Many thanks to Greg for capturing Wednesday and Thursday’s class discussions on his phone and uploading them to Soundcloud, so that we can catch up with what was discussed in a few sprawling conversations that made use of Santa Clause, Tetris, triangles and paradigm shifts to grapple with the development of personal ideas surrounding human knowledge, truth, belief and opinion.
In addition to being able to stream the contents of the conversation, Greg has made the files available for download, so that participants are free to download and repurpose the materials into new philosophy resources.
I parsed the first ten minutes of Wednesday’s class into a few audio remixes:
About halfway through my attempted introduction of Philosophy 12′s Epistemology unit assignments – clumsily introduced here - Jonathan asked a salient question:
Could you do one of these assignments first, so we can see what it is you’re looking for?
To refresh myself ourselves, the individual piece of the Epistemology study will be to create a personal epistemological proposition: to state and explain something about what we know, and howwe know it.
Can I do this first so I the class can see what it is I’m looking for?
Um… yeah, sure. Of course.
What I Know… How I Know It
This started out as a messy, painful process for me that I trust will emanate throughout the class this week. But this sort of psychic discomfort is integral to the learning process, I’ve come to think; and it is something that I was curious to lean into with the hope of seeing where my thinking took me.
I started with the attempt to create simple statements that I hoped would lead me somewhere meaningful.
I doubt what I know; it fluctuates. My relationship and understanding of my self and the world is subjective.
I read (some of) Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” to be about the need to live as though the things that cannot be known can be (even while admitting that they can’t).
Therefore (Statement C)
Learning is central to trusting in the fleeting knowledge gained while I interrogate and reform my “knowledgable paradigm.”
There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.
Having come to some understanding of what I wanted to say, what I could stand behind as my beliefsabout knowledge at this stage, I then sought to ground these statements in the contexts of philosophy and epistemology. I had a few different ideas here, mostly due to recent thinking about Immanuel Kant, Thomas Kuhn, and Gregory Bateson.
Where to next?
As it stands now, I’m returning to the syllogistic A & B –> C format of attempting to lay out my proposition about knowledge and learning, trying to hone the statements offered above and support them with some of the thinking of other philosopher’s.
“Human reason,” he says, “in one sphere of its cognition, is called upon to consider questions, which it cannot decline, as they are presented by its own nature, as they transcend every faculty of the mind.”
I’m hoping to contrast some of my thinking about the above with what he says later, that: “…a dogmatist promises to extend human knowledge beyond the limits of possible experience; while I humbly confess that this is completely beyond my power.”
Giulia Forsythe then joined the pity party and suggested that the three of us should run for office if we’d like to read fewer news stories that make thinking people cringe, if not downright ashamed of the deeds and statements carried out in our name during these days of our more perfect union.
To which Matt Henderson replied, “I ran as an MP in the last election and my class acted as my campaign team.”
I’ll forgive Matt for not touting this remarkable project too loudly at Unplug’d this summer – aside from being in another chapter group than me, he’s a self-described “observer,’ more comfortable with a sharp and subtle observation than holding court around a dinner table or campfire, perhaps. But the video he shared with D’Arcy, Giulia and I describing the process of his run for office, recorded at last year’s TedXManitoba, more than makes up for his reticence in Algonquin: it is a hilarious glimpse of Matt’s unique self-deprecating humour, passionate intelligence and innovative pedagogy that should be required viewing for history teachers at any stage in their careers.
Matt’s magic three elements of relevant, revolutionary pedagogy involve classrooms becoming places where learners collaboratively construct their own truths and are encouraged to apply this knowledge in their real communities, and where teachers chiefly concern themselves with enabling and creating these environments of autonomy.
A perfect example of bearded men thinking alike, among other things. Cheers to Matt for such an ambitious an rewarding project, and sharing it with the audience at TEDx, and beyond.
A new course at our school this semester that I was fortunate to be tapped to teach is Philosophy 12. Originally written – by Quirien Mulder ten Kate – as a senior-level interdisciplinary approach to philosophy that would offer T.A.L.O.N.S. alumni an opportunity to continue working in a cohort of gifted learners beyond grade ten, it has taken a few years for the class to load fully and for there to be a teacher in the building with available time and skills to teach it.
