Self-Explanation & Reflections on Metaphysics

What questions did you set out to answer during the unit?

Last year I started asking my classes to reflect on and assess their learning for projects and different units by responding to prompts through Google Forms. The ability to collect and synthesize individual and collective reflection on work and experiences just passed turned out to be particularly valuable, especially when looking back on areas of personal inquiry and narratives beyond the course content itself.

As a point of critical reflection between Philosophy 12‘s metaphysics and epistemology units, the responses to a variety of questions about learning offer an example by which to explore the Self Explanation Principle in Multimedia Learning in action. Chi and Wylie present prompted Self-Explanation Principle as

a constructive or generative learning activity that facilitates deep and robust learning by encouraging students to make inferences using the learning materials, identify previously held misconceptions, and repair mental models.

In supporting collaborative inquiry such self-explanation offers the opportunity for learners to define the terms of their learning, and examine the process of discovering what Freire called the “generative theme”:

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.

The nature of the metaphysics unit in particular lends itself to this discussion, and as respondents synthesize various aspects of their learning by defining their particular inquiries, they are fulfilling the first aspect of self-explicative learning: to make inferences using a variety of learning materials.

Where the form’s questions could do a better job, I feel, is in seeking to identify previously held misconceptions and repair mental models. While the questions do ask students to reflect upon the processes which led them to success in aspects of the unit, this before-and-after conception of understanding on the topic is not addressed.

Below you will find these personal reflections, as well as further feedback on the Metaphysics unit in Philosophy 12.

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

What is actual being? How does consciousness work in terms of “self”?

Does “normal” exist? How can you measure normal? Who decides what is normal? Why do we prefer to have a standard of normal? Do we choose to be a certain way (free will) or are we normal as a result of hard determinism?

My main question that I set out to answer during this unit was: what is, what are, and what is nothing?

I didn’t have any specific questions I wanted answered, rather I set out in search of greater knowledge hoping that would uncover the right questions.

What are ideas? (As an extension, what Mapping dialogueis a number?) Where do ideas exist? Are ideas dependent on human thought? What is human knowledge? Is it objective or subjective?

I continued to be curious about why people strive to the furthest extent to obtain happiness.

What is the purpose of our existence? What is the true self?

How others perceive things and how it’s different for everyone.

Do animals share the same consciousness as humans? How do you define consciousness? Is consciousness linked to intelligence?

What is happiness? How do we achieve happiness? Is happiness our purpose?

Do animals have intelligence equal to humans? Should intelligent animals be viewed as equivalent beings to humans? Do animals (orcas, dolphins, etc) have a high level of consciousness and self-awareness?

Can we ever factually prove another beings existence? What is consciousness?

During which assignment do you feel you produced your best work?

What are you proud of in the work highlighted above? 

During the discussions I felt I participated well, especially during the thought experiment and the final metaphysics discussion (making connections). I felt I listened well to what others had to say and added my input when I felt the need to do so.

I think that during class I am able to contribute useful information to help further discussions, and help others and myself understand concepts better. If I cannot contribute in that way i sometimes like to play devils advocate and suggest something that I know will spark conversation or argument among classmates. this works especially well during ethical debates.

I feel that I did contribute to the class discussions by stepping up and moderating, as well as drawing lines to connect our topics together. That was the first time I have pseudo-moderated a discussion. There’s a first for everything.

The work that I wrote on the post for me was my better writing. I was able to put my thoughts into understandable words, unlike the class discussion where it was confusing for me to put words together due to so many other questions that have been asked. Metaphysicians

I think that my blog post gave a good amount of background and information, and then logically followed an argument to a reasonable conclusion.

I am proud of my participation in class discussions as I feel like I can often bring out a different view contrary to the beliefs in the class that are helpful in bringing about a better understanding of the material. I do so in a non-confrontational manner to invoke further questions, and to better the understanding of the topic at hand. As well, I feel like I can vocalize thoughts that other people may have trouble conveying.

Just bringing a new angle to class discussions. Trying to make sense of what we were talking about and maybe bring it down to an easier level of understanding. Also to simplify things we were talking about so they weren’t so daunting.

The reason I’m so proud of this blog post is because a spent a large amount of time researching my topic. I watched countless videos that allowed me to expand the knowledge I had. This helped me understand different viewpoints and created a more clear path to help me reach a satisfying answer to my question.

