We do students a disservice by misleading them into thinking that their achievements can be broken into bits and that each bit is worth a certain percentage. Complex knowledge cannot be defined in these terms. A rubric cannot cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. The rubric should not be so atomised that there is no room for students to move in. As Iain McGilchrist says:
‘… the gaps in the structure are where the light gets in. If you tighten everything up, then you get total darkness’. (https://youtu.be/0Zld-MX11lA).
If we must have rubrics, then they should be guides rather than prescriptive, and students and staff should be encouraged to move beyond them.
In this book Rorty wanted to convince people that ‘relativism is a bugbear’ and that discarding dualisms will help bring us together. Trust, social cooperation and social hope, he says, are where our humanity begins and ends. The most praiseworthy human capacity is to trust and cooperate with other people; to work together to improve the future. He urges us to substitute hope for the sort of knowledge that philosophers try to attain, to substitute imagination for certainty, and to substitute curiosity for pride. Hope (rather than truth) is the ability to believe that the future will be unspecifiably different from, and unspecifiably freer than the past. It is a condition of growth and the direction of growth is unpredictable.
What seems to me to be unconscionable, however, today as yesterday, would be to conceive—or even worse, to practice—a popular education in which a constant, serious approach were not maintained, antecedently and concomitantly, to problems like: what content to teach, in behalf of what this content is to be taught, in behalf of whom, against what, and against whom.
- Who selects the content, and how is it taught?
- What is teaching?
- What is learning?
- What manner of relationship obtains between teaching and learning?
- What is popular knowledge, or knowledge gotten from living experience?
- Can we discard it as imprecise and confused?
- How may it be gotten beyond, transcended?
- What is a teacher?
- What is the role of a teacher?
- And what is a student?
- What is a student’s role?
- If being a teacher means being superior to the student in some way, does this mean that the teacher must be authoritarian?
- Is it possible to be democratic and dialogical without ceasing to be a teacher, which is different from being a student?
- Does dialogue mean irrelevant chitchat whose ideal atmosphere would be to “leave it as it is to see if it’ll work”?
- Can there be a serious attempt at the reading and writing of the word without a reading of the world?
- Does the inescapable criticism of a “banking” education mean the educator has nothing to teach and ought not to teach?
- Is a teacher who does not teach a self-contradiction?
- What is codification, and what is its role in the framework of a theory of knowledge?
- How is the “relation between practice and theory” to be understood—and especially, experienced—without the expression becoming trite, empty wordage?
- How is the “basistic,” voluntaristic temptation to be resisted—and how is the intellectualistic, verbalistic temptation to engage in sheer empty chatter to be overcome?
- How is one to “work on” the relationship between language and citizenship?
These are the steps I would take if you want a gentler introduction.
- Watch the RSA Animate Video which explains how our ‘divided brain’ has profoundly altered human behaviour, culture and society. (11.47 mins)
- Watch The Divided Brain Documentary (I hour 18 mins). This is a beautifully produced and very informative documentary, well worth watching. It is not free, but you can rent it for 48 hours for only £4.99, or you can buy it for £14.99.
- Read Ways of Attending. How our divided brain constructs the world. This was published in 2018. It is a short introduction to Iain McGilchrist’s ideas, only 30 pages long, and very accessible. For some reason I don’t understand it is expensive for such a short book – £14.99 in paperback, Kindle edition £8.67, but if you really want a brief introduction to the key concepts of Iain’s exploration of brain lateralization, and its impact on human culture, this is the book to buy.
- If you are still unsure about whether you want to invest in a copy of The Master and his Emissary, then the Introduction to the book, is freely available online as a PDF
- Hopefully, all this has been enough introduction to the full text: The Master and His Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. The paperback edition of this on Amazon Prime is cheaper than Ways of Attending! £13.63.
Baggini discusses empirical, authoritative and reasoned truths, the idea that truth should be grounded in evidence, that truths can be known and that reason can lead to truth. All these seem to be the kinds of truths that Heather Heying focuses on as the basis for real conversations with her students.
But there are also, according the Baggini, eternal truths, esoteric truths, creative truths, relative truths, powerful truths, moral truths and holistic truth. These seem to emphasise different aspects to how we recognise truth than the empirical truth focussed on by Heying. This made me wonder whether the idea that there can be many types of truth was discussed by her students and how this idea might influence the outcome of a ‘real conversation’.
Anyone who follows this blog will know that I am interested in the work of Iain McGilchrist and what we can learn from his book The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Currently I am thinking about what implications some of the central themes of this book might have for education. The theme I have been exploring is ‘flow’.
Csikszentmihalyi is known to have related his work to education, whereas McGilchrist relates his work more broadly to living in and attending to the world, which, although not specific to education, certainly has implications for education. In his book The Master and his Emissary, McGilchrist provides substantial evidence for two ways of attending to the world; the way of the left hemisphere of the brain and the way of the right hemisphere. I have written a number of posts about this in the past and am not going to repeat it here. A good introduction to those new to McGilchrist’s work is this video and this short book, which summarises his key ideas – Ways of Attending: How our Divided Brain Constructs the World.
