Moira Laidlaw: Towards a more helpful framing of my practice
I am submitting my paper for your review and look forward very much to entering into dialogue about it.
Warmest regards, Moira
I really enjoyed reading this paper. It traces a lot of different educative developments that are leading you towards a much greater awareness of your practice and particularly of the wider contexts and possibilities of that practice. We occupy unique spaces in the world, and you relate a broad number of these where you have and can exercise influence and co-learn.
Having studied Freire and conscientisation for my Masters thesis, I was interested to read the interpretations of this that you draw on in the work. There's one aspect of his approach that isn't evident (openly) in the paper, but I wonder whether it resonates at all with you? It is that sense that 'the oppressors' have to be liberated from their oppressive behaviour by the 'oppressed' themselves. It is almost that sense of 'the goldfish not seeing the water' that I have written about before, and that you and I have discussed a couple of times. Tied in with that is a reflection I've put in the track changed comments in the attached version - wondering about whether trauma can limit one's capacity to respond on a 'conscientised' scale to situations until the trauma is dealt with - rather as Anke Jauch seems to have done in her writing that you quote in this paper. IF the idea resonates, might you unpick a little more how you have become/are becoming conscientised through your interchanges with those oppressed by society, by racist or limiting social or educational systems? Not that YOU have been the oppressor, but postcolonial theorists may well argue that we are all complicit in oppression by virtue of our privileged status.
I feel that you are very hard on yourself in parts of the paper. As I say to all my new teachers, "We do the best we know how, and when we know better, we do better." I really applaud your honesty in the paper, but I do wonder if you're giving yourself enough credit for your 'outsider' status in China. Could you really be expected to understand the tendency of cultures to 'revert to the norm' in the absence of an outsider's vision? Just a thought.
I also think you're really on to something with the idea of Living Educational Theory work being a social movement. Perhaps you could expand on that a little more if you feel so inclined. Finally, just as a practical idea, I wonder if it is worth indicating at the start of the paper that the actual paper is x thousand words, and the appendices x thousand? Readers with limited time might like to know they can engage with it in stages.
I look forward to your reactions to these suggestions, and to the next iteration of the paper after you have all reviewers' comments in there. I think it is, as I've said in the track changes, 'searingly honest' and an important work towards your 'living legacy' (an idea I'd not thought about before!)
Hi Pip. Many, many thanks for this: the comments above and the annotations on the text itself. I'd like to comment on the ideas above and then I'll go through the script's commentary.
I like everything you've written. The scope of the writing is the focus in a sense and the way you acknowledge that at the beginning of your critique is a helpful emphasis for me in any redrafting of the paper, and perhaps as well for readers of both.
I do take very seriously, the remarks on that aspect of conscientisation about helping the oppressors themselves to be liberated by the oppressed. This is a deeper dimension than I think this paper qualifies for, but I'm not absolutely sure about that. I wonder whether it might come in more to a future paper. The ideas - and developing awareness - have been growing over the last couple of years. I am not sure I am ready yet to plunge in to that particular deep end. It's a very deep end.
There might, possibly, be a sense in which some of what I do with Kieran, for example, is about helping him to become the best man he can become, which as far as I am concerned, means that his humanity needs to outstrip his gender. And by the way, I am also suggesting this about my own gender being 'on top of' my own humanity, rather than the other way round. I am suggesting that humanity is more fundamental and more important than gender. However, having been oppressed and severely damaged by a variety of men in my past, that I should opt to be with a young man in such an ongoing situation - at least tangentially - has something to do with the oppressed liberating the oppressor, at least in one sense. My own past has been seeped in liberation from oppression, such that now I am really in a space where I can offer a way of being that genuinely seems to be helping one young man come to terms with the contradictions between testosterone and humanity - I'm using shorthand here. I am nowhere near, yet, being able to write about this in any useful way. However, I do want to think hard about what you've written in terms of oppressors liberated by the oppressed.
As for being hard on myself, again, I am not sure, Pip. I think I am being honest in a way that helps me to be clear. I am not beating myself up. I am not feeling guilty for not knowing. I didn't know. It's a fact. However, squaring up to it in the way I try to do is, for me, instrumental in growing both in authenticity and insight. I might make a comment to that effect in a redraft.
I think I was blind in China. I don't think Jack was. When he visited in 2005, for example, and later on through emails, I sensed that I was pushing against something there and couldn't see my way clear. I cannot write for Jack, of course - and Jack, please feel free to refute this - but I did start to grind to a halt towards the end of my stay there. I do believe that some of that 'stuckness' was because I lacked the political and societal understanding that is necessary to facilitate generativity in a context in which politics really was everything. I knew enough to help the project start and grow, but I didn't know enough to enable it to become its own thing. And yes of course, the collectivist way of doing things would cut across dynamically into the energy being generated, and then disippate some of it.
That LT is possibly a social movement is certainly not my original idea at all, hence the allusions to other people's work, but I agree I might be more fulsome in an explanation of quite what I mean by it. I agree it's an important idea.
The idea you put forward about triangulation, relying on other people's comments is a fair one. I am scrappy, however, in my organisation of emails and tend not to keep the right ones. I will have a look at that.
The references to co-written papers are as I state in the paper. I purposely ensured that colleagues' names went before mine, i.e. were published with their names first, as this would give them the allusion in other writings, should they be used. This tally really mattered to my colleagues, as it increased their research-rating with the university. I was just there as a volunteer, not employed by the University as such and had no personal axe to grind in terms of ensuring that my name was more prominent. I felt it was part of my role there.
I will look at the url for the Hayley video. It's a lovely one and I wouldn't like it to be inaccessible.
The Zen quotation, about the teacher arriving when needed, was something that was often commented on by my Chinese colleagues. They flatteringly said I was the teacher they had needed. I didn't see it like that - and I'm not being hard on myself here, Pip! - but I was learning so much. And it's as you mention about my work with Ari, quite often when supposedly teaching, I have been learning perhaps more than the students/colleagues.