I am really proud of myself for fully summing up what I’ve learned in the past few weeks from this class while simultaneously expressing how I perceive life.

I am proud of this work because it comes from the thoughts within me that do not get to see the light of day very often.

I am proud that I was able to expand my ideas in my second blog post and make as much progress in my thoughts and ideas as I did. Though I did not come to a definite answer, I feel that some of the new questions I created are more beneficial than any answer I could have come to.

During which assignment do you feel you created work you would like to improve?

How would you go about improving your work highlighted in the previous question?

Next time, I would pick a broader topic to research and narrowing in as I go along with the second blogpost. As well, I would better formulate my question so it’s actually answerable.

Putting time and effort in the forms of blog posts, reviewing classmates posts, commenting, and research and posting of my own blog posts.

I think it’s important to share some insights to those who have related topics for a greater class discussion outcome. Therefore I should spend more time on others’ blog posts and comment based on my thoughts.

While most of my comments on Metaphysiciansclassmates’ posts were of good quality, I would have liked to gone more in-depth on some of them.

For others, I failed to respond to replies to my comments, something else that could have furthered my learning. I can improve on this in the future my taking more time when writing and responding to comments, treating them more like mini blog posts in their own right.

I wish that I had explained my ideas more. I felt that I gave a broad overview of my experiences in metaphysics, but did not give enough specific examples.

I could probably contribute to class discussions a bit more. I should also read more of the assigned readings and other unassigned readings so that I have a better grasp on the concepts, that way I can provide more insight throughout the discussion and more in the beginning of the discussions because it usually takes a while into the conversation for me to say anything.

I just wish I had taken more time to dive deeper into my topic.

I think I definitely needed to comment more, not less, and to have more effective comments. E.g. I needed to address the post more directly rather than modifying it in my mind as to create some sort of push back. I also need to read the posts more frequently, rather than relying too much on class discussions.

I will participate more in class discussions, put in my own thoughts to have them questioned or supported and built upon or build on or question someone else’s ideas or things they bring to discussions.

I can improve my participation in class discussions by coming to class with meaningful ideas and questions to share with the class. In addition, I can also try to think more quickly so that I can share a point before the conversation moves past the topic that I want to contribute to.

I had a lot of very good ideas and intentions behind my second blog post, but I was only able to capture snippets of them. If I had taken the time to structure, support, and find the right words to explain my post I believe I could have made it much more effective and meaningful.

Really taking the time to comment and reflect on others ideas and concepts so I can not only help them get a different perspective, but help myself understand more. Take more time out of a day to look at what people are posting.

I would have a more definite topic which I could talk about in more depth. I felt that I had little valuable evidence in my first post that helps me to prove my point. I also ended up disagreeing with this post in my second metaphysics blog post, so constancy would have been better.

I would like to be able to participate more during class discussions and really let my ideas be known to my peers. I will definitely be trying to speak up more during our next unit on Epistemology.

At the time I wasn’t very sure of the topic I wanted to pursue in Metaphysics. As a result, my first blog post did not really have as strong of a purpose as I would have liked. Instead, it touched vaguely on small aspects of free will. I definitely should have spent more time thinking about what I wanted to do.

I think I need to work on being more confident in my responses and comments to others. I often feel that if I leave a comment on someone’s blog post that they might be offended by what I have to say. I can work on this by typing what I have to say and posting it without thinking twice about it because I know that I would appreciate the constructive criticism.

Engagement with the unit

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

I loved the group discussions we had on the topic. It was very a very effective way to help us understand the topic. It would also help us view different points of view about the topic and helped me personally expand my knowledge of metaphysics. It was easy, quick and effective. I could connect with each one of my classmates as they would share their thoughts on something, then we as a class would easily be able to interpret the topic and understand it much easier than if we were to look up the topic on our own.

I would keep the group discussions. They were very affective and I had achieved a greater understanding of others’ point of view.

I love thinking about how we could better our own understanding of ourselves. The thinking of existence, like solipsism and thinking about existence and how nothing can exist without something else.

I would keep the large class discussion that allows clarity and a path into the minds of people who created the blog posts.

I like the small group discussions, some large group discussions, and when we did the simulation. The small group discussions are good for people to share their ideas and really get into detail whereas the large group discussions are good for everyone to get their ideas out there.

