Long Line: The educational turn

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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The educational turn

Drawing on Davidson’s philosophy of language, Rorty generates a new distinction for how we understand reality: as a variety of languages. Think of how biology or any other academic discipline can be described as having its own language, vocabulary, culture. Certain phenomena and existants are available within languages that are not available in other languages. For change to occur, for us to move forward as human beings, Rorty suggest we adopt the terminology of “old language” and “new language.” If we have let go of knowing, of traditional epistemology, what we have left (he suggests) are any number of dialogues that have occurred throughout history. Major shifts, changes, transformations in history occur because the language changed, the way we spoke and thought about reality shifted and therefore, in the words of transformation, we lived into the futures that we spoke about. (It should be clear that Rorty never engaged in transformation theory per se, but I am gleefully putting words in his mouth.) Can you simply switch from one language to another? No, you have to borrow and steal terms and phrases from the old language, revise them, and adopt them into the new language.

I appreciate this languaging of experience, of reality, that Rorty offers. I want to make one more observation before shifting into education. If we cannot be truly certain of our knowledge, if we have laid down objectivity, what is left? Rorty replies: Solidarity. In my understanding, solidarity is common agreement, it is a collective “yes” to statements, to a language, that we are all in agreement about. Americans are Americans because they possess a solidarity around a bundle of beliefs, values, and ideas about “who we are” and “what we believe to be true” (note the “true” with a lowercase t). That is a broad and possibly incorrect example, but let’s consider curriculum. I doubt anyone today would point to a curriculum document and proclaim it to be “the Truth” about the way things are, but I could be wrong! Returning to our observation that curriculum is simply a grouping of words (some spoken, some written down, some unspoken), I would like to try on Rorty’s notion of solidarity. Curriculum can be classified, described, named as a grouping of statements. For the most part, on average, in general (pick your platitude), people are in agreement regarding the statements that make up a curriculum. We could therefore explore the notion of solidarity in approaching curriculum and curriculum reform/reconceptualization. All interested parties have to have alignment of some kind to enact the curriculum as given; if there are changes to be made, the language of the curriculum must first begin in the old ways of speaking about the curriculum and gradually move to a newer, “better” language. Rorty (I think) uses the word better, and I will use it here too for lack of a better expression. One of the things I appreciate about the work Rorty does is that he does not necessarily say “This is the Truth” or “This is the way things are.” (This does not mean that he has handled all the criticism directed towards him and his ideas as well as you would hope.) What he does acknowledge is something along the lines of: “Here’s what I’ve come up with. I’ve read a lot of old books, consulted with the natural sciences and literatures, and talked with people and here’s what I’ve come up with. Let’s see what happens with what I’ve come up with. I don’t think what I’ve come up with is the best way, in fact I am sure of it. I really do hope someone comes along after me and thinks up something better, an easier or clearer way of figuring out the best way to do this thing called life and living.” (As an aside, thank goodness Rorty has passed away because I do not know if I would be okay with him reading the sentences above.)

Bringing it back to curriculum. We are never done, our work as philosophers and educators is never done. As humans we cannot help but make meaning, as educators we cannot help but teach and learn, and as philosophers we cannot stop asking questions. Drawing on my Quaker teaching roots for a moment: The Quakers have an interesting and novel approach to religious faith. They are (as far as I can tell) the only faith that does not believe that they have a monopoly on the Truth, or a monopoly on God. They actively encourage members (or Friends) to engage with other faiths because they know and acknowledge that they cannot be the “chosen ones.” Curriculum will never be settled. It will always be in debate, we will always be recreating it. No one has a monopoly on curriculum.

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