Grad Idea 2003-04 Forum


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Thoughts after 10 Sept meeting
Name: Corey Shda
Date: 2003-09-11 20:52:23
Link to this Comment: 6447

I left our discussion, which ended pretty much on time but rather abruptly, feeling a bit like Paul described when he said something about a bathrobe after one of our GIF discussions. Perhaps after teaching for 2 hours and coming straight into our discussion I was not as articulate as I could have been so I'd like to add a few thoughts.

First of all, I think it would be accurate to say that at this point in my teaching career I still sometimes feel as though I have others "looking over my shoulder." Usually this is when I am preparing for class or ruminating after class, although during class I usually find myself caught up in the discussion -and all my classes are run discussion rather than lecture style, despite the fact that some of the folks I imagine looking over my shoulder don't advocate teaching this way!

But I don't think that it's always a bad thing to think of how others would view my teaching, particularly if there is something that I am struggling with and wouldn't mind feedback on. I had an incident like that this past week, and tried to think, while reading Anne's book, how she might approach it. And I called Judie and talked to her. And I reread the Belenky et. al. chapter on "connected teaching." So sometimes it's good to feel as if there's someone over our shoulder, precisely because we should care about our students and the way we interact with them.

This I think (somehow) ties in to MacIntosh's distinction between when we should try to free ourselves from feeling like a fraud and when it is in fact healthy to feel like a fraud. To the extent it helps us be reflexive and reflective about our teaching, and to the extent that it comes from a place where we care about our students experiences and our own growth as teachers (whatever metaphor we choose), I think this is healthy.

One other point that I think was misunderstood (probably because I was not clear) is that I think it is naïve to think that we all (can) do whatever we want whenever we want to. Not to say that I am always bowing to convention or playing by the rules and not challenging authority (I hope not!)- but sometimes we can be constrained (some people more and some less) by the structures in which we teach and learn, often in ways that we are not aware of. To say that we are not is to pretend that we are completely immune to social norms and conventions.

I came to this discussion fresh from a class where we discussed Lemert's Social Things as well as Marx's view on how we get to make history and C. Wright Mills idea that we are an intersection of our history and biography. I take from this the idea that we are never completely subsumed by the cultural/ historical/ economic/ institutional context in which we are embedded, neither are we ever completely free of them. To use the box metaphor, we are never completely able to get away from the box no matter how hard we try. To put it in a way that makes me think of Sandy, we're still defining ourselves in relation to the box, even if we're not in it. That means we're still contending with the box. To pretend that we aren't in some relation to that box might be the same kind of self-delusion or immodesty that MacIntosh would have us resist by retaining some of that humility that comes from the place of healthy skepticism toward ourselves - even as we resist that box.


some more meeting thoughts
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2003-09-12 07:59:41
Link to this Comment: 6454

Thanks to all for a rich conversation, one that I thought highlighted a number of important issues in thinking about ourselves as teachers, past/present/future.

I didn't feel misunderstood, but did think I ought to add a bit to some things I said about being willing/able to in one's teaching to move "outside the box " defined by one's perceptions of the expectations of professional societies, colleagues, and even students. Note that its that PARTICULAR box I had (and have) in mind. I fully concur with Corey that one can not, at any given time, fully escape one's cultural background (nor should one try to, though one can appropriately and desireably move in that direction), and agree as well that it is nice to check in with other people.

My concern was and is much narrower/more pragmatic ... and, I think, more important. It has to do with how much one is willing to put onself, and one's "career" on the line. There was, during the meeting, some feeling expressed that it was unfair for a tenured faculty member to urge "risky" behavior by more junior people, and that's the point where some added information may be helpful.

Urging people to put their own values on the line is not something I started doing when I got tenure. Its advice I've always given to others (as the essence of education), and advice I have always followed myself. Is it risky? Of course. Can it cost one one's job? Yes. In fact, it cost me one, as described in This Isn't Just MY Problem, Friend. Did I learn my lesson? Yes ... a certain amount of personal pain notwithstanding, I ended up with a job I was much happier with, and so continued following my own advice (and continued offering it to others). And, no surprise, that has continued to cost me in a variety of ways, measured in terms of both money and prestige. I've been, and continue to be, more than willing to pay that particular price. Its worth it (to me, and perhaps to others), because I know of nothing more satisfying than seeing what I have been able to find and make and share that might be an improvement on what I was handed to start with and/or others already know about.

Let me expand just a bit on the appropriateness of this advice as offered to others. The standard/accepted counselling given to young academics (perhaps to junior people in any activity?) is to buckle down and jump the hoops as they are laid out by others, with the implied promise that if one does that well one will be successful and hence, somewhere down the line, gain the freedom to explore on one's own. Its simply not true. Beyond the reality (often ignored) that "success" is a mirage, one's life/career is a product not only of one's own efforts but also of innumerable other factors over which one has little or no control. There are lots of very good hoop jumpers who ended up ... without the kinds of jobs/careers they thought they had been promised. Life is risky, and there is nothing more depressing/disillusioning than to have spent extended amounts of time doing things one doesn't believe in and THEN failing. If I'm going to get into trouble, I'd much rather do it knowing that at least I was trying to do something I believed in.