The point you make about 'seeing' with the Pacific Islands example, is a lovely point. I have been discussing this paper with Kieran's mother, and she says that both her children (I teach Kieran's sister piano) are very aware how hard I work to understand them - to see them, if you like, as they see themselves. That's true to an extent, but I also try to see all my students with future-lenses. What might they become in the future if they grow into their full potential? It's like this time I spend with Kieran. What kind of a wonderful man - partner, father - could this remarkable young man grow into? it's a question always there for me. And so I reflect back to him all the times he's kind and gentle and thoughtful about the needs of others. No clarion calls, just the odd word here and there. He understands, I believe, what I am doing. We have even discussed it. It would be a possibility for inclusion in a future paper, but at the moment, it's happening in its own slow time.
Thanks for your comment on p. 13 about the way in which my work at Scope shows the conscientisation of my work overall, as an example of it. I hadn't quite seen it that way and will write a sentence or two about its significance overtly. It's rather implicit at the moment.
Many thanks for this, Pip. I really appreciate the way in which you have so closely engaged with the paper, not just in the ideas and logic, but with the real heart of it. I couldn't have asked for a more engaged and appreciative response (D'Arcy, 1998)
All the best, Moira
D'Arcy, P. (1998). The Whole Story. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Bath, 1998). Retrieved from http://actionresearch.net/living/living.shtml.
Liebe Anke! Danke sehr für deine Kommentar auf meinen Bericht. Ich freue mich, daß du den Artikel gern gelesen hast, und in dem nächsten Entwurf, möchte ich mich noch mehr auf deine Einsichten konzentrieren. Wie du, glaube ich, daß es an unseren Beziehungen zu jeder Einzelperson liegt, womit wir die Welt verändern können, aber es fällt mir heutzutage immer stärker ein, daß wir auch mehr von den politischen und sozialen Umständen verstehen müssen, um die systembedingten Einflüsse weiter entwickeln zu können.
Dear Anke. Thank you very much for your comments. I am glad you liked the paper and in the redrafting I want to make more of the kinds of comments you offer. I believe, like you, that it is through our relationships with individuals that we can change the world, but I am realising more and more strongly that we also need to understand more about the political and social contexts in which we live, in order to make systemic changes.
Warm regards, Moira
Moira, It is a pleasure to read the reframing of your theorising and practice with an emphasis on conscientisation. I think you have achieved it, as I indicate in the comments boxes. I expected this to be an easy read because I always find your writing accessible. I read the paper straight through in a single sitting bathed in thoughtfulness about your reinterpretation of your story and at at the same time your influence on mine in the light of how I see things now. I believe this is the point of living theory. Its value beyond ourselves is how it engages readers in their own creative critical theorising. I read the profoundly moving appendices later.
My engagement with your paper was a conversation in my thoughtfulness and then I read it again to add electronic comments - attached here. I recognise the authenicity of your account, because I was there for some of it. I easily recall the generative engagement with each of our daily practice experiences in dialectical reflection every week for several years. With other researchers this was in pursuit of understanding what it all meant and to find fit or challenge for each or our emerging values. You were significant in my coming into awareness about the relationships involved in being alongside others.
One string of thought your paper raised was about accessibility for the reader. This is no criticism because your use of language is captivating. You raised themes here that are new to me. This is what publication and influence is all about after all. I needed to keep a dictionary to hand to help me access the new themes from the field of social science - conscientisation and reflexivity - and then I needed to access papers nearer to the original research. This reading made me realise how each methodology employs its own language for creating knowledge with meanings built in the different paradigm. Archer’s reflexivity made sense when I put effort into reading about it and I pondered on my own reflexive style. Is it likely that in different ways we might move around Archer’s typology according to circumstances?
The question this raises for me that is in part answered by your paper, ‘how are living theory accounts made accessible to people reading this paradigm for the first time?’ ‘How do we provide access to words commonly found in living theory accounts?’ The contradiction in this question of course is that if the account is truly communicating an individual’s practical life, the words will not usually have a generally assumed meaning. I cannot say that this question came from your paper but from my following the paths I needed to follow to try and walk in your shoes about reflexivity and conscienttisation. It follows though that you will find questions amongst the comments I added to your paper, about terms such as ‘the best possible life’, 'flourishing of humanity' and 'social formations'. This stems from the idea that these terms, used widely by living theorists, will inevitably have meaning unique to the individual.
Because I didn’t know of Archer’s work on reflexivity and it didn’t mean anything to me, I needed to read more. I now understand Archer’s four types of reflexivity a little more and wonder if it would be helpful to include them in the paper?
In this paper you understate your awareness of the bigger structures of society you found in China. It might seem now that you remained in the individual and small scale collective realm but you were more aware than you highlight here about the structures you were working in and the different mindsets that students brought to their experiences with you. You recognised how much individual creativity was stymied by socialisation in the unique social and political history of China. Maybe it is interesting to ask why you chose not to ask those questions openly? I seem to remember entreaties for care for your safety because of the change you were encouraging for people to find their voices. The Tiananmen Square protest had happened in 1989. Not that you ever described danger imagined by those of us at home.
You did describe the shifts some students made that contradictied the educational climate beyond your immediate circle of influence. How could it be sustained in the form you lived when you were no longer there to keep encouraging individual enquiry so alien to the wider educational climate. However this is not to say you were not influential in a way that can not have been lost by those it touched. Your ‘action research with chinese characteristics’ as dialectic for marrying individual with the collective voices is a sign of your understanding of the social and political influences in this context.
I love the idea of living theory as a social movement and have no doubt that lyour iving theory is conducted through a rigorous methodology of shared reflection for promoting thoughtful, confident actions with a moral educational purpose for ‘good’. I hope the comments in the text are helpful.
Dear Robyn. I am deeply touched by your thorough and very positive review of my paper. I believe it really gets to the heart of it and offers me key ways to improve it. As I did with Pip's comments, I will go through yours, first from above and then from the annotations in the paper itself.
You say some very kind things about the work we did together years ago. I remember it as both of us learning valuable things about each other's and our own work. It seemed a true collaboration to me, because we were both concerned - and clearly still are - about what matters in terms of leading the best possible life. I think you are absolutely right to challenge me on what I mean by some of the terms I use. It is important for us to share our individual meanings of shared labels. Goodness knows, I tell my Masters OU students enough times about that! Hoisted by my own petard, I fear.
