Archive for January, 2007

Why Siddharta?

January 21, 2007

It might be interesting to begin writing about the book before it’s even been read. The process of choosing a book is probably the most pivotal part of the experience, at least for the book in question. It seems simple enough, without its being chosen a book will not be read.

I think the theme of the book as written on its back cover (“The true profession of man is to find his way to himself.”) is something I’ve thought a little about recently and I’d like to explore the ideas of “way” and “self” a little further.

Preface to Questioning Technology

January 19, 2007

Ever entered in the middle of a conversation? You can only keep quiet and wonder. Questioning Technology is the third in a series from Feenberg. Reading the Preface I get the impression he’s talking to someone and, well, I’m not that guy.

Feenberg conceives of a "terrain of struggle between different types of actors differently engaged with technology and meaning." For him, technologies "include their contexts as these are embodied in design and social insertion." I don’t know if that makes sense. How much of Feenberg’s meaning rests on an understanding of the concepts he rejects? What Feenberg is proposing is a concept of technology that empowers users.

A generous philosopher giving us the power to reform our world, Feenberg writes:

Real change will come not when we turn away from technology toward meaning, but when we recognize the nature of our subordinate position in the technical systems that enroll us, and begin to intervene in the design process in the defense of the conditions of a meaningful life and a livable environment.

Questioning Technology is, according to its author, "an account of the radical political roots of non-essentialism, and a direct challenge to major thinkers in the philosophy of technology." As I’m not a major thinker in…, the feeling of showing late to a conversation in full swing… it’s not just a feeling.

In the Preface Feenberg goes a step too far. He hands over the question of the social control of technology and then says, "it may someday provide a theme around which the left can articulate a utopian vision of a redeemed modernity." It may, perhaps, but it’s more likely that, as utopian politics became identity based, the politics of technology will be sector based. It’s a mistake to give power with an expectation of how it will be used. Ironically that’s Feenberg’s argument; that technology will be used as needed and desired, nothing is simply given.

Chapter 13: Unteachable Students

January 12, 2007

I don’t know if I’m going to read any more of this book anytime soon. This is the pattern I’ve followed for years. I read a chapter that interests me, an introduction or preface, and then put the book down for another. I have a hard time reading books like this. Books that are literally summed up by their title. I am, however, well into Questioning Technology, although I’ve yet to write a word, I am enjoying it. Coincidentally, A Critique of Cynical Reasoning came in the mail yesterday, and from the initial flip-through, it also deals with the events of Paris 1968. Connections like that excite me. Just as an aside, the preface of Questioning Technology is all you really need to read to understand where Feenberg is going with his argument, but I haven’t stopped reading yet, and I’m sure it’s because there’s a depth in Questioning Technology’s argument that just isn’t there in Hold on to your kids. I’m also going to write up a couple chapters from the Education Reader. Another book I don’t think I’ll finish. Maybe I will. I am thinking about something here. I react strongly to certain ideas. I just turn away in frustration. Like in some paper this week sometime, there was a headline, something like How Canadian Are You? Under the headline there were two portraits. I can’t go into any more detail, because I don’t have anymore. The sight of this was enough. It’s an involuntary response. Some sort of thought exists on my part I’m sure, but I don’t bring myself to the point of confronting “How Canadian Are You? Under headline … two portraits.” The same thing happens with books like the Education Reader, that’s the word — confrontation. Maybe I should confront these ideas. I don’t have the time. I mean I’m already about 6 chapters behind in my write-ups here. You see I’m thinking out loud. … … I’ll add another book to the list, another parenting/education book. I think it’s called Kids are worth it. If I find that How Canadian are you? article, maybe I’ll write about that too. I don’t know what I’d write, I’m serious about the frustration. It’s a wordless reaction. Of the same sort I get looking through the Education Reader. Hold on to Your Kids and Kids are Worth it, are a different sort of frustration. If I read a chapter here and there, while reading other more enjoyable books between, I’ll eventually get through them. There’s something there in the struggle to read these books. I’m hoping. I read Kids are worth it over 4 years ago and couldn’t today tell you one thing about the book. That’s not completely true. It is a parenting/teaching book. I mention this because Hold on to your kids is the same genre. As someone who’s been a classroom teacher and who plans on once again teaching in a classroom, I’ve seen that these books make their way, or at least one idea makes its way around teachers lounge. And that’s the idea that parenting and student success are linked. Teaching in the best of situations is never easy. (That teaching is situational says something) But sometimes it is tougher than others, and when it’s real tough, parents aren’t much help. The problem with these parenting/teaching books is that they set the preparation for learning in the home. And when kids fail, the parents have failed.

In Chapter 13: Unteachable Students we read that a “shift in the attachment patterns of our children has had profoundly negative implications for education.” The authors go on,”Until relatively recently teachers were able to ride on the coattails of a strong adult orientation engendered by culture and society.” Now the title of this chapter names a category of student that doesn’t really exist (All children are teachable.), and that’s troublesome. It’s troublesome that our schools do nothing, read that they can do nothing for children so categorized. There are books written for everyone. Whatever you believe you can find validated in print. And here in Chapter 13 of Hold on to your kids teachers can validate their feeling that some kids are unteachable. They can read that they are not totally responsible for the education of children, because parents and all other adults who come in contact with children and shape society are also responsible. The way of thinking, the concepts out of which Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté create concepts are so simple they can’t possibly be mapped onto any reality. There’s a kind of defeated idealism at work here. Maybe I’ll come back to this later.

Have we met somewhere before?

January 9, 2007

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Have we met somewhere before?

Your past and future exist only as concepts. The confusion of a projected image’s place in the timeline of your life, lends some genuineness to the old line.

Chapter 13: Issues of Language and Power

January 8, 2007

Victoria Purcell-Gates is the author of Chapter 13. Her research could be used to prove that schools as they function today don’t work. In a nutshell, children who learn to read at home read in schools and children who come from non-reading homes don’t learn to read at school. What does that say? Schools exercise preexisting concepts.

There are problems with making general statements about education. There is a situational looseness in which the system is expressed very differently simultaneously, sometimes within the same space. Not only are all schools different, all teachers are different, as are all students, so in one classroom two students could have near opposite affective experiences with the same teacher. To say that our schools are failing to educate, doesn’t resonate with people who’ve had positive educational experiences. Teachers are in a position where their failure can be transferred to students. Teachers do their job and students fail or succeed. Statements against our system of educating, are often refuted with tales of teachers or students. Everyone has been to school and your particular experience may be at odds with the general idea that the system isn’t working, but predicting which kids fail or succeed is easy work, and the factors are found outside the school.

Purcell-Gates, I’m just going to ignore her political-correctness for now, offers two suggestions for what teachers can do to actually live up to their name.

  1. believe students can learn
  2. teach in the students language

What I like about this article is Purcell-Gates point her finger in the right direction. If students aren’t learning teachers need to do something. She writes,

“This crucial beginning stance on the part of teachers will help ensure that any failure in the achievement of these children will lead to an examination of their instruction and not a shrugging off of their futures.”