I really enjoyed the discussions we had in this unit. They were very smooth and the amount of engagement the class exemplified was quite high compared to previous experiences. I feel as though this aspect of the unit worked very well, and is essential in making metaphysics more clear.

I really enjoy class discussions as opposed to independent study, I feel that concepts are much easier to understand when they can be portrayed by different people, or explained by different minds. Kelsey’s activity was fantastic.

The connecting of our topics. Although each class will have different ways of connecting them, I think that the act of doing so was very helpful in getting everyone as engaged as possible.

The freedom in choosing what you want to study is great.

I always like class discussions. Collaborating with others and working things out as a class seem to produce the best results. It helps to get different ideas and others helping you to better understand a topic.

I enjoyed our last classroom activity where we connected everyone’s different topics together. It was nice to be able to hear about peoples topics in person and to be able to have small debates with the class on different topics.

One aspect that I would keep regarding the unit is the way that me mapped our individual ideas together into one big picture. To me, it seemed a good method of connecting all of our individual points of study and giving each of us a greater view of the unit as a whole.

I would change it so we had more structured group discussions, as I remember when we were consolidating our ideas we spent half the class just deciding on /how/ to talk rather than actually talking about things. Although the experience itself was learning in managing people, I feel like the actual learning of philosophy was not effective.

I enjoyed the fact that the ideas we researched were so diverse, because I felt like people were more engaged when they could choose what they wanted to research. Personally, despite the fact that my topic was somewhat different to others’, I still enjoyed looking into it, possibly because it was so obscure. As well, the diagram of how all of metaphysics tied together in so many ways helped, because we got to see connections between things that we wouldn’t have expected, like perception and animal consciousness. I also enjoyed the chance to discuss my topics in larger groups before we discussed with the entire class, because small conversations with groups of three or four tend to run out of steam quickly, while talking with seven or eight people can go on for much longer and provoke more interesting opinions.

I would keep the large group discussions because I think that listening and contributing to what others have to say helped challenge my ideas and make it easier to create a path for my thoughts and new ideas. I like working with others because it helps me stay on track when some of my metaphysical questions become overwhelming.

At the beginning of the course, I was very skeptical about the blog. I had never used one before, and am not very technologically savvy. However, especially for this unit, I have found the blog a great way to share my ideas effectively and in an organized fashion. I would like to keep the class discussions where we connect all of our ideas. I think that its really engaging and helpful.

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

More examples/videos involving metaphysical discussions. More ideas could have been fed for the students to ponder rather than us coming up with the limited ideas we had on our own.

Not to focus as much on the blogging aspect.

One aspect that I would change regarding the unit is having more engagements on the blog posts of others. While I did see many good comments on other people’s posts, due to the fact that some people posted late along with other factors reduced the amount of comments.

No class led discussions as I think they go off on tangents and are unproductive.

I’d love to have heard more of what other philosophers have said about metaphysics in class (then possibly discussed that). Just so we could expand beyond the specifics we’re researching and hear from the pros.

The only thing about the class discussions that I would like to improve on would be that during some of our class topics, we wouldn’t let some people finish what they were talking about and then someone else would talk about something interesting to them, and the past speaker would pay less attention because they wanted to focus on what they were still speaking about. That would lead to other problems such as getting off topic and getting somewhat frustrated with each other.

If I could change some aspects of the unit, I would prefer to have a teacher moderator for the discussions, because its easier to have a discussion when everyone doesn’t go off topic.

I would definitely change the amount of support around commenting on blog posts, as it seems that was more of a scattered activity. (It happened sometimes, but did not happen all the time) often conversation, unless mandatory was limited or ineffective online. Perhaps more structure is required in this area.

The only thing I would change is when we figure out who’s work related to others, that we would all split off into smaller groups so that the relatable topics would get even more clarity and the expansion of ideas would be even greater.

A better final showing of what was learned.

Narrow down a couple of topics and post a group blog based on the outcome that the specific group produce.

Probably the mini-group discussions. Those were not very well organized and some instructions were left pretty vague as well.

The only thing I would change about the this metaphysics unit is that I would have liked to have the teacher guide us through it more. Metaphysics is an extremely confusing topic, and I felt as though we needed that extra push from someone with more expertise to give us that head start.

It was almost so vast and mind blowing that I feel maybe we should’ve taken it in in smaller chunks, rather than just diving in and hoping for the best, it’s a very complex unit.

