Long Line: Some tools to help us be

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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Some tools to help us be

Returning to Rorty’s phrase “lay down” when he refers to seemingly fixed dichotomies, I want to borrow this phrase and use it to set aside the past. In this way, I am calling on the metaphor of “cognitive tools” that Kieran uses in discussing his approach to educating. What I find fascinating, and quite helpful from time to time, is thinking of the many constructs we have that exist in language and what it would mean, what would be possible, were we to see what these constructs actually are: words and ideas, imaginings. Above we talked about how the “past” is not a locating or a space, a thing or an object. But when we speak about it as such, it occurs to us (it is) an object. If we see our languaging as a tool to “get at” something, that changes the nature of the conversation altogether.* What would it be like to not draw from the past? What would it be like to act to create or invent from nothing? What if the past was not determining the now or the next?

I see many of the concepts and topics I have discussed thus far as tools to assist me in “getting at” or in “accessing” being, the being of humans and of beings. For example, one of the troubles I have with Zaffron and Logan’s “laws” is the language that they use: (1) How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them; (2) How a situation occurs arises in language; and (3) Future-based language transforms how situations occur to people. But, if I set aside my qualms with their wording, these three ideas/statements can be used to talk about a thing that really is not a thing and truly defies naming and description. (I think this is why many find Heidegger and being/ontology so difficult.) Let me try a few rewrites on these statements. How we are in a situation is given by the language that we (attempt to) use to describe the situation. If we want to change something, we have to change the language we use to speak and think about the something (situation). They say future-based, but I would like to adopt directionality, a speaking into the future, transforms the present.**

Zaffron and Logan’s statements help to access being; they discuss how people perform and how organization perform, but what I think it critical is that performing (in their language) is really about being. I am feeling the need for an example so I will call on Julie the bad math student to help. Taking the three statements through Julie’s situation: (1) How Julie performs on her math quiz correlates to how the situation (her being bad at math) occurs to her; (2) This occurring for Julie (and others) is accessible via the language that is used in and around the situation; (3) Future-based language can transform how “math” and “the math quiz” occur to Julie. I think we have pretty well covered #1 and #2 above, but I want to expand on #3. I am going to enter into a realm of conjecture for this piece, but then, the whole story is fabricated anyway. I would assume that Julie has arrived at the conclusion “I am bad at math” based on some prior experience (e.g. bad feelings in math class, conversations with parents, low test scores, and so on), and I doubt many would argue with this assumption. Where we need to turn our attention to is on choices that Julie made within herself as she processed and made sense of her previous experiences with math. For example, on the last math quiz she received an 83%, or a C. Julie absorbs this situation as “I got a C on my math quiz because I am bad at math.” And here we have causality again. “I got a C” = “Bad at math.” Now, what I want to do is pull these two pieces, these two parts, apart: “I got a C” and “I am bad at math.” One is “what’s so” or “what happened” or “what has occurred.” The other is a self-created meaning that can be analyzed, reexamined, and transformed. What’s so? Julie got a C. What is the meaning that Julie assigned to getting a C? That she is bad at math. One does not automatically cause the other.

How situations occur give us who we are being in the situation. If Julie is being “I am bad at math” then the given situation, the context, becomes “bad at math.” What if we helped Julie let go of the previous math quiz and the meaning she has assigned to it? What if Julie could approach math (either a class, or the next quiz) as being someone who is confident in her math abilities? What would that being look, talk, and act like? What would become possible if there was a shift in who Julie was being in relation to math?***

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* Disclaimer: I am not totally comfortable with the language of cognitive tools. Where are the emotions and the body in this? Yes they are at the foundation, and I could make the argument that these understandings are all, in some way, cognitive, but I do not think that all else can necessarily be collapsed into “cognition” in the same way that I do not think language can be collapsed into being.
** Here again I feel the need to reiterate that I do not think it is just about the speaking and the language. I think the language helps, but it is not the being itself. They do not equalize, they are not one in the same. I do not think.
*** A quick note on Julie’s past. For the above example, we looked at just one of her past experiences with math. For this endeavor (a journey into Julie’s being with math), we would have to work on a bit more with her past in addition to one bad quiz encounter.

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