And it's more than that, as you point out. I need to clarify some of the concepts I'm using too, in such a way that the writing becomes more transparent to someone not necessarily conversant with the ideas. Indeed, it was Jack who led me - and Arianna - to Archer's work. It might be appropriate for me to lodge some of the clarifications of already published ideas in an Appendix. I am not sure that too much deliberation about Archer's other categories in the main text will necessarily be useful for the reader of this paper, but I will need to think about that.
As for the best possible life, it isn't always possible at the time to know quite how one is living. I tend to be so much in the whirlwind of practice sometimes, that I don't always see the significance of it. And understanding the significance of it seems important to me if I am raising awareness of what it means to lead the best possible life. I can say that it has first and foremost to do with expanding my human resourcefulness as I prioritise what I am to do with the years I have. As Jack has said and I agree, I am certain of my own death and of everyone else's. This, as Ben Johnson said about hanging, fearfully concentrates the mind. What am I to do with this life of mine?
First, it is to acknowledge deeply, that even having the time, luxury and ability to ponder on this is a privilege. How many millions of people cannot do this in the world? But because of Geography, here I am, white, middle class, educated, fit, healthy and raring to go. I have time on my hands and I choose how to spend it. That's a huge luxury, when time is something we can never get back again.
Secondly this privilege makes it incumbent on me to live wisely if I can. I can't all the time. i mess up. I make a prat of myself and am unable at times to live like an adult, let alone a wise one. But I persevere.
Thirdly, when having decided what talents I was lucky enough to be born with, then the purpose is surely to work the fields that I know. And those fields are mostly planted with children – happy and unhappy ones, lost and found ones, damaged and delightful ones, ill and healthy ones, young and old ones, talented and confused ones, and even creative and dulled ones! All deserving of time and effort and love and joy. I can do that for some. And that's something. It's never been work to me, in the sense of being onerous, but it has always, since I was a child myself, been a vocation. I didn't wake up one morning and realise I had a vocation. My vocation woke up one morning and made me who I am.
The interruption to that in China through the foot-condition made me cast the net wider. Now I try to bring to the educative relationship with the adults in my care the same degree of engagement, taking seriously, respecting and entering into their learning needs, attempting to see them as clearly as possible and feeding back to them a sense that I do care, that I am here for them. I don’t find it as fulfilling, but that’s no reason not to try just as hard, which I always try to do. It has, however, pushed me to find children to 'work' with, to realise my full vocation with, because without the children I feel somewhat lessened.
Fourth in this bid to realise my potential to lead the best possible life, I seek to account for myself to my peers, to my students, to my mentors, to friends and family. And the question remains: am I trying hard enough?
When I am on my deathbed, I want to look back at my life and say, ‘I tried my best’. That’s all. Just that. And my ‘best’ is putting the talents I was born with and have nurtured through hard work and the lucky privilege of where I was born, to the flourishing first of my own humanity and then that I might then contribute to the flourishing of the humanity of others.
You have raised a key point that gets to the very beating heart of my paper and my values and I’m really grateful to you for that, Robyn. I realised when I was reading through your ideas, that your reading is exactly what I was looking for without knowing it. I am deeply touched.
In terms of the critique you raise about my awareness in China of the social constraints my colleagues – and I to a lesser extent – had to face in coming to terms with living theory in a Communist regime, I can see they have real relevance. I willingly acknowledge how I did, to an extent, see – and feel – the constraints, and sometimes I was afraid for myself and for them in terms of being reprimanded from on high and what such a reprimand might mean. However, I didn’t put it together in my mind in a way that enabled me to draw on related insights and derive practical strategising intelligence from it. Strategising politically and sociologically is always something I’ve found difficult. I can spin words – I’m doing it now – but it doesn’t mean all the dots are joined up inside. Sometimes I think my mind is like Edam cheese: lots of gaps. There are wormholes in my mind (i.e. in a Star-Trek kind of way, I mean, instantaneous travel between two points) but I have no idea of how one part becomes another part. It can take me years for the ideas to travel the distance necessary. So although it looks as if I understood, when you actually take me out of the context I have, in fact, little sustainable insight. It fades like morning mist.
The conscientisation I have been undergoing hasn’t just been for a couple of years. It’s taken me this long – we’re talking about 38 years in education now – to travel the distance without the warp-speed of intuition. The paper is an attempt to colour my practice with the new insights. I can see how sometimes it appears patchy and even contradictory. I can, however, only relate what I believe to be true. I can see that this may not be a very helpful explanation.
Annotations on the paper:
On your second annotation you write about the flourishing of humanity and I will make a much bigger place for this in the paper. It touches, as it happens, on the other point about the best possible life. They are for me ontologically related. Thanks for the tip on this. It’s another key one. Your 5th point on social formations is similarly helpful and I will write a little on that in the re-drafting.
On your 4th comment you ask about who knew about the Holocaust quip. I thought I’d explained that in the footnote, but it clearly isn’t sufficient, so I’ll make a little more of that in the re-write.
In your 7th comment you write that my facilitation of AR with Chinese characteristics might be seen as an awareness on my part of the social formations and influences that surrounded our practice. Yes and no. Of course I was aware, but to be honest it was more a case of recognising there was a circle trying to be a square.
I only knew Living Theory as an individualistic way of accounting for oneself in the world in an educative way. However, it wasn’t like that and couldn’t be like that in China. I felt that I was unable to understand collectivism in the way I would need to to facilitate the greater depths of LT in that context. So I handed it over to them, because I wasn’t competent. That wasn’t necessarily the action of someone acting wisely. It seems to me, looking back, that it was the action of someone who knew she was out of her depth, but had found a possible metaphor that might encourage creativity from my colleagues. That it didn’t ultimately, says something (and I know not everything) about what I didn’t know and couldn’t facilitate.
Your comment 9 on trust is another important one, I feel. And the way you’ve allied it with influence and then with safety is something I want to work into a final draft. I have always been very clear about the necessity for trying to understand the influence I have, so that it is never exploitation and always something that will benefit the growth of potential and humanity in the people I work with. So this is something I am going to be reflecting on in my redrafting. Thank you.