What's even more tragic, from my point of view, are the people who have spent so much time and effort getting through the hoops that they no longer have any idea why they started jumping hoops in the first place, and who have acquired none of the risk-taking skills that would allow them to actually explore even if they remembered that's why they first got into the game. Its probably not surprising if the advice they offer to young people is to buckle down and get through the hoops, since that's all they have done/know how to do. Its perhaps more surprising that they would imagine that other people would actually want to be where they are.

The bottom line is that I'm not reluctant to move "outside the box" myself, and make no apologies for offering that advice to others of whatever age. Yes, its "risky", but no more so than any other path, and its a lot more satisfying in the long run (and usually in the short as well, since one can spend less time fretting about what the rules are and whether one is satisfying them, and more time thinking about interesting things).

Personal satisfaction is important, but there are two more bits to the story that are perhaps even more so if one is seriously entertaining a professional career as a teacher and academic. If one is, as a teacher, going to do anything more than convey information and ideas (which arguably can be done as or more effectively by a book, a video, or a web site), what one needs to do is to help students learn how to get outside their boxes, and one can't do that effectively sitting inside one's own. Students need to see teachers struggling to get outside of boxes, and enjoying it, and being willing to share such struggles with their students, if teaching in this broader sense is to be effective.

One final step. I understand the business of the "academic" as the generation of NEW understandings that are useful to others. And if one takes this task at all seriously, there is no alternative to "risk taking". NEW understandings are necessarily achieved by moving outside one's own and everyone else's comfort zone, into places where one doesn't and can't know what the rules are. One has to go THERE, and bring something back, and subject it to evaluation by others without there being any way to know in advance whether it will or will not survive that evaluation and prove useful. The need to "to move 'outside the box' defined by one's perceptions of the expectations of professional societies, colleagues, and even students" is fundamental not only to good teaching but to the very essence of being an academic (which is, presumably, why we combine the tasks of teaching and scholarship).

Its our BUSINESS to take intellectual risks, that's what we're paid for: to be the people within a culture who perpetually question current cultural understandings, the understandings of communities within it (including our own), and our own understandings. And, in so doing, come up with new "less wrong" understandings that we can offer to others. If we're not willing to do that and not able to live with, even enjoy, its riskiness, we should get out of the business.


Escape From Freedom
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-09-12 08:03:09
Link to this Comment: 6455

I, too, have been mulling over the first conversation of our "Explorations of Teaching: What, Why, How and Who" which took place on Wednesday evening. Thanks again to the organizers!

Thinking over the range of "metaphors" the group offered, to describe their experience (or their wished-for experiences) in the classroom, adding to that list one generated in my College Seminar the next morning, and another generated in a session with Philadelphia K-12 teachers a summer ago, what I find striking is the axis of control: both whether we think we should responsibly control what goes on inside our classroom, and the degree to which we think what happens there is/or should be controlled by what goes on outside it.

My own trajectory has been one of increasingly ceding control inside the classroom (or rather: turning it into a kind of authority that's constructed communally, by all of us inside the room) AND refusing to cede control to those outside, to the expectations of my department or my field, refusing to let them determine what goes on among me and my students.

In the course of this seminar, we'll be looking @ a book by Sharon Welch entitled A Feminist Ethic of Risk: she argues that middle-class Americans have mistakenly conflated "responsibility" w/ "control" (thinking that the only way to show we are responsible is to show we are in control); she uses the arms race as an example of where a more responsible action might actually be to lay down arms, to refuse the race.

I am also reading, just now, Erich Fromm's Escape From Freedom which I find acute in its description of the "panicky flight from freedom" that each of us engages in once we realize that we really are free to make choices, and that those choices will have consequences. There are no guarantees that those choices will keep us safe/preserve our jobs...even get us jobs in the first place (my own career, for instance, has not taken place on the tenure track). But if we believe (as I believe) that a liberal arts education is about self-transformation, about offering students a range of possibilities for moving on from where they are/what they already know...then I'd say we need to be able to--responsibly MUST--model that process, by engaging in it ourselves.

Yes, scary. But: think of the possibilities!

Thanks again to all for pursuing this exploration w/ me.

Anne


still stewing
Name: Corey Shda
Date: 2003-09-17 10:16:40
Link to this Comment: 6507

without ranking the importance of this comment (against those of others or my own):
it strikes me that the more drawn in to this group i get the more i am responding from a place in myself that is personal. not that i ever separate my teaching/learning/doing self from the personal stuff but what I mean is that we're in a group where we don't all know much about each others' lives other than what comes in to the discussions. i realize now that a lot of last week's discussion and anne's book actually touched on things that i am currently grappling with around ongoing career choices and past life choices i have made (despite the warnings of some caring and well-intentioned, if not disinterested, folks) that were anything but conventional in the context in which they were made.
not wanting to take over the discussion and not quite understanding the relevance even for myself of my deeper reaction, it didn't seem like the place to bring that up. but i see that in paul's here response there's a piece of the personal biography that he too wants (needs?) to share (that of course brings out my own desire to respond by showing my "credentials" as a thinking person who likes to challenge, be challenged by and think with others- so on and on it goes...). maybe it's always like that, just some people are more explicit about it and others try to hide it in a detached (academic?) voice. and how possible or practical is it to share our full selves in every encounter we have, even if we want to? i'm still mulling this over.


