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.

Turnabout is Fair Game

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What happened to Gamestop was just as manipulative and false in the ‘save’ direction as being crushed in the ‘zero’ direction, and the ends attempting to justify the means is hypocrisy.

Have you seen this? You must have seen it, or else you heard something, I’m sure.

What this subreddit crew did was give hedge funds a taste of their own medicine, yet if you can imagine, they also put the people at Gamestop, and AMC, and BlackBerry too, into awkwardly middle positions they undoubtedly never asked to find themselves, to face grave uncertainty they definitely never expected, the likes of all this being rather unprecedented. The lives and livelihoods of those company people were taken for a joyride, which seems detached from what the redditors were out to defend.

Where some Wall Street practice is questionable, doesn’t it remain questionable when practised by anybody else, likewise? Robbing the rich to give to the poor… it does have that certain romance, doesn’t it? Even so… ask yourself whether it comes justifiably at Gamestop’s expense. Gamestop and these other companies, it seems to me, already shorted and suffering, were basically used.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

All this began with a tweet from Chamath Palihapitiya, if I’ve understood the news correctly, which was answered by followers who must have thought how clever it would be to stop the hedge fund game this way. [*NB as of Feb. 03, 2021: read here a little more about the origins of this incident.] With no one from these ‘saved’ companies having a say, no one asking Gamestop’s permission, but simply hoisting them up onto heroic shoulders of retail… surely this would become momentum trading at its finest. Incidentally, I watched a live interview with Chamath Palihapitiya on CNBC while the Gamestop action was churning away on January 27 – it was truly fascinating television – and I will say that Palihapitiya stuck to a thesis that was clear and detectable in every statement he made. Also note that whether you agree with his thesis is beside the point that he had one and stuck to it.

Several times Palihapitiya explained what he’d ‘bought’ with his involvement. He said he’d learned more about the redditors – the range of who comprises their community, and the various motives they have. And he said he’d come to see more clearly the need for total transparency by all market participants – institutional as well as retail – if it’s to be an equitable venue for trade. As for me, I knew nothing about Palihapitiya before today and found him compelling and persuasive and, from his position, fully able to let anchor Scott Wapner dig himself deep into a hole with a +1 spade of ignorance. That was my interpretation, anyway, with no real dog in the fight – watch and judge for yourself.

Historically, the culture of the stock market has changed over time, particularly as the modes, tools, and products of investment and trading change with the times. Meanwhile, liars, grifters, and cheaters have always posed a problem; stock markets simply provide them a more sheltered, organised venue in which to ply their trade. But that’s no indictment of stock markets and honest practice; rather, it’s a call to regulators and enforcement officers, and an appeal to the measures of esteem and self-control by which any participant is willing to conduct themselves – and by ‘any’, of course, I mean ‘every’. In another context, I might well agree that some hedge fund is managed by a$$holes who deserve their come-uppance. However, the concern remains about Gamestop being taken up and used, and this remains whether hedge funds are right or wrong – even Palihapitiya didn’t address this question to my satisfaction.

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In a world with no hedge funds or shorts, saving Gamestop rests with Gamestop, full stop. What’s been demonstrated by the redditors as the power of ‘the people united who’ll never be defeated’ is the power of mob mentality. In fact, what actually happened to Gamestop was just as manipulative and false in the ‘save’ direction as being crushed in the ‘zero’ direction, and the ends attempting to justify the means is hypocrisy. That so much support of the r/wallstreetbets trading action doesn’t reflect that Wall is a two-way street suggests to me a position equally destructive for being equally one-way, just coming from another direction. One wonders if this game of chicken is, or ever really was, about Gamestop at all.

Somewhere along the way, this incident made me think that Occupy Wall Street had finally found a concrete objective which, you’ll recall, so few were able to assign ten years ago. I’m fully against the avarice of shorting more stock than exists, especially in the name of “our pensioner clients” and so forth… yet even as I can read that and roll my eyes, the defence of r/wallstreetbets – good intentions and all – is just as misguided. The road to hell with good intentions or, as some redditors have even said to Wall Street, be careful what you wish for.

