Published papers

In Pursuit of Counterpoint: an Educational Journey

In Pursuit of Counterpoint: an Educational Journey

by Moira Laidlaw -
Number of replies: 10

For the first review process, we use my paper (already on the EJOLTS site in html form and as pdf document). As the chief editor, I feel this is ethically the right place to start -i.e. that I should account for my own Living Educational Theory.

I could, for this first go, choose three reviewers, who would, transparently, critique my paper, and place their comments onto the this site. I would then consider the amendments and/or comments and then redraft, or act in whatever way seemed appropriate to me. Then, if necessary, the amended paper would be passed back to the reviewers to see if this then could be published. Both the first-stage and second-stage reviews and any comments I might have to make about these comments, could be placed on the site for others to think about. I really feel a tremendous need for rigour in this process. I do value the kinds of rigour that, for example, Winter (1989) writes about, and that in accounting for myself and being accountable for my work and to others, is part of what my own Living Eduational Theory demands. I would look at this process as being extremely educational (potentially). Thus my paper on site now, is a work in process. As indeed will the 'finished' one be. In fact, of course, it won't be finished, because if the process is as educationally influential as I suspect it can be, then the paper may appear at a given stage, but I'm not.

Moira Laidlaw

In reply to Moira Laidlaw

Re: In Pursuit of Counterpoint: an Educational Journey

by Jack Whitehead -
Hi Moira - I like the idea of you choosing three reviewers and that we have a transparent process of review, where the reviewers are identified. I think this will add to the recognition of the quality of the review process.
So, looking forward to hearing who you have chosen and to following the review process.

Love Jack.
In reply to Jack Whitehead

Re: In Pursuit of Counterpoint: an Educational Journey

by Moira Laidlaw -
Hello, Jean and Eden. First I am writing to say how delighted I am that you have both agreed to review my paper for our first edition of EJOLTS. I couldn't be more pleased. Thanks for taking it on. I realise that you are both very busy. I do not in any way want to circumscribe your own ideas about the paper, but I would be grateful if you could help me understand how I can strengthen it, where I am not being, for example, logical or consistent in my own argument, or perhaps my argument is in error, or where you see any sense of living contradiction in my writing, and what it lacks or has that you feel the need to comment on.
In other words I want to make it better, but I don't know what 'better' is, and I feel you could help me.
Many thanks, Moira xx
In reply to Moira Laidlaw

Re: In Pursuit of Counterpoint: an Educational Journey

by Jean McNiff -

Dear Moira,

You have asked me to respond to your paper, and I am pleased to do so. Thanks for the opportunity. You always help me to improve my own ideas, by offering explanations for what you are doing that enable me to work out explanations for what I am doing in turn.

I like the way you have written the paper, and I especially like the theme and metaphor of counterpoint. This is a beautiful metaphor, one that communicates ideas of the one in the whole and the whole in the one, as you say on your first page. I think this may be a theme that you could develop further at some time, to explain the interrelationships between people and the creation of which they are a part. Personally I would like to see an emphasis, or perhaps a new direction in your work, of showing the interrelationships between everything, as Bateson (2002) did in his work, only he never quite articulated the significance of what he was doing for the development of sustainable human practices to influence the sustainable development of an interrelated universe. I love reading the work of Bateson and other philosophers, who develop themes about interrelatedness, indivisibility, and iterative forms within self-recreating processes. My interests are more on the form of the processes; your interests, I think, are on the living manifestations of the processes. Both are needed and are complementary.

I would like to comment on your paper in some detail, because I think there are some interesting issues for discussion. Your paper, like the other papers that appear in the journal, have the capacity to influence thinking, perhaps on a global level, and so issues raised at this stage may enable those ideas to be communicated even more powerfully, and even enter into debates that influence the developmental history of ideas.

When I read and comment on a paper, I also comment on the language used to communicate the ideas. Perhaps this is from my background in textual work and copyediting. I have also learned from some excellent editors and copyeditors. My interest stems from an understanding that the form of language we use to communicate what we want to say is as important as what we have to say. When people engage with a text, they engage first with the text, not with the ideas that the text communicates. So the text needs to use forms that communicate the meanings of the words themselves. I am interested in textual work, which is part of the process of communicating work in action research, or any other area for that matter.

So I will now go through the paper progressively. You will see that I comment on textual issues as well as on the meanings communicated through the paper. Normally, when I respond to a manuscript, I would write my textual points direct onto the manuscript, but since this is a new form of review, offered dialogically to a discerning audience, I wonder if I should also make this process of textual commentary explicit. I have checked with you whether I should respond only to themes, or also to matters of language, and you said to respond to both. So here goes.

In your rationale, last sentence, you may want to insert the word â€lifelong’ to read â€my account of my lifelong educational development.’ I appreciate that â€educational development’ implies a lifelong process, but it may be worth emphasising this aspect.

The theme you introduce in your â€Foreword’ about counterpoint is a highly original idea that has now entered the literature and can be accredited to you. As I read I was reminded of David Bohm’s (1983) idea of a holographic universe. Bohm is one of those philosophers I mentioned above, and, given that you later cite Zohar, a writer who shared the same interests as Bohm in showing the inclusional and transformational nature of human relationships within a relational universe, it may be worth introducing him here.

In the sentence beginning â€With Bach’s fugues …’ I wondered whether â€art’ was meant to be â€art’ or may have been â€act’, i.e. â€act of Creation’. The idea of â€the art of Creation’ is also a meaningful and lovely idea. In the last sentence of this paragraph, where you speak about â€employing the art of the dialectician’, yes, you are doing so, but it may be worth going on to communicate the idea developed by Jack Whitehead, that dialectical forms need to be incorporated within inclusional forms. You actually go on to speak about inclusional forms on the next page.

In the next paragraph, beginning â€It isn’t possible …’, I would like to read the idea of values linked with standards of judgement (the sentence after â€more comprehensible to you, the reader’), which appears in the next paragraph. You were one of the pioneers of the idea of values transforming into living standards of judgement.

