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 thinkingâ€”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.
What stands out for me in Laidlawâ€™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 studentsâ€™ embodied experiences, and the importance of fostering critical thinking. Her quote of David Bohmâ€™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 metaphorsâ€”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 elseâ€™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 studentsâ€™ 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 surviveâ€”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."