For Iain McGilchrist, ‘flow’ isn’t something experienced only when certain conditions are met. Rather he considers that all things are in flow all the time, including ourselves. He often uses the mountain behind his house to illustrate this, saying that if we could slow things down sufficiently we would be able to see the mountain flowing.
For McGilchrist experiencing ‘flow’ means experiencing the whole and understanding:
- Empathy and intersubjectivity as the ground of consciousness
- The importance of an open, patient attention to the world, as opposed to a wilful, grasping attention
- The implicit or hidden nature of truth
- The emphasis on process rather than stasis,
- The journey being more important that the arrival
- The primacy of perception
- The importance of the body in constituting reality
- And emphasis on uniqueness
- The objectifying nature of vision
- The irreducibility of all value to utility
- Creativity as an unveiling (no-saying) process rather than a wilfully constructive process.
- The challenge for educators is how to reconcile the need to fix and test within a flow mindset.
McGilchrist has always stressed the importance of ‘both/and’ thinking, as opposed to the ‘either/or’ thinking, which seems to dominate much of our work in education. He tells us that for strength and stability, and to avoid fragmentation and disintegration, we need to be able to hold opposing ideas in dynamic equilibrium, an idea that seems particularly relevant to current times.
I have found myself wondering why Levinas’ thinking about the ‘Other’ and ‘Otherness’ continues to hold people’s attention. I have come to the conclusion that it is not so much whether or not we recognise that the ‘Other’ exists. In fact I can’t see how anyone could be unaware of the ‘Other’. Every person is a unique individual, different to every other person, so every human encounter is with the ‘Other’. It’s more about how we respond to the ‘Other’. Do we try and dominate the ‘Other’? Do we accept responsibility for the ‘Other’? Do we try to listen and learn from the ‘Other’?
Levinas invites us to listen to the voice of the ‘Other’. This, he believes, is our moral and ethical responsibility.
I think that I was probably in denial as I watched my mother die of cancer. The biggest shock was the body transformation. I cannot think of any film (I have not seen Awakenings) that authentically reflects this. Maybe I was naive? Not sure what I did expect. Was a challenge none the less.
Something that you might be interested in (if you have not already come upon it in the past) is this podcast capturing Sacks’ last days:
One of the most moving things I have listened to.
I also like your point Jenny about driving and technology.
I suspect that any attempt to fully articulate and define what ‘betweenness’ might mean is going to fail, if only because, if it is embedded in experience, then it will necessarily be personal to each and every one of us. The nearest anyone I know has come to presenting a holistic view of ‘betweenness’ as expressed by McGilchrist is Matthias Melcher with this map
The existentialists lived in times of extreme ideology and extreme suffering, and they became engaged with events in the world whether they wanted to or not – and usually they did. The story of existentialism is therefore a political and a historical one: to some extent, it is the story of a whole European century.
‘The statement that ‘there is no such thing as truth’ is itself a truth statement, and implies that it is truer than its opposite, the statement that ‘truth exists’. If we had no concept of truth, we could not state anything at all, and it would even be pointless to act. There would be no purpose, for example, in seeking the advice of doctors, since there would be no point in having their opinion, and no basis for their view that one treatment was better than another. None of us actually lives as though there were no truth. Our problem is more with the notion of a single, unchanging truth.’ (McGilchrist, p.150)
The last step doesn’t matter as much as you think. It is not about the summit.
Your post has me reflecting on the death of my mother. Although it maybe a part of life, I am not sure I was willing to accept death. I naively thought she would be around seemingly forever. I remember missing our last moment together:
My last real one to one chat happened when I was least expecting it. With my step dad out picking up my brother and sister from school, I had a few moments with my mum. All of the sudden the tone of the conversation changed from being chatty, talking about this and that, but nothing in particular, to being more serious. I am not sure if it was something that I said or whether it was something that mum was just waiting to say, but she learnt forward from the couch and told me that I was a great brother, an amazing son and a fantastic husband and that I should not listen to anyone who says otherwise. In my usual manner, I tried to dodge these compliments. Like my mum, I just don’t like being pumped up. However, it didn’t occur to my till much later that these were mum’s last meaningful words for me. Although we had a few more conversations, none of them were as deep as this moment.
I am not sure how I thought she would pass, but no-one and definitely no movie prepared me the change and transformation associated with cancer.
I find your mention of music interesting. My sister and I played Miley Cyrus’ The Climb over and over in our last night with my mother as she lay there slowing passing. I remember the track playing randomly on my phone in class one day. I had to check myself, let alone somehow explain why I had Miley Cyrus on my phone to a bunch of teens.
Thank you Jenny for sharing.