I would change the collaborative note-generation because sometimes it was difficult to see the connections between my topics and the topics of others. I thought that sometimes we went off topic when we were trying to find connections between each others topics. I thought it was most beneficial to choose one of the topics and discuss deeply about it.

However, this could have just be in my case and may have been very beneficial for others.

I would love if there were more student lead activities. I enjoyed leading the class in a thought experiment, and learned a lot from it. I feel my classmates would enjoy organizing and leading their own activity.

During some student mediated large group discussions, it would get a little messy and was sometimes counter productive. For example, during the first day that we tried to connect our metaphysics subtopics during a large class discussion it got a little counter productive when the mediators were trying to figure out the best way to group our topics. I think once our class finds the best way of mediation that could work, student mediation will be very useful but as of right now, we are still a little bit shaky. Maybe during our next class discussion, we can have people vote for our mediator and have the entire class discuss what we want out of our discussion that day. Sort of like setting a goal so we know where to go back to if we went off on an irrelevant subject.

Method of delivery: maybe more discussions that are based on distinctly different topics to start off with so we have a better idea of the concepts we’re supposed to talk about. If I were to change the metaphysics unit, I may have some specific branches of metaphysics to study and a list of philosophers we could use as resources. Additionally, I think that group presentations of concepts was very effective and I would use more of those!

What I would want to change about this unit was to make it less broad. I felt I could have gained more from this unit if I had more specifics to focus on and less information to wade through. There was too much happening in too little time. I felt that everyone was focused on their specific topics and that only in the last discussion were we really able to see the connections between everything.

Learning and Metaphysics

What have we learned? How do we know we have?

#philosodoodles

Now making my third pass at the philosophy 12 course, I have approached this year’s unit on Metaphysics as an opportunity to crystalize the course methods as an expression of the values underpinning it. I’ve learned in the past two years that to embrace a constructivist view of epistemology presents the idea of course design as a confrontation with the paradox at the heart of institutional learning: that schools ought provide learning experiences which students ‘own’ and direct with increasing autonomy and agency as they move through school.

But I’ve also learned that this is no straightforward thing.

Emergence presents a rigorous test:

“…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.”

Osberg and Biesta

On one hand, we must consider the traditional obligations of school: to evaluate and assess its own performance in properly equipping young people with the skills, proficiencies and base knowledges deemed of value to society. But we must also reckon with the contradiction to emergence that is involved in then deciding beforehand what those skills, proficiencies and base knowledges are to be in the first place.

Notably, this contradiction is addressed in part by the critical praxis presented by Paulo Freire, who says that

“…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.”

The necessity to pursue an emergent view of knowledge becomes especially important in our present times in multicultural Canada (and in the broader sense, in the course’s online sphere). Osberg and Biesta write that

“In contemporary multicultural societies, the difficulty with education as planned enculturation lies in the question of who decides what or whose culture should be promoted through education. The problem of ‘educational enculturation’ is therefore of considerable concern to theorists grappling with the issues raised by multiculturalism.

“If we hold that meaning is emergent, and we insist on a strict interpretation of emergence (i.e. what emerges is more than the sum of its parts and therefore not predictable from the ‘ground’ it emerges from) then the idea that educators can (or should) control the meanings that emerge in the classroom becomes problematic. In other words the notion of emergent meaning is incompatible with the aims of education, traditionally conceived.”

And so we must conceive of education differently, perhaps no place moreso than in a class like Philosophy 12 during a unit on Metaphysics, which in a certain sense must be approached as a cultivation and aggregation of diverse subjectivities. While it is apparent in the breadth of the course material, such a focus lends itself admirably to the pursuit of metaphysics.

So in one arc of the class’ discourse, Angela begs the question of endless subjectivity in her post, Whoa, Slow Down

“One fixed answer that is true to everything and everyone is way too easy, but some people can’t seem to accept that there is no answer. At the same time, we also tend to deny that every answer is different for everyone. Why is it that we just can’t accept that?”

While Liam retraces Descartes footsteps:

“…perhaps all of ‘reality’ is simply our minds composing things for us to see, smell, taste, hear, and touch, even though they don’t exist. Perhaps nothing exists, but how could that be? We are here, I am typing this, aren’t I? If I am not, and I do not exist, and nothing exists, then what is allowing me to experience things?”

