DSM: An observation...

From: Darren Stanley (rds1@ualberta.ca)
Date: Sun Mar 03 2002 - 14:41:15 EST


Dear DSM Group,

I have been most amused by various discussions since i joined this listserv
about a month ago. And, here are some things that I have observed.

1. On some occasions, I have noticed that some people ask for information
or clarrification of ideas.
2. Some useful discussions on various topics;

But, I have also observed (buckle up...point #3 is long!):

3. A lot of postings and responses to postings where people are arguing
over definitions and meanings of words - as if they could be so easily
pinned down. To be clear, I am not some post-modernist adhering to the idea
that words are inherently unstable and can mean so many different things.
No. The world does change and so do the things that we understand about it.
So, words do change. But, also, in the present moment words also mean many
different things.

Take for example, dsitinctions that people want to make about school and
education. And, how do people attempt to make such distinctions?
Sometimes, a list of criteria is made, and if a particular "thing" does not
meet one of the criterion it fails to be that thing. This is not always a
helpful way of identifying or labelling the world. It's fine, if we are
trying to categorize some machine. But, machines are simple objects. Some
may be complicated, but it is possible know everything about their parts and
how they interrelate, and hence what the thing and how it works.

However, complex phenomena like language, culture, social organizations,
economic markets, and so on, can not be understood in the same manner. Not
only is our own perception of such things partial, in that we can only
*perceive* certain things about them, but more times than not, how teh thing
emerges cannot be determined. this is to say, there is nothing behind the
phenomenon. Let's put this differently:

Schools are not just a collection of things: students, teachers, books,
classrooms, principal, gymnasium, pencils, notebooks, lockes, etc. Not only
would such a list be incomplete, it would never be a school. A school
emerges from the innumerable complex interactions that unfold in every
moment.

My point I want to make is that schools and education are complex social
phoneomena.

Pointing to what others have to say as if they were authorities is also
problematic. Somehow it suggests that one ought to defer to the authority
of someone else who "knows better". Again, how is it that *that* person
might know "better". It also suggests to me that to defer to someone else
the answering of a question not only relieves us of taking any responsiblity
to *reason* (which I do not take to be the only means of thinking about and
relating to the world - in fact, I think that human beings are not overly
good are reasoning, except in particularly easy cases, most often relying
upon mathematical logic to make justifications for arguments), but that
making such a deference to others also carries with it the possibility of
giving power to others (bad metaphorical device, but I thnk I will be
understood). I forget who said it, but the thought has stuck with me: "The
reason why people in power have it is because we give it to them."

So..deferring to others for particular meanings of words is also
problematic.

What I also wonder about...I do a lot of wondering...is how is it that
people on this list *know* about education and schools and schooling? For
those of you who claim to understand schools, how do you know that? Is it
enough to say that "Well...I went to school from kindergarden to grade 12.
I've seen a lot about schools." Has such a person? What about the teacher
who teaches many years at some school? Does s/he understand what schools
are all about? The understanding of parents who base their understanding on
the reports that they hear from other parents, their children and report
crads and school meetings? And so on...No one understanding will be enough.
This is a phenomenological concern. It requires paying attention to the
thing itself. Even then, it is still not possible to understand the thing,
and any sort of intellectualizing and dissection of a complex phenomenon
will never be enough.

Schools are also not machines. Some might speak of them as if they were.
That is, some use particular metaphors to describe the thing (e.g., schools,
education). These things change, evolve, adapt and so on. They may do so
slowly. Poorly. *Seemingly* never. But all species of plant and animal,
and ecosystem and the planet did not evolve and change overnight. Some took
longer. Some adapted poorly. Some weren't able to adapt. More
importantly, such things cannot be controlled from the top. Change comes
when enough individuals at the bottom can act in concert to bring forth
something different. Is that not how SVS got started? (It's a very
simplistic view, I realize, but no one in power started/created SVS, right?
I need to read soem more on the history of SVS...)

In summary, this collection of thoughts and observations makes me wonder,
"What do people think 'knowledge' is?" Is it static, inert, stable? like a
machine that can be know, and when we bring all of the parts together, the
thing can be know in its entirety?

Cheers,

Darren Stanley

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