A small point arises in the paragraph beginning â€I will therefore show …’, when you say â€in the learning of the social formations’ I would delete â€the’ otherwise as your reader I am left wondering which social formations you have in mind.

In the paragraph under your section heading â€Background’ I would query three small points: perhaps to speak about â€curricular processes’; to use the word â€professionalism’ rather than â€professionality’; and to replace â€kids’ with â€children’ or â€young people.’ This last point is showing my personal prejudice for avoiding colloquialisms in written texts.

In the sentence beginning â€After ten years I came to Bath’ I would suggest inserting â€home’ after â€didn’t want to go back’, otherwise you may imply that you didn’t want to go back to Bath.

In the paragraph beginning â€In 1994 I administered …’ â€et al.’ needs to be in italics. In this same paragraph an interesting point emerges, when you say â€I didn’t teach English; I taught children.’ I wonder if you taught both, but the grammar is an issue. You taught English (direct object) to children (indirect object).

In the same paragraph, you write â€that is embedding democratic processes within the learning and accounting processes.’ I paused here, because the form of words, and the meanings you are communicating touch on my own interest in understanding the nature and processes of learning. As I understand it, learning is an individual process, something that goes on in the mind/brain of the individual. One person cannot learn on behalf of another. Learning must be done by the learners themselves. So I pause at the idea of learning being democratic. I do agree that the conditions of learning are important, and perhaps this is where the idea of democratic forms in the conditions of learning has significance. When I see you teaching, I see you arranging the conditions of learning, in the form of encouraging democratic processes that deliberately aim to nurture individual learning. (Having said that, I know that some of my best learning has arisen out of situations of conflict, where I have had to invest enormous amounts of mental energy into making sense of what is going on, so valuable and transformational learning emerges.)

In the same paragraph, I would suggest you write “McIntyre’s (1991) idea of â€constrained disagreement’” (I do like that idea. I wish all the institutions I work in would adopt the idea of an educational institution being a place of constrained disagreement. All too often they emerge as institutions which are grounded in relationships of asymmetric power.)

In the paragraph beginning â€My first ten years …’ you say, â€but that’s not enough’, and I wonder, â€not enough for what?’ Your next sentence reads, â€They were a grounding’ and again I ask, â€a grounding for what?’

In your section â€Tutoring’ you use the acronym â€AR’. I think you know my ongoing emotional response to acronyms. I share this with George Orwell, who refused to use acronyms for reasons of style and also to communicate the idea that if a word is worth using, it is worth spelling out in its entirety (see Crick 1980). My concern over â€AR’ is that the form tends to reduce action research to a reified object, and I think this is problematic practice, communicating the idea that texts should speak about â€action research’ as an object of enquiry, rather than speak about the processes of doing action research. I am reading a book about fans and science fiction, and the author uses the acronym â€SF’ throughout, and this is fine with me as a shorthand form, because science fiction is a literary genre, whereas the idea of action research is in a different realm of discourse. You should, however, put my discomfort down to my own prejudices about the use of acronyms to replace the written word.

In the sentence beginning â€After this point …’ replace â€those learning’ with â€that learning.’

In the section â€Bringing in the Social Context of my work’, three paragraphs down, replace â€taken’ with â€taking.’

In the paragraph noted (a), I worry about the word â€pragmatism’ and would prefer to see â€pragmatic’, since â€pragmatism’ tends to be used to refer to a philosophical movement, whereas I think you are communicating the idea that what you did at the time was practical.

In the paragraph beginning â€It is difficult to distinguish …’ you use the form of words â€Living Educational Theory Action Research.’ I seem continually to complain about this form of words, which is used by a number of people – sorry! – because I think it communicates an idea the reality of whose manifestation does not exist. There are issues of conceptualisation and issues of syntax and semantics. There is conceptual slippage in the form of words, rather like saying â€Activity theory action research’, which lacks meaning. It is syntactically and semantically problematic since action research takes place prior to the generation of living theories. And back to capitalisation – as responsible action researchers I think we need to find forms of words that communicate the processes of theory generation, and avoid communicating these forms as reified. The reification is strengthened by the capitalisation of letters. What I am saying is not simply a matter of aesthetic nicety. It is actually about being extra-special critical of how the use of language communicates ideas and concepts. I do not recognise a â€thing’ called â€Living Educational Theory.’ I do recognise practices that show the processes of people communicating what they are doing as they theorise as part of generating their living educational theories. I think, as a community of action researchers who are communicating the processes of generating their own living educational theories, we need to be extra-careful about our use of language in putting terms into the literature that will then become part of the emerging canon, and so set precedents for others who will cite our work, set out in what we hope will become prestigious journals such as EJOLTS, as exemplars of the most important contemporary thinking in the field. I think we also need to take special care, knowing that there are people who would like to place banana skins in front of our feet.

In the paragraph â€During my placement …’, insert â€in’ before â€the New Curriculum (NC)’ – why â€(NC)’? You do not use the term later in the paper. Interestingly, in the same paragraph, you write â€The New Curriculum and Action Research.’ I can understand the use of capitals in â€the New Curriculum’ as a proper noun. To capitalise â€Action Research’ turns the term into a proper noun also, and so contributes to the reification of action research, which is a shame because I understand action research to be a living process.

In your reference to Perrement you need to take out the apostrophe – (Perrement 2005).

In the paragraph beginning â€The State Friendship Award was conferred …’, where you speak about Dean Tian’s inspirational form of leadership, you could return to the idea of counterpoint. I think you could develop this idea of counterpoint to communicate the idea of leadership as a process of collaborative relational forms of working, where â€leadership’ may be construed as enabling others to make their contributions in their own way.

In your sentence â€I now turn to the practical steps I took’, I wonder, â€steps you took towards what?’

In your paragraph beginning â€In Guyuan we wanted …’ I wonder about the use of the word â€pursuit’. I am not sure that we pursue action enquiries. I used to work with a person who wrote â€prosecute action enquiries.’ I just wonder about the form of words we use, and the images we communicate through those words.