This search for meaning is arising across a few other posts this week as well, with ventures into solipsism, animal consciousness, and the almighty void of nothingness itself. These questions, as with those posed by Avery with respect to the existence of numbers “Five fingers are material objects and so are five sheep, but does five itself exist materially in the same manner?” – are those surrounding the various subjectivities at the heart of metaphysics: “What is…” and “What is it like…”  And so we find ourselves this week asking ourselves whether what we have gained in knowledge and experience during our study thus far “exists materially in the same manner.”

And if it does, how might we understand its existence? What is it, in other words? And what is it like?

Last year, our encounter with metaphysics was guided by Osberg and Biesta’s suggestion of the “learning object,” who contend that:

“for the process of knowledge production to occur it is necessary to assume that the meaning of a particular ‘knowledge object’ exists in a stable form such that the ‘knowledge object’ can be used like a ‘building block’ in the production of new abstract knowledge objects. This idea, however, is precisely what an emergentist epistemology denies. Because the meaning of any new knowledge ‘emerges’ would be highly specific to the complex system from which is emerged, it follows that no ‘knowledge object’ can retain its meaning in a different situation.”

The creation of such ‘objects of learning’ provides a worthwhile otherwise in the pursuit of an education which lives up to our multicultural ideals, as their construction demands that learners confront the dual questions which drive societal reinvention and human progress, where we ask ourselves, Who am I? and Who are we? Building on the ideas of Michel Foucault, who defined Enlightenment as “a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them,” school should aspire to such a notion of learning.

“Moments happen quickly, and changes come slowly.”

Summer school

The title of this post, and its contents are synthesis and reflection of my thoughts while reading James Nahachewsky and David Slomp’s book chapter “Sound and Fury: Studied Response(s) of Curriculum and Classroom in Digital Times,” originally published in Beyond ‘Presentism’: Re-Imagining the Historical, Personal, and Social Places of Curriculum (2009).

Similar to Borges‘ introduction, “like all men, he was given bad times in which to live,” we find ourselves in complex times that have yet undeniably coalesced into a present “moment” that might be described as a Digital Age. The arrival of these digital times has arrived with

“a shift in perspective that recently has thrown many modernist educational boundaries and underlying assumptions into doubt – including constructs of learner and teacher, and schooling itself (Gee, 2004; Knobel & Lankshear, 2007). This shift is due, in part to young people’s own fluid, de-territorialized meaning-making afforded by the consumption and, perhaps more importantly, the production of digital texts.”

Nahachewsky and Slomp present the problem of how confronting these new realities of the digital age reveals a contradiction in that “digital texts, as created by young people become sites of action and agency [while] Arguably, brick and mortar classrooms are not.” The language arts, the authors note, are uniquely situated to reveal the particular opportunities such times present the study of pedagogy, as new media arise, changing the relationships between students, teachers, and even broader educative communities beyond our institutions. Using the shift brought to text by the digital age as a corollary, the authors begin to outline a structural transformation that is beginning to be seen in literacy education.

“The spaces of classroom and educational digital texts create complex dialogic ‘contact zones’ (Bakhtin 1981), where we may witness the representation of learner, teacher, and curriculum in interesting, complex, and non-traditional ways.”

Highlighting the example of the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol for Collaboration in Basic Education, Nahachewsky and Slomp note that democratic governments have engaged the collision of the 21st century and its burgeoning technological revolution to provoke discussion around the revolutionizing of curriculum itself, though the section of the paper begins with a quote from Jerome Bruner’s Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (1986):

“Language- can never be neutral, it imposes a point of view not only about the world to which it refers, but toward the use of mind in respect of this world.”

Because while the governments of the western provinces strive toward a collaboratively determined common curriculum that will best prepare young Canadians for the digital and globalized 21st century, “The primary issue the Ministers [of education from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon and the North West Territories] identified in the agreement was the need to optimize the limited resources of the provinces in improving education [emphasis from the original].” The point of view “imposed,” and which frames the narrative of educational reform contextualizes the task as one of necessity rather than aspiration.

One needn’t suggest that fiscal responsibility shouldn’t constitute an aspect of educational discourse; but by beginning from this foundation, the “authors” of our curricular narratives – granted such voice by the democratic processes guiding public policy in Canada – limit the possible iterations of curriculum that might better contribute to education’s guiding purpose(s) than those created solely out of financial necessity. With the broad focus of literacy, the authors summarize the purpose of language learning expressed in the WNCP, which presents literacy as a tool:

“To facilitate thinking, define culture, develop personal identity, build interpersonal relationships, extend experience, facilitate reflection, contribute to a democratic society, construct and convey meanings, and facilitate metacognitive awareness.”