What it Was is What it Is: I Don’t Know What Else to Say

At the same school, in the same department, for so long… eventually I found what seemed to be some effective teaching strategies and stuck with those, but boy it took a while. There’s been more than one teacher to have offered something like an apology, half-joking, half rueful, to all those early students, who were basically guinea pigs while we figured ourselves out in the classroom. I mentioned this in a paper for a graduate course and earned the critique of “triumphalism” – feedback from the professor, which I took as a suggestion to go ahead and “problematize my assumptions,” to use the lingo. In the moment, I bristled, the new kid in town learning how to be part of the academy, wondering what exactly had prompted my professor to claim with such certainty the question of my certainty.

Maybe I’ll just mention, since I’ve brought it up… I’ve since found the academy has an endemic logical pitfall all its own, an oddly hypocritical veneer of uncertainty: “All knowledge is provisional.” Post-modernism at its finest? Indeed, who can really say.

In all seriousness, though, and fairness, I grant the aim of the sceptical outlook. Heck, I try to possess one – healthy scepticism, to guard against arrogance and narrow thinking (… and innovation too, come to think of it, although that one maybe for another time). I value Socratic humility, which I ultimately decided not to call Socratic ignorance, and try to model it although how successfully I can’t say – especially not *joking-slash-rueful* back in those early days. So when someone with expertise in curriculum and teaching theory lay triumphalism at my feet, I thought to myself, Well, at least I ought to consider it. And I did.

And I do, and I still am. That reflective side of critique, the side you get from being on the receiving end, it can help us spot our assumptions and our shortcomings. I suspect the whole point was simply to light a fire within me. And hey, I’ve gone and written this, haven’t I? And hey, if settling into some effective teaching strategies weren’t triumphalist and undesirable, that would probably encourage complacency among teachers, or possibly even stagnation. On the other hand, after so long teaching in the same department at the same school, I suspect there’s more than one teacher who’s ended up feeling like part of the woodwork. Certainly, for me, as I’m sure for the students, there was a marked difference between me, the new guy, and me five, ten, fifteen years later. Then again–

Looking back, now, at what I called “effective”… it rounds out as, well, effective because what happened happened that way – nothing’s perfect, but all considered, my students seemed broadly to have learned what they felt were some useful things. The classroom years I spent, developing as I did to reach the point I reached, came about from the feedback I received each day, each term, as students and I came together lesson upon lesson, class after class. Details along the way, course evaluations I asked students to complete each June, reports back from post-secondary adventuring… there are always issues to address along with encouragements to appreciate, and I admit: no grand theory did I have in mind, as though I were contributing to the historical record. I just wanted to make things better for kids the following year, which eventually I think I was able to do.

Where I gave thought to improving my teaching was (a) relative to myself, (b) on behalf of my students, (c) in the context of my school. At least, that was what I thought when I was teaching. In that respect, what can I possibly say now, looking back, as to what might have been apart from what did be? I had to do something. And my life was never going to be any less full or busy or complicated than it turned out to be, so in all sincerity I did what I could. Eventually, it seemed to work out pretty well. Effectively.

Look, if somebody did celebrate triumphantly, in the classroom, facing the students, day in day out… ? What an ass! As it was, for those students who did find my teaching effective in this way or that, or worse, for those who didn’t – did I leave them with some suggestion that I basked in triumphant glow? I hope not. Like I said, I eventually found and stuck with what I thought worked, and that took years. Meanwhile, that’s the job. Isn’t it?

For me, the professor’s criticism, in whatever light it was offered, reflects more upon her embrace of uncertainty (presumably the academic embrace I described above) than it does upon my curricular relationships when I was teaching. And I heed the lesson, not for the first time in my career, that sitting in judgment of others can be a difficult perch.

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