Without claiming to have either the time or the requisite skills (I kid, my trusting young philosophy class), I was and am excited at the opportunity to work with so many former TALONS learners, and the other bright lights in our school who are joining the fray of the course with us. The chance to work with senior students in an interdisciplinary, academic subject is new to me (it’s been a few years since I taught English 11 Honours at our school), and with a large number of the participants being familiar with blogs, wikis and the underlying philosophy of learning in an open classroom, looking ahead at the possibilities of the semester is an exciting prospect, even if I’m not sure where our learning will take us in the coming months.
Something I am keen to experiment with is the prospect of inviting people to follow along and participate in the course as open-online learners in Philosophy 12. While the ~27 or so folks registered for the course will be completing assignments and projects for a mark and credit at our school, there is no reason that countless others couldn’t or wouldn’t enrich their own learning lives, as well as our burgeoning community, with their participation.
If you’re someone in our school who didn’t get into the course because of a timetable conflict or poor teacher recommendation…
If you’re the parent, sibling, friend or (intellectually curious) pet of one of our for-credit learners interested in philosophy…
If you’re landing on this page because you googled “Free Philosophy Course” or “Philosophy MOOC” or “What does it mean to be human?”…
If you’re just curios to see where this all goes…
Fill out the following form so that we can add you as a contributor to our course blog and wiki site, and keep you up to date with what emerges from this experimental Philosophy seminar.
A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to meet a handful of local talented musicians in an afternoon session I delivered at the inaugural Port Moody Youth Arts Festival, where through the course of an afternoon we would set out to write a song. In addition to the afternoon workshop, my name was slated for half an hour as the opening act of the evening showcase, and I hoped that I wouldn’t be standing on the stage explaining a failed effort.
I prepared the sparest of materials to make the most of our time during the afternoon, and spent my energy providing the space and the canvas, along with whatever emerging know-how I’ve gained in the last year about what makes songs come together and what they require to be performed convincingly I could. Fortunately, the Port Moody teens who had signed up for the workshop were exceptionally talented writers, musicians, collaborators, and performers.
The workshop was scheduled for the top floor of City Hall, a vaulted dome ceiling befitting our quaint suburban capital with a veranda that offered a view of Inlet Park, the rec center, and public library. It seemed a dignified place to be crafting a song out of the ether, and even if this went unspoken, the group set about searching for riffs and opening hooks, imagery and themes in pairs and individual spots around the space with diligence and urgency. At fifteen minute intervals, the group met as a whole to share the pieces they had come up with, and teach them to one another.
Eventually, the collective settled on an opening verse by a marvelous budding singer-songwriter named Julia, and while she retreated to the patio to extend the verses and lyrics, the rest of the group experimented with various other instrumentation that began to bring the song to life: acoustic guitars, bass, ukelele with slide, drums, a twelve string.
As a few of the participants were called to the stage to soundcheck their own band, Julia, Mickelvin, and Patrick worked to develop a chorus with transitions and complimentary guitar licks that built a musical tension throughout the song, and it was quickly typed up and photocopied in the library downstairs. There were a few last minute run throughs in the evening light of the floor-to-ceiling windows, and at five o’clock we broke for dinner.
The evening showcase was set to begin with us at six-thirty, and the group had yet to play the song on stage. But after a handful of run-throughs after dinner, the mood was relaxed while the newly minted band hung out with the evening’s emcees and the other acts, picking at pizza and veggie platters before being called to the stage.
I introduced the group and provided a brief summary of the day’s events, and then scurried into the audience to record video as the troupe proceeded to bring the house down. In a scaled down version of the Thirty Person Rock Band Project, the workshop was a success for the way it allowed the individual talents of the participants to shine. Julia, Mickelvin, Patrick, Theo, Ian, Isaac, Jonathan and Michael came to the session open to who they might meet, and what they might be able to make together.
