigned or unassigned blog posts. While serving as individual records of progress that will allow for ongoing reflection and the synthesis of summative learning assessments, the linked and communally curated portfolios will allow future Philosophy 12 participants (from for-credit to one-time visitor) to navigate the complexities of knowledge archived from year to year.

TALONS.bc.ca 

My learning intentions with regards to the fall curriculum in my TALONS classes has shifted somewhat from the heights of maintaining personal cyberinfrastructure to the creation of awareness around Bonnie Stewart’s ideas of “an ethos of participation” in blended online spaces. In adopting a communications approach, Bonnie “focuses on the Internet not as a technology but as a medium for human engagement,” which is an idea I’ve incorporated into a redesigning of the TALONS’ Eminent Person Study this time around.

“Because we hope to be transformed positively from this experience, each of us. But if we are to make these journeys, and come to these new perceptions, there is an almost moral obligation to share that wisdom with others who might make the trip themselves, something I’ll be interested to see unfold in the coming weeks.”

Screen shot 2013-10-26 at 12.30.23 PMAlready, as the Yahoo Pipes have aggregated the class initial explorations of their selected Eminent People, the corresponding RSS feed of blog comments has ballooned with the back and forth discussion of Individual Education Plan goals, notable biographies, and reflections on research adventures in the heart of downtown Vancouver.

In the coming weeks, the TALONS will engage in a portfolio cultivation of their Eminent Study not unlike the undertaking in Philosophy 12; in reflection and curation, the present learning will become the pathways for future TALONS learners and collaborators.

The Lunchtime Jam

Lunchtime Jam on @105theHive

Alluvium live on @105theHive

While outside the realm of an ongoing curricular project, I’m no less enthused about the development of Gleneagle Music‘s Lunchtime Jams on K12 distributed web radio station 105 the Hive. Something in Biesta’s citizenship education strikes me as relevant here, where he discusses that

“it can be argued that citizenship learning pervades all aspects of young people’s lives because, in principle, any aspect of their lives can be relevant for their growth as democratic citizens.”

On the other hand, he admits,

“there are very few experiences and events in young people’s lives that are ‘labelled’ as opportunities for citizenship learning.”

Lunchtime Jam

So it is that as I’ve watched various players from our school’s musical community stop by the music wing to create some spur-of-the-moment live radio for anyone who wants to tune in, I think of Bonnie Stewart’s “Trojan Horse” for literacies of participation, and how the emergence I’m perhaps most concerned with helping to facilitate and participate in is that of a more participatory democracy.

It is here, I believe, that my various learning projects this semester find common ground in striving to create opportunities for:

“individuals [to] develop those intellectual dispositions which allow them to reconstruct themselves and their social institutions in ways which are conducive to the realization of their freedom and the reshaping of their society.”

In his essay Transformative Learning and Transformative Politics Daniel Schugurensky talks about cultivating societies that

“generate public spaces of social interaction in which discourse is based on finding agreement, welcoming different points of view, identifying the common good in the myriad of competing self-interests, searching for synthesis and consensus, promoting solidarity, and ultimately improving community life.”

This potential creation of public space seems to mirror not only the implicit elements of the Philosophy 12 curriculum, but the aims of the TALONS blogged artifacts, and the shared rhythms of live jazz:


Metaphysics Unit Reflections and Feedback

Who do you think contributed to your study of Metaphysics?

Who / what do you think contributed positively to your study of Metaphysics?

Having come to the conclusion of our Metaphysics unit in Philosophy 12, I asked the group to respond to several reflection prompts in a Google Form posted on the class site. Some of the questions addressed individual growth and learning related to participants’ chosen philosopher and activities undertaken during the unit; others focused on the actual process of collective learning that emerged out of a growing investigation in metaphysics.

As we move from Metaphysics into Epistemology, I think this type of feedback will be particularly useful in adapting the course structure to its current participants: allowing us to tailor classroom (and blog) activities to the group’s strengths, abilities, and areas requiring further growth. Because even as the Discussable Object travels into our rearview, it is another piece of the class’ foundation as a collective built of individual strands of inquiry, one that will allow further deepening and richening of the class’ learning opportunities.