Experience as Conversation-Starter/Stopper?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-09-18 15:42:41
Link to this Comment: 6530

Yes, Corey, these thoughts resonate for me:
both the desire to share more....
and the desire/need to keep some of it back...
the question we all might keep asking ourselves is when witnessing/testifying (hm: charged words) to personal experience can move the conversation along...and when is it a "conversation-stopper"...? guess we'll find our way to a range of answers, as we keep on talking together...

My own thoughts returned to this group, and our most recent discussion, during the brown bag discussion on "What Counts?" which took place in the flesh this past Monday and continued on-line thereafter....where I evoked a new (to me) and very useful article, Goodwin Liu's "Knowledge, Foundations and Discourse: Philosophical Support for Service-Learning,"Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning (Fall 1995): 5-18. A piece we might want to look at together: it's a contemporary/praxis-based extension/application/theorization of the work of the 19th century pragmatists whose life and work are featured in Menand's The Metaphysical Club.


Sept. 19 meeting and decision-making
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2003-09-23 11:18:59
Link to this Comment: 6581

Thanks to the group for lively discussions! Paul's role as provocateur(sp?) is appreciated.
I'm still entertaining the idea that the information processing tool women
use making the difficult decision of whether to terminate a desired pregnancy after discovering a fetal anomaly(focus on one prioritized piece of information) may be a form of
coin-flipping, but I'm definitely not willing to conceed that quite yet.If it is, I think it might fall more under the idea that women may allow "fate" or a force they deem greater than themselves to "make" the choice by virtue of a particular piece of information becoming available. This still is not as non-chalant as a coin-toss. Additionally, there are implications of asserting such a claim- ie, if life-changing
decisions are nothing more nor less than a coin-toss, then where can
responsibility or ethics come into play? Is searching for a rationale over which one has little control truly as fate-reliant as tossing a coin? It does not feel so intuitively to me- but I can't articulate the difference yet. What are other's thoughts? Judie


continuing to chew over...
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-09-23 16:17:58
Link to this Comment: 6599

I, too, thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, have continued to chew over it w/ regard to my own (in)ability to "know better" before the fact, have drawn on what I learned from it to console one of my daughters about her decisions this past week-end, and have used it in discussing with my "Thinking Sex" class this vexed matter of "predictability. See causal sufficiency? for one piece of this multi-stranded conversation--

for which thanks again to all--

Anne


"The First Thing About Teaching"
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-10-01 14:14:59
Link to this Comment: 6746

The Sept. 26, '03 Chronicle of Higher Education has an article about colleges trying harder to prepare graduate students for the classroom. It seems a very differently-pitched project ("you won't hear any grand theories of pedagogy or lofty debates about the true purpose of higher education among these students") than the one we're engaged in; see http://chronicle.com/prm/weekly/v50/i05/05a01001.htm. Perhaps we should let the Chronicle know that in @ least one small college there's an interesting conversation going on which links "what actually goes on in the classroom" with an exploration of WHY we might be doing this work...???


more (unconscious) coin-flipping
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-10-18 10:11:09
Link to this Comment: 6913

Tickled--as always--by the energy and verve of our exchange yesterday (spinning off--considerably--from a reading of Menand's The Metaphysical Club), I wanted to pick up here the good queries Judie posed a month ago about the implications of acknowledging that our most important decision-making may occur in the matter of a "coin-toss": does this mean we are (in her words), "allowing 'fate' or a force we deem greater than ourselves to 'make' the choice?"--and (if so--or if not) "where can responsibility or ethics come into play?"

I think the not-entirely-tight but VERY compelling story Menand tells in The Metaphysical Club gives us two ways of answering Judie's second question. The source of ethics and responsibility, for the 19th c. American pragmatists, lay entirely withIN the self making entirely contextual and contingent choices. That was the ONLY thing that CONSTITUTED morality, by their lights: living in accord w/ some external standard was actually to forego the responsiblity of being--well--self-responsible. This notion makes the pragmatists a 19th c. American precursor to existentialism: we are free to make ourselves, by our choices. (See the BMC "Making Sense of Diversity" initiative for reflections, in another context, on this matter of "relative freewill.")

Another way to read Menand's account, though, is that (at least some of) the pragmatists were compelled by a single outside ideal: that of non-violence. Both O.W. Holmes and Wm. James deeply distrusted "certitude" (of the abolitionists, for instance) because it led to violence; Jane Addams taught John Dewey something quite similar regarding the need for a form of decision-making that incorporated the ideas of as many individuals as possible--in order to work through the (only apparent--but oftimes violent) opposition in their interests.