In what unconsciously turned out to be a culmination of the Fall’s Learning in Public project, guitar class this spring challenged a group of individuals to create and rally around a mutually agreed-upon idea for a new kind of class activity. Nothing overly complex, the Bears became an elemental symbol around which we were able to create a basic, guitar based rock and roll band that brought diverse classroom traits and talents to the forefront of our daily work.
Let me state here that I have little formal training as a music teacher, have never really played in a band (save a few student groups where I served much more an eager sponsor-teacher than bandmate), let alone led one, and had no idea throughout the process whether the endeavour would be successful, let alone what direction it might take on a given day.Initially, the class formed into small groups that functioned as committees responsible for various elements of the band’s life cycle: project management, branding, media, songwriting, arrangement. What the band became, every step of the way, would be built out of an individual and collective commitment to the cause: that of the continual creation of the band.
Not that these aren’t all things I was and am passionate to discover. This year my own musical growth has snowballed toward just such a learning opportunity, allowing me to frame my role as ‘teacher’ during the process as that of ‘lead learner,’ something we hear and talk about a lot as teachers, but which can be difficult to create deliberately. In this case, my purposeful treading of water mostly consisted of the necessity of keeping the project moving forward the only ways I knew how: creating opportunities for each of the committees, and the individuals composing them, to imagine a possible next step for the project, and then motivate and guide them in carrying it out.
This all being said, the success of the band was in the hands of the class as much as I could make it; I made an agreement with them – not unlike one that I feel like I make in most classes, but in this case it was explicit: so long as we all acknowledge that we can create something special here, I am going to hold you to the goals that you each set for yourselves to be a part of that process.
Whether we are successful or not has less to do with my expectations of the individuals in my class than my facilitation of the learning experience, where ideally each learner holds themselves to their own expectations.
What I’ve found that this ‘agreement’ helps bring about is an environment that is able to capitalize on the unique talents in the room. Once the band got going, people learned to arrange mic cables and amplifiers to maximize the effect of our sound; others wrote songs, led rehearsals, and created a logo for the newly minted Bears (that we eventually screened on T-shirts); various members of the band ran around with a videocamera, or various iPhones and iPads, to record and document the process, and on the second to last day of the year – following the chaos of locker-cleanout – we promoted and played a gig in the front entrance of the school that people had been alerted to by awesome hand-drawn fliers (complete with QR codes linking to the band’s Facebook page).
All of this happened in five weeks, during which I was away for a week on a TALONS class trip, and many members of the class were preparing to graduate high school. Like Ray Manzarek said of the year he and Jim Morrison formed the Doors, “we had a strange visitation of the energy,” an energy that is the intangible vibration of musical community and communication.
I start each guitar semester by telling my classes that humans evolved a wiring to participate in music; that our ability to stomp our feet, beat drums or chant in concert and unison literally set our ancestors apart from others who might not be so in tune (pardon the pun) with one another, and that communicating in music established the pathways and connections in our brains that eventually allowed us to develop language, and begin to know ourselves and one another in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.
On those first days of guitar every semester, we usually begin by snapping our fingers in time with one another, or passing bean bags through the air to a shared rhythm to learn one another’s names. I tell them that the ability to sync up like this is so innate that a person will be able to more exactly join in rhythm with another person than with a device like a metronome, and that when we make music with others, we are communicating in the oldest of ways, reaching back into the fabric of what makes us us, and creating something that is in ways universal, and at the same time deeply personal.
There is a momentum to performing live music that members of the group need to each be responsible for, the essence of musical connection that allows other players, and an audience to participate in the raw energy that the intersection of rhythm and melody is capable of creating.
This is a skill only learned by doing.
In the video of the Bears final performance, the band struggles to hear one another in the fray and excitement of the crowd and the moment, and the bass and drums are a bar ahead of the rest of the band until the first chorus. They/we work this out though, and as “We are the Bears” reaches its musical climax – in the moment between Sarah calmly saying, “Step away, bro,” and Kevin’s blistering guitar solo kicking in – the monthlong project’s goal is realized: the band has created a moment of visceral rock and roll, and brought it to their audience.