The survey-nature of the course – which moves from What is Philosophythrough Scientific Philosophy, Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Aesthetics, and Social & Political Philosophy in a matter of a few months – enables the development of just this sort of cultural creation and cultivation, where individuals are encouraged to create habits of mindfulness at the heart of philosophical inquiry. The ongoing inquiry process continues to establish new individual paradigms of thought about the self and its relationship to society; and in engaging this individual journey against those of a group of similarly dedicated peers, the implicit curriculum becomes rooted in the processes by which we each relate to the world, and one another.

Below are a selection of the participant responses to the reflection questions. I’ve created a few word clouds to aggregate responses to a few of the questions, which are linked from the headings; as well, I’ve highlighted the contributions recognized by peers in a post on the Philosophy site itself.

What were the main questions you set out to answer during the course of the unit

How do suffering and pleasure play a role together, individually, and synergistically?  What is it that makes up the world? How can we live to cope with the subjectivity of life?

Does sympathy connect everyone in life?

Is reality objective or something created within us?

Without the divine control and outright fate, why do we continue? What causes us to continue? Will we ever stop continuing? Do different time periods change these answers? Is essential human purpose objective or subjective?

Do you feel as though you have answered them to any satisfaction? 

 I think I’ve not so much answered these questions as these questions don’t really have an answer, but I’ve more clearly made sense of how I view them. From reading about philosophers, participating in group discussions, and individual research and reflection I’ve been able to sort out these questions in a way that they make sense in my mind.

Unfortunately with these sorts of questions, I do not believe that I will ever answer them to any sort of satisfaction; however, I now believe that I have a far greater understanding of metaphysics and will continue to think about these concepts for a long time. 

I do not think that these questions can ever be answered by anyone, however I have developed a personal “answer” to these questions throughout this unit. I believe that there are multiple realities, some that are external, and some that are internal. External realities are the truths that exist whether we like it or not, such as gravity and natural disasters. Internal reality is how we personally interpret and respond to the external realities. Both of these equally contribute to the make up of today’s world and society.

Agree or disagree with the statement, “Knowledge only exists in our participatory actions.”

I think before this unit I might have had a different view on this, having not really ever thought about it before, but through this unit I would have to say that I do agree with this statement. The various group discussions and blog comments I think showed me that knowledge isn’t something that can exist by itself as a thing. Knowledge isn’t an actual thing itself, but instead what we take away from something.

Education is always in a participatory manner. The act of learning is to gain foreign information. The only source of foreign information is gained from other sources. Whether you’re reading a book, blog, or looking at a painting, you’re having a discussion, the basic form of exchanging knowledge. Discussions or conversation is the exchange of ideas. You require two parties. It is regardless if the other party is a person, a painting or a blogpost. The exchange is happening. Knowledge cannot be shared, used, or exist if it is not participating in active thought. 

I agree with this statement to an extent, however if you want to get into technicality, the statement is false. Knowledge exists within all of us, but it is our choice to share that knowledge. For example, in our large group discussions, I’m sure that many of us had knowledge that we chose to keep to ourselves. Even though there was no participatory action in this situation, it doesn’t mean that the knowledge disappeared into thin air and ceased to exist. The knowledge just failed to be relayed to others.

I agree that knowledge only exists in our participatory actions. As my group discussed in our discussions and as some people alluded to during the discussable object creation, knowledge only exists when you show it and are able to fully explain something to someone else. It is only when you demonstrate your knowledge that it truly exists. When you engage on the blog and in the comments that you demonstrate and essentially create and show your knowledge therefore making it exist.

I think this is true to an extent; knowledge exists and is ameliorated by participatory actions but it is possible to acquire knowledge on one’s own. Knowledge is not synonymous with truth. Someone who lives alone in a cabin in the north pole is able to amass a wealth of knowledge about his surroundings which could be testable and observable but not necessarily true. He may understand that snow and blizzards exist, which is a form of knowledge, but he may be incorrect about what it is made out of, how vastly it exists, and how many people live in the world. This knowledge would have been ameliorated through participatory actions with other people.