Similarly, in the paragraph beginning â€At Bath University’, I question the word â€problematecised’, and would suggest â€problematised.’

Just to note in the next paragraph â€With Hayley’, the word â€whole’ should possibly be â€whose’.

And in the next paragraph beginning â€I wanted to praise her’ I think you mean â€her actions that day in class were a turning point …’

In the paragraph beginning â€It is a weakness of this account …’ I do not see the account at all as weak in any way. It is especially strong, in my view. The fact that you have limited data, or a particular form of data is not a weakness. An interesting philosophical point emerges, about the idea of improvement. David Hopkins said â€You don’t have to be sick to get better.’ A text does not have to be weak to be strengthened. The form of a thing can be seen as its current best quality. That best quality can be improved, but that does not mean to say that the quality was not good for the point in time at which is emerged into the world.

In your next paragraph, you know what my comment is about â€AR’, and â€pursuing AR’, so I will not elaborate further.

In conclusion …

Moira, I have responded mainly to and raised issues about editorial points here. I think the paper is strong, articulate and persuasive, and I commend you on producing such a fine paper for this introductory edition. I hope other people will follow your lead and find ways of communicating their work in what could be a highly significant contribution to educational research and educational theory.

Bateson, G. (2002) Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. Cresskill, NJ, Hampton Press.

Bohm, D. (1983) Wholeness and the Implicate Order. London, Ark Paperbacks.

Crick, B. (1980) George Orwell: A Life, London, Penguin.

In reply to Jean McNiff

Re: In Pursuit of Counterpoint: an Educational Journey

by Moira Laidlaw -

First of all, Jean, I want to thank you for your thorough and inspiring responses to my paper. You have really made me think and I love that. I love thinking and reflecting. I can spend hours staring into space! Mm. Sounds self-indulgent. Moving swiftly on!

I will be going through the paper again and changing aspects of it in the background to this response, but I want to write my thinking and feeling around what you have written, both as an explanation of what I am attempting with this paper, and to encourage this kind of open discourse and reflectiveness. I think these qualities can help us become more open and welcoming and inclusional in this space and outside it (or rather not to see them as separate so much as linked contrapuntally - more later). I like the idea that others may read this part of the process and, if moved, respond as well.

Let me start by saying that this thing about counterpoint is an idea I've struggled with all my life, but it still remains at the level of an intuition. It's like listening to Bach. I can say I 'understand' his music - and in moments I really feel I do - but I am not sure I can explain what that understanding means in words. Which again, is one of the reasons I am glad to be associated with a journal that welcomes different forms of representation and insights from different practices and ways of doing things. And we're at the beginning of this. It's exciting!

Counterpoint for me is woven with all sorts of connotations and I totally agree with you I should expand this. I was aware that it may come over in the paper as a bolt-on 'clever' idea, but I am grateful to you for not seeing it that way, but as a possible source of explanation and experience, which is exactly as I see it. My years in China really changed the way I think. I had such an individualistic way of seeing things. The Individual, capital I! And then to live for five years in a culture that absolutely doesn't see things that way - that sees the individual as an aspect of the whole. Decisions made round a table at lightning speed as the people read each other and instantly a collective is born. It's difficult to explain. I would find that. I'd be in a shop and there was just me and the shopkeeper and then someone else would come in and a community was born. Just like that. When I cottoned to the language sufficiently, I realised this was excatly what was happening all the time.

I've been struggling with the idea of counterpoint as a way of expressing something ineffible about being human because we are both individual and members of groups - be they family, friends, professional, social, political and so on. Counterpoint seems to me to capture something of the beauty of the dialectic between individual and society, between cultures, between adults and children, between all perceived differences. Woven together, the above can produce great harmony. I think of choirs, but I also think of an action research international conference at which my dean helped a student to work the overhead projector so that she could speak about issues that concerned her, and on her own behalf.

I believe, from reading your insights, that I need my understanding of counterpoint not only to be a linguistic explanation but a living and developing standard of judgement (or value), which, like democracy, for example (in a paper I am preparing for another journal) can grow as I grow and others grow and we work together. A living contradiction perhaps, that I present this counterpoint in the current edition of my paper in a flattened form.

Thank you as well for responding to both matters of meaning and language. I wanted your responses to draw on what you might want to say, rather than controlling what you picked out. I think this is an important issue for this journal as a whole as well. A plurality of voices and insights are surely necessary for us to get closer to those values that we want to live more fully in our practice for a better world. Grand words, but we need to find ways of reaching way beyond claims into realities.

You usefully pick out 'art of Creation'. I did mean art of Creation. Or perhaps Art of Creation! For me it is linked with the Art of the Dialectician I allude to, and I see therefore, from your comments, that I need to make this link more explicit. I'm going to try and put something into words I find extremely difficult, conceptually and you'll see through it how little I actually understand something my paper, my life, is groping towards.

I see life as embracing paradox. We are born, we die: our evolution goes against the second law of thermo-dynamics - in other words, entropy is a key process and yet we humans have this wonderful, awesome power to evolve beyond our parameters.  We are individuals, we are not individuals (we are essentially in groups). Through suffering can come real enlightenment (whatever that is!). We can seek to do good and yet do harm. And so on and so on. And for me, Living Educational theorising is a way of not capturing these paradoxes, because by their very nature they cannot be captured, only experienced. Or should I say that this process seems to me to come close to an authentic view (to me) of what Life is about. And Counterpoint, with its connotations for me of harmony, beauty, transcendence, awe, humility, respect (for individual voices within the whole and admiration for the whole composed of individuals) comes closest to being a way of expressing the paradoxes in a positive and organic way. Mm. I have a lot more thinking to do on this one. I think a final version of my paper needs to grapple with these issues more openly and appropriately. By which I mean a reader needs to see more of what I really mean. And I am seeing that I won't come to definitive solutions, or meanings written in tablets of stone, but perhaps a working and current understanding that helps me now and can grow into the future. Hopefully, like my paper, and this journal and so on.