For the students in the band – not to mention their teacher – this is an incredible power to discover, and begin to wield, something I talked about with Brian Lamb and Giulia Forsythe after this year’s Northern Voice jam-after party in Vancouver: how to collectively keep the ball – the energy, the timing, the essence of a song – in the air between so many different hands, and how this is a visible skill when playing or watching music, but finds its way into so many different aspects of life, learning and the relationships we form with other people.
On the last day of class, many of the Bears made a point of hanging around for a few minutes to take pictures with one another, shake my hands and otherwise linger in the magical atmosphere the guitar classroom had been transformed into by their efforts.
“This class was more than a class,” one of the young men who was graduating told me on his way out the door. “Just what it was, I’m not sure. But it was pretty great.”
Hopefully we all spend the next little while trying to put our finger on just what it was, and how we can each do it again.
On Monday I’ll be giving a brief talk to the Langley cohort of Simon Fraser University’s Learning & Teaching with Technology Field Program about Personal Narratives as a framework for learning. Not particularly adept at the nomenclature surrounding and separating ‘frameworks,’ lenses, methods, and mostly considering myself self-taught when it comes to this stuff, I have long-found stories to be a vital part of my teaching bag-of-tricks, and will be sharing some of what I’ve found along the way with the group. As an introduction, I’ve shared the following post on the class’ Posterous account, but it’s private; so I’ve shared it here in the hope that those of you out there – who have really done all the teaching in this supposed ‘self-teaching’ I’ve been doing – might leave us a comment, a story, a link to some reading, or pass this post along to someone who might.
As a means of collecting some of the supplemental material I would attach to a discussion of Personal Narratives and Storytelling in the classroom, I thought I would put together a post here that you may find useful in extending the conversation post-”Institute.”
As a general introduction, the above video is a story I told in a canoe in Algonquin Park last summer at the Unplug’d Education Summit. The purpose of the “un-conference” was to bring together educational stake-holders to synthesize our individual essays (each filling the blank in the title, Why _________ Matters) into a book organized by thematically grouped chapters. You can download the e-book here, and learn more about this year’s event at Unplugd.ca.
While the whole process revolved around a socially constructive framework, my essay centered around the idea that “Sharing our Stories” matters: that each of our individual truths construct a shared “truth” or objectivity; and that if we follow this through to its logical conclusion, the skills required to realize, share and synthesize our stories become essentials in creating a healthy culture (democratic, social, educational or otherwise).
From both a personal and pedagogical perspective, this aspect of joining the personal and the collective through stories holds great interest for me, especially as we consider that our digital tools provide ever-more opprortunities to share unique pieces from our individual corners of the world with tribes and swarms and communities beyond our own local geography. Indeed:
…our understanding of authorship is, at the present time, caught between two regimes: one a system of knowledge production informed by Enlightenment-era notions of the self, the other is a world of “technologies that lend themselves to the distributed, the collective, the process-oriented, the anonymous, the remix.” As we step into the future increasingly governed by the latter, we move, in some ways, back to an earlier era: a move away from a culture of isolated reading — the individual reader, alone with a book or a screen — towards a more communal engagement, the coffee-house or fireside model of public reading and debate in which literary culture historically originated. Long before print culture, storytelling was not a solitary experience but a group event.Houman Barekat on Planned Obsolescence
In its more classical sense, education concerned itself almost exclusively with Aesthetics, or the “broader sense” that Wikipedia describes as “critical reflection on art, culture and nature. Educators today would do well to be aware of an emerging New Aesthetic (which is described here in a specific fashion that need not be completely digested or accepted to be relevent to our discussion).
Simply put, the New Aesthetic concerns itself with how the digital world and the real world are starting to overlap and intermingle in interesting, routine and unexpected ways. As search engines, online ‘bots’, spam generation engines, online mapping tools, google street view, machine vision and sensing technologies proliferate, our everyday life in the western technologically advanced world is starting to bristle with new types of augmentation and hybridity.
Interview with Bruce Sterling about the New Aesthetic
As we move into next week, I hope we can play around with some of these emerging tools to begin to tell our own stories and begin to create possibilities for storytelling (digital or otherwise) as a means of individual and collective learning in your classrooms.