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If you could keep one or more aspects of the Metaphysics unit, what would it / they be?

I would keep the idea of “Phil’s day off” and the final class discussion. To me, I highly enjoyed the freedom we had to go about this unit and the opportunity to basically act like our own philosophers when thinking about certain questions.

Phil’s Day Off and the whole concept of the object. I thought that this made the assignment personal and gave us all a chance to really reflect and be creative. I would not have done Phil’s Day Off had it not been for homework simply because I’m lazy. Making it homework made it necessary and ultimately I’m glad I had that experience.

Group discussion was excellent. It facilitated a deeper understanding of themes and objectives. I think doing a #philsdayoff with out groups included and maybe even mixing up groups would’ve made it interesting.

I think the freedom aspect of Phil’s Day Off really helped the class think more about the conversation that we had the following week. It’s really fresh to have such freedom in a class, and it kept me engaged in my topic. 

I really enjoyed the group discussion because it was very enlightening and approached the topic in a different way that was more engaging than just writing about it in the blog.

the collaborative unit planning.

If you could change one or more aspects of the Metaphysics unit, what would it / they be?

Thorough instructions, more expanded, straight forward.

I really find the idea of comments to be essential however I dislike the idea because sometimes it is hard to post some. If you are in a group were most of the blog posts are written up later than they were supposed to it makes it very difficult for me to go search for them and then comment on them. Also when your group mates don’t really comment on your post either its very discouraging.

I would have liked to see a little bit more structure in this unit. Because a lot of the things we were to do were up in the air, there were times where the unit got very confusing and hard to follow. Maybe next time, instead of giving us the full freedom to discover metaphysics on our own, it would be more effective to teach a lesson on the unit before letting us “be free” so all of us have a clear idea on what we are doing.

The amount of time we spent making a criteria / brainstorming exactly “what” it is we would be doing.

I think it would have been really cool if you did the whole thing with us. Chosen a Philosopher, contributed his theories to the discussions, been a part of the circle thing on the last day. If you’re really trying to step back from the whole teacher dictatorship role, the next step would be to get on our level.

I kind of thought the phil’s day off was redundant. the idea of thinking in a different view was good but the whole show and tell part was silly in my opinion because when it came to the discussion, the object we collected on phil’s day off was useless.

If I had to choose one, I would say that I would change it so that there was a little more time for a larger group discussion at the end. For example, making the discussable object activity maybe stretch out over two days, but that’s also only if there was enough content for that to be able to happen.

Discussable Object Creation

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Discussable Object Photo Set on Flickr

Today the #Philosophy12 bunch culminated a study of Metaphysics that has emerged slowly out of individual inquiry undertaken by members of the class. The group engaged one another in a discussion that left a recorded physical ‘tail‘ that could be seen, and held onto.

Indeed, it was an ‘object‘ that came into being only by virtue of being suspended between the class’ interrelated ideas, and whose creation facilitated a synthesis of collecting thinking and learning.

We began a little more than two weeks ago with the introduction of various philosopher’s metaphysicslearning about Shoepenhaur’s views on the Will, Epicurean paradoxes, and Wittenstein’s unspeakable coolness and arranging for small group discussions to coalesce around thematic ideas.

After having first imagined that I would engage in the assignment as a participant, I became (in that ‘lead-learner’ sort of way) consumed by questions at the heart of the constructivist learning experiment ahead of us, and drew on many ideas of Deborah Osberg and Gert Biesta, among them the notion that:

“…knowledge is neither a representation of something more ‘real’ than itself, nor an ‘object’ that can be transferred from one place to the next. Knowledge is understood, rather, to ‘emerge’ as we, as human beings, participate in the world. Knowledge, in other words, does not exist except in participatory actions.”

