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Second Submission of Paper: In Pursuit of Counterpoint

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 -
Number of replies: 0

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) . 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 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: - 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: 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

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