I like the point you make about my teaching children or English. Of course my expression is careless. I've been using that way of thinking for such a long time, it rather reduces the complexity, doesn't it? Of course I teach both, but I will never forget what you said when you came to Guyuan the second time. That I was doing far more than 'teaching action research'. Yes, it was about embracing life with my students and colleagues and one of the media we used was the processes of action research - and I am carefully not using acronyms here. It is a bad habit I have got into, which reduces the processes to a thing more profoundly. Anyway, back to the point. It interests me now that I said I was 'doing' action research, as if it had become some kind of mantra. And that's dangerous, because once something is reified in some way, it loses connection with the very values it seeks to augment. Which is why I fully respect your firm stand against 'Living Theory' as a thing, as something out there to be grappled with and conquered. Rather as propositional knowledge keeps the power in certain hands only and has done in many cultures over aeons.

Let me go on now to the idea you raise - and fundamental it is too - of democratic learning. Yes, I see what you're getting at. At least I think so: you are suggesting that learning is done by individuals, and that it takes place in its own way within the hearts and minds of individuals. Is that your idea? Yes, if that is your meaning, I agree. My phraseology was careless, showing, as you highlight throughout your response, that language can create the meanings we evolve, rather than simply express them. It is the conditions of learning that can be democratic. It was a democratic environment which I tried to set up with Hayley and the Year Eight group, but failed in the sense that not everyone had the same access, the same quality of access to that space. Sally, for example (see, does look very uncomfortable, hiding her face and looking down. Learning is not democratic, I understand, but conditions for learning can be, something I discussed in my 1994 paper to Action Research: an International Journal. And the idea of learning coming out of conflict is certainly true. I don't believe that any challenging endeavour involving human beings can be all sweetness and light: that's what it means to be human. But it's about finding the counterpoint - for me. The harmonising, integrating (which comes, interestingly, from the word integrity) of experiences into living certain values more fully. I certainly had plenty of conflict in China. The culture, the language, the habits and customs, the assumptions, the gender-politics, the water, the geography of the place, the didacticism inherent in Confuscianism, or at least how it has been practised - so very HUGE problems and conflicts  - many of them internal), and yet I believe that a lot of learning came out of it for me and others. The dissonances listed above created some synergy. Perhaps that's a point I need to make more forcefully in the paper. I do tend to skip the negative and write victory-narratives. It's all those years as a child, sitting by an open fire and reading fairy-tales and myths and loving the writing of fiction that feels duty-bound to end hopefully.

And as for 'constrained disagreement', it is a phrase I have very much taken to heart, but don't live out so openly. I think, for example, this forum could be a place of constrained disagreement, which is a holding of the tensions in the dialectic in ways that strengthen the good, help the processes of inclusionality (my understanding) and don't exclude on grounds of atrophied forms of dialogue or propositions. Constrained disagreement, for me, is about a respect for different points of view. However, such an idea isn't unproblematic. I believe in some absolutes within this philosophy (another paradox perhaps). One of those is that exploitation is always wrong. Always. No exceptions. That's not a relativist viewpoint. (It doesn't mean I'm not a living contradiction and that I haven't or don't exploit others now and again: I'm sure I do.) I have it still as an ideal in my head, this constrained disagreement, but if I'm honest, disagreements can make me feel very insecure and scrabbling about trying to 'harmonise' everything. Mm. Food for thought there.

You ask two really central questions at this point too: The first is about my first ten years' evidence not being enough. By 'enough' here, I am meaning sufficient to back up any claims to others that I make about the educational value of the work I have done. I remember those ten years so vibrantly, full of faces and people and feelings and ideas. It's the children I remember the most. I recently got in touch again with one of my pupils from the William Brookes. We reconnected through Friends Reunited. He was a stunning child when I taught him at the age of eleven. His English homework was magical, always beautifully written, and presented, without exception, with accompanying water-colour paintings, or wax-drawings of intense detail and meanings. He wrote that he remembers always our lessons with great affection. I count that as in a sense validating my own memories of what I thought the meanings of our (his and my) educational encounters were at that time. I think any claims I would try to make about the educational validity of these years, need to be validated at least in part in voices other than simply my own because my own work in education has always been with other people, in interactions, which have shaped processes and outcomes in meaningful ways. One thing I have learned from the process of gathering data in seeking to make claims about learning - my own and other peoples' - is how the rigour of that process can inform the quality of learning that can go on in an educational space between people.

The second question you ask is about grounding. A grounding for what? I am glad you asked this question, because the way I've written it suggests that all that wonderful school was good for was in what I could take away from it. Not so of course - and I'm putting it too baldly - but I wouldn't want that impression to be given at all. Yes, I see. In the sense I meant it, which I want to hold on to, is that the people in the school, helped me to clarify precisely how the things I cared about (and care about still) in the world, could be lived out inside and outside a classroom with people. That I recognised from my time at the school that teaching was indeed about learning (as you write so helpfully in your 1993 book, Teaching as Learning). This was a grounding for me to grow from is what I suppose I'm saying and therefore should make clearer in the paper itself. To develop the values of love and care and enthusiasm about life and learning, into my future career. And that, to an extent, I think, is what I have done. What I didn't understand until I started working with you and Jack and others, was how much enhanced my spontaneous love of children and teaching could be through 'managing' it in a form. I mean this not in a mechanistic way, but rather the dialectical - or contrapuntal - way that a poem exists outside form or content and is a fusion at best, from the two. That there is a synergy acting on learning and teaching that is exponential in terms of improving quality. When I come to edit the paper again, when I've heard from other reviewers, I want to make this point clearly and explicitly.