And so my own metaphysics project became the conceptualizing and contextualizing of the task at hand: to create a representative learning object within an emergent, constructivist classroom design. With all sincerity, I embraced Osberg and Biesta’s idea that:

“…to encourage the emergence of meaning in the classroom, then the meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

 Here, I was led by Paulo Freire:

“The more active an attitude men and women take in regard to the exploration of their thematics, the more they deepen their critical awareness of reality and, in spelling out those thematics, take possession of that reality.”

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12

Julie at work on visual notes.

With this, more than one class meeting was organized around the generation of the contradiction at the root of each group’s metaphysical thematics; it is in the symbolic codification of such contradictions, Freire says, that such themes can become “cognizable objects[:] challenges towards which the critical reflection of the decoders should be directed.”

Having identified their philosopher’s major metaphysical ideas, and explored these ideas within the larger themes of their assembled groups, the class took advantage of last week’s school-based professional development day in the form of #PhilsDayOff, the requirements for which were spare:

    • Time must be spent consciously and deliberately engaged with a selected question of metaphysics;
    • This engagement can include activities, reflection, discussion, or other modes of inquiry, reflection and understanding; but it should not be time spent doing something participant’s ‘usually’ do;
    • Participants must create, discover, or record a meaningful artifact they think represents their metaphysical thinking, reflection, or understanding on Phil’s Day Off.

The learning went into the wild, and returned with lessons like the one Dylan offers here:

“I made a bus trek by bus up to household jam session as part of the Phils Day Off endeavor. I went up there to contemplate Schopenhauer’s ideas while enjoying some music (which, I’m sure, Schopenhauer would have been more than happy to participate in.) At the beginning of the night, a friend and fellow bass player took me over to the side to show me a trick that allowed the string’s on my bass life span to be extended, making it so that you wouldn’t have to buy strings as often.

“What he did was loosen the strings on the bass so that they were still on the instrument but loose enough that he could pull it up away from the fretboard a good distance. He loosened the string, and continue to pull the string up and then smack in back down onto the fretboard. He would do this over and over again on each string for a few minutes at a time.

“What this was doing, he later explained, was releasing all of the dead skin cells and extra debris that was caught in the strings, making it so that the strings became cleaner again, and thus could be repeated whenever the string would go dead or dull and wouldn’t need to be replaced as frequently. Other than being a sweet tip for a young-unemployed musician such as myself, it also came to be a great metaphor for all these talks of suffering and pleasure in my mind. You can look at life as a dead bass string, and you can view the debris as suffering. You can see it as Schopenhauer would, as something chokes life and ultimately makes life worthless. And no matter how much we clear up the debris temporarily, it will become dirty and dull again soon after.

“You can look at from one who would not worry about the suffering, and instead of focusing on the dirtiness of the string, would completely ignore it and go out and buy a new string right away. Or, you can look at it from the cleaning method that my friend taught me about the strings.

“Acknowledging the dirt and debris and how it’s affected you, and then turning it around and cleaning it up and turning it into something that is pleasurable.”

Dylan’s is just one of the stories we heard today as the class related their philosopher’s biography and ideas, touched upon themes explored in #PhilsDayOff and their group discussions, and connected their thinking (agreeing and contrasting) by tracing the conversation with different colours of yarn (with gratitude to our home economics teacher Ms. Priestly!). While Julie sketched out themes and notable ideas as they took shape on the board, the class emerging understanding took shape.

The activity took us from:

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12To:

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12To:

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be collecting reflections on individual learning, and the unit itself (both content and form, Aristotelians!), by way of this Google Form, and looking ahead at planning our Epistemology unit. The Discussable Object now behind us – wound back up into woolen balls and returned to the textiles classroom – I’m curious to know what the group thinks now of one of the quotes that brought us here:

“Knowledge […] does not exist except in our participatory actions.”  

