From Doomberg – “Wide Awake”

From Doomberg – “Wide Awake”

More wary prescience from Doomberg, worth sharing here for its plea to raise the level of discourse.

Their succinct article about science and culture and overwrought assurance stirs a discussion echoed more than once on The Rhetorical WHY about perspective and pride and rush to judgment.

But this is no bottle episode, and you’ll need to commit some thorough attention of your own to reading other posts… here and here, say, and here and here, and here, and here – and here – and of course here, and even here. And, for good measure, here, and here and here.

A lot of people seem to value healthy scepticism and critical thinking. Yet if one motive for critical thinking, scepticism, and counterargument is the promise offered by free thinking, rigour, and greater precision, then surely another motive, very different, must speak for itself when a predilection for fear stifles debate. And with the chance to speak long enough, fear can become a way of thinking, and a way of being. This matters because fear is destructive; therefore, this ought to matter to everyone. This is more than just easy-blame cancel culture, with its fear of consequence. This is something more inherent, a clash of traits, or of perspectives.

Meanwhile, enjoying the creature comforts of ideological self-assurance… well, like delusion, hubris has reason like no other. As for do-gooders and creeping incrementalism… where often there’s courage found in selfless advocacy, where is there advocacy found in self-expressive purity? Where choice is irreconcilable, we may one day sigh and be sorry we abandoned what would have made all the difference.

Enacting ‘The WHY’

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Click here to read Decisions, Decisions

To borrow an earlier phrase, teaching is not a matter of act but a matter of character. Someone may already agree with this before understanding what I mean.

The previous post considered decisions arrived at with phronesis, practical wisdom – an acuity of discernment and a benevolence in the weighing of options, something we might generalise more simply as savvy good will. Where ‘savvy’ is internal, note with care that ‘good will’ is inclusive: others as well as you.

And if that’s somehow alarming, because not everyone is your friend, then note with added relief that practical wisdom is something we can exercise in concert with healthy scepticism. I say we can because, of course, not everybody does. On the other hand, the reverse is equally true: we can exercise our scepticism. Either way, we implicate education, things people profess to know, and teaching.

So then… a matter of character and, specifically, teachers. Practical wisdom informing decisions is a nuanced thing: why to act, why under the present circumstances to pick ‘this’ decision over ‘that’ one, the kind of nuance that we often call ‘the why’. Of course, every question asked, “Why… ?” is answerable as some sought-after outcome, the corollary “Because… ,” and ‘why’ might be offered in different ways at different times. Where there may be some clever reason to withhold ‘the why’ and keep people wondering, surely any such decision would be good will at its savvy best, lasting only as long as necessary.

But this continual reasoned weighing of possible outcomes is, in very large part, the daily work of teaching. Justifying each decision is arguably the greatest professional responsibility teachers face. So where some chosen course is the outcome of practical wisdom, then maybe let’s consider this to be meaningful teaching.

The continual reasoned weighing of possible outcomes is, in very large part, the daily work of teaching.

Something curious here… where ‘course’ often means Social Studies or Math as we commonly say “course,” in this case it means something like a path, that decision taken to follow ‘this’ way over ‘that’ as we aim for some objective or goal, i.e. some chosen course.

Note further that “curriculum” derives from currere, which likewise suggests a flow or path to be run, as we might say “a race course” or a river that “runs its course.” Curriculum is coming from somewhere, and heading somewhere, and in between these, it’s dynamic and influential upon encountering whatever’s already there. Add one bonus mark if you’re now also noticing a temporal past-present-future quality, but for me, the relationship most central to curriculum, far less abstract than tangible and personal, is the one between teacher and student because they’re finally the ones who not only face each decisional fork-in-the-course, whether ‘this’ way or ‘that’, but also they’re the ones who finally take action as well.

More colloquially, you may have heard curriculum described as what teachers teach, ‘the what’. If so, then you may also have heard curriculum paired up with pedagogy, ‘the how’, but these simplifications really do little to convey their complexities, much less their concerted interconnectivity, much less their significance within the holistic scope of school and education, where a lot is going on all at once. Overall, of curriculum and pedagogy, I might say it this way… the better we know someone, the more meaningful our interactions become, and I wonder if curriculum and pedagogy, as two concepts, are better considered as one.