Jean, I LOVE the point you make about being very, very careful by the way we use the terms we use. Since reading comments from yourself and others over the last couple of months, I too have started to become worried about how I am using these terms. When you say you do not recognise a 'thing' called Living Educational Theory I am becoming more aware of what it means to say that. In 1995, Peter Mellett asked the question: What is it to ask what this thing, Living Educational Theory, is? This can be found at:

I am up there as co-author, but I have to tell you I don't think I really understood what Peter was getting at. I think I'm beginning to now. This feels like important learning for me. Thank you. And thanks to Peter too (to whom I will send a copy of this response). And your subsequent comments about the NC and AR and so on, I am taking on board, because, as it says above, I now begin to recognise the seriousness of the use of such language and its impact on people and meanigs.

I also agree that coming back to Dean Tian in terms of seeing his leadership as being an example of counterpoint is important. I hadn't thought of that and I will include it in my re-write.

So I see from reading through what you have written how very clearly you have helped me to understand that language and its usage reflects values and meanings and power. I hadn't seen it quite this clearly before. I will read my paper again, hopefully, with fresh eyes, and look forward to revivifying it. And of course I don't pursue action research enquiries (which again adds to the notion of a 'thing' and quantifiable), but I am glad I have never felt like prosecuting them either!!

In closing my comments to your responses, Jean, I do want to thank you again. As I hope you can see from this writing, you have helped me to think more clearly and have given me a renewed sense of enthusiasm to revisit the paper.

Many thanks. Love from, Moira xx

In reply to Moira Laidlaw

Re: In Pursuit of Counterpoint: an Educational Journey

by Jacqueline Delong -

Dear Moira,

I am honored to provide a review of your paper. While I have read some of your earlier writing and enjoyed it immensely, I found this writing a holistic explanation and description of your educational development in several iterations from your days in Shropshire with the positive influence of Mr. Richards from whom you learned the importance of respecting individuals in order to harmonize relationships. Would that all of our young teachers had the opportunity to work with such a leader! When you returned to Bath to work on your Ph.D. with Jack and support PGCE students in their action research, you experienced the importance of mutuality in enquiry. After the World Congress, you taught at a local girls’ school teaching them in democratic to speak with their own voices about issues that concerned them through the medium of the English curriculum. It was in these years that you began you original work on developing standards of judgment by which your students, and you, wished to be judged.

It was just as your were completing your Ph.D. in 1996 that I entered that stimulating dialogue in the Bath Action Research Group. Your passion for education and determination to help your students value their own knowledge encouraged me to pursue this approach with my teachers and principals. As you say in your article: This is partly due to circumstances and luck, and partly due to the remarkable people I have met in my life… You are certainly on of those remarkable people. I remember the stories that you brought about â€the girls’ of their delight and excitement in establishing their standards by which their voices could heard and judged. Your love for them is clearly evident in those stories which reside in you Ph.D. and other writings. This work continued with your Year Eight class as your students came to see themselves as researchers.

Not content to experience successful co-learning with this group, as evidenced in Hayley’s: My work. My ideas. I don’t want this time to end., you challenged your values and knowledge in a completely foreign environment, in every facet of the culture. Contrary to your self admonishment for not contextualizing your accounts, I would submit that you provide evidence of understanding and appreciating your Chinese contexts. Had you not had that perceptiveness and prudence, it seems probable that your work, with colleagues or students, would not have thrived. And there is massive evidence that you did: the publication of action research accounts by colleagues; the New Curriculum for teaching English; China’s Experimental Centre for Educational Action Research in Foreign Languages Teaching opened by Dean Tian and Jean McNiff; case studies with Tian; State Friendship Award; Jack’s videotaping of your lesson.

This political acumen, Jack calls it nous, is, in my experience, one of the most difficult learnings for teachers who limit their context to their classroom and fail to see the entire world of their students. Without that understanding, teacher-leaders are inhibited in finding the pathways to improve our social order. Through your friendships with Dean Tian and partnering with colleagues to arrive at a counterpoint of human realities, you were able to take the Chinese focus on the group and your experience with â€I’ at the centre of the research to see that it is not a dichotomy but a strength. As with most facets of our lives, we are stronger in collaboration and thus you arrived at AR with Chinese characteristics.

It appears to me that you have met your three standards of: enabling of individual and collective voices, improving practice and theorizing, and helping teachers develop great understanding of their social and epistemological contexts in order to fulfil both personal and social values. As with all educational action research, it is always a matter of wanting to live our lives according to our values. Your paper provides ample evidence that you are have and continue to struggle with living contradictions, as do we all. Counterpoint has been achieved.

In reply to Jacqueline Delong

Re: In Pursuit of Counterpoint: an Educational Journey

by Moira Laidlaw -

First, Jackie, thank you very much for taking the trouble to respond to my paper. I am rather overcome by the way in which you've done it. It feels very much to me like a response that my friend and colleague Pat D'Arcy was advocating in her Ph.D. 'The Whole Story' (D'Arcy, 1998). She wrote about the importance of an engaged and appreciative response in which the reader reveals their coming to know a text and it is that coming to know that is represented as part of the critique. An engaged and appreciative reponse draws out the reader's insights and values as well as drawing out the writer's. I feel embraced by your response and that is a marvellous feeling, because it seems to me that you see into the heart of the values I am espousing. In quoting from my paper as you do, as integral parts of your own examination of values, I believe what you have done is raise the level of critique into something that celebrates as well as examines. I remember as a raw English undergraduate having this sense of seeing a text as something more than words on a page - with me I was obsessed with poetry, especially Romantic poetry - and I kept trying to find critics that treated the texts as celebrations of human insights, but didn't find any. In the end I gave up and enjoyed the poetry!

When I read Pat's Ph.D. and worked with her over the years as a colleague and a close friend, I came to see more in what she was saying - and our conversations now tend to be around the fiction/poetry we are writing (separately) which we review in this engaged and appreciative way.

So, thank you for that, Jackie. I've read through your comments many times and that is the first thing I want to say in response.

The second is more of an analytical nature. You say at one point:

Contrary to your self admonishment for not contextualizing your accounts, I would submit that you provide evidence of understanding and appreciating your Chinese contexts. Had you not had that perceptiveness and prudence, it seems probable that your work, with colleagues or students, would not have thrived.

I wonder about that. I was conscious of the length of my paper - because brevity, as Jack knows well, has never been my strong point. I feel I have to make a little more of the contexts in China. I have such a passionate love of the country - because of the people I know there. I am more and more conscious as I get older, of the importance of political nous as you and Jack term it. I am careful of everything I write. And this is a moral dilemma. I have seen things in China I don't morally approve of. I am now in the situation of supporting the people I care about at a distance. I cannot jeopardise that through a slagging off of particular aspects of a different culture. Being a Friend of China means something. It's alive to me. It doesn't mean I go along with things I disagree with, but it is about what Jack calls creative compliance. When I read your comments above, something in me said, if I was being honest, that I didn't agree with your conclusion. I feel I need to write something about this moral dilemma, which I have always had, because it is a part of the context in which I worked in China face-to-face and now when I continue the work at a distance. I mention it, but I don't dwell on it to the extent it has influenced everything I did in China. Or rather in the last three years there. At first I was naive and rather loathe to question the values I was being confronted with because of my respect for the culture. I suppose, what I am saying, is that I learnt more what values I was really developing in myself - values to do with democracy, fairness, justice and most of all love. But all of those values are connected in me with respect, which cannot therefore, take leaps of opposition without considering the effects and meanings and significances. If you get my drift!

You wrote: Through your friendships with Dean Tian and partnering with colleagues to arrive at a counterpoint of human realities, you were able to take the Chinese focus on the group and your experience with â€I’ at the centre of the research to see that it is not a dichotomy but a strength. As with most facets of our lives, we are stronger in collaboration and thus you arrived at AR with Chinese characteristics.

I am particularly gratified by that comment, but it's the manner of your expression that grips me, because in the form of words, you have better expressed to me what it was I was doing than I did myself in the paper. The seeing the paradox as not a dilemma is at the heart of everything I learnt in China and yet I didn't say that. You did. Wow. Thank you. I had not explicitly seen what you have seen. And this happens to me a lot. I seem articulate, but in fact sometimes I don't see the point. Of course, it's the understanding I embodied about the lack of conflict and dichotomy, that influenced the emergence of Action Research with Chinese characteristics.

Thank you again, Jackie. Your response has helped me to think.

I do value this process that Jean and you have entered into with such kindness and professionality. And I do think there are two terms here, that are used a lot. Mostly we talk about professionalism. But there is also professionality. I would like to air my own udnerstanding of the two terms.

Professionalism is generally perceived (I think) as following the protocols of a particular profession. I distinguish from professionality, which, as I understand it, seeks to find the most effect ways of doing something and is related to ethics and means and ends. It is an active process in which individuals and groups keep alive the values at the base of their endeavours as they do their professional jobs. And that's what I find here in these early EJOLTS reviews from Jean and you, Jackie. A sense that we are looking for something that satisfies our sense of values in what we are and what we do and what we aspire to as individuals, as a group, as a societies and the world as a whole. They are all our contexts.

My final point is a risky one. I am going to attach a file to this response to your response, as it seems to me to speak with a different voice about the work I did with the girls at the school in Bath. It's not an academic text in any sense of the word. It is, rather, a story for children of all ages, which documents the delight of teaching the girls in that school. It is a truer representation of my love for the children than I have yet found a more 'academic' medium in which to express. This story holds my values more keenly and to me more meaningfully than my paper. This is not to deny the value of academic writing at all. I would be a hypocrite to do so, when I value rigorous research so much. However, it is an attempt to widen the representations in this journal. It could not stand alone, but I want it to stand with this response, because, for me, it is true.

Thank you again, Jackie.

Love from,

Moira xxx

In reply to Moira Laidlaw

Re: In Pursuit of Counterpoint: an Educational Journey

by Ram Singh-Punia -

In Pursuit of Counterpoint: An Educational journey By Professor Laidlaw


(Celebration By a Reader)

I am expressing my personal interpretation of your excellent paper, which I greatly enjoyed. I suppose I must first share my belief as an international educator I believe we are professional educators. Our job is to create new opportunities or exploit existing opportunities for personal learning and to help others to learn simultaneously. We aim to improve practice and ourselves and create professional knowledge in the process. In the light of this belief I see your new journal a new curriculum for professional educators. It provides venue to share and learn from experience to writers, editors and readers of the journal. I learnt much from your paper and here are some of my comments;

I like the use of counterpoint to structure your paper and your experiences of influencing and being influenced during your professional life. It indicates to me the creativity of your mind. You have amply explained the idea in the opening of your paper. However, later you introduced other terms such as inclusionality, harmony and so on. These terms raised the question in my mind as to relationship of these terms with your term. One has to be careful with the use of the words we use. I am not good at it.

On page one you write that it is difficult to define values and you explain that they emerge from lived experience and then you list your values imbedded in your accounts. I agree with you in this context but I thought our values are embedded in the choices we make during our professional lives. However, in life we are not always free to make choices. Life has its own flow where values emerge. On page two you introduce the term LIVING LOGIC to express your philosophy as an educator.

Background and Work

You were lucky to have met the right kinds of educators from whom you learnt respect for others, freedom of expression and democratic values during your first teaching post. It seems to have provided grounding for future growth. You became aware of mutuality in teaching and leaning and need for accounting for ourselves at the university of Bath. You began to teach the whole person at a local girls comprehensive school where you put your ideas to practice with a convincing example of success with Hayley.

I love the following line from your paper: I believe responsibility for learning and accounting for oneself are the corner stones of good learning (Laidlaw 1994). I think this is the cornerstone of living educational theories. Living educational theorists now have offered sufficient evidence towards it. So it need not be a belief. I am searching for ways to encourage other people in the developing countries. You present very interesting personal experiences with Hayley and your students in China.

