Long Line: Questions

This post is part of a series of posts pulled from a piece of writing I completed in November 2012. For more information on this series, see this post.

Context | Looking Back | Transformation | Looking Back at the Looking Back | Questions | On ethics | Letting Go of Nothing | Taking on Subject and Objects | On meaning making | Why the language of causality trouble me | Conceptual versus Empirical | Futuring | Temporality and Time | Brief Note | Back to Time | What to do with the Past | Some tools to help us be | An example from my past | Avoiding Labels | The educational turn | Being and curriculum | Curriculum of Being | Curriculum Futuring | On dispositions as ways of being | Being and pedagogy | Being and technology | Being and the body | References

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Questions

I used to think I knew how to ask question but at each point that I think I have “gotten something figured out” about how to inquire into the nature of things, something shifts, a new way opens, and I am back to rethinking the long line again. To explore some of the topics that have been discussed this term in 911 I need to provide boundaries for exploration. At the end of it all, the goals of my inquiry are to (1) loosen our hold or grip on reality as we think we know it, (2) empower human beings, and (3) stretch the topology to explore what is possible. To grasp or to access these goals I have to use questions. Some questions begin from observations or reflections, while others are just questions that have emerged as questions.

The easiest way to cast a preliminary net around the work that must be done is to discuss transformative learning theory (TL). It cannot be forgotten that TL is not the way to this place but is just one of many ways to this place.* The core of TL is simple, while its implications are not. Transformation theory argues that everything, literally everything, that we do, think, say, believe, and are (all-encompassing-being) is based, grounded, or founded on a number of assumptions or presuppositions. For example, take the sentence “Learning is enhanced by technology.” At the surface and most obvious level, a number of assumptions are made: What is learning? Says who? What is technology? On whose authority? Does it matter? How would one know that something has been enhanced? Considering a Serresian framework, consider the connections: is and by. Is, being, the ontology. In mathematics we teach students to see the word is and replace it with an equals sign (e.g., “=”). Learning = enhanced by technology. How does this feel? Shifting again, consider by. What is implied by by? How would the meaning change if we used “with” or “via”?

This process or method could be labeled deconstruction a la Derrida but I am not wholly comfortable with that. I have not spent enough time with Derrida’s work to explain why, but I have an intuition that this examination of assumptions or presuppositions (I would prefer to use these terms interchangeably for now) is of another order.** From my limited understanding, deconstruction aims at identifying the structures and frameworks of essences, of phenomena. To be quite blunt, in this line of inquiry I am most interested in pulling the rug out from under our feet. To take this metaphor further: the rug represents our presuppositions and we are atop our rug. What happens when the rug is gone? What is left? What is possible? This is transformative learning. By looking at and analyzing our assumptions, we can recognize them as assumptions, and choose different ones. Returning to the sentence above about technology and learning; if technology is assumed to be a laptop, then the reality that gets created, the context is constituted and grounded in this assumption. If we shift the assumption of technology-as-laptop to technology-as-XBox, the entire meaning of the utterance is changed. This is a very superficial sentence and exploration but I think it has served its purpose.

At this point a reader might look back at the wasted space above and realize that every single one of the statements that have been made thus far are, if we are being faithful to a TL framework, grounded in any number of assumptions that could be open to critique, challenge, discussion, and, ultimately, transformation. And, I would agree and happily oblige in such an exercise because that space, this place of questions, is where what is possible comes into play. I only recently came across Kieran’s piece on presuppositions*** from many decades ago and I have been kicking myself for not having come across it sooner. However, I think Kieran stops too short. I am not so sure that we can not let our presuppositions think or speak for us but I am absolutely certain that we can change our presuppositions and therefore our lived experiences.

A note on language. As a waypoint along my journey to this point I spent time thinking that the “answer” to my questions was “language.” Thus, Wittgenstein, Austin, Searle and that whole gang became my comrades. Soon enough I realized that there is something deeper than language, in between the words and syllables. The best term that I can come up with to describe this is meaning. There is an example that Searle gives in one of his many books on speech act theory about a wife and husband at a cocktail party. After visiting and conversing for some time the wife approaches her husband and says, “Wow, it is getting late!” Any person with any amount of sense knows that the wife does not mean to inform her husband of the time. She wants to leave the party - and I am not so sure we need speech act theory and categories of speech acts to tell us that. Although language is important. In fact, to the best that I can see right now, language is all we have got. I am not sure where this leaves me in relation to the body and embodiment, but I will return to this later.

I want to continue on from this section by acknowledging and embracing the language game that I am playing. One of the ways we can empower others (and ourselves) is recognize the language we are using and use it purposefully. But, as Marco pointed out with Wittgenstein’s first work, a language game is self-constituting; everything only makes sense within the game. From here I would like to frame and name what follows as playing a language game -- with the explicit understanding that I do not think that language games is where we will ultimately end. Language is not the bottom, but it is all we have got to get to the bottom.****

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* I am using “place” here to describe something that defies description: context, realm, space, the in between, the area. Do not mistake this for a physical place, however.
** Gert Biesta cautiously used the terminology “pragmatic deconstruction.” I need to consider this further before using it confidently.
*** Egan, K. (1978). Some presuppositions that determine curriculum decisions. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 10(2), 123–133.
**** I think.

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