Comment 10: The contribution I make to a better world that you ask me to elaborate on, should, in the light of your critique, come out through my fuller descriptions of the terms I use and the illustrations I give to each idea/value. That makes great sense to me.
Comment 13: Others’ fulfilment is very important to me. One of the reasons it’s so important to me is because it makes me feel good. That’s putting it somewhat crudely, but it’s true. When Kieran shows me the pleasure, the delight, he is now experiencing in his own creativity and I know I have been implicated in this surge of creativity, I feel so bloody good about it, it’s difficult not to weep tears of gratitude. I don’t know what to, but just gratitude. It brings home to me again the privileges of my life. And if I don’t feel grateful for them, then quite frankly, you can put me out of the world’s misery and shoot me now!
Your reviewing of my paper has been a delight from beginning to end, Robyn. You have brought to it all your kind wisdom and empathy, all your ability to see beyond the words into the values themselves. I am really grateful for such attention. Yamamoto is right that is quite something to be seen by someone as you see me. It's a great feeling.
We have never met but I feel like I know you through this intimate yet scholarly work. I truly felt humbled by your career and your contributions to others and your pathway to increased conscientisation is clearly communicated in the paper.
My comments are trivial in nature as your paper is so well-grounded and well- communicated that it does not require any of the traditional roles that a reviewer fulfills.
One thoughts that I have is that your division of '1978-2013' (should read 2012)and then '2013- present' somehow suggest that 2012/2013 was a watershed period so that you deliberately cut your narrative into two. The reason was not clear and interrupts the flow. The summary on page 8 strengthens the sense of 'before and after'.
I would like to suggest that you resist "closing" off such an exciting and productive period as part of your overall trajectory.
Similarly the use of descriptors for some of the periods such as 'the China Years' are wonderful signposts, so is there a reason why 1978-1988 is not signposted? And consider a descriptor for '2013-present' as this period is clearly critical in your deepening understanding of your legacy etc. A last thought on the descriptors: '1989-2001 ... Holocaust...education...years' although a provocative descriptor was unclear to me. To an outside reader it was not clear what the link was or why you felt this way.
I am very excited by the notion of Living Theory as a social movement and look forward to the community adding to the debate and to read more of your work in this new field.
Dear Liz. Many thanks for your kind and helpful review. I think you're absolutely right about the titles part and will alter them in line with your thoughts and clear up any fog around the Holocaust title. This refers to my ignorance at the time when I first met Jack. He was working with an M.Ed. group - to which I was a visitor as I was studying other modules. He was talking about the importance of bearing in mind what it was that human beings can do to one another. He referred to the Holocaust. I remember muttering to a friend afterwards, 'What has the Holocaust got to do with education anyway?' in what was probably one of the most ignorant things I've ever said. At least I hope it was one of the most ignorant, otherwise I really am a lamentable case! It was something I never forgot, though, and when I began my Ph.D. and one day admitted to Jack that this is what I'd thought at the time, I remember his bellowing laugh. And before I went to China I wrote a paper with the title: But what has the Holocaust got to do with education anyway?'
Those years were characterised for me with a sense of a greater integration between social structures and norms and what clashed with my values. It was a gradual process rather than a Road-to-Damascus revellation!
Thank you again. I will soon be resubmitting my paper with the integration of changes suggested by you, Pip and Robyn.
With very warm regards,
Hello Liz, Pip and Robyn. I have worked on the areas you have highlighted in ways which I hope strengthen the paper. I continue to be open to any comments you might still have relating to whether you can recommend it or not for publication.
Thank you very much indeed for all the insights you've offered me so far. I look forward to reading any further thoughts you might have.
Love from, Moira x
I have enjoyed reading your paper so much, including as focus for critique of my own theorising. I recognise your story as authentic across the whole paper, but especially poignant for me in the areas of difference from my own theorising. This for me is the wonderful aspect of living theory that is inevitably lost in research that searches for generalities about good practice. The uniqueness of you in your committed endeavour to live the best possible life, as explained in this paper, shows coherence in standards of judgement you identify and contradictions (learning opportunities) that present in new practical situations. In other words a living theory of personal and social movement.
The differences I notice are not about better or worse professional practice but cohesive authenticity of individuals that emerges from who we are, our personal interpretations of how life 'should' be (Adler, 1931) and the relationships we create to achieve it. I originally asked for more detail about reflexivity because of my guilty realisation that I sometimes fall into the 'pig headed' autonomous type while also claiming to pass through all the others at different times.
This brings a contradiction I think I see that I expect you will have an answer for. On the last page (p70), speaking of school-students you say, 'I would ask them to write a description of the quality they were focusing on so that we could all be sure we were sharing the same meanings of the word.' This is an idea I struggle with. If living theorising is a personal activity carried out by unique individuals creating unique meanings from unique life experiences, can there ever really be shared meanings of the same word? Actually as I write this I realise the flaw in my question. You have very clearly articulated your personal perspective on a best possible life and the qualities you have uncovered as standards for judging how you are doing. But can we ever be sure the reader has the same meaning for these qualities? This is nit picking no doubt but my reason for the question is as a lead-in to another query.
I love your explanation of 'The Best Possible Life' (p51). It couldn't be clearer, is understandable and fully owned by you. I can even hear your voice saying, 'I am assuming that ‘becoming more human’ as I claim in the paper means releasing those aspects of my humanity that lead to joy, love, creativity, social justice, democratic values and empathy.'
In contrast the term 'Conscientisation' reads as an attempt at a more generalisably acceptable explanation than a process of your understanding of the personally lived quality of reflective social consciousness. I wonder if this arises because you are working your way into this quality as a hope for the future rather than feeling able to claim it yet as an old friend? I like Ledwith's definition of the term. Is it possible to get an insight of what conscientisation means to you? I think I felt this about 'The Flourishing of Humanity' too but less so.
It is lovely to be acknowledged at the beginning but I feel this new section added spoils your straight to the point 'Introduction'. If the others agree, I wouldn't mind disappearing from here once the amendments are completed. The explanation of terms is helpful though but perhaps could come a bit later?