Generative Themes, Emerging Subjectivity & the Discussable Object

The Map Evolves

Image courtesy of Andy Forgrave

“To investigate the generative theme is to investigate the people’s thinking about reality an people’s action upon reality, which is their praxis. For precisely this reason, the methodology proposed requires that the investigators and the people (who would normally be considered objects of that investigation) should act as co-investigators. The more active an attitude men and women take in regard to the exploration of their thematics, the more they deepen their critical awareness of reality and, in spelling out those thematics, take possession of that reality.”

Paulo Freire

It has seemed particularly fitting to be developing Philosophy 12‘s Metaphysics unit alongside my recent reading about critical pedagogy, epistemological emergence, and how they are each influencing my existing fascination with Gregory Bateson’s framework for transformative learning. As members of the class each go about discovering the ideas of a prominent metaphysician, I have waited to see how the group might approach the creation of a Discussable Object that will enable an authentic collective reflection of the group’s individual learning.

To Freire, this process of mutual engagement and reflection is central to the social construction of reality, showing a clear instance of the course’s own constructivist philosophy interacting with the course content to point to our emerging task(s):

“…the program content of the problem-posing method – dialogical par excellence – is constituted and organized by the students’ view of the world, where their own generative themes are found. The content thus constantly expands and renews itself. The task of the dialogical teacher in an interdisciplinary team working on the thematic universe revealed by their investigation is to “re-present” that universe to the people from whom she or he received it – and “re-present” is not as a lecture, but as a problem.”

For my part, I believe that much of this has been set in motion by virtue of the course environment and the unit assignment(s) thus far: to share initial findings on a metaphysical thinker’s life and ideas, isolate and reflect upon what can be interpreted of their “major” questions concerning reality, the self, and points in between, and to engage with peers’ ideas.

In the discussions following from last week’s blog posts, we see Dylan and Aman driving at the heart of one of Freire’s “limit situations:”

“I really like that example that you use, because I think that’s such a great way of thinking of the Will as more of a positive thing. Instead of something that suffocates us, as Schopenhauer would believe, we can view it as something that brings us more joy with the new experiences it could bring us, and just taking the unfulfilled desires as things to learn by. Or maybe we could see it somewhere in between the two?”

“It is with [this] apprehension of the complex of contradictions,” Freire says, “that the second stage of the investigation begins.”

“Always acting as a team, the investigators will select some of these contradictions to develop the codifications to be used in the thematic investigation. Since the codifications (sketches or photographs [or oral descriptions of an existential problem]) are the objects which mediate the decoders in their critical analysis, the preparation of these codifications must be guided by certain principles other than the usual ones for making visual aids.

[…]

“Since they represent existential situations, the codifications should be simple in their complexity and offer various decoding possibilities in order to avoid the brainwashing tendencies of propaganda. Codifications are not slogans; they are cognizable objects, challenges towards which the critical reflection of the decoders should be directed.”

In the coming days, the class will strive to represent these codifications as ‘cognizable objects’ that extend in a “thematic fan” from the contraries at the nucleus of each’s journey into metaphysics. Following from discussions on the blog, as well as the fruits of #PhilsDayOff, the week’s dialogue leading up to the creation of the Discussable Object will seek to employ the concept of emergence on two levels:

“We need emergence on the level of meaning itself, but because meaning is attached to human subjectivity we also (at the same time) need it at the level of human subjectivity. In other words, we need the concept of emergence in a double sense.”

This double sense of emergence is something I feel might be possible within the context of the Discussable Object, as the group’s individual revellations will inform the development of a collective awareness. “Nobody knows whom he reveals when he discloses himself in deed or word,” says Hannah Arendt, adding (by way of Osberg & Biesta):

“Because human subjectivity emerges only when one acts with others who are different (Arendt 1958, Biesta 2006), this means education only takes place where ‘otherness’ – being with others who are different from us – creates such a space. In this sense it is the plurality of the ‘space of emergence’ that educates, not the teacher (Biesta 2006).

Here it feels as though we might be on the verge of a learning opportunity that organically binds the teaching of subject material with an acknowledgement and integration with an ongoing search for the self that “stimulates the appearance of a new perception and the development of new knowledge (Freire).”