But while even optimists among us might appreciate these strokes of application that these democratic processes have sketched out on our collective behalf, the authors emphasize what is not included in this discussion of education’s future, what is not part of the narrative authored on society’s behalf: “the question, To what end?”

“…to what end do we use language to facilitate thinking or to construct meaning?”

In other words, what is understanding? And what is it for?

The affordances of new media in these digital times has further contributed to the disruption of the narrative of the singular author, a process that has been at work throughout the modernist period and which dates back to the Enlightenment period. Such philosophical movements are congruent with Bruner’s suggestion “that our use of language has a constitutive role in creative social reality and concepts of our selves.” 

To paraphrase Michael Wesch, our digital times present us with the opportunity to witness Marshall McLuhan‘s edict that “we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us,” in real time, largely through the critical study and experimentation with different forms of texts encountered in the language arts classroom. Indeed, Nahachewsky and Slomp point out that “this has important implications for the culture of education and the concepts of self that teachers and students co-construct.”

As the revolution of text online has challenged the notion of a single authorial rendering (even of an original work or act), so too might the digital age present the opportunity to consider the direction and construction of meaning to be a collaborative act between students who are guided in this process by a teacher. However well intended, our present schools are places where

“students are seen as participants who are given a role as ‘performing spectators who play out their canonical roles according to rule when appropriate cues appear.”

Bruner notes further than “this role causes the child to only identify himself as owner, as user, never as creator; he does not invent the world, he uses it.” However much this framing might offer a shift in perspective to today’s educators, it has been more than one hundred years since Maria Montessori lamented that while “it is true that some pedagogues, led by Rousseau, have given voice to the impracticable principles and vague aspirations for the liberty of the child […], the true concept of liberty is practically unknown to educators.” (Montessori 1912)

More than one hundred years ago, Montessori wished

“to direct the teacher to awaken in him[self], in connection with his own particular field, the school, that scientific spirit which opens the door for him to broader and bigger possibilities. In other words, we wish to awaken in the mind and heart of the educator an interest in natural phenomena to such an extent that, loving nature, he shall understand the anxious and expectant attitude of one who has prepared an experiment and who awaits a revelation from it.”

However as we look to the educative narrative presented in Canada today, we might note the Federal Harper Government’s discussions of scientific discovery have similarly limited its scope to invest “scarce resources” in research that offers a practical return on investment, thus affirming the broader cultural narrative of perpetuating an infinite growth economy as our highest purpose.

As it is in education, the question To what end? is not included in the discussion of why we ought pursue scientific discovery (if not to achieve predicted economic outcomes), and the omission represents an abandoning of principles around which our cultural, social, artistic, political and moral traditions each originate and continue to revolve, those traditions which coalesced and were articulated during the dawn of the era of mass-printed texts.

Following the invention of the printing press, Europe witnessed the transformation of its public sphere(s) (Habermas 1991), with paradigmatic shifts visited upon religion, politics, science, philosophy and the arts. The ability of greater and greater numbers of people to encounter and freely share new ideas delivered a cataclysm upon the singular narratives of public affairs constructed with absolute power by monarchs and churches, and is the overarching arc of justice which guides foundational schools of western philosophical thought to this day. Broadening the base of authorship in the creation of a collective narrative led directly to the transformation of the existent structures of the preceding paradigm.

We might learn from these events, as the advent of our modern, digital technologies presents what may constitute an analogous ‘moment’ of cultural revolution where the discussion of what might be is at least as relevant for discussion as the prospects of what must be. In fact, we have learned much from those who sought to uphold the mantles of chalice and crown throughout the various Enlightenment revolutions employed various arguments to make their case, and should proceed skeptically with those who would tell us what “must be.” With the traditions of scholarship and tools we have acquired in the age of empiricism, the test to establish what “must”…

must be of the strictest rigor.

In the meantime, it is equally important that modern educationists explore and discover what can be, as it is central to the task of creating a fuller perception of nature and humankind which the traditions of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and political philosophy demand of us.

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 Knowledge

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It’s a great thing to receive invites like this one from Manitoba civics teacher extraordinaire Matt Henderson, and be prompted to a discussion of knowledge spanning two continents and including some of my favourite edu-thinkers in a single Tweet. A huge admirer of GNA Garcia, Zoe Branigan-Pipe, and Thomas Steele-Maley for their influence on my thinking about teaching and learning already, I’m excited at the introduction to @gmbchomichuk and Jock Martin, as well as the folks Matt is cavorting with in South America (nice timing, considering Manitoba has recently recorded temperatures colder than Mars). 

Matt followed up with a note to those of us who jumped at the opportunity to connect:

On Tuesday, we are workshopping (did I just say that?) the idea of knowledge acquisition: How do people acquire knowledge and how can teachers facilitate this process effectively?
As you all are expert/master teachers in my eyes (whom I adore), could you provide me with an explanation of how you personally acquire knowledge and how you as a teacher foster acquisition in your learning environments?


Envious of the ability he has to say it so well, I think Thomas has already articulated many perspectives on knowledge that guide my own personal development and conception of pedagogy.

I love this:

I see my learning broadly as a theory, design, and praxis cycle. I yearn to theorize the world around me, design learning environments for myself and others that intervene in the confluent and ever changing learning process. I then actively test those designs through mentorship, facilitation, teaching and learning.  Thus, I acquire knowledge through qualitative, quantitative and distributed modalities:

      • I read, write and cipher daily and have done more than my fair share of institutional learning (schools-universities).
      • I  am connected and those connections can grow, focus, change, and enhance my experiences and those of others acquiring knowledge.

Recognizing that schools bear an institutional responsibility to reproduce the subjectivities that lead to the successful aspects of society or civilization, I try to co-create educational experiences that reflect this messier authenticity at the heart of transformative, enlightenment education, which Michel Foucault characterized as something that should:

“…be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating; it has to be conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.”

This view of learning relies on an emergent epistemology, or view of knowledge “that does not exist except in participatory actions.”

I am indebted to Deborah Osberg and Gert Biesta for helping visualize an emergent pedagogy, where:

The meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

Philosophical TraditionsThese postmodern conceptions of knowledge might strike some as too abstract or high-minded to bear any practical application to modern schooling; but it bears pointing out that the traditions that underpin this type of emergent knowledge creation are inextricably tied to modern philosophical traditions alive since the seventeen hundreds. In discussing what constitutes scientific or political truth, or how to designate a consensus of public opinion, or what is entailed in living a ‘good life’ (as well as what that ‘good life’ is, and who gets to live it), we are asking philosophical questions that represent the emancipatory ideals of modern learning as conceived during the Enlightenment period.

To be free to pursue one’s own mind and potential is irrevocably connected to one’s freedom from political tyranny: it is thus that we see that the continental revolutions in science, art and religion followed directly by political, technological and economic upheaval across the known world.

Intrigued by the interdisciplinary ethos running throughout this tradition, I spent a lot of time this semester thinking about how they might be brought into my classrooms, and found a likely opportunity to realize emergence in my Philosophy 12 course during our Metaphysics unit.

On the class site, I introduced a unit plan wherein:

Our task, in general terms, will be to encounter the lives and ideas of metaphysicians. And, in asking of ourselves what we can interpret of their essential guiding questions, to engage in the study of our own metaphysical thoughts and conceptions. This will happen in exposition on the class blog, connections made through comments and conversation, and inquiry through reflection and dialogue.

As the participants’ individual conceptions of reality, experience and knowledge were beginning to be shaped by the reading and inquiry they were conducting into the lives and ideas of various metaphysicians, I was considering the shift in thinking Osberg and Biesta described in emergent pedagogy.

I shared these ideas with the class as we began to conceive of what the summative reflection of the unit’s learning might become:

“The meaning of any new knowledge [which] ‘emerges’ would be highly specific to the complex system from which is emerged, it follows that no ‘knowledge object’ can retain its meaning in a different situation.”

We had, in Freirian terms, begun an investigation into the group’s generative themes, the guiding metaphors and narratives at the heart of our unique collected cultural experience, and brainstormed the ways in which we might realize the aims of his brand of emancipatory learning:

“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.”

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12

And so one Thursday, after two weeks in which each member of the class had delved into the life and metaphysical question of some of the greatest thinkers in history, and spent time outside of school (as part of a long weekend ‘individual field trip‘ assignment) considering those questions, the class met to construct its Discussable Object (here is a link to the expanded photoset).