I didn't comment about this before and it probably doesn't need addressing in this paper but I like that you point out your data comes 'only' from field-notes and a 'subjective' journal. I really don't see any academic weakness in your research writing at all but I guess there may be another paper in the tests you use for rigour 'without cutting any ethical corners' and the validity of authentic story telling.
I know this paper is about the bigger picture and sustainability in China remains a question for you. As I read your reiteration of this section (p57) I thought of social movement in the bigger picture being small units of movement by individuals changing the expectations of groups of people so that the ideas are reworked and owned by the society. I have the children's rights movement in mind as I write this. It only took 30 years and now people are surprised when I remind them it was once different. I like Margaret Mead's words, 'Never underestimate the power of committed citizens to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.' (Mead, 1973).
I notice the references for Coombes, Potts & Whitehead, and the Institute of Public Affairs await some more detail.
Thank you Moira, this process has been as Marie suggested, a welcome learning experience for reviewers too.
Hi, Robyn. I've gone through the Coombes, Potts and Whitehead reference and can't find anything wrong with it. Would you mind letting me know where you see the gaps?
I'm also, having read the paper through again, not sure about missing out the Preface. I think a reference to your, Pip's and Liz's work on my paper and that I mean to integrate your comments where appropriate into the final draft needs to go at the beginning. I may leave the thanks until the end, though, with the other acknowledgements. I am still not sure about this. I have also explained terms as they come up, and also written more about my specific insights into the meanings for me of conscientisation. In addition I have added some comments on the important point you make about sharing meanings.
About the Combes, Potts and Whitehead (2014) reference. It was in the Reference section of the original paper that you posted that I found the paper's title and source was missing. It is possible you have since filled it in.
I wrote another reply some days ago speaking more about my concerns around who owns the values one uses as personal standards of judgement and how transferable they are to other researchers without qualification of the variation on their meanings. Somehow the posting drifted off into the ether and I don't have a copy. Never mind, I am grateful to you for considering this idea as it has been growing for me over recent months that the validity of practitioners' self-studies could be compromised by claims to understand and live other people's espoused values as their own. I don't suppose we should keep thinking up new words to explain ourselves but if our values emerge from our self studies, other people's explanations of themselves must, by inference be, subtly different and need explanation? Social science research expects to start with others' theory and reshape it to fit their own findings for making new theory. This is not the baseline premise for Living Theory but has expectations for rigour. Your paper helpfully introduces new avenues for considering the reach of practical endeavour beyond our nearest relationships to the social and political implications of causes and change. Looking at reflexivity, how reasoning influences theory and practical action is really important and I had not grasped the significance of the intra-personal, inter-personal and group focus of your practice before, as you articulate here. This is also important to bring into the light. Thanks Moira.
Thanks a lot, Robyn, for your response to my comments of yesterday. I find the way you use the writing actively as a way of reflecting on your own theorising really helpful as a way of doing things. This offers hope for sharing of a lot of new ideas and avenues for exploration. Your key point above and before about definitions, naming and values are crucial for us all, I believe, to reflect on.
Many thanks, Robyn, for continuing to push the ideas further.
Hi Robyn. Thanks for the email message that alerted me to the fact that I haven't yet posted my responses to your last comments on my paper. I have now integrated them into the paper and post it here. I have decided - I hope this is all right - to keep the thanks for the reviewers at the beginning. It's in a preface, so not really in the introduction-part, which I know was one of your misgivings about it. However, it's a heartfelt thank you and is also useful as it enables me to make the important comment that I have chosen to integrate some of the insights made by you and the other reviewers within the paper itself. I hope that's all right.
I do want to thank you very much for the comments you made about the sharing of meanings. This, I believe, has helped me to frame my understanding of conscientisation and its possible use-value as a developmental standard of judgement better towards the end of the paper.
Anyway, see what you think. I hope you will feel able to recommend it for publication. If not, please let me know how it might still be improved. I have found your comments very constructive.
Congratulations on a piece of work that resonates with your values and shines with the clarity of your journey to lead the best possible life. Your expression of conscientisation as a living standard of judgement is a sentinel contribution to the debates on living theory and we will hopefully hear more from you and other authors on this. I will suggest your paper to my colleagues in the health sciences as many of us experience compassion fatigue and those who work in developing countries are perhaps worse affected. The notion of conscientisation as a living standard of judgement is a useful framing of practice for those who wish to speak out or those who wish to understand their responses to unfairness in our health systems.
In terms of unfairness, I agree with Pip and Robyn that you are overly harsh on yourself with regard to the quality and sources of data. Few of us (and certainly not myself) approach our lives to fulfill research requirements and this peer review is part of the process. I agree with Pip that our contributions should not headline the paper and can be mentioned later as part of the validation process. I also like Pip's suggestion of moving the definition of terms (or integrating in the text).
You have addressed all the suggestions and comments from all the reviewers and I would like to recommend that the paper is accepted.
Kind regards and I hope to meet you in person at some point to hear more!
Hi Liz. Thank you for your kind words. I am delighted that you see fit to recommend publication. I have actually responded to Robyn's comments on my second iteration and will attach it to the top of this discussion-thread.
Perhaps I am being a bit critical about my lack of earlier rigour in my career: I don't feel guilty about it because I didn't know any better. However, I did make claims about the success or otherwise of my practice at times, without having any real robust evidence to back it up. However, I take the point as everyone seems to be making it! That i am perhaps too hard on myself.
I see that you would also rather not have the acknowlegement to you and the other reviewers at the beginning of the paper. I feel it both serves the function of acknowledging up-front about the collaborative and open aspect of the review process as well as offering me a chance to say that I have chosen to jntegrate some of the comments made by the reviewers at this formative stage. I will think about this again though. It would be a shame if this spoilt anything for you.
I would love to think that my paper might be of use to others who seek through their own professional lives to redress imbalances and equalise opportunities for others.
Thank you again for your kind reviews. I do get a real sense as I read through now, that it makes more sense due to all the reviewers' insights. It is a lovely process to have one's work taken so seriously. I am grateful.
All the best, and I'd love to meet you too one day!!
Warmest regards, Moira
Dear Moira, it is with great pleasure that I warmly recommend publication of your latest iteration. It seems to me that you have taken very seriously all the comments made by reviewers, and have addressed those that you consider need attention. Both Robyn and I have suggested that you are too hard on yourself in places; you wish to continue with your claims to have acted 'ignorantly' or words to that effect, and this is your right. I still think, though, as I say to my beginning teachers, "We do the best we know how, and when we know better, we do better!" I don't think there are many people - and especially not you - who are deliberately inconsiderate. And when working in other cultures, there are some things that we just CAN'T know.
I particularly like the way you responded to Robyn's comments and have strengthened the material on trust. You have also foregrounded more the importance of Living Educational Theory work as a social movement for the good on humanity, and I suspect this paper will be one that takes that work forward. Just tonight, I was watching on TV a Syrian journalist - a young woman trained in journalism in London, who had returned to Syria to share her country's story with the world. Her statement that the current situation leaves Syrians with only three options - to join ISIS, to stay in the country and die, or to flee for a better life elsewhere, is heart-rendingly painful. So work such as yours in this paper, with all its searing honesty and searching for ways to live a life that contributes to the best for humanity that you can, is a call for our times if ever there was one.
I look forward to this paper being published and warmly recommend it to the Editorial Board.
Oh wow, Pip. Thanks very much for your recommendation. I am very glad indeed that you recommend publication and that you feel I have done justice to your very constructive and at times challenging (but ALWAYS appropriate) comments. I am really grateful for the time and care you've taken.
I am incredibly touched by the closing words of your review above and honestly don't quite know how to respond, except to say thank you for taking the trouble to write them. It means a great deal.
Moira, I really have enjoyed the dialogue about aspects of your already superb paper that continued each of our discoveries a leap further. Such are your skills of integration that you thought to flip the account so conscientisation with it's emerging meanings for you are the resulting summary as much as the beginning, which of course they are. I also like that you remain true to your self in your account. This seems to me to be living theorising in action and likely to be the beginning of new focus for many practitioners: Living Theory as a social movement. I look forward to seeing this paper in the published section because from my view I recommend it as ready.
Many, many thanks for this Robyn. I do appreciate the wya in which you have fully engaged with my paper and offered me ways of deepening it. I am very glad that I wrote it because I've learned a lot.
I will just tie up a couple of loose ends tomorrow and then send the paper through to the editorial team. After that I want to write something here about what I feel I've learned from the process.
Love from, Moira
Ealier today, Ben Cunningham, a friend of mine from my Bath days, who gained his Ph.D. with Jack Whitehead in 1999 with the title, 'How do I come to know my spirituality as I create my own living educational theory?' wrote a response to my paper. He has given me permission to reproduce it here. I am very touched by his insights and the way in which he has written his review. Thank you, Ben. (By the way, Ben's Ph.D. thesis can be found at: http://actionresearch.net/living/ben.shtml.)
“How I am trying to lead
the best possible life: towards a more
helpful framing of my practice.”
EJOLTS paper by Moira Laidlaw
A Partial Response by Ben Cunningham, 12.10.15.
In your Abstract to your new EJOLTS paper I read that your practice and theorising are now being infomed by a new development since you framed them for EJOLTS in 2008 and 2012. Your new contextualisation is informed by an emphasis on conscientisation (Freire, 2005). You rightly look at your paid and voluntary employment prior to 2013 and report on your expanding net of concerns through a growing understanding of the systemic, social and political influences partly in your work with a Ph.D. student you are supervising and how this has affected both the scope and nature of your work. You further illustrate this by looking at your charity work, and the tuition you offer in English and German to Polish students in the light of the European Migrant Crisis. You also characterise your account as part of your living legacy (Forester, 2015) as you account to yourself about how you are leading the best possible life. You conclude that ‘conscientisation’ has become a living standard of judgement in the evaluation of your work in the service of humanity as you seek to live a better life in the direction of your values of love, compassion and now, conscientisation and because of the latter, among other things, you believe that you are now contributing to Living Theory as a social movement (Coombes, Potts and Whitehead, 2014).
In your Introduction you frame your current work as a Living Theorist through a lens that reflects its greater conscientisation (Freire, 2015) using Ledwith’s (2005) definition of the term, as:
... the process of becoming a critical thinker and unpacking dominant thought and oppressive thought which results from the cycle of socialization. (p. 52) ... [It] is the process whereby people become aware of the political, socioeconomic and cultural contradictions that interact in a hegemonic way to diminish their lives. (p. 97).
Below are some random thoughts of mine that, hopefully, will not obfuscate what you have done and may help in some way. In my response to it, Taylor (1993, p. 52) helps me with some of his ideas. He emphasises that Freire denies that “objectivity is created by consciousness, as if, somehow, we could transform reality through speech alone, through convictions alone: ‘I cannot transform the world inside my consciousness’. Freire (1975d, p. 3), does claim, however, that radical social transformation, revolution is, in itself, an educational process. He goes on to say that: ‘It is naive to continue to insist that by education we can transform reality.’ But elsewhere (1972b, pp. 180-1), he says that: ‘Education ... is an act of knowing and a means of action for transforming the reality which is to be known’.
You point out, Moira, that in your previous EJOLTS papers you emphasised more the ontological than the systemic influences on your practice. But now, conscientisation broadens your educational work in your efforts at enablement of others. I believe, however, that your work seamlessly welds together both ontology and conscientisation.
Let me start with the ontological argument and with Yamamoto’s (ibid.) quotation from Buber (1965, p. 98), who says we ought to: “Trust, trust in the world, because the human being exists – that is the most inward achievement of the relation in education. ... Because this human being exists: therefore he (teacher) must be really there, really facing the child, not mererly there in spirit.” You seem to have always done that, Moira. Perhaps conscientisation unnoticed was also being done by you even then, though you may not have been aware of it earlier in your work. Freire (1970h, p. 212) seems to me to bring together the notion of ontology and conscientisation in the following phrase, when he says that:
Insofar as learning is impossible without thought, and language and thought are impossible without the world to which they refer, the human word is more than mere vocabulary, it is word-and-action.”
Perhaps, Moira, ontology and conscientisation can come together in the phrase word-and-action, if lived in practice?
Commenting further on Freire, Taylor (1993, p. 55) says that Freire in his book ‘To Know and to Be (1979), does not distinguish between epistemology and ontology, that is, knowing and being. For him, the Cartesian cogito ergo sum, ‘I think therefore I am’, becomes ‘I know therefore I am’. He apparently viewed cognitive development as personal development. In the light of this understanding perhaps the more important question to ask is this: what kind of reality must a teacher or learner be able to see? What is it that they need to know, so that they can engage in a relationship which is not oppressive? You have answered these questions in my view, Moira, in your “creation of spaces for the freedom for children to learn” (Rogers, 1983). In your essay it seems to me that you have achieved a unity between ontology and conscientisation. It is not a question of opposing one idea with another and you have not done that. You have elegantly united both concepts in your educative work which now includes more overtly the idea and practice of conscientisation, a unity managed with elegance. I believe these ideas are also very well developed not only in your text but also in your Appendices where you re-construct believable actual dialogues around conscientisation that remind us that certain happenings in the world ought never to be forgotten. Your observation of young people and their stances and actions is continually heart-warming. Your essay and my response to it is about conscientisation and in that contxt, among other things, I believe it is not unlike Levinas’ philosophy that de-centres the subject, the ‘I’, and acknowledges that meaning is not so much achieved by the subject, the ‘I’, as it is from the other, including the poor (Levinas, 1969). His philosophy, among other things, is about decentering myself, surely a helpful attitude to possess in a process of conscientisation. Levinas says that:
I am defined as a subjectivity, as a singuar person, as an ‘I’ precsiely because I am exposed to the other. It is my inescapable and incontrovertible answerability to the other that makes me an individual ‘I’. (Dialogues, 62-63).
In contrast to a philosophy that focuses the quest for meaning and values on the individual autonomous subject, Levinas proposes a philosophy that de-centres the subject and acknowledges that meaning is not so much achieved by the subject as received from another:
For me, the freedom of the subject is not the highest or primary value. The heteronomy of our response to the human other, or to God as the absolute other precedes the autonomy of our subjective freedom ... I can never escape the fact that the other has demanded a response from me before I affirm my freedom not to respond to his demand. (Dialogues, 63).
As examples of the primacy of love / care for the other, of conscientisation in practice, I extract sections from your Appendix that begins, as follows:
The teacher stood up and walked over to the world map that covered the whole of one wall. ‘In 1942 it had been taken over by the Nazis. Who can remember who the Nazis were? Hands up, don’t shout!’
She looked round at the sea of waving hands and picked on Alison.
‘The Nazis were the baddies in the war, Miss,’ she said simply.
‘Yes, they were, but why?’
‘Because they tried to take over the world,’ said Samuel.
‘Yes they did. Anything else?’
‘Well, this story is about the answer. It’s a story about good and evil. I want you to listen carefully. You might never hear a more important story in your life, but I think you’re grown-up enough for it.’
The children in the appendix story looked at photos and Robert chose:
“the one with the soldiers shooting the children.’ All the children followed Miss Warski’s movements as she got up from her chair and retrieved the picture from the wall, pulling it easily away from the blu-tak. She handed it to him.
‘Look!’ he said. ‘They’re enjoying it. They’re killing these children and they’re enjoying it.’ What had begun with Rob relishing the horror, ended with his realisation of what was actually happening. His voice lost the swagger.”
Further on in this story there is the moral:
If you’re happy you don’t want to kill anyone. And we have to learn how to control our darker feelings, because if we don’t,’ and she swept her hand in a gesture to include all the pictures on the wall, ‘I have to control them with you lot every day.’
Similar ideas arise in Appendix Two: The Train Journey where you are directly involved revealing your thoughts, feelings and values as you both observe and speak with other passengers. Charlie, a young man tells you he wants to work with Medicine Sans Frontieres because, in his words:
'I've had everything given to me. I want to give something back. My parents have made me and my sister the purpose of their lives' (the dad's eyes were watery at this point), 'and I want to give back to the world because I am so lucky.' His eyes shone. I have no doubt of his abilities and his sincerities.
On the same train journey you had an experience of a boy wishing to sit near you. As you say:
The next thing I knew, he'd come to sit next to me. He wanted a cuddle. It was etched all through him, 'I need love', riven like the words in stick of rock. Then his mother came and dragged him off his seat, leaving the train without seeing if he was following. I whispered to him before he that he was special and must never forget that.
In your Appendix to your paper you rightly wish, Moira, to show how ‘conscientisation’ is becoming one of your living standards of judgement (Laidlaw, 1996) in relation to the work you carry out in the name of the flourishing of humanity (Briganti, 2015). I don’t believe that you undervalued other spheres of influence in your teaching life but that you, perhaps, now believe that you did not then bring them together in a coherent whole, as you are doing now, in order to represent what was already dormant within you and within your relationships with your students. Evidence for this is to be seen not only in your Appendices but also in your work for the Open University, tutoring on Development Management Masters modules, for Scope, and the informal work with piano lessons that you do with various young people; the work you do with three immigrants, two of whom work as pharmacists, one of whom you are teaching to play the piano; to another studying Academic English for entry to a second M.Sc. programme. You are also keeping in mind the current migrant crisis affecting Europe at the time of writing and how it impacts on your sense of the significance of conscientisation for your practice as a national and international educator. You are conscious of the significance of your growing conscientsiation in terms of the values emerging locally, nationally and internationally in answer to the question, ‘how am I leading the best possible life?’
Recently a simple but very human recent event occurred, that reminds us again of educational values we cherish, including conscientisation, at least to some extent. I refer to the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. Though not a teacher in the accepted sense, the words and deeds of such politicians need not to be neglected in our educational endeavours. Corbyn is a national figure now and is somebody who believes that the poor and the less privileged matter, that they matter more than retention of methods of self-destruction. With Corbyn, many people for a moment at least can forget about the ‘importance’ of greed, forget about the necessity to attain power and, instead, see a human being, a humble one, full of belief in the downtrodden; one who will not be persuaded that others, for example, the wealthy, are as important as those who find it difficult to face each day and even the desire to continue living perhaps.
Corbyn believes that young people and others and, indeed, whoever and wherever we are, old people too, and the downtrodden must rise up again from their knees and shout: “we are still alive and this time we want you to notice. We want your conscience to be pricked. We don’t want to oppose you, but we want you to know that we are possessors of the same world as yourself. We count for something. Maybe we’re not as clever as you are. Maybe we’re not as educated as you are. Maybe we don’t have wealth. But we sure know what it means to be despised; to be counted as nothing in the eys of so many of our fellow human beings.” But, along comes someone, perhaps mild and unassuming, and to him, ao many people who previously did not matter, now do matter.
Though not yourself operating in what we commonly understand as the political sphere, Moira, what happens elsewhere, including schools and colleges, are important to the health of a nation. So, what hapens between you and your students that is important to the health of the nation? In attempting an answer I’m going to link you, temporarily, with Jeremy Corbyn. Why? Because I believe that, like you, Corbyn believes in being a fully-paid up member of the human race. What is extraordinary is only in that he says what he believes, as you do, Moira. He preaches only what he practises and has remained constant and consistent in defending his views against all comers. To be as concscientious as Corbyn seems to me to be is because he has a sense of how to combat oppression and his arguments can easily be seen to be ones to do with love, faith, hope and humility, all values inherent in your teaching and communication with others, Moira. So, conscientisation expressed in those terms seems to me to be about a process of humanisation within which we fulfil our ‘ontological vocation’. What you believe, Moira, and Corbyn too, does not sound totally dissimilar to Living Theory, which is about about active reflection followed by action, for the sake of those with whom we work. In your meeting, teaching and conversing with others, you exhibit the conscience that informs your actions. Though you say in your Introduction, Moira, that you have undervalued ‘conscientisation’, I believe it was always inherent in what you said and did, but perhaps not consciously so, but is present now consciously and by choice.
What distinguishes your work, Moira, isn’t just the subject matter – although it is present of course – but especially your total concentration for the good of the recipients of how education could improve their lives, lives that would “reveal happy and confident young people with an awareness of how they learned and a delight in doing so.” You may have thought your teaching delivered as much as it could until you received an unsolicited message on Facebook from a student you had once taught and who wrote to you saying: “.... you showed me that poetry mattered morally.” I know it’s not a victory narrative, as you put it, Moira, but wouldn’t many teachers metaphorically die for such a response from a former student? Not only was there – and still is - rapport between yourself and your student but real learning, a learning that is so deep that it almost takes one’s breath away: Poetry could influence one’s life and it did for this former student!!!
As I’m thinking of your influence with your students, Moira, I am also thinking of your identification with them and they with you. This idea is what Anthony Storr (1960, p. 87) points to when he says that:
“(the student) will ... tend to identify himself with people who appeal to him and who may play a valuable role in his development by evoking aspects of his personality which might otherwise lie latent.”
Conscientisation for you and me as teachers, starts with what we are obligated to do, that is, teaching, but such teaching is an exercise that enables students to mature psychologically, as Huxley (1933, p. 99) puts it when he says that:
The most that we can hope to do is to train every individual to realize all his potentialties and become completely himself.
Though I would not now use the word ‘train’, as in the above quotation, I do recognise that you do enable your students to mature and that now you are also enabling them to achieve conscientisation. In order to attain those objectives, you work at enabling your students to attain maturity by helping them to be assertive about what is right and proper and by your affirmation of their personalities (Storr, 1960, p. 58).
As part of your work of conscientisation with your students, you encourage the emergence of their personalities (your Appendices and other essays bear this out). You believe that they have a right, among other things, to expect to grow and develop as mature individuals because of your work with them. This wouldn’t be antithetical either to a desire to cultivate within your students the idea of conscientisation – in fact you do it all the time, I believe. A part of that consientisation starts maybe with an idea I came across in St. Augustine, when he said:
“For I was: I was alive: I could feel: I could guard my personality, the imprint of that mysterious unity from which my being was derived.”
Building on some such premiss perhaps, there was between 1989 and 2001 for you, Moira:
“...the beginnings of a more socially-oriented view of knowledge, theory, educational development and practice, with the publication of two articles (Laidlaw, 1994a, 1994b) and my doctorial thesis (Laidlaw, 1996). All three texts show a gradual movement towards an awareness that social structures influence learning, and that education always takes place within some sort of social context. “
You have more than amply referred to these ideas in your pages 8 and 9 with Hayley’s work on Blake. On page 9 you give another example that took place in China with a class of 102 teacher-education students for Teaching Methodology in English when your clip shows shows someting of your commitment to make contact with as many students as possible before they left the room. Such efforts at good personal relations have to be something that is a sine qua non for teachers. Students can hardly learn anything more important that being ‘noticed’ by a good teacher. Surely a sign of conscientisation at work. But with you, Moira, there is more. There is love, a love that requires knowledge and effort. It is not love that requires one to be loved, but it is about loving, loving the other (Fromm, 1962, p. 2). How can one read your Text and Appendices without discovering that?
Augustine, St. (1961) Confessions, transl. London: R.S. Pine-Coffin.
Buber, M (1965) Between man and man. New York: Macmillan In Yamamoto, K. (2001) To See Life Grow: The Meaning of Mentorship.
Freire, P. (1970h) ‘The Adult Literacy Process as Cultural Action for Freedom’, Harvard Educational Review, 40: 3, 205-25.
Freire, P. (1975e) An Invitation to Conscientization and Deschooling: Geneva. World Council of Churches.
Freire, P. (1979) ‘To Know and To Be’ Indian Journal of Youth Affairs, June.
Fromm, E. (1962, p. 2) The Art of Loving. London: George Allen & Unwin (Publishers) Ltd.
Huxley, A. (1933) Proper Studies. Chatto and Windus.
Levinas, E. (1969) Totality and Infinity, transl. A. Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.
Storr, A. (1960) The Integrity of the Personality. Middlesex: Penguin Books.
Taylor, Paul V. (1993) The Texts of Paulo Freire. Buckingham: Open University Press.