The Force May Be With You

Elsewhere, I’ve discussed a threefold conceptualisation of time:

  • chronos, the ticking clock of linear time
  • kairos, the fleeting moment, a singular point in time
  • aion, boundless or infinite, “the fulfillment of time” (Baumlin, p. 155)
Image by Gustavo Rezende from Pixabay

Baumlin offers an image for aion, the uroboros, which is paradoxical for being finite, the serpent swallowing its tail. In concert, he suggests, these three concepts comprise a “spatial-temporal sequence… from point, to line, to circle” (p. 155) that can seem both time and place, what we might call setting, which is a curious way to consider eternity.

Into this setting we’re born to live and die, and if that seems a bit morbid, then let’s turn to something more uplifting, like Hannah Arendt, who wrote that people “are not born in order to die but in order to begin” (Arendt, p. 246). Death would be the end of us except that each new generation comes along, not only to sustain and maintain but also to begin anew. Birth interrupts death and renews the world.

At birth, Arendt suggests, we arrive into a world already underway, a kairos moment in chronos time. Growing up with parents, surrounded by culture, we come to feel somewhat defined by this world that precedes us, by what has been carried forward from the past. Arendt calls this our belatedness and then, pointing bluntly to education, poses an alternative that she calls our natality. As part of the world underway, our belatedness can be outweighed by the promise of natality, an encouragement to look toward the future at our potential to be something more, something different.

Of course, like any application, details lie in context – time and place, the people involved. What is potential for some is conflict for others, or maybe impossible. Set against belatedness, natality can pose a paradox that leaves us feeling discouraged, even paralysed. The force may be with you, but yeah… hard to know, really. Always in motion is the future.

By the same turn, if we’re not encouraged toward the future but simply expected to carry on what’s been brought forward from the past – stifling our potential, frustrating our promise – we may be again left feeling discouraged, or complacent, or in any event dissatisfied, perhaps without even understanding why. Anyone marginalised by such continuance may simply remain that way. Meanwhile, a continual obligation to steward beginnings can come to feel like weary efforts at futility – again, the paradox of natality.

Stewardship of any new arrival to the known world demands a dose of self-awareness and the restraint of long patience – with thanks to Fitzgerald, the capacity to keep in mind two separate ideas while still being able to function.

So, if “our thinking and behaviour are determined by the systemic structure, independent of our particular place in it” (Sarason, p. 29)… even as that singular perspective matters, we need to see beyond mere individuality. And if we’re all part of something larger, more populous, then our coming to know other people can help us begin to appreciate the motives behind their decisions, or at least help us to realise – if we’re honest – that there’s probably more we don’t yet understand. As this accounts for size or scope – something larger, more populous – so it also accounts for time – past, present, future – which is a curious way to consider character and growth and relationships. Maybe that’s why we decided to call it education.

Common Ground

“…a world without bias would be flat and dull and monotonous,” so if you think this pic is oversaturated, maybe the world has too much bias… or could it be you simply see a world with too much bias?

Photo Credit: analogicus on Pixabay

Click here to read On Bias
Click here to read Crossed Purposes

On Bias: Epilogue. Common Ground

Look at the feature photo, with its glowing colours and rays of magical sunlight, etc etc.

Someone might argue that a certain ‘bias’ is partial to the orange-red colours on the left side while another certain ‘bias’ is partial to the lush green on the right. Even to suggest Fall and Spring is merely my interpretation, and you’d be free to take it or leave it. And fair enough, which is really the point: all of this is simply chocolate-vanilla, everyone with their own preference, which is the broader point I’ve been making: everybody is biased. It’s a trait we all have in common. Not whether you prefer Fall to Spring or vice-versa or even something else, not even about this particular photo because maybe you prefer Winter or Summer, or maybe you prefer real roads in real forests versus photographed roads in photo-shopped forests. But whatever it is you or I or anyone prefers, we each lay claim to our own.

Then we support our claims… as I mention in the photo caption, someone might argue that the colours are just too saturated, that this photo has been edited to make those rays of sunshine seem almost heavenly or something. In my English class, I might have supported this by noting that the photo is taken from the ground-level, not the treetops, or I might have pointed out how the road curves, suggesting some lack of omniscience, as if we can only remember out-of-sight places we’ve been or imagine not-yet-in-sight places we’re going – whatever, it doesn’t matter. Since the photo editor isn’t likely in the room with us anyway, the specific interpretation is not the point so much as simply having an interpretation at all.

We interpret at all because we’re biased, and interpreting is a step in learning. If you don’t value learning, stop reading now, and sorry to have used up your time. But if you do value learning, if you’re curious as to what’s around that curve in the road ahead, then don’t stop here too long, just admiring the trees or basking in the glow: imagine, predict, and wonder, then interpret, then share, and listen and reflect and discuss. That is education. And then follow up further on your own. That is study: imagine, predict, and wonder some more, and come back to interpret, and share, and listen and reflect and discuss, then follow up further on your own… see how this works, this process of study and education and further study and further education?

One outcome of this process would not only be a pretty revealing insight into one’s own character but also the possible character of the photo editor who likely wasn’t even in the room with you:

  1. the editor is someone who values heavenly connection, or
  2. the editor is someone who wants to suggest they value heavenly connection, or
  3. the editor is someone who wants us to think they value heavenly connection, or
  4. the editor is someone who wants others to be reminded of heavenly connection, or
  5. the editor is someone who wants to…

We can’t know, of course, because even if the editor were in the room with us, they may withhold their particular motives behind this photo. Nevertheless, say we gather a sense of their previous editing work and build a case toward their possible motives in this case, from which we could suggest further possibilities: if (1), (2), (3), and (4) all happen to be true, the suggestion could be that the editor is someone who values heavenly connection. However, if only (3) by itself is true, the suggestion could be that what the editor values is not necessarily heavenly connection but rather the kind of impression they aim to lay upon others.

And on it goes, limited only by our imagination, suggestions about the possible interpretations any one of us may have about this decision by a photo editor regarding an element in a photo, each possible interpretation as revealing about we who interpret as about the editor we characterise or the photo we parse.

But bias is not the interpretation you have or even the interpretation you prefer after hearing a few, even if that amounts to Hmm, I’m not too sure just now; this is often attributed to us as our opinion, but bias is more than that. Bias is the plainer fact that – at every given moment – everyone will have some kind of interpretation. Bias is the nature in its entirety that one perspective exists distinctly from any others, the very nature that an individual occupies a vantage, a perch from which to perceive, a point-of-view that cannot be simultaneously occupied by another, except on Star Trek, but only shared with another. Bias is the finite oneness that is ‘you’, which cannot be ‘me’ or any ‘one’ else because we all each have this very same oneness. This finite limitation, this scope of ‘who I am’, this boundary that distinguishes ‘what is me’ from ‘what is not me’, and to which we each lay claim, this is our bias.

Our bias: we can inform it, we can expand it, we can manage our way within it, but we can neither eliminate it nor overcome it because we are not infinite. We might help ourselves feel better by telling each other, “No limits!” especially as this inspirational cheer salutes the fight against social injustice and cultural oppression, which is a current dominant motive, the sentiment of which to encourage and motivate people is appreciable. Yet having opened the door that this perspective opens, where it aims I fear is not where it ultimately leads: “No limits!” suggests infinite capability, which is literally impossible and, thereby, ironic. We are not infinite. We have limits, and the cheer “No limits!” may better be amended to “Educate and study!” But who’d ever shout that, much less put it on a placard or a t-shirt?

If the difference between ‘Our bias is our limitation’ and ‘Our limitation is our bias’ is one of perspective, then it’s also one of misunderstanding or perhaps even simply wishing away human characteristics.

I wrote about something close to this once before, where again a simple reversal of phrase is more than just clever word play. It’s literally about life and living and enacting who we are.

I don’t know why Bible Hub sets its Commentaries page with the King James version – it wouldn’t be my first choice translation, but they list 22 across the top of every page, so take your pick.

Crossed Purposes

Featured Photo Credit: Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

Click here to read Mixed Metaphors

If learning is a kind of renovation, does that make teaching hard hats, tool belts, and construction sites?

A teacher is a person in your neighbourhood although, no, this isn’t him.
Image Credit: PNGItem

No… for me, construction is definitely the wrong metaphor for teaching. That’s probably a good thing because renovations always end up being way more work than anyone planned, and anyway, I’ve got a whole roster of students to teach.

My own notion of teaching is about persuading people. And by persuasion, I mean presenting a sincere offer.

And what, you ask, makes a sincere offer?

No, not him either.

Humility, for starters, and simplicity… I found this meaningful, so I thought I’d share it because maybe you will too. Of course, the wellspring here is trust: the learner trusts the teacher, just like a teacher needs the learner’s trust if they’re to hold sincere attention. In education yet really in any circumstance, trust is the crux of relationships.

One way to imagine relationships is two-way traffic, which animates the familiar “two-way street.” The dynamics of transit – cars and pedestrians, movement and flow through intersections and traffic lights – it’s hardly a flawless metaphor for communication, but it gets the point across.

Photo Credit: Barcelona on Unsplash

And again, what flows beneath is trust. At a pedestrian-controlled stoplight, awaiting the signal, we eventually step off the curb, relying on drivers to halt their vehicles rather than driving through and running us down. Even naming these ‘pedestrian-controlled’ stoplights is an embellishment – a deferral, perhaps, to those really favoured in the equation. But surely a pedestrian who steps off the curb commits an act of faith by abrogating whatever control they had over their safety, first, to the signal’s proper functioning, second, to the driver’s respect for signals, and third, to the driver’s responsible operation of their vehicle. For that brief moment, a pedestrian entrusts their well-being to the driver’s motives and capabilities.

Great disciplinarian, or persuasive sophist? Surely no green light is just a friendly smile
Photo Credit: Eliobed Suarez on Unsplash

Revise that sentence a bit, and pedestrians might be students with their teacher in a classroom. And if the image is neither here nor there to learning-as-renovation and constructivism, it’s still all about trust because what’s really being put to the test by the student in that sentence are the motives and capabilities of the teacher in that classroom. Somewhere along the way, a teacher fosters in a student the inclination to like or dislike, heed or dismiss, trust or mistrust.

“… fosters the inclination” – I had to sit for a minute to come up with that one because I would have otherwise just said “persuade.” We can use the same word, but it can mean different things: the distinction I made about persuasion being a sincere offer… a teacher persuades, i.e. presents a sincere offer, each day, each class, each lesson. Then over time, as this happens again and again, that teacher persuades, i.e. fosters an inclination, in the student, which essentially becomes the essence of their ongoing relationship. Of course, two-way traffic is heading the other direction, too, as students foster inclinations in their teachers – there’s a post for another day because this one’s about teaching-as-persuasion.

In another classroom on another day, some teacher may have reason to teach less persuasively, not by sincere offer but by direct imperative, or whatever. Let this be since who’s so high-minded as to think they’ve figured things out for people in another classroom, and who’s so adamant as to levy their judgment upon the rest? Where’s your badge, traffic cop?

Giving the green-light, or the benediction?
Image Credit: wpclipart

And hey, I readily accede to ‘time and place’ – we all have our judgment. But as compared to telling and ordering and explaining and demanding, I’ve generally taken to communicating persuasively in my teaching because I’ve found, long-term, it helps to establish and maintain trust.

Alright then, communicating persuasively… what exactly is that? Well, for instance, I try to speak conscientiously, using a more precise vocabulary…

  • offer… instead of delivering a lesson, I offer a lesson
  • respond… as compared to answers, I offer and ask for responses
  • address… rather than solve a problem, I address an issue

Yeah, these seem kind of fluffy, but then again I usually keep all this to myself. A few more examples…

  • study rather than learn
  • meaningful as compared to effective
  • a quest instead of a journey
  • “I wonder” instead of “I think

If it all seems contrived and pretty pedantic – yes, well, it is definitely contrived. Over many years of life and teaching, I’ve begun to appreciate how the language we use not only reflects our thoughts but renovates them. If it follows from this that growth takes time and patience, then so must teaching take its time and be patient. Because sure, a word used once, today, will hardly make a difference beyond alienating yourself as a punctilious twit. But how about once today, this moment in time, every time? On the road to becoming who we are, how becoming is a prolonged conscientious use of language?

…process… [product] …process…
…time… [careful usage] …patience
becoming… who we are …becoming

Is it ever too late to start? That might better be stated, “It’s never too late to try” because it follows that “it’s never too late to change.”

– sorry, I know, this was about teaching-as-persuasion. Didn’t mean to get existential. Don’t get me wrong, I like learning and applying philosophy to my teaching. But when I’m busy in a classroom, with all those students renovating themselves, I’m in the driver’s seat, and my own tool belt is in the backseat, and I think reaching back for it is probably distracted driving… well, it’s hardly perfect trying to map out mixed metaphors with a word processor.

One last thing… I try to phrase things positively – so, for example, rather than “Don’t do this,” which is negative, I’d say, “Avoid doing this.” Again, it seems pedantic to a fault, but strictly solely for me, it amounts to discipline, practising and setting a frame-of-mind, and I don’t usually make a show of it.

Or actually, I have made a show of it, but in a context, ‘time and place’, because yes, I agree… it’s just so much tedious pedantry when asked of others. But it’s not like I’m out correcting people everywhere I go… no, that I reserved for students, on the basis of (a) trust and (b) See (a). I even warned them each September that I was setting out to brainwash them, but benevolently, and fairly, too, since here I was letting them know in advance. Plus, by encouraging them to agree or disagree, come what may, we’d both at least have something new to think about. Dare I say a few may actually have come to understand the point by June although, to what extent or meaning, I can only leave with them to decide.

The same goes for this here… I encourage each and every one to take it or leave it as you have and as you will. If teaching is about persuasion, then that’s about trust, and we’re probably right to understand education – that is, teaching plus learning – as a collaboration: as you do your part and not mine, the same goes for me, and then let’s see where that gets us.

Click here to read Common Ground

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