Here’s how I described it at the time:

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.

In a reflection written shortly after the creation of the Discussable Object, I asked participants about their experience with this type of socially-constructed knowledge, where many returned to the idea of knowledge existing in those “participatory actions”:

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. 

Asked to reflect on the unit’s essential opportunities, several highlighted the open-endedness of the unit’s planning and structure:

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 whole experience was quite something to behold, as is I believe this opportunity to share and discuss these various views of knowledge and learning. I think anytime people are making meaning together, we’re delivering on those promises of the Enlightenment, and that our cultural potential and possibility lies in our ability to cultivate greater and greater reservoirs of the human experience.

I’m grateful to participate in that anytime. But especially when it’s in classrooms and conversations with people like those included here. Thanks for the invite to connect, our future conversations, and for the learning from here on out.

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).”

Metaphysical Emergence and the Discussable Object

Unplug'd 2012 Map Prep

Photo Courtesy of Alan Levine

This content was cross-posted on the Philosophy 12 course site

“It is to the reality which mediates [people], and to the perception of that reality held by educators and people, that we must go to find the program content of education.”

Paulo Freire

As we set out to encounter Metaphysics, my ambition as teacher is to help frame the creation of a learning object as an attempt at authentic social constructivism. Today we began with a conversation based on another Freire quote (about education being a ‘with’ transaction between teachers and students much more than a ‘to’ or ‘for’), and came away with a loose timeline and list of objectives and ambitions for the unit in the coming week.

“The investigation of […] people’s ‘thematic universe’ – the complex of their ‘generative themes’ – inaugurates the dialogue of education as the practice of freedom.”

Freire

Our task, in general terms, will be to encounter the lives and ideas of metaphysicians. And, in asking of ourselves what we can interpret of their essential guiding questions, to engage in the study of our own metaphysical thoughts and conceptions. This will happen in exposition on the class blog, connections made through comments and conversation, and inquiry through reflection and dialogue.

My hope is that these activities can be engaged in with the following in mind:

“…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.”

Osberg and Biesta

Thus far the group has agreed to the following objectives:

    • Delve into a metaphysical thinker’s life and ideas
    • Put their ideas into the context of larger theory, culture and critique
    • Evaluate one of your philosopher’s questions, ideas, or arguments with your own ideas about validity, truth and soundness
    • Narrate and participate in the creation of a collective representation of our learning about Metaphysics, and metaphysicians

This will begin with a blog post, wherein participants will demonstrate research and introduction to a philosopher of Metaphysics, and strive to respond to the following questions:

    • How did the philosopher’s life or biography influence their philosophical development?
    • What ideas or concepts are they credited with, or notable for?
    • How have these ideas been built on or incorporated into our modern zeitgeist or mindset?
    • What personal response do you have to the topics your philosopher explored?
    • What do you find confusing or difficult to conceive of, in your philosopher’s thinking?

And from there work through individual reflections and assessments of our own ideas contrasted against those of notable metaphysicians, as well as one another. Over the course of the following week, these experiences, discussions, reflections and activities will culminate in the creation of what for now we will call the Discussable Object. The logic here is derived from Osberg and Biesta again:

“…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.”

At present, the idea of the creation of the Discussable Object as an authentic constructivist summative assessment is unrefined; but the general intention is this: to create a collective representation of our individual journeys of understanding metaphysics.

This raises an interesting contradiction within emergentist epistemology that we will likely spend time in the coming week discussing, that:

“for the process of knowledge production to occur it is necessary to assume that the meaning of a particular ‘knowledge object’ exists in a stable form such that the ‘knowledge object’ can be used like a ‘building block’ in the production of new abstract knowledge objects. This idea, however, is precisely what an emergentist epistemology denies. Because the meaning of any new knowledge ’emerges’ would be highly specific to the complex system from which is emerged, it follows that no ‘knowledge object’ can retain its meaning in a different situation.”

This marks I think a necessary crossroads in the creation of the blended open-online course, as 24 of our participants will engaged in something that may only create significance between themselves; I wonder about our ability – or the validity of the attempt – to share this process beyond the constructivism of our physical classroom. Here I am left thinking about Jesse Stommel‘s post on Hybrid PedagogyHow to Build an Ethical Online Course, and the idea that:

“We must consider how we’ll create pathways between the learning that happens in a room and the learning that happens on the web.”

Indeed.