Limit Situations, Double Binds & Transformative Learning

Freire & Bateson

Freire & Bateson

Something familiar struck me about a passage I crossed in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed the other day:

Humans, however, because they are aware of themselves and thus of the world—because they are conscious beings—exist in a dialecti­cal relationship between the determination of limits and their own freedom. As they separate themselves from the world, which they objectify, as they separate themselves from their own activity, as they locate the seat of their decisions in themselves and in their relations with the world and others, people overcome the situations which limit them: the “limit-situations.”

Gregory Bateson talks about this moment of “transformative learning” (Level III Learning) arising out of the double bind:

“Bateson (1973:276) refers to being `driven to level III by `contraries’ generated at level II’; `The “problem” to which third-order learning is a “solution” consists of systematic contradictions in experience’ (Bredo 1989:35). This matches what we have called elsewhere `dilemmas of participation’ (Tosey et al 2005).”

To Dr. Paul Tosey, confronting the limit-situation is a confrontation with “the significance of metaphor at the root of perception, and the profound potential for learning should such metaphors change.”

I think Freire would have agreed:

Once perceived by individuals as fetters, as obstacles to their liberation, these situations stand out in relief from the background, revealing their true nature as concrete historical dimensions of a given reality. Men and women respond to the challenge with actions which Vieira Pinto calls “limit-acts“: those directed at negating and overcoming, rather than passively ac­cepting, the “given.”

As critical percep­tion is embodied in action, a climate of hope and confidence devel­ops which leads men to attempt to overcome the limit-situations. As reality is transformed and these situations are superseded, new ones will appear, which in turn will evoke new limit-acts.

It is with the creation of the critical perception which is at the heart of progress, and where we may find the essence of the arts. As we move between Bateson’s Levels of Learning, he:

emphasise[s] the significance of the aesthetic in apprehending the patterning between levels; `I have suggested elsewhere… that art is commonly concerned with… bridging the gap between the more or less unconscious premises acquired by Learning II and the more episodic content of consciousness and immediate action’ (1973:279).

Creativity is necessary to participating in Freire’s critical consciousness:

It is as transforming and creative beings that humans, in their permanent relations with reality, produce not only material goods— tangible objects—but also social institutions, ideas, and concepts. Through their continuing praxis, men and women simultaneously create history and become historical-social beings. Because—in contrast to animals—people can tri-dimensionalize time into the past, the present, and the future, their history, in function of their own creations, develops as a constant process of transformation within which epochal units materialize.

For Freire, we must create a critical consciousness that can apprehend the themes that shape our present “epochal unit,” as well as imagine the conceptions that will allow us to transcend it:

An epoch is characterized by a complex of ideas, concepts, hopes, doubts, values, and challenges in dialectical interaction with their opposites, striving towards plenitude. The concrete representation of may of these ideas, values, concepts and hopes, as well as the obstacles which impede the people’s full humanization, constitute the themes of that epoch. These themes imply others which are opposing or even antithetical; they also indicate tasks to be carried out and fulfilled. Thus, historical themes are never isolated, independent, disconnected, or static; they are always interacting dialectically with their opposites.

With a number of different – historical, social, political, economic – forces driving local and global communities toward further and further polarization, it is easy to see the consequences of Freire’s “universe of themes in dialectical contradiction” in that:

persons take equally contradictory positions: some work to maintain the structures, others to change them. As antagonism deepens between themes which are the expression of reality, there is a tendency for the themes and for reality itself to be mythicized, establishing a climate of irrationality and sectarianism. This climate threatens to drain the themes of their deeper significance and to deprive them of their characteristically dynamic aspect. In such a  situation, myth-creating irrationality itself becomes a fundamental theme.

The solution perhaps lies in discovering our cultural moment’s “opposing theme,” and cultivating

the critical and dynamic view of the world, [which] strives to unveil reality, unmask its mythicization, and achieve a full realization of the human task: the permanent transformation of reality in favor of the liberation of people.