The main point I like to stress in talking about storytelling in our emerging media/digital landscape is that despite our new modes of communication, the act of telling our individual and communal stories is fundamental to the creation and maintenance of our culture and in this way is at the center of what education strives to achieve.
As one of my teaching idols told me on the day he retired, “Any class you teach is just another opportunity for kids to practice forming communities,” a sentiment I find myself agreeing with more the longer I teach, and a process in which I find stories increasingly fundamental.
They had come from Burnaby, had the MacDonalds that came to reside on Garcia Court, and beyond the neighbouring suburb were from points across the breadth of Canada and back into Europe. Both branches of the family we knew reached the old countries of England and Scotland eventually, but had each traced vastly different routes across Canada to the coast.
Mr. MacDonald’s family had splintered out of a line of Joneses in Ontario and settled in southeastern British Columbia near the American border where towering mountains are ringed by lingering smog of a half-century’s smeltering. Mr. MacDonald’s father had worked in that smelter, and he and three siblings were raised in a narrow two-story house near their elementary school. The family lived above the gouge of the Columbia River and knew well the hoards of river moths that owned the dusks and dawns of summer with a singular and biblical tenacity.
It has struck me each time I’ve heard it told that Mr. MacDonald never passes over the subject of his hometown in conversation without mentioning these moths. His eyes sharpen and he pointedly engages each person within eye and earshot in his narration; there is no mistaking the onus he places on the regular emergence of the hovering pests.
“You have to drive with your windshield wipers on,” I have seen him marvel. “And the town hides itself indoors, sure to seal every window and door – even though you could at best keep only ninety percent of them out!”
Listeners cringe at this image, and Mr. MacDonald relishes their discomfort. “Oh yeah!” He often repeats important details for effect, stalling and indulging brief cul de sacs and dead ends before continuing with the story. These productions never seemed scripted until I began to hear these various narratives told and retold by Mr. MacDonald, and then also by others on the street, word for word.
This particular story of the onslaught of minuscule beasts wobbling as they rise from the Columbia River Valley inevitably meanders to the recounting of the childhood of Mr. MacDonald’s youngest brother, David. (No one fails to mention, in this telling, that Brandon bore such a resemblance to his father’s brother that once Brandon had reached the age of fourteen, they were christened “DavidBrandon” for the duration of several family gatherings that spanned almost a decade.)
It is told that as a child David never harboured the town’s apprehension for the river moths, and would await their nightly coming tide at the crest of the bluffs above the river. Standing bare-chested toward the setting sun, he would watch the air thicken above the flat pools on the Columbia and hear the million hatchlings popping onto air. The hum would drive in a cloud toward him on the hill and his heart reportedly raced as the million moths reached and engulfed him before sweeping over the bluffs like a humming wave. They would fly through his hair and glue their wings to the sweat of his arms and legs, and he would let the ones that could land and begin to crawl, trekking his skin and covering him from head to toe. Only once the night’s flight had subsided would he walk the steep grade of the hillside and descend slowly into the freezing depths of the river. The moths that resisted at the surface of the water would come unstuck once submerged, and David would rise from the water clean, washed with the first boilings of the next night’s hatch.
I heard this story for the first time at a cul de sac barbeque at the end of my driveway. Mr. MacDonald had put his silver beer down to do the telling, and as many as fifteen of us looked on as he reached the dramatic finish, painting his brother as a shining martyr of these moths. Perceiving that I was perhaps the only one present who had yet to hear this tale, he nodded to me for what I assumed was my appraisal of the tale.
I said meekly, “Didn’t anyone ever go out there with him?”
Mr. MacDonald laughed and said, “DavidBrandon always wanted to know the same thing.”
In a year that has seen much public discussion of the teaching profession in British Columbia, it’s important to do a few things every day to remind ourselves that we are incredibly lucky to do this job. This spring’s Thirty Person Rock Band project has made for many such opportunities, and with four weeks of school left, it feels constantly like we’re just beginning. It’s a good place to be.