I look forward, in another month, to playing out these ideas further, as we continue discussing Menand's book. I'd also be very interested, at some later session, in looking together at some of the accounts of decision-making that have surely grown up in the wake of the by-now common acknowlegement that "rational-choice theory" really is NOT adequate for describing how we human beings make our choices. Do any of you social work students know the good work in this area?

And (these is REALLY where my interest has perked up, and this runs smack into Judie's first question): does any of that work actually look @ the role of the unconscious--the possibility Paul traced just at the end of our session to account for the phenomenon Judie described, which is that--once the conscious mind has wrestled and wrestled and wrangled and wrangled and weighed and weighed--we just wake up one morning, look our partner in the eye and say, "That's it. I've decided"-- w/ a certitude that is (finally? just? an unconscious?) flip of the coin?


more coin flips
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-10-19 15:02:45
Link to this Comment: 6920

I took my children to see Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at the Arden last night (for which see a long review and reflection on the neuroscience-psychoanalysis forum). I couldn't stop laughing. The first scene involves a coin-flip--actually, it involves 90 coin flips, all of them heads! Stoppard uses this to riff on probability, chance, suspense, free will, agency--just about everything we've been talking about....
Go see it!

A.


Arden & Decisions
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2003-10-19 21:32:38
Link to this Comment: 6921

Glad to hear the Arden production is good- we've had subscriptions at the Arden since it opened in 1988 (Terry Nolan was a high school friend/acquaintence of mine). It's almost always good and/or provocative. Looking forward to seeing the production late OCt.
Now, re: the decision-making literature, I've read much of it but still can't point us towards a good, complete work- it's surprisingly under theorized. Actually one of my favorites was Judgment and Uncertainty, by Tversky and KAhneman (I think), but it's old. It focused on the ways humans think they're making decisions based on probability, but that we generally have such a poor sense of true probability theory that we nearly always make decisions based on miscalculations of risk and (un)certainty. The book is even research-based, though it's all based on picking colored balls out of bags and deciding the likelihood of card combinations- but it's framed like a bet and fits into the "betability" that is discussed in Menand's section around pg 200 or so. I think it may be similar to Paul's idea about assigning priority (and maybe level of belief or probability about an outcome (yes, I won't let go of the idea that many of us do make decisions based on consideration of outcomes). Anyway, I"d love to keep that line of thought open in our discussions.


More links
Name: Judie MCCo
Date: 2003-10-27 12:00:14
Link to this Comment: 7007

I want to urge followers of our GIF discussion to follow Anne's links back to the last 2 postings on the neuroscience and psychoanalysis board (Corey and ROland particularly). The ideas playing out in Elio's comments about the interaction of I and Me and the ways confusion is operating and conflict playing out, seem to me to also operate in the realm of the decision-making (though at a lower level of consciousness) that we've been discussing. What if, instead of a coin toss, decision-making is a just an internal conflict where the mightier, or more conscious, or more easily conceptualized or predicted option- wins out. This is a difficult idea for a pacifist like me to accept- especially since I dislike the idea of a conflict becoming the generator of positive action. Anyway, I hope this is food for thought as opposed to mush,


free exploration
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-10-30 08:45:54
Link to this Comment: 7054

Many, many thanks to Corey Shdaimah, Sam Glazier and all other members of GIF who organized Catharine Stimpson's visit to Bryn Mawr yesterday. Kate met w/ the graduate student forum on teaching in the afternoon, and then delivered a "letter to graduate students" in a public forum last evening. Listening to her speak was inspirational to me, a much-needed corrective to the strong sense I've had, this fall, that Bryn Mawr is not sure of its mission (an unsureness that bedevils so many of our public meetings) and a call back to what I most value about the work we are doing together here. Kate quipped, at one point during our conversation, that "one thing Bryn Mawr taught her was to go to the primary source." I feel that the "coming home" yesterday of this one "loving alum" brought me back to a primary source, for which I am very grateful.

During our afternoon discussion, Kate observed that Bryn Mawr was "built on the negative reality" that brilliant women were not educable elsewhere. But what is the social reality now? And how are we meeting it? What are we doing well enough (or COULD we do well enough) to continue doing it? Given the "great ecology of knowledge," given that we can "never know what it is we will need to know," where does our sense of "useful knowledge" come from? Kate spoke quite eloquently about "recognizing that--given the unpredictability of history, seemingly obscure knowledge will repeatedly be catapulted by catastrophe into relevance." But we talked together with less assurance about just what role a small women's college with several graduate programs can best play, amid the diverse offerings of higher education in today's world, where (for instance) the enormous growth in on-line learning indicates that some "real daily life need" is being met that conventional educational methods are not addressing. As we struggled together to name "what our students need," what "useful knowledge" they can reasonably expect to get from our classes, we also found ourselves acknowledging that the passion of what draws each of us to make our life's work here is not something we can "give a test to test for." But how to evaluate "progess," how best to "be accountable" in the things we most care about?

