Logos, logos, logos... who's got the logos?

Parker Palmer first introduced the ideas of ontology and epistemology to me through one of his many writings.  (And, just for reference's sake, it was Pat Dalton who turned me on to Parker Palmer.)  I distinctly remember being a sophomore and spending hours pouring through the pages of his books on teaching, learning, and spirituality when I first came across those two words: ontology and epistemology.

Wow!  Those are some big words!  *Getting up to grab a dictionary*  And honestly it probably took me another couple of years before I really was able to wrap my mind around what those terms mean and the implication of questioning assumptions made about such knowledge.

Regardless - since my first exposure I have been hooked.  Pat classified me once as a "seeker" - that I was always seeking answers, asking questions, looking for something.  Ontological/epistemological questions and theory is my mind's playground. :)

My latest exploration began just this morning in Walter R. Fisher's "Human Communication as Narration."  The title of this post come from the conclusion of the first chapter that chronicles the history of human communication and its distinctions between logos and mythos, and on to philosophy and science, and finally poetry and rhetoric.  (I am not a communication scholar - at least yet - so don't jump on me for misusing terms!)  Put simply, I redefine Fisher's history as a narrative about the quest for truth and human existence.  Put another way: where does the authority of our lives come from?   Empiricism?  Subjectivism?

Having just stumbled upon this book and the narrative paradigm I cannot claim to "know" a great deal (here I'm defining "knowing" in the traditional sense - and in Fisher's terminology - I am deferring to the "experts" who "know" about communication theory because they have studied it within a technical discourse framework and thereby downgraded my own experience and "knowing" from alternative courses of study and points of view) about it's theoretical implications for poetry and rhetoric - the primary theme of the first chapter.

But what I'm realizing is a possible correlation to transformative learning theory within the communication domain - and here is a big hypothesis - that a transformative learning "experience" could be to introduce the narrative paradigm to learners.  There's something to think about there...

The original goal of this post was to provide a first glimpse at many of the ponderings within my head that would classify as ontological and epistemological in nature.  I think I've at least scratched the surface on that one.

But my real aim was to set up an argument for teaching and learning.

Teachers/educators are in the business of knowledge (and no, I am not saying "business" to mean we should take a business perspective on education - far from it).  Regardless of the educator's teaching/learning philosophy - the relationship of knowledge to humankind is thrown in there somewhere.  I think we too swiftly and erroneously sweep ontological and epistemological issues under the rug when it comes to preparing future teachers and that teachers themselves never think to question the foundations of and assumptions that we make about knowledge.

Beyond my personal fascination with epistemology, bringing to the forefront of the educational conversation how what we believe to be true about knowledge and who we are as human beings has been elevated to a top priority given the game-changing nature of technology in the past three decades.  If you have a moment, skim Chris Dede's "A Seismic shift in Epistemology" (pdf).  He does a fair enough job of clearing the field for discussion on this topic while not making any conjectures or judgments about his leanings.  Dede does what any good scholar should do - ask questions and encourage critical thinking and reflection.

What is knowledge?  Who owns it?  Who has the final say - if any - in what's so?  Where does knowledge live?  These are profound questions - ones that need to be explored further and deeper more than ever before.

The final question brings me directly back to my classroom when I was teaching math at CFS.  I was a stickler for a tidy math notebook.  Every class had a "checklist" and every piece of paper that went into a child's notebook was labeled and numbered and recorded on that checklist.  An unfortunate biproduct emerged by the end of the year when I overheard a conversation my students were having about longing for school to end so that they could burn their papers and notebooks - and in particular - their math notebooks.  This spawned a fantastic conversation that I was able to have with them because we were able to uncover an assumption that they were making that they had not realized they were making: knowledge lives on paper, and specifically, their math knowledge lived in their math notebooks.

This was profoundly moving for me - and made me reconsider my teaching philosophy... and my beliefs at large about teaching and learning.  And I want to encourage other educators to continue the conversation with themselves, their colleagues, and their students.


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