Social Context of your work

You give good reasons for not getting too involved in all aspects of your context, which is difficult to define. Different people define it differently. For me universe is the context of our existence. You have beautifully highlighted the contextual differences between your Chinese and British students. Educational goals and personal motivation to learn is very different in the two contexts. I appreciated your sensitivity towards the context of your work. You call your work Action research with Chinese characteristics. In developing countries people lack opportunities to learn to make a living whereas students in developed countries like UK learn to flourish in life. I have experienced the difference in my professional life. I think it is extremely important to draw out this difference.

Influences of your work in China

I find your astounding influence on the host country and the context changed your own outlook on life as a whole. You have done much more on China but I noted the essence of mutual learning. You have given them a new curriculum for teaching English language and you have learnt more about the relationship of the individual in the social context. We are individual parts of the whole and whole is in the individual. It has been a transformative learning experience for you.

You have been very lucky to have a very supportive context and a very competent counterpart who worked with you, learnt from you and supported you for the good of his country. I have had similar experiences but also I have worked with people who regarded the outsider a threat, they shunned responsibility for learning and always willing to take credit for other persons contributions. Sadly, they did not realise the consequences of their actions. They made a little use of the opportunities I created for them.

Your embodied values expressed in this paper are captured in one your photographs where you are greeting your students as they leave the class. This picture is worth thousand words indeed. Jack has used it often but without an explanation. In your paper you have explained it well. This picture illustrates the counterpoint as your lived experience. I suggest introduce the picture to synthesise your paper opening with counterpoint as a concept and as a living educational theory of an educator.

There are no contradictions in your paper as you put it. Keep the term counterpoint alive through out the paper without introducing other terms. I do not like to make claims for any special knowledge, as it is difficult to predict the effects of our actions. Act with love and responsibility and forget the results. Results do follow: some later and some sooner.

This paper presents an educator with a distinct character and competence and the combination of the two seems to have produced astounding results. Your paper also highlights to me the conditions for successes in similar projects elsewhere. We need such educators in the present century, if we are to save the world from the excesses of the technical knowledge. Many thanks for the privilege of having read your paper providing an excellent start for your forthcoming journal.

In reply to Ram Singh-Punia

Re: In Pursuit of Counterpoint: an Educational Journey

by Moira Laidlaw -

Thank you, Ram, for your stimulating response to my paper. I really enjoyed reading it, because it provoked me to think a lot. This is one of the reasons I haven't responded more quickly: I wanted to have time to think. I like your comment near the beginning:

However, later you introduced other terms such as inclusionality, harmony and so on. These terms raised the question in my mind as to relationship of these terms with your term. One has to be careful with the use of the words we use. I am not good at it.

Jean has also, you may have read, commented on my use of terms. I do think it's important to remember that and to write precisely, rather than fumbling around in the dark as I tend to do: I get carried away with language. I remember when I was doing my Ph.D. and someone complimented me on my writing, in terms of its style and articulation and Jack said: Yes, it's just a pity she has nothing to write about! This very insightful (if somewhat harsh) comment I have tried to take to heart - as I keep reminding Jack!! The use of words isn't superficial at all, is it? It's a description as well of our deepest values. I need to take more care over this. Thank you for the personal reference: I am not good at it. This gives me a sense of mutuality in our search for something that resonates together and is a timely reminder of what this journal is for.

When you write: I agree with you in this context but I thought our values are embedded in the choices we make during our professional lives, I couldn't agree with you more. I hope that this journal will begin to embody the kinds of values it was set up to foster (see our homepage at, which will necessitate, I believe, an experimental style as we seek to find what it is that can represent our values as closely as possible. I know that Branko in Croatia and Jack in Bath, as well as Marie (also in Bath) have done a lot to extend our insights about the use of technology in classrooms, aimed to give learners more say in the parameters and validations of their own learning. I am sure that this is one of the directions to follow, which may, I am hoping, influence our willingness to take risks as well with this journal. It really believe we are grappling with this Lyotard (1984) thing about knowing what it is we value when we have created it and not before. I think as well as all the values we list (and you rightly point out the bad and falsifying risks involved in that) we need to think about what risks we are prepared to take in order to pursue what it is we are looking for. This is, as far as I have understood it, linked to improving learning and the contexts in which it can happen in ways which lead to greater understanding and improvements in the human condition.

You write: a convincing example of success with Hayley I would, however, still maintain that at the time of making it, it represented my then understanding of educational development. Part of my learning, I believe, is captured within the insight that I no longer perceive Hayley's articulation as the summit of what I consider to be educational, because of the effects on Sally who was sitting beside her and the possible effect on Hayley of being encouraged to talk and being lauded when her friend was ignored. It is in the nature of my educational development to look at the nature of freedom encouraged by the processes I engage in with other learners (I am counting myself as one of the learners in the processes). When I now look at Hayley's youtube presentation I find myself wincing at the restriction of freedom being placed on Sally because of the situation I have helped to set up.

When you write: For me universe is the context of our existence I recognise myself as being from outside that world/cosmic view. I must admit, it brought me up short. But there are precedents for this also in Western thinking. I am reminded of Blake in one of his remarkable poems from the Songs of Innocence (1789 - the year of the French Revolution - really a sign of a zeitgeist if ever there was one!):

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

However, I had not thought in those terms in preparing my paper, or indeed whilst being involvedin more direct actions with learners, and see now no reason why I should not. I sometimes am jolted by people who have a much wider vision than me - like you, for example. I go along in my little valley, surrounded by mountains and this is my world. I remember being shocked by my colleague Li Peidong once, who said that some of the Action Research we were doing seemed to him very narrow. 'For it to be valid, surely it has to reach outside the classroom and into society,' he said. I suppose you are saying that the context of what we are doing reaches outside the classroom, outside the society, outside the world and into infinity. Quite a challenge, that! I will honestly try to bear it in mind. I hope I understand as well that bearing it in mind will necessitate more than a change of words on a page...

You write in terms of my influence in China: I noted the essence of mutual learning. I'm glad that came through clearly. Mutual learning is something that I know is important. And here, let me digress (slightly) into an anecdote that came, again from Jack, when I was his Ph.D. student. Jack will already know exactly what I am referring to. I remember the golden days in the early nineties when the two of us were going to Kingston University to do some Masters work with Professor Pam Lomax's students. The journey took a couple of hours and we started off early in the morning. Jack wasn't/isn't one for small talk, so we were discussing educational development and I said I believed that for something to be truly educational, there must be something mutual in it. And therefore, if Jack and I had an educational relationship, what had he learnt from me. A full thirty second elapsed. I would have thought he'd fallen asleep but he was driving so that was out. No after thirty seconds came the pronouncement: Nothing! And it resonates still.

Joking aside, though, I think your point, Ram, really takes me back to that moment and helps me understand it more. I really had this belief in the early nineties, which I felt I was learning from working with post-graduate students at the university on their action research enquiries that for something to be educational meant learning something of value - on both sides. Perhaps I was learning how better to teach a particular student. The student perhaps, learns something that enabled him/her to become more aware of the context of teaching and how actions impinged on learning. Or something. Anyway, I still hold to that belief but see now the vital importance of the fact that for mutual learning to take place, the values underlying the practice have to be transparent and mine weren't. Does this make sense, Ram - and Jack too?

You mention encountering people who do not want to enter the space you and others are facilitating. I certainly know that. In China, culturally, it is very diffficult for someone to say no directly, in public or even in private. Someone is likely to say yes and even show enthusiasm and then not turn up, or not do something that, I thought, had been agreed. I am not criticising this cultural norm. I wouldn't dream of it, but it took Dean Tian  and Li Peidong to explain to me the cultural differences. These influences were extremely strong, of course and very effective. I might ask a second time and it be agreed with, but a third time seemed pushy and I gave it up. I am really commenting here on the fact that it's very difficult for me as an outsider to claim particular 'improvements' in learning, given the cultural norms and contexts in which I was operating. I claim that these cultural norms are a part of every situation, but in my own country I am more aware of them and more able, I believe, to deal with them. In a foreign country I felt sometimes paranoid and could not understand the responses I got.

You suggest that I put the footage of saying farewell to my students nearer the front of the paper, as this would be a better illustration than words to make sense for the reader what s/he will be encountering in the paper. I agree with this suggestion and will enact this in my redrafting for the second stage of the review process, which I hope to complete very soon when other reviewers have had a chance to review the first draft. In about ten days I hope to be able to re-submit my paper. Thank you for the suggestion, by the way, I think it is an excellent one and fully in keeping with the values of the paper.

I follow your reasoning for keeping the term counterpoint and ditching all the others. I also see counterpoint as an inclusive term, but I think for the sake of the readers' comprehension I need to include other ways of describing my point and relating my paper to others. Perhaps this point needs making explicitly. Would you agree to that?

Your final point about avoiding the problems of this technologised world, I couldn't agree with you more in one sense. I am feeling a living contradiction coming on!! On the one hand, I do see how technology is jeopardising necessary face-to-face (as in physically present) meetings, in the sense that so much can be done with the internet that face-to-face can become put off, excused away. Speed equals efficiency in society, but in fact speed can mean the death of the human spirit, the technologisation of huamn capacities to strive, which is, in part, our destiny, I believe. So yes, in one sense I really do see that point. Alternatively, I am living with the internet, which I rely on for outside contact and for me the world is brought into my sitting room as I write this response to you in a bid to imrpove the quality of learning in the name of democracy and responsible freedom and all those other values you and I share.

It's a conundrum and one I cannot claim to understand or know how to solve. Living in the paradox, though, pushing those boundaries of reality further and further into infinity, seems, however, to be what human beings do. It is the motivation with which we do it that counts, because that will be written in the world we live in tomorrow.

Thank you, Ram, for making me think and snapping me out of my cosy sitting-room existence.

With love and respect,

Moira xxx

In reply to Moira Laidlaw

Re: In Pursuit of Counterpoint: an Educational Journey

by Jack Whitehead -
Moira writes:

"Anyway, I still hold to that belief but see now the vital importance of the fact that for mutual learning to take place, the values underlying the practice have to be transparent and mine weren't. Does this make sense, Ram - and Jack too?"

It does make good sense. In the action planner at:

I've amend those four criteria of social validity that Habermas says we use in reaching a mutual understanding to:

i) Is my explanation as comprehensible as it could be?
ii) Could I improve the evidential basis of my claims to know what I am doing?
iii) Does my explanation include an awareness of historical and cultural influences in what I am doing and draw on the most advanced social theories of the day?
iv) Am I showing that I am committed to the values that I claim to be living by?

the emphasis on making values transparent is in number iv). In your response to Ram I also enjoyed your learning from the video-clip with Hayley where you showed an enhanced awareness of your influence on Sally. One of the questions I tend to stress in my own work is the awareness of historical and cultural influences in what I am doing as I seek to draw on the most advanced social theories of the day. I think that there is something really important in this conversational space which is both creative and sustaining and which will grow in significance as the review process can be seen to be connected to the publications in EJOLTS and becomes part of the growth of the living theories.

Love Jack.
In reply to Jack Whitehead

Re: In Pursuit of Counterpoint: an Educational Journey

by Moira Laidlaw -

I do like those Habermas critertia, Jack, particularly the last one. However, they are all so relevant and if I bear those in mind when I am redrafting my paper I think they will help me remain reigorous and critical of what I am doing.

I also agree with you about the importance of having developmental spaces, which are not pre-prescribed, but are allowed, within certain parameters (alluded to on our homepage) to create themselves, such that the standards of judgement for evaluating what we are doing here will have to develop as we develop the journal. I find that really exciting.

Another point I want to raise here is the significance of time in the development of our values (or, if you like standards of judgement). With the internet and its rapid development, we're already at the stage of being able to juxtapose images, truths, representations together that weren't originally designed for such use. I would imagine that a whole new set of standards of judgement will need to be developed in the ethical handling of all that. What do other people think?

Love from,