During Kate's evening address, I heard one answer to this question, amid many echoes of the powerful argument she makes in her 11/1/02 Chronicle piece on "General Education for Graduate Education," where she replaces both the locally-minded academic (who is loyal to his institution) and the cosmopolitan academic (who is loyal to her profession) with the "patriot to the homeland of ideas." I don't much like the word "patriot" (for me it is always heavy with the question Ursula LeGuin asks, in The Left Hand of Darkness: "what is the sense of giving a boundary. . . and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry?") A to-me more resonant phrasing of this call appears in Edward Said's The World, the Text and the Critic, which makes exile the image of the intellectual: the "ascetic code of willed homelessness . . . a good way for one who wishes to earn a proper love for the world."

I was inspired by the reminder of this call to contribute to a community of advanced inquiry in which educating others does not prevent us from self-education, but keeps us @ it . . . and which takes us well beyond the "accounting" of student assessment, college rankings and the like which have been so highlighted in the past several Brown Bag sessions on Value and Quantification. The VALUE of what we do comes from our willingness to go freely seeking, freely exploring with our students in the world of ideas, unsure what will be wasted, what we will find useful...

I thank Kate Stimpson, again, for reminding me that this is the path I am on, and on which I have so much good company.


on being a pragmatic pacifist
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-11-15 22:09:56
Link to this Comment: 7268

Ruminating over the lesson that Oliver Wendell Holmes took from the Civil War, "that certitude leads to violence" (61), over William James's related--but much-extended--thought that "certainty was moral death" (75), over Menand's keynote, in The Metaphysical Club, that "the fear of violence is possibly at the bottom of the whole matter of pragmatism's 'fit'" (373). . . I have (as usual) been continuing to talk w/ you all in my mind since our most recent and as-always-rich conversation . . . wanting to say something more (and so bookmark for further in-person discussion) about pragmatism and pacifism . . . what I've come to think of (since our conversation yesterday afternoon) as my version of "pacific pragmatism" . . . perhaps better: "pragmatic pacifism" . . . .

When I say that I am a pacifist (which I am), I mean little more/just as much as Paul says when he observes--in the absence of any connection to established religion--the need for a "family rule": Thou shalt not deliberately hurt another person. My pacifism arises from that same orientation. Is it a touchstone for my behavior? A guide? A value? Certainly. A principle? An external standard against which to check my behavior? Perhaps. A final answer? No. When I violate that "rule" (as I have violated it, again and again; as I violated it this week)--or rather, when I lose touch with that touchstone, when I fail to exemplify that value in my interactions with others, does that make me a "failure" as a pacifist? Only if I am trying to construct life which will be measured against that yardstick, that single standard of "success"--which I'm not. But having a touchstone such as this one, when I am angered, ready to lash out, need to protect myself--that is helpful. That I remind myself of this value does NOT deny me the sobriquet of pragmatist. And failing to keep to it does NOT make me a failure as a pacifist.

Can we put the guns away?


dogfight
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-11-16 09:39:07
Link to this Comment: 7269

Not done thinking....

In a talk I gave last week for the emergence group, I drew on the work of George Herbert Mead, an American pragmatist philosopher and friend of John Dewey (whom I wish Menand had also featured in his book, because Mead's thinking has become a rich resource for my own). Mead has a very useful concept of the self as being a dialectical relationship between "me" (the structure of social roles) and "I "(the response to it that breaks through the structure); that is, between the "conventional, habitual individual," and the "novel reply" to it. "I" is the creative response to the social roles "Me"internalizes.

That's what goes on WITHIN--but Mead also argues that one learns first to negotiate this internal dialogue through what he called the "conversation of gestures" (our interactions with others in which we are not aware that we are eliciting their responses, and which HAVE NO MEANING independent of those interactions). His key image is of dogfight: each act of two hostile dogs is a stimulus for the other's response; in the relationship between these two, "as the act is responded to by the other dog, it, in turn, undergoes change."

Still with me? Because this seems to me to have EVERYTHING to do w/ our discussion on Friday (and since) about pacifism and pragmatism. All of us act (unconsciously and) violently in reaction to another's aggression, but the point is that we do so both to engage in social interaction--to acquire our social roles--AND to defend something within (Mead's "I"?) from the imposition of those roles. In a 11/7/03 piece on "unreason" in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the psychologist David Barash explains that the key concept for the anti-hero of Dostoyevsky's Notes From the Underground is

"spite: a malicious desire to hurt another without any compensating gain for the perpetrator..'cutting off your nose to spite your face,' disfiguring yourself for 'no reason.' Significantly, spiteful behavior does not occur among animals. . . . As the Underground Man sees it, the essence of humanness is living 'according to our stupid will . . . because it preserves for us what's most important and precious, that is, our personality and our individuality. He believes that people act irrationally because they stubbornly want to. . . to have their own way."

And THIS links to recent ruminations about Making Sense of Diversity, where the suggestion is made that intending to offend is not useful. What matters is enacting who we are and what we believe . . . then: if harm occurs, if offense is taken, we need to talk. THAT'S pragmatist pacifism.


Jane Addams and the dogs
Name: Corey
Date: 2003-11-17 14:35:42
Link to this Comment: 7291

Anne's posting just got me thinking again to Menand's description of Jane Addams and her conversation with Dewey that was transformative for Dewey, in that there is not (or should not) be antagonism.
I marvel at Addams incredible faith in her own pacificism and her own ideals, and vascilate to incredible respect for that and incredulity concerning whether that is possible and/or desirable in all situations.
Our interactions with each other (and here it connects to the part of the dogs) bring us to test our own beliefs, standards or ideals for ourselves. It's almost as if we are playing chicken (to bring in another animal) with the people and situations we encounter. Can we keep our pacifism in the face of others who we respond to -whether or not they call out this response intentionally, and whether or not their behavior is interpreted by us "correctly" and to whatever extent it is a product of our own perception (and of course it is all of that together)? And that also asks, what are the consequences if our faith is misplaced, and can we live with those? That is the risk involved, and I think that is where some of the differences in our responses to given situations at given times in our lives may change our willingness to take certain risks. I'm thinking here about Roland's example of the difference between comtemplating a hypothetical threat to his hypothetical child at the age of 16 and the idea of having children was far away, and this same hypothetical threat to a very real child.
Corey


for the sake of the record
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2003-11-17 18:49:29
Link to this Comment: 7296

Was on the road shortly after our (normally) rich conversation Friday, sorry to be late in ... making notes for myself (and any one else interested).

Do think there is a deep and fundamental difference between "pragmatism" and "pacifism" (indeed between the former and ANY other "ism"). To get to that point, let me try and reconstruct some of our conversation as I heard it.

The issue was (largely from Sam) where in pragmatism is the "morality"? For a large number of reasons, dating back many years, its an issue that's been on my mind ever since I first read Menand. Briefly put, I find "pragmatism" a very appealing way to make sense of the world, a VERY good story, but I HATE "pragmatists", the assimilators of the pragmatist philosophy who occupy positions of authority and persistently assert that they are not acting out of any particular values but are just keeping things working.

Our conversation helped me to resolve this particular personal problem. Pragmatism, properly understood, did not and does not lack "values" (yes, Sam, there IS "morality"). But it handles values the same way in handles "truth" or "reality". They are all equivalent to "what works". There is nothing "out there" against which one can judge any story to decide if it is "true" or "real" or "moral". There IS only "what works" (and doesn't work).

To put it differently, "truth" and "reality" are nothing more and nothing less than the current as yet to be proven wrong state of the "story" that is being written (individually and collectively). The same holds for "morality". Yes, of course one acts out of "values" (if one doesn't and one is conscious, one is paralyzed). The point is that the "values" are not fixed and invariant but are themselves subject to being revised/improved upon.

Pragmatism is, in this sense, an answer (one of many?) to Camus' absurdist challenge (an answer developed, notably, prior to Camus' challenge). One wants "meaning", the universe supplies no fixed and eternal meaning, the assignment is to find a solution to the problem that doesn't challenge either of the starting points. The pragmatism answer is to make meaning but not to try and endow it with fixed and eternal attributes (Camus, in the Myth of Sisyphus and, later, in The Rebel, made some noteworthy additional suggestions within this framework).

Pacifism (and other isms) promotes a fixed and eternal "value". Pragmat(ism) doesn't. It suggests only a method, a procedure. Which, in the long run, either continues to work or .... doesn't. I'd bet on pragmatism (in the value rich form) over pacifism.


PS
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2003-11-17 19:04:18
Link to this Comment: 7297

There ain't nothing at all in the above that is inconsistent with trying to avoid causing intentional pain to others, or with "playing chicken ... with the people and situations we encounter". Indeed, with Camus' and a few other things, both of these tend to follow as likely "values". Moreover one can have them without "incredible faith" of the sort that makes one worry about one's inability to reach superhuman status. That's part of why I'd bet on pragmat(ism) over pacifism.


getting out the guns again: querying -isms
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-11-18 07:58:56
Link to this Comment: 7305

So, pragmatism differs from all other "-isms," because it values "what works," rather than insisting on one belief, one way of working. But that valuation is itself an ultimate value: what works on the ground, a working that is always subject to revision. When Paul says that

"Pacifism (and other isms) promotes a fixed and eternal 'value'. Pragmat(ism) doesn't. It suggests only a method, a procedure... The pragmatism answer is to make meaning but not to try and endow it with fixed and eternal attributes"....

there's still something fundamental that isn't computing for me (and I think it's signaled by Paul's parenthesizing/eliding the "-ism" in "pragmatism"). Isn't the insistence that meaning is not fixed and eternal a value-claim that is...

fixed and eternal? Which is...

certain?

Which leads to...

violence (Holmes) and/or moral death (James)?

If, alternatively, the claim that morality is always revisable is itself revisable (to claim that morality is not...) well, then: I'm more confused than ever. Help.


Another pragmatic pacifist
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2003-11-19 07:44:45
Link to this Comment: 7321

Started comments earlier and I'm not sure where they went- since they were not formulated well yet, hope they don't end up posted somewhere. Anyway, the rich, opinionated yet struggling dialogue inspired by GIF is a real gift.

I want to add my two cents. I guess I don't see pragmatism nor pacifism as a value as much as I see them as a stance/philosophy that gives abstract guidance bordering on rules for behavior. I say "bordering on" because I think that what each perspective brings to the other is a very necessary tempering of the certitude of either stance. I still find Anne's observation / summary that certitude (a) leads to violence (Holmes) or (b) to spiitual and moral death to be compelling. All one has to do is look at world events to confirm the first, and look inside one's heart to find certitude and often there find the latter.

It seems to me that pragmistism, untempered by pacifism (or at least Paul's value that one should not intentionally hurt another human [but what of animals, the environment,etc.?]) leads to the kind of pragmatism we all agree we dislike- a cynical pragmatism that only looks at "what works" as a function of that "pragmatist's" current individual desires. In a different way, pacifism untempered by pragmatism seems to me to lead to the scenarios that we were discussing with some concern- times of individual or loved-one threats that must be handled. Here, pragmatism seems to allow one to move to a "what works" stance about pacifism- eg "instead of being a doormat,I'll use escalating behaviors to deal with the conflict, hoping that it is rectified before true violence occurs, and always keeping minimal violence as the ideal."

I suspect that the reason we keep ending up back at the decision-making discussion is that this is precisely the opposite of certitude. If one has guidelines, but no hard and fast rules for behavior, one must make decisions instead of blindly adhering to some principle ("life at all costs?") that does not make sense in all situations. Therefore, Corey's thought that the struggle is what is necessary seems right o target to me- and quite honestly (as exemplified by our GIF group), I'd much rather be surrounded by people who are struggling to understand their thoughts and behaviors in life that those who are certain of the values and paths all should take (in their opinion). Anyway, I'll look forward to continued struggle.


PS
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2003-11-19 10:19:01
Link to this Comment: 7322

Just got my most recent mailing from American Friends Service Committee which asserts across the front of the envelope- "Being a pacifist does NOT mean being passive"- exactly- good pacifists (yes, guilty of a value judgment there) find non-violent ways to confront and act- much like good social workers- hmmm.

PPS Can you tell I'm procrastinating about grading student papers:)


Rationality and Freedom, redux
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-11-30 22:06:14
Link to this Comment: 7410

Flagging for everyone's attention (and possible reading for next semester?) a new book by the economist-philosopher-sociologist-political thinker Amartya Sen, Rationality and Freedom (for a short book report, see http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/forum/newforum/brownbag03-read.html#7409.


practical demonstration
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2003-12-06 11:30:26
Link to this Comment: 7478

Friday afternoon, Sam, Paul and I went directly from the very good discussion of "extrinsic" vs. "intrinsic" reward systems (in the Explorations of Teaching group, where we had been joined by quite a few Trustees) to a bracing practical demonstration: the last of this semester's diversity discussions. My summary of the conversation includes a student's observation that faculty here are often "unable to translate between what they are looking for and what students are feeling." Nearby find an eloquent local account of the "Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students" whom Denise Pope Clark describes.


Today's GIF
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2004-01-30 21:08:57
Link to this Comment: 7841

Once again, the conversation was stimulating and the company enjoyable. I find it hard to believe that I forgot to mention a perfect example of a place where culture appears both disabling and enabling. Weds. evening, we saw "Proof" at the Arden theater in Old City- excellent, I thought (disagreed with yesterday's Phila. Inquirer assessment that the diagnosis for the daugher was too unabiguous- I saw clues for both prodromal states of schizophrenia vs. bereavement). Anyway, the fact of incredible genius often coinciding with severe mental illness is one of those other places where a behavior/ characteristic can be both dis- and en- abling. I think this is what Tom was referring to as static- not so much that culture is proposed not to change (as the articles state it does) but that it is theorized to be uni-valent instead of multi-valent. Hoping to continue the discussion,Judie


utopias with a small "u"
Name: Corey Shda
Date: 2004-01-31 04:26:22
Link to this Comment: 7843

I had some thoughts that may not speak the central focus of our discussion today but nagged me nonetheless. In thinking about the idea of utopia, it's more helpful for me if we take that also to encompass "small-scale utopia" and by that I mean any attempt of reforming or changing something in response to what we see (through whatever lens) as a need in a way that we see (through whatever lens) as a possible solution. I think part of the idea that culture can also be disability is to remind ourselves that we cannot always see perceived consequences. To revert to the example of the curb- if we decide that the best way to remediate an existed disability that we have created is to create ramps in curbs (this is our proposed utopia or reform) we should do our best to try and think through what the consequences of this may be, for good and for bad.
Let's say we do this, and think on the whole it is a good idea. Then we make ramps in all the sidewalks and discover the unintended consequence that McDermott and Varenne point out, i.e. that it is used by bicyclists who have made it dangerous and in some ways more disabling and/or disabling for more people.
Does this mean that we should not have attempted to ameliorate the prior situation- i.e. should our understanding that culture can be disability paralyze us? No. Only that we needed to do our best to think through the consequences and then be willing to revisit, after the fact, and continue to question and revise our reform plan as we see it develop. This is the part that I think is in line with our discussion of pragmatism. We take steps based on the sum total of our understanding of our experiences in the world to the best of our ability. These understandings are necessarily provisional and contextual, and we should be willing and able to revise and change these as we gain new understandings through our continuing living in and interaction with the world. This to me is also where the dynamic nature of the idea of culture as disability is evident.
Thanks to you all for stimulating yet another thread in our ongoing discussion.
Corey


beyond "culture as disability"?
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-01-31 13:35:21
Link to this Comment: 7846

Thanks all for a rich and generative conversation (as always), one of two usefully related ones yesterday afternoon. See sketch of ideas it triggered in me.


changing a culture
Name: Tom Young
Date: 2004-01-31 19:03:55
Link to this Comment: 7852

Hello all,

Thank you so much for including me in your discussions. For me, it's a gift each time.

I'm intrigued by Paul's notion of promoting "a change in the overall values of a culture." I'd like to know how that comes about.

Tom.


"promoting change in the overall values of a cultu
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-02-01 18:06:17
Link to this Comment: 7871

two thoughts, tom, in response to your query:
one a local account (generated just before we met) @
http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/forum/newforum/diversitybmc-read.html#7870
the other a much larger one which i'd suggested a few months ago as a possible reading for us: http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/forum/newforum/brownbag03-read.html#7409


the personal and political
Name: Tom Young
Date: 2004-02-03 06:18:39
Link to this Comment: 7930

Hi Anne,

Thank you for putting me onto those other two postings. Your suggestion that we might "re-conceive the goal of education as helping each of us figure out who we are and what gives us pleasure" sent me to the bookcase to find Carol Gilligan's "The Birth of Pleasure."

I still struggle with understanding how the personal and the political intersect and reading her book certainly keeps that struggle alive.

For example, on p. 217 she writes: "At the present moment in history, the possibility of repairing long-standing ruptures in relationships between people and between nations is in our midst. The birth of pleasure vies with the repetition of tragedy. [Sounds like your "huge back story of emergent systems to me.] And it is the very volatility of this moment that leads me to retrace a history of finding and losing and then finding again an old map of love now joined by contemporary psychological wisdom."

Perhaps it is the "openness to a change in ourselves" that you referred to that feels "irrational" and drives the process of disablement within any given culture. That would make fear--both individual and collective--a fundamental part of the process wouldn't it?

Appreciate the conversation.

Tom.


utilitarian=pragmatic?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-02-03 19:10:18
Link to this Comment: 7948

Paul and I have another venture--what feels to us a "relatively" unique (?) attempt to offer a course for both Biology and English credit--going elsewhere (for details see The Story of Evolution/The Evolution of Stories"). Reason I mention this is that yesterday one of "our" 19th-century pragmatists showed up in the class forum area describing what is "good" (and "true," but that's another story) as "what is instrumental." I heard in this posting SUCH strong echoes of last Friday's conversation about utilitarianism (= our"use-value" for one another) that I had to note/record its resonance here.


Uncoalesced thoughts
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2004-02-04 10:08:20
Link to this Comment: 7961

The other forum (Anne's link) has some incredible discussion taking place about the nature of reality, but I found the quotes from James less enticing. I agree they imply that James had a very utilitarian twist to his pragmatism, but I continue to suspect that, if pushed, he would focus on the possibility of changing values and feelings as part of that "usefulness", not just the very utilitarian use-value of relationships that was discussed in GIF. I (of course) can't immediately lay my hands on good quotes for why I believe this to be true, but I do have a quote that points us in another of the directions our conversation took last Friday.

"In either case, the personal identity would not exist as a fact; but it would exist as a feeling all the same; the consciuosness of it by the thought would be there and the psychologist would still have to analyze that and show where its illusoriness lay. Let us now be the psychologist and see whether it be right or wrong when it says, I am the same self that I was yesterday." (from The Self and its Selves-1890) For me this rings bells of Paul's revision of Kant, which then connects loosely to the discussion of how social norms change.

We (Corey, Roland and I anyway) have spent a lot of time in classes discussing whether social change happens as a result of a charismatic leader organizing change, or as a grassroots effort growing up, or as requiring both factors. As I look at social changes like acceptance of sex outside marriage, smoking changing from cool to disgusting, and growing acceptance of homosexual relationships, I become more and more enamored of the marketing theory of social change (not because I like the theory- I hate marketing and its presumption of knowing what must be 'sold' to the public), but it seems clear to me that the selling of new norms to the politically powerful people (currently soccer moms) seems to bear weight. Supposedly, this was the target population for the change in smoking norms. It also looks to me as if this is the target population for seeling fear about terrorism, Mad Cow and Ricin as well. Essentially, if one can sell a new norm to the mom's of the middle and upper classes, they can inculcate it into the children and spread it in the social networks. I am well aware what a cynical view this is- particularly since I want to reject it for its cynicism.

So what does all this have to do with our discussion at hand? I think Corey gave us the seed of that in our discussion. First Paul suggested that we try to figure out how to inculