Long Line: On dispositions as ways of being

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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On dispositions as ways of being

Having just completed Dewey’s Democracy & Education for 901, I have experience on the mind. Also I am considering dispositions and the various others phrases/terms that are used to describe the phenomenon of “disposition.” Dewey uses disposition, mental attitude, mindset. I think I could make the argument for “frame” or “framework.” Vandenberg might appreciate something along the lines of “mood.” What I want to explore in this section is how we might redefine dispositions as ways of being to see what might happen, what might be made available that was not accessible with the position-based terminology.

The first question is whether or not “ways of being” could supplant dispositions? Or would it be better to supplement dispositions with ways of being? Ways of being are difficult to put into words, which makes it even more difficult to describe and distinguish. Ways of being are not simply ways of knowing, or acting, or doing; they are everything. For those of the cognitivist bent a way of being may be better grasped as an embodied frame of reference. It is pre-thought, pre-action, pre-pre-thinking even. If you are married, when you wake up in the morning you do not have to think “I am married”; you are married. As a male, I do not have to think about being a male; I am one. Knowing does not collapse into being. I can know a great deal about being a woman, but I will still not be a woman.

Pulling back and returning to education. Who is the being that is teaching? Who am I being such that my surroundings are occurring to me in the way that they are? As I write these questions and reflect back on whether or not I could collapse or combine dispositions with ways of being, there is a sense here that I cannot. Dispositions feels transitive, almost superficial. Superficial may be too harsh of a word, but I wanted to record that observation. Dispositions could almost be components of, an inkling towards, a leaning towards a way of being. If I have an empathetic disposition or a caring disposition, that does not necessarily imply that I am being empathetic or being caring. (Although, this is a bad example, I think it still gets at something.) Dispositions are occurring for me as verbs, action words, and this may be why they feel too transitive.

So if I cannot combine dispositions, what can ways of being give us access to? With a little work (see curriculum above, ha!), being able to speak at the level of being about being is powerful and “comes at” lived experience from a different direction and perspective than dispositions. Let me try another example. If I walk into a classroom to observe a teacher, I do not know how confident I would feel in identifying (visually, corporeally) specific dispositions within the teacher. My immediate gut reaction is -- How on earth do I know what is going on in her/his head? However, if I imagine stepping into the same room, a teacher’s way(s) of being would hit me as soon as I walked in. The way of being is in the air, the context, the atmosphere, the placement of desks, the physical (and emotional) stance of the teacher, the being-ness of the students. Ways of being are not static, they are dynamic and exist in the lived experience, but they are difficult to describe adequately in language.

A brief story to hopefully make my point clearer. A good friend was considering returning to graduate school to become a teacher. As we were discussing this hypothetical life-change, I asked him a few questions to get him speaking and thinking aloud about why he wanted to teach, what his relationships to students would be like, and so on. And, just as I referenced at the end of the previous paragraph, in his speaking, in the speaking of himself as being a teacher, it was not there. Nothing in his words, in the spaces between his words, were that of a teacher. This is difficult to describe. Could he get there? Get to a place where he could truly embody being a teacher? I think so. But, my hunch is that if you have to talk yourself into being a teacher, you probably are not that great of a teacher.

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