For now, though, for space and sanity, I’m satisfied to describe curriculum as relational – ‘what we do with someone else’ – which has a lot to do with abiding respect and time spent together – and pedagogy as purposeful – ‘what we do for someone else’ – which has mainly to do with motives and objectives. On behalf of others as well as themselves, teachers must know with whom, for whom, and up against whom they might be taking action as well as what such action might look like when they take it and, finally, who will likely be paying the cost.

On that note, I haven’t even addressed power and authority, which of course are also central considerations to this broader relational concept – that last emphasis being my way to ask whether the common phrase ‘of course’ means anything more for you now than it did before.

So… a matter of character, practical wisdom? …remind me again how we arrived here? One last thing I should probably mention, the previous post was an obliquely political critique since, for all their connection to policy and legislation, the branches of politics just hang so low that, honestly, who can resist but be tempted. But true to healthy scepticism, any take on practical wisdom can probably do better than those posturing purveyors of politics, and me being a teacher, and nothing whatsoever political about school and education… well, therein the physician must minister to himself, I guess, and besides, you could always go start a blog of your own.

Seriously, which seems harder to sustain: being persuasive or being in control?

They’re obviously not, but say those were really the only two choices: which work would you rather be doing? How would you prefer to spend your efforts? Because wouldn’t that tell us something more about you.

Decisions, Decisions

Featured Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

Where margins are thought of as something like the political left or right, I wonder whether Aristotle would have us default to a more centred position. I can hear him now… the centre as a virtuous place to dwell, and then the margins, which gradually tend to widen toward greater vice, be it a deficiency of too little or an excess of too much.

In fairness, I suspect he’d also grant that pushing and pulling from the margins is what steers the middle course, as in the margins are essential – albeit within the strictures of “a certain principled inflexibility” by which a centred majority maintains its stability. As such, any move from the centre would seem to oblige careful consideration of multiple perspectives and possible outcomes on behalf of everybody by which, really, I mean everybody.

But, as more people come to critique the milquetoast middle – do-nothings whose tolerance is negligence by omission – more people tend to vacate the central fringe. The margins populate and steer more massive moves – more volatile moves – in what must come to resemble the anomie of culture war.

At this point, I am assuming readers cast the stage with a host of their favourite players… and yes, well, need I say more.

From the centre, Aristotle would suggest, what can help a decision to vacate the middle for a margin is phronesis, our practical wisdom, which resides within us as a simultaneous dynamic: an acuity of discernment and a benevolence in the weighing of options, exercised in a process he called praxis, a committed act of doing informed by reflective thinking. In an instance of vacating the centre, practical wisdom – yours, mine, anybody’s – could help determine at the given moment which margin to favour for a particular reason.

And, as I said, if we’re right to inform any such decision by accounting for more than one perspective, then our so-called ‘best’ decisions would seem to be our most informed decisions, irrespective of an eventual outcome… albeit with a certain flexibility of principle to be weighed by pragmatics – ‘practical’ wisdom, remember? We’re not wisdom machines.

You wouldn’t believe how many spheres on Google seem to be there thanks to math.

So here let’s grant margins beyond the fatuous dichotomy of political left and right. In fact, let’s think of anyone’s centred position as open in every direction to a sphere of infinite margins, where any one direction is uniquely no other, no matter how near or distant another margin may be: for some, this is nuance; for others, pedantic babbling and, for those, I have but two words: perspicacious circumspection. Ah-ha yes, well… for someone located in the centre, listening seems virtuous, too.

All this is not a matter of act but a matter of character. Practical wisdom informing decisions is a nuanced thing: why to act, why under the present circumstances to choose ‘this’ margin and not ‘that’ one. This kind of nuance we often call ‘the why’, and it’s distinctly different from some marginal course change that evacuates the centre – the latter strictly an outcome, the former a reasoned weighing of possible outcomes. In so many words: when a chosen course is an outcome of practical wisdom, it’s not the other way-round. But nuance is anathema to ideology whereas stupid is as stupid does.

When logic rests upon a false ‘either/or’ dilemma, act supersedes wisdom, and criticism can only be aimed at outcome because decision – while not entirely removed from our responsibility – is severely curtailed: your false dilemma is my ultimatum.

Character suffers at the hands of dogma, and if he were around today, I can only speculate that Aristotle would feel a little hard done by for being so alone. It’s never easy being the silent minority, not when your silence is really just a drowned out appeal that goes unheard.

Click here to read Enacting ‘the WHY’

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