Published papers

Second Submission of Paper: In Pursuit of Counterpoint

 
Picture of Moira Laidlaw
Second Submission of Paper: In Pursuit of Counterpoint
by Moira Laidlaw - Thursday, 6 December 2007, 3:00 PM
 

Dear Jean, Jackie and everyone! Here is my second submission of my paper: 'In Pursuit of Counterpoint' for the second round of the reviewing process.

I have thoroughly enjoyed editing and reworking my paper. I do feel now that it is much better than last time. The reviews that you gave me have helped me to focus on what really matters to me in my work. The result is not what I would have predicted, but I think it is all the better for that!

I hope you can see where I have integrated your comments into my reworking. I hope that reviewers feel that I have treated their ideas with respect. This does not mean I have made every recommendation in the way it was first  proposed; as I creatively engaged with your comments, I found my paper taking on new dimensions. These dimensions constitute, for me, one of the most authentic pieces of academic research writing I have yet written and I am proud of it. So far!!!

I am looking forward to engaging with your comments in a bid to improve what I have written, and I do hope you enjoy the revised paper. I know I enjoyed writing it.

Thank you.

Moira, 6.12.07.

Branko Bognar
Re: Second Submission of Paper: In Pursuit of Counterpoint
by Branko Bognar - Saturday, 3 January 2009, 10:57 PM
 
Dear Moira, I read your excelent paper and wrote several comments within your text in html form (see http://ejolts.net/moodle/pages/issues/1/bbc1.html). I hope it will help you to finish your paper.

Greetings
Picture of Moira Laidlaw
Second Submission of Moira Laidlaw's Paper: To Sigrid
by Moira Laidlaw - Saturday, 9 February 2008, 11:56 AM
 

Hi Sigrid. How are you doing? Is it cold where you are? I have a sense of snow-covered vistas of great beauty and serenity. Is that how it is where you are? Do you know, I can't believe that I've visited so many parts of the world but don't know your part of Europe at all. It seems ridiculous really. Anyway, I finished the second draft of my paper that I've submitted for the first edition of EJOLTS. It occurs to me that with your musical insights, you might enjoy my paper -well, I hope you might. It's called 'In Pursuit of Counterpoint' and details my educational development to date. You can find it at: http://ejolts.net/drupal/node/34 

 
I was hoping you'd have a look at it and see if there's anything you think I should modify in order to have it published in our first edition. A response could be posted at: http://ejolts.net/moodle/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=9

 

I think my paper isn't just my paper, I think it's also a sense of what this journal stands for. I don't think I reviewed your paper at all well, but I want to keep a dialogue going about what I know we both care about - students, people, teachers, admninistrators and so on, learning and improving the quality of that they do. If this open review process means anything, it is about people's rights to speak and be heard. So I really would like to know what you think. I made particular comments on your paper about students' voices. Do you feel I have done what I said should be done?! Branko thinks my paper is more a narrative rather than a piece of educational research. I'd be interested to see what you think. I believe my paper is fairly weak on students'/colleagues' voices.
 
I know you're bound to be fearfully busy. There's no problem at all if you decide not to do it, or you have no time. I totally understand either way. Your decision absolutely does not affect your own paper, which you're currently revising. The final decision for that rests with your reviewers, unless my opinion is openly - publicly - sought.

 I hope 2008 is going to be a great one for you. Take care and lots of love from,
Moira xxx

Picture of Sigrid Gjøtterud
Re: Second Submission of Moira Laidlaw's Paper: To Sigrid
by Sigrid Gjøtterud - Monday, 11 February 2008, 11:11 AM
 

Dear Moira,

Thank you for challenging me to re-read your re-written paper. I very much enjoyed reading it for the second time as well as the first time. I appreciate very much how you have used the counterpoint metaphor throughout the paper but not overdoing it. The rigour in your claims to knowledge is evident to me. And the plurality of voices comes through beautifully.

The way you described how the social, economic and political factors on the future life of your students in Bath did not influence you as much as it did in China, made me reflect on matters within my own practice that I have given quite a bit of thought. I will go on thinking about that… Norway is such a rich country, the problems here are so very different from those in China, and yet I find it crucial for teachers to care for their students. There is so much loneliness, unhappiness, so many kids are bored, they drop out of school, there are so many demands of making the right choices and yet they will be provided for whatever happens….

Due to the climate change (?) there is very little snow in our part of the country, but just enough to make today a beautiful day of sunshine on a thin white cover on “my” fields.

I find myself immersed in interesting but time consuming reading in order to be able to re-write my own paper as well as preparing for a two-day net-meeting where our students will discuss questions of ethical matters within their professional practice.

Love from Sigrid

Picture of Moira Laidlaw
Re: Second Submission of Moira Laidlaw's Paper: To Sigrid
by Moira Laidlaw - Monday, 11 February 2008, 1:32 PM
 

Thank you very much for your kind and thought-provoking response to my second submission. I appreciate the time you have taken to do it - and so quickly too - and value the comments you have made.

I think what really stimulates me in what you've said is the idea of context and the ethics of working within different contexts and the lack of comparability between settings. I think that's one of the things I've learnt from working in different places - different countries, different institutions - that some of the processes and effects of processes are mediated through expections and norms. When I was in China in 2002, early in my voluntary service, I went to Jingyuan, a beautiful remote countryside village in the northwest of China, in which I saw some of the most - for me - depressing living and working conditions. And yet the children had smiles on their faces, were utterly delighted to see a foreigner, found their lessons exciting - if their faces were anything to go by. They were shivering with cold, had barely enough to eat, and yet all the signs were, that they were happy. It's not, often, it seems to me, the actual contexts that impinge the most deeply - I mean physical conditions and poverty-scales and so on - but the way in which they are perceived by the people living in them. But then there's the whole thing about how fair it is that some of the world's people are living and taking for granted certain rich, affluent conditions, and some are living in abject poverty at the same time. Is it objectively right that a child in the 21st century walks to school barefooted in Winter, carrying in her hand a hunk of bread which is supposed to do for her whole day? Is it right that it takes her two hours to walk to school? Is it right in the 21st century some children don't have an education at all? And what responsibility does every person on the planet have for that?

Your response to my paper makes me start thinking about these things again. Some things seem simply wrong, whatever context their in - exploitation, the bending of one person's will for the good only of another person and so on and so on. It seems to me that what is important, what is ethical, depends to some extent on context, but that there are some things which transcend context. So you say your country is rich - materially obviously, in comparison with the rural northwest of China - but that there are ethical and cultural problems within your society is very important. It seems to me that rich countries have attendant problems like alienation, boredom, loneliness (that you mention specifically) depression, and so on. And these are human problems and crucial wherever they come up. I felt before I went on voluntary service, wrongly I now believe, that the problems in China somehow were more significant than the problems in my own country. They aren't, they're simply different. One of our problems in the west being our exploitation of other parts of the world.

The injustices which lead to certain conditions pertaining in different countries do need addressing, but human problems are human problems, wherever they arise. Caring about students is, perhaps, one of the most important things we can do as educators the world over. Everyone needs love. Everyone needs to know that they are cared for, that someone takes them seriously, that someone listens and hears what is said.

I've been thinking a lot about choices recently, as you'll have seen from my newsletter. Making the right choices seems to me to be a fundamental aspect of being human; thus helping young people to make the right choices is crucial work. I'd love to know more about the networking with students as you help them to make the right choices.

Thank you again for your response, Sigrid, and good luck with the net-meeting. Let me know how it goes.

Love from, Moira

Picture of Jacqueline Delong
Re: Second Submission of Paper: In Pursuit of Counterpoint
by Jacqueline Delong - Thursday, 14 February 2008, 10:34 AM
 
Hi, Moira. I am so sorry for taking so long to do this review. I do hope that you will forgive me. My husband and I are on holiday in Marathon Florida staying with my friend Chris. I have thoroughly enjoyed reviewing your wonderful paper on a rainy day. I am attaching my response with comments. I hope that this format works for you. I hope that you will publish your paper as soon as possible so that others can enjoy it as much as I have. Best wishes to you.
Lewis Husain
Re: Second Submission of Paper: In Pursuit of CounterpointI am very happy to have had the opprtunity to enter into dialogue with Moira on this paper
by Lewis Husain - Tuesday, 2 September 2008, 1:51 PM
 
I am very happy to have had the opprtunity to enter into dialogue with Moira on this paper.
Picture of Moira Laidlaw
Re: Second Submission of Paper: In Pursuit of CounterpointI am very happy to have had the opprtunity to enter into dialogue with Moira on this paper
by Moira Laidlaw - Tuesday, 2 September 2008, 2:27 PM
 

Hi Lewis. I'm delighted you have joined this series of reviews. You originally gave me your comments back in December as I had written the paper some time before that. I was lucky in that Jackie and Jean and Sigrid had also reviewed it and then I redrafted. You comments on my second submission, together with Branko's comments this time round as well, have been smouldering for a while, and for the last couple of weeks I've been wrestling with Foucault and Fromm and the organisation of my paper, trying to explain more clearly what I mean by counterpoint and how to describe and show my meanings which are sometimes about a personal mysticism or spiritual perspective. I am still wrestling. Your comments, particularly about making my meanings clearer, and not assuming foreknowledge, as well as drawing out the values more fully, are really helping me to clarify my meanings.

More anon. Just wanted to respond straightaway. Love from,

Moira xxx

Picture of Moira Laidlaw
Re: Second Submission of Paper: In Pursuit of CounterpointI am very happy to have had the opprtunity to enter into dialogue with Moira on this paper
by Moira Laidlaw - Friday, 5 September 2008, 9:49 AM
 

I am going to go through the points you made in your three readings, which you helpfully colour-coded for me, and thanks again for all the comments. They have truly stimulated a lot of thought. I will try to show, if I disagree with anything you've written, why I do. Before I start, though, I want to say I found your review very challenging - which I knew I would, and which was one of the reasons I asked you to do me the favour of reviewing the paper in addition to the reviewers chosen by the panel.

Your first comment is about improvements in learning, which, as you say, might suggest something wasn't being done properly before. I think this is the assumption arising from the acceptance of being a living contradiction (Whitehead, 1989) http://people.bath.ac.uk/edsajw/writings/livtheory.html . This idea means I accept that I don't always do what it is I either say I do, or even believe I do. And in that sense I am permanently on the look-out for ways in which I deny my values in my practice. Hence the assumption - and you've seen that and questioned it, which is great, because it brings me back, in a sense, to where I want to be in terms of thinking about my practice and theorising.

Your second point about the Lyotard idea: formul[ating] the rules of what will have been done as I've taken it, is that as we cannot wholly predict or manipulate processes of education, which are by definition unique in terms of the human beings interacting with them. Then it's a case not of making the rules up as we go along, but of seeing what has been done and what has been of value, trying those values out and then seeing what is the guiding rationale, if any. The values that drive us are not always perceptible until the process is at an end.

You comment further on about whether my standards of judgement are my values 'operationalised'. Yes, that's what they are, but I wouldn't put it like that! My thesis (Laidlaw, 1996) made a case for our values being developmental as we are, thus, for example, my value of democracy has changed in the past thirty years to include more of fairness and equality in it. The ratio often depends on the circumstances. I don't have a fixed idea or even ideal of democracy in my head. I have my experiences, intuitions, insights, interactions with others, prior-learning and so on, to influence me as I develop my values and they develop me. It is a dialectical process.

Your third point about the tyranny of language(s) is well made. I have actually excised that whole section from my final submission. I was going to put it at the end, but it just didn't read properly.

When you write about the confusion in my paper between my comments on counterpoint and life as a work of art, I have actually, in the long periods of re-writing, come to see that the Foucault point simply doesn't fit anymore. I could write a whole thesis on that. The counterpoint idea is elaborate enough already.

Your further point in red about the importance of contexts is indeed something I have added now to my third standard of judgement. Of course I needed to show that there was a developmental aspect of my learning about context, because without that, I could not interact educationally in China in which context is so fiercely important. Thanks for that point.

You ask me about my use of the term 'living logic'.

(I am drawing your attention to Whitehead, 2007 http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/166811.htm if you want to see more about the ways in which living theorists are presenting ideas/processes of living logics, plus a few others for good measure.)

It's a good question you ask: What do I mean by living logic? It is in line with a living educational theory, in the sense that I am developing my own form of logic, one which enables me to describe and explain what I do. I don't have this logic as something separate from me. It is a part of my personality really. It has accrued from all my experiences, insights, challenges and most of all, from my interactions with people, who influence me as to what it is most educational for me to do with them. I've got a feeling this won't satisfy you as an explanation, because the reality of what I'm talking about doesn't exist in linguistic forms. (See the final comments at the end of this response.) This is the biggest challenge facing living theory in my view. We use language, which is linear for the most part (poets would disagree) as the medium for our representations of reality. Unfortunately, as you know, language comes with its own baggage, and cannot truly represent educational processes, or values (because these don't exist as a list but as motivations). Thus we need knew ways to represent what we are doing. This is part of my logic. However, this logic is not a static one, in the sense that it is always seeking clearer, more reliable ways of figuring out reality. In that way I call it living.

You then ask what I consider to be the most important challenge: Why do I care? And then you say the you isn't me personally of course. Why of course? For me a question of why someone/anyone cares in a theoretical world is of little interset to me. I mean in the abstract. I don't think I can help the world if I am mired in abstractions and I have this sense that I can choose to make life meaningful or meaningless. Making it meaningful is being involved in those things that make the world better. What is better? I believe it is those processes which enable human beings to create something of value: their lives, a picture, a way of life and so on. I believe from this simple orientation comes everything else. And once the choice is made, that's not it. I think we have to make this choice many times a day. Every little choice we make stands, I believe, on this spectrum. And to be honest, I don't care whether there is no absolute meaning in that sense of being able to prove it or not. I believe it and for me it is real and that's enough for me. And from that everything else flows: my living logic, my developing values, my actions, my insights, everything. What gave me that sense of confidence in the meaningfulness of being I am not sure. Why do I have this belief and someone else doesn't fundamentally, isn't really of interest to me? I don't mean that in a harsh way, I mean it cannot matter to me because I believe I can do nothing about that. Perhaps as an abstraction I can play with in my mind - I like playing with my mind - but not in a way that subsumes my sense of the meaningfulness of life or can influence someone else to have that fundamental orientation. In a really truncated form of the above - I teach because I was taught. (This was said by the literary critic FR Leavis. He may have had some cookie ideas, but that was a good one!!!) I hope you find the explanations in my final submission more satisfying.

You then raise the excellent point about what I might do in order to help the reader who hasn't had the mystical experience I write about, to understand something more about its impact, as well as understanding the experience of it. I think the impact is indeed something that is within my ability to represent to others and my final submission, I hope, will reflect this. To help someone understand an experience that is both idiosyncratic and mystical is more difficult. There was something of gnosis about it - that sense of direct knowing. I stood in the centre of everything - the experience was a tad ego-centric! - but actually lost that sense of being an individual, or being separate from everything. I was a part of everything and everything was a part of me. If I could write poetry - well - I might be able to represent this experience better. And this brings me back to an ealier point - about the great challenge facing us in educational research at the beginning of the new millennium. How can we represent idiosyncratic and value-laden insights, when both are a part of a developmental process? If language can't do it - there are, for example, many urls in my paper - then how can we do it. My experience of being completely at one with everything else is a recollection upon which I only have my memory to guide my words, but we (many educational researchers) are now insisting on new ways to show what we mean, because we recognise the monorails of language. Does that satisfy you as a response to your idea?

Then you say something that really moves me:

I think about the world in terms of conflict, of power, of expropriation and a lot of my drive stems from the fact that I don’t like the way the world is. I really, really, find it hard to actually get what you’re talking about. As above, I don’t think this problem is intellectual, rather I think it’s emotional / a question of revelation. Given that I haven’t had the revelation, the fundamental question – for me – then becomes: How do you get me to care?

I think you already do, Lewis. I believe you have had the revellation about the world, but it's not the kind of revellation I had. I don't believe that human beings conform to much, except that there will always be exceptions! Seriously, I believe you've had your own kind of revellation. When I talked to you in China (NB for readers, Lewis and I met as VSO volunteers on a training course in 2001 just before we both went to China) and then subsequently I've always seen your own passion for things in the world to be better than they are. What was your work in Shenzhen if not for that? That comes from a revellation that things aren't as you want them to be, surely, or am I wrong about that? Another point. You ask how I can get you to care. I can't. It's quite simple. I can't get anyone to care. As individuals we all have an ability to influence others. I would claim, however, with others like Whitehead, that I can educate no one but myself. I can only influence others. I didn't teach in China, I worked with people and learned how I might intervene in ways that could help them to liberate themselves from some of the hierarchical views of knowledge. I couldn't do that by telling them anything. (See attached cartoon.) They asked me of course, all the time: Tell me how to think, Moira? How can I make my students excellent? I influenced them, of that I have no doubt, but I didn't teach them. They learned by themselves. There's that marvellous part of the Dao de Jing, poem number 17 (translated by Peter Merrel at: http://www.chinapage.com/gnl.html#17 - not that you need the translation, but I and others might!):

The best rulers are scarcely known by their subjects;
The next best are loved and praised;
The next are feared;
The next despised:
They have no faith in their people,
And their people become unfaithful to them.
When the best rulers achieve their purpose
Their subjects claim the achievement as their own.

Substitute the word ruler with teacher. This is how I have always tried to interact with others educationally. I would claim that the most educational processes I have been influencial in have written me out of the picture. They were were the processes in which my students or colleagues surpassed the learning I might have set for them in my mind. In China it was the opening of the AR centre, the first of its kind in the world. It wasn't my idea. It was the creative genius of Dean Tian. I talked to him. I answered questions. I was as available to him as I possibly could be so that when he wanted to know something or discuss something, I was there. And then his creativity kicked in and everything exploded in a rush of activity, hope, and so on. I influenced his learning but he really could say after the opening of the centre and then the two international conferences held there, that these were his doing. He did it. I stood back and felt a rush of pleasure at his achievements. That for me is the biggest reward education has to offer. That sense of being there and interacting responsibly and with the intention of facilitating, encouraging, and yes, influencing. But at the end of the day all I can say is that I influenced Dean Tian. And I didn't educate him either. He educated himself, as you can see in his paper (Tian, 2005) at: http://www.bath.ac.uk/~edsajw/moira.shtml I'm not just playing with words here, there's a real difference between influencing and educating someone. I cannot in that causal way set out to educate anyone. I approach a situation with people from within. I am, I believe, quite quick to sense what needs to be done - meaning? Needs? Well, as an educator I am informed by, as well as interacting with, my values. I passionately believe that education is the answer to the world's ills. However, what happens is that I educate myself into ways of acting that will enable myself others to take hold of our own creativity and find our own solutions to problems we face.

Your point about making my meanings clearer to people who haven't got audio visual (AV) facilities is well made. On the other hand, though, we are encouraging the use of multi-media in educational settings. I had a discussion about precisely this with Branko earlier this year. Was it not elitist to expect people to have access to computer technology? Having thought about this seriously since then, it does seem that more and more people worldwide are having more access - look at the boom even in China's poorer northwest for example, in the number of people with access to the internet. I take your point, though.

When you quote from a colleague

…Your living theory could carry an enhanced analytical quality by extending through the unquestionable authenticity of the first-person consciousness of your writing into a third-person discussion of the material and structural context in which the first-person consciousness is being mediated (and both will be, of course, in flux and transformation I suspect…

And then write:

I am not clear whether the awareness of context called for here aims at a) allowing you as researcher (-practitioner) to increase the depth of your analysis (what seems to me to be suggested above), or b) in the sense of â€going public’ below. There seems to be more than one strand to this idea.

I think the answer is both. I needed, I believe, to increase my understanding of social context, not as an abstract idea, but so that I could increase my effectiveness within it. And also in going public about anything I do, I have to reveal to what extent the social context actually impacts on the work we're doing. So I think the answer to that is both.

This point:

*there’s a book by Donald Munro called Man in contemporary China (I think, and which builds on Man in imperial China, or similar). In it, DM claims that Chinese conceptions of â€man’ have historically been â€action focused’ – what are the consequences of us conceiving of man as being thus, rather than essentialist in the western (?) tradition...

is fascinating, but to be honest, I'd need to do a lot of thinking, reading, discussing the ideas before I really got a handle on what you're meaning there. I'd love to discuss these ideas further. I don't know where you get all this time to read in. You read so voraciously. Do you read quickly and retain what you read? Usually I read very quickly and if I am fully engaged and interested then a lot sticks. If I have to force myself to read anything, my retention is very low. I've always been told I'm unteachable! Good, eh!!

You later refer to a comment I make about Jack's videoing of me in Guyuan and our subsequent shared insights about it:

"We are agreed that what we are seeing in the video-clip can be described as a loving flow-form of life-affirming energy in educational relationships," (email correspondence).

Me being cynical perhaps, but I don't quite know what you mean by that.

I don't think you're being cynical, I think it's this problem of explaining something that is dimensional rather than linear, experiential rather than concrete in any way. A flow-form of life-affirming energy isn't my favourite expression either (sorry Jack) but it does try to give sense to a dynamic force within human experience that spurs us on, that motivates us to connect with others, that is the 'why' or why we care, I suppose, which refers again to that point earlier. And I do like the emphasis on love, because I believe that love is the force that drives us to do good - er yes, I'm aware of the shakiness of saying like that, but you, I'm sure, get what I'm referring to.

You mention about Sally, who was sitting with Haley in the video. The stuff about Sally had to change in the final write-up. Her name is a pseudnonym and in the final redrafting, I had to give Sally a new pseudonym, because I decided to act on the idea of giving more depth to this whole section as you suggested, and I'd already written a paper I refer to in which the leading student is Sally!! Complicated, eh! So Sally becomes Sam. All very complicated, sorry.

Your next point is really important. Crucial in fact. You suggest that my paper should be free-standing. I'm afraid I can't do that. My understanding has gone beyond the traditional renditions of educational experiences and how representation changes and develops meanings. That's not in any way criticising your comment. Not at all. Of course some people may not have access to the technology, and I don't want to be elitist. On the other hand, I firmly believe that some of the meanings I ma evolving rely on these different kinds of representation, and this will therefore, impact on epistemology. I cannot anymore explain my educational development only through words. This is a problem and it's not going away with these comments either.

There is a new problem that we face too and that's that each person sees the same thing differently. So, let's say we're watching a video of a classroom and some interactions with children. Viewers (with permission of the children of course!) look at the footage and come out with different views on it. So we test it out. We ask the children what they felt was happening. We ask the teacher, and so on. That helps us square experience.

But your comment about my paper being free-standing, well I don't think I could do that. Not only would it have to be a lot longer - and it's pretty long already! - but again, not everyone would understand or perceive the words in the same way. Using simply words doesn't necessarily solve the problem of understanding, but I understand that there is a problem! Am I suggesting that this knowledge is, by default, elitist? That's a worrying one. I need to think on that a lot. Thanks.

I agree that my comment I make at one point in the paper about 'Chinese people' is homogenising. I've attended to that. .

Well, Lewis, that about does it. I'm so happy to respond to your very stimulating comments. I've been listening to Brahms' symphonies - and spent a most enjoyable morning composing this response. I hope you see how seriously I have taken your ideas. When the paper is finally published, I'd love to know what you think. I know that your responses have enriched the paper and I'm really grateful. The only way that this venture is going to work is if we all contribute. What you've done is stimulate me to think in new ways and to pick up on flaws in my paper. A great review. Cheers!

Love from,

Moira xxx



Chet Bowers
Re: Second Submission of Paper: In Pursuit of Counterpoint
by Chet Bowers - Wednesday, 3 September 2008, 3:59 PM
 
Hi Moira:

Your article raised a number of important challenges--and really forced me to do some thinking over old assumptions. Hope my response is useful.

Best wishes,

Chet


Picture of Moira Laidlaw
Re: Second Submission of Paper: In Pursuit of Counterpoint
by Moira Laidlaw - Wednesday, 3 September 2008, 4:54 PM
 

First of all, Chet, I want to thank you very much indeed for your most valuable, insightful and challenging comments in response to my paper. The degree of thought you have given to the ideas, embedded withi your own life-experiences, make this a most precious review. It isn't like any other review I've ever received. I have now read it over and over. Before I start making my own responses to your comments, I'd like to put this series of responses in context, in order to save repetition and to enable others to see where our correspondence started. When I invited you to write a response for me, I said the following:

Hi! I've had a really fascinating morning this morning reading some of your writing on the internet. It's what Jung would have called synchronicity that I am currently reading, for the first time, The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. Friends have been exhorting me to read his work for a long time, and recently, his book has become bed-time reading! And I am thoroughly enjoying it for the clear prose and the clarity of argument. But it leaves me feeling empty, as I'm not surprised it would. The idea of human beings as determinist links in a chaotic universe doesn't feel right. My spirit revolts against the whole notion of what you call the technozoic in The Environmental Ethic Implicit in Three Theories of Evolution 2003 I found that article particularly helpful for my current interests - I have a background entirely in the humanities, but read science and philosophy stuff for pleasure, if not always for understanding! Having read as well: The Ideology that Explains Cultural Domination as the Outcome of Nature Selection, your idea that of cultures being differently developed is one I like very much. I was offended as I read last night in Dawkins' book about how respecting other culture's practices must only ever be in line with his own western and deterministic view of evolution. (He doesn't directly say that, of course, but it is implied in every page).

It's an interesting paradox, isn't it, that talk of so-called primitive cultures often refers to their sense of being in the world - their relationship with nature and the cosmos. Yet we, with all our ostensible sophistication have so little insight into living with nature.

I saw a television programme the other day - David Attenborough - do you get his natural history programmes over there? - talking about the way in which frogs are kinds of environmental barometers for eco-systems - and how they;re dying out - whole species of them - in increasing dozens - every year in certain parts of the world. I am a total nut about frogs and the thought of their dying out is horrible. It's from identifying with that that I can empathise with the rest of it.

Where you write, in 'How Language Limits Our Understanding of Environmental Education' about the ways in which the blind acceptance and adoption of industrial vocabulary to edscribe and explain organic life, eally resonates with me. I have long been at pains to point out the increasing of business language in education. We talk about management, delivering the curriculum (where do you want it? Round the back?!), quotas, targets and the like. And it's not just we that make language. Language so does make us!!!

Right, I've got to go now, but I wanted to say how much I enjoyed the morning with you, and how you actually helped me with my current preoccupations. I'm going to carrying on reading and will get back to you, if that's all right, when I've read some more. Many thanks for putting stuff on the internet too. It makes it so more accessible.

I clearly picked up some of your ideas, albeit in very scant detail, but I was already fascinated by your repudiation of certain cultural, moral, epistemological and hegemonic assumptions. In your response to me, when you wrote this:

Had I succeeded in my original quest of a graduate degree in intellectual history or pursued a doctorate in philosophy I would have ended up perpetuating the orthodoxies shared by colleagues in these respective fields.

I wasn't sure I agreed. Pursuing a doctorate in philosophy doesn't necessarily mean losing one's perspectives, being sucked in. Some of that is bound to happen - agreed - because we're always up against the powers-that-be that have motives and needs that are not always on the side of the student! However, I believe that what differentiates living theorising from many other forms of knowledge. Don't worry, this isn't going to be an evangelistic rant, but doing the Ph.D. is what liberated me from many of those pitfalls (and worse). Coming to know myself as a being in the universe, connected with the universe, which is what the Ph.D. did for me, actually enabled me to go to China and divest myself of many of the mores of a cosumerist society. It has however, also, helped me to understand more about what freedom can mean - the responsibilties of it, the sense that if one person in the world is not free, then my work is not done. Simple really. And what is freedom? It's most of all, freedom of thought. Critically able to see what is happening on many levels. My experiences with living theorising enabled me to take control of aspects of espitemology and ontology in such a way that I became more grounded. So, I can't go along with that comment that doing a Ph.D. necessarily acts as a straitjacket. I am demonstrably able to show that this wasn't the case for me.

My attention was caught by this, though, just a little later:

my thinking would mirror the thinking of other academics in these fields who still assume that language is a conduit in a sender/receiver process of communication, and who remain largely unaware of how the root metaphors that carry forward the misconceptions of earlier thinkers continue to frame their own patterns of thinking—and continue to maintain the same areas of silence and marginalization.

Yes, there is something in that I recognise too. It's easy to take on the mores of others, when it's a cultural norm. I cannot tell you that there wasn't an influence over me when I studied for my Ph.D. with Jack Whitehead. Conceptually, I was heavily influenced, I don't think there's any doubt about that. However, this influence seemed to vanish from my mind when confronted with a situation, in which I felt myself to the core of, and then reacted and then worked with people. The influence has been to enable me to find a language to what I largely knew already. Knew in that gnostic sense of knowing. Knowing, for example, that every single child was unique and lovely. That learning and teaching were just about the most exciting things on the planet available to us as humans. That put me together with a group of kids and something happens. Magic. I don't attribute it to me. I attribute it to the magic of being human.

I do, however, think you've got a major point about language and the way it interacts with us and we interact with it. It seems to me, has always seemed, that words are alive as we are, and that they shape our destinies. The Bible speaks about The Word in a way that actually grabs me. I think there is a profound human truth in the idea that the word is alive. At a fundamental level I think words are. This is part of the magic of shared stories, of myths and cultural legends. They are made of words, and words are made of souls. Or something. Not too sure, but it's something that preoccupies me. So I read your comments on language with great interest.
You write:

What stands out for me in Laidlaw’s Pursuit of Counterpoint is how her thinking is grounded in her own embodied experiences as opposed to the abstract reality that is the artificial construction of a print-influenced form of consciousness. Other prominent features of her thinking include the value she places on giving voice to the students’ embodied experiences, and the importance of fostering critical thinking. Her quote of David Bohm’s warning about accepting a fragmented view of the world, as well as the different ways in which she urges that educational/social reforms be based on an awareness of wholeness, also stood out as significant.

It was Jean McNiff who alerted me to Bohm's work, for which I'm really grateful, because what I am reading at the moment shows me the significance of seeing the world as whole and not fragmented. This is an formative experience of mine as I describe in the paper but I am glad you picked this point out, because to me it's the heart of the paper. I can spin words, but in the end it is this sense of wholeness, integrity, which I seek in all my educational relationships. Giving students their voices back is something I relish. It is always for me a deeply moving experience to see someone expressing something that they couldn't before, something they had within them to express, but the cultural norms seemed against it, or whatever, and then there is tha breaking through, that moment of self-recognition as someone with the right, the insight, the capacity to speak on their own behalf about issues which concern them, as Foucault said. To me that's part of becoming whole again. I think children are closer to this than many adults give them credit for. They are enculturated and some of their best qualitis are repressed, or at least rendered invisible. At least, that's been my experience, with children who are sometimes in any system not treated as individuals, but as numbers in a register, or on a league table of examination results. Sometimes, that was the battle I had in China. Classes of over a hundred students. How could I help every one of them? How could I reach them, because as it says in the anonymous poem that has always been influential to me:

Before I teach you, I must first reach you!

You later write of the results of minimalistic thinking, acceptance of status quos in a sense:

they turn out to be the sources of the conceptually and morally fragmented world that Laidlaw and Bohm warn about. Linguistically and conceptually, they can be located in the dominant root metaphors—that is, the meta-cognitive schemata or interpretative frameworks that frame the taken-for-granted patterns for thinking of Western elites whose vocabulary, with its historically influenced analogs, frame how most Westerners think.


Morally fragmented. Yes, I do like that phrase. I sometimes feel I have no right to take such a stance, because on the one hand it such a stance puts me on a plane where it is is rather widnswept, and there are self-recriminations of arrogance. And yet, you have really understood some of the deeper issues in my paper. I have always felt uncomfortable around materialism, which I think is a typical outlet of Western imperialism, that atavistic sense of give me, give me, I'm a great maw needing to be stuffed with trinkets and greater and greater material comforts, the ballast against harsher realities of death, illness, redundancy, loss of status and so on. One'[s life defined by position, status, money, ability to have power over others in some way. That's seen as successful (I am grossly simplifying here, but there's some truth in it) in this society by a lot of people. The bigger car, the bigger house, the bigger salary, the bigger position. And yet when that becomes what is concentrated on, not for survival, but for a sense of power, then the consensus of society shifts to something very unhealthy.

I can't say I consciously think this much, but in my actions, I suppose I show what I really believe. As we all do. I think that's what doing a living theory Ph.D. did for me: it heightened my awareness of cultural norms that were inherently unhealthy, prejudicial to certain groups and ultimately self-defeating. Growth, or whatever it is called, cannot be eternal. I found out a lot about my own prejudices and started to learn how to deal with them (see: http://people.bath.ac.uk/edsajw/MOIRAPHD/Kaylab.htm - and in my final version of the paper for our first issue of EJOLTS, I am making more of this learning, because, as your whole response shows, such wholeness, such bringing together rahter than tearing apart is what our lives need.

I think the following writing is beautiful, so I'm going to reproduce it here!

The deeply held root metaphors (interpretive frameworks) both illuminate and hide, and what they illuminate is series of separations: the individual is separated from traditions (that is, culture), community is separated from the other participants in the local ecologies, the environment is reduced to what can be exploited, and organic processes are interpreted as having component parts which can be re-engineered to improve profits and external sources of control.


It's the sort of lovely writing that just wants makes me want to shout YES! I think you capture a whole ethos there, and although it doesn't apparently relate to what is in the paper, in fact of course, it does, because I havealso operated under those sorts of systems, although the Chinese would be horrified to hear that their society is going down that route too. This corrupt Western wasteland, that after a few beers, many will say about the West is becoming their Janus-like face. I worry about China, about what's going to happen when the rift between all the gaps there - rich and poor, old and new, rural and urban - will float to the top. In China, to give one example from your ideas above - young people learn less and less about Confucius and more and more about making money. Now I'm not saying that money is not important - it surely is - certainly to the poor peasant whose harvest may fail and then he has no one to turn to but his own over-extended family. And I can't say that the Confucius I've read particularly galvanises me, especially in the way his works have been used to enforce rigid patriarchal systems of government at all levels and been he mandated basis of all epistemologies for accreditation until recently. Still, to leave it all behind may be like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Not all things about hierarchies are necessarily bad; it has to have some local relevance. Anyway, I don't want to dwell on this - otherwise this response will never end, but I wanted to highlighted that point as having spoken to me really clearly. Thank you. It gives me a way of framing experiences.

Your comments on the determinism of Darwin's philosophies as rendered clear to the populace through such writers as Dawkins, always make the hair on the back of my neck prickle. Humanity is not reducible to component parts. It's as simple as that. The miracle of being human is, as far as I understand it, that there are mysteries at the heart of us. It's not that I have any problems at all with research that seeks to see and understand in finer detail, which is what I see Biology doing, for example, - Physics being concerned with the very big aspects of the cosmos. I read quantum mechanics and biology books for breakfast - but what I'm meaning is that when we reduce things like love, compassion, fairness and justice to bits and pieces of clockwork minds, then I draw the line. The line is between respecting humanity and not respecting it. To me there is something innately more in growing towards wholeness than breaking everything down into its component parts. We are emphatically not (in my opinion) the sum of our parts. Human beings in their creativity their abilities to create themselves as Branko says in his paper for this first edition of EJOLTS - then we cannot be reduced. Not in any way that doesn't violate something precious.

I was struck by your point about what itis we need to protect:

Educators need to realize that critical inquiry must also be used to identify what needs to be conserved in this era of political and ecological uncertainties where both democracy and sustainable ecosystems are increasingly being imperiled.


I think you're right when you say we have to be careful, and that it is part of the ethics of being responsible educators, that we understand enough to be able to help our students to learn how to identify what matters, and what will matter. That level of discernment is precious and you're completely right, I think, to enphasise it here in this critique of my paper, because it helps me to embed my experiences into a wider realm.

What you said here, also really made me think:

To cite several examples, the student would be encouraged to describe (give voice to) the differences in their experience between face-to-face and computer mediated communication, between being mentored and being a customer, between eating a meal with the family and friends and eating at a fast food outlet, between an artistic performance and being a consumer of someone else’s performance, between conceptualizing and carrying through a task and working on an assembly line, and so forth.

This sense of being a 'consumer' really makes me see red. There are so many examples of this in, for example, some of the organisational aspects of education in England and Wales that mentions such concepts as: delivering the curriculum (where do you want it, by the way? Round the back???); attainment targets (what are we, conveyer-fodder?); league tables (so that you can see how measurable results are); processing students (for God's sake, are they sausages?) and so on. The idea that education is reduced to basic training (which is what happens when everything, every process, becomes measurable, and reduced in order to be measurable - like all the manifold levels of criteria for, say, English GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education - examinations taken at 16); breaking down English into manageable chunks, like some sort of fast-food outlet. Oh, dear, don't get me started!! (Seems you already have!)

So yes, not only do I get what you're writing about, that horribly reductionist, and sometimes it seems, all-pervading sense that only what is measurable is of any value - but I have lived it and since I first started teaching in 1978, I fought against such values being allowed into my classrooms. I suppose that's what all my work has really been about. It's been of course, striving towards very positive values like love, freedom, compassion, equality, fairness, justice and so on, but it's also meant to be a ballast against such insidious swamping of those values by the mechanistic, simplistic, joyless efforts of those who seem to believe that human beings are basically bad and need keeping on a tight leash!

When I read the following comment, however:

The starting point in obtaining an historical and cultural perspective on the many forms of enclosure that are exacerbating the ecological crises, and that are undermining what remains of the self-sufficiency traditions of local cultural commons, should always be the students’ embodied/culturally mediated experience. This is necessary if students are to realize how historical forces have a direct connection with how their lives are being limited or empowered.

I'm not so sure I have managed that at all, but I do see the point you're making - I believe. I tried to help my students in classrooms in this country - before I went to China from 2001-2007 - to understand what their contexts were like - to problematise them, I suppose. My work (see previous url) shows that consistently. When I went to China, however, I felt the tentativeness of being a guest, and knowing that one step out of line politically, would have been an instant dismissal, embarrassment for them, and also for VSO (my volunteer organisation). I tended to work very gentle gently, if you know what I mean. I made spaces available for my students - and my colleagues - to talk, to share what they wanted. The advantage of staying there for five years meant that I became more trustworthy, and sometimes, they honoured me with the most remakrable stories from their histories, which, as they were telling me, were, it appeared, transformed in poignancy and meaning for them. People talked of the Cultural Revolution, and when they really trusted me they told me some of their true stories. Telling a story of one's own past can be harrowing, and it has the capacity to reframe the experience. This is what I instinctively hoped for at times, and got more often than I ever expected. And as they opened up to me, I opened up to them and started to reframe my own understandings, which were normalised, rather than thought-through. I learned a lot about England when I was in China!

Your final point is a most poignant one:

humans cannot survive if the ecosystems they depend upon do not survive—which will be the future test of whether we have moved beyond the fragmented world of individualism to a morally coherent and ecologically informed approach to wholeness.

I simply couldn't agree more.

Chet, I'd like to thank you very much for your awesome response to my paper. It has truly helped me to make sense - in terms of bringing into a more conscious light - some of those influences that I had not seen but instinctively before.

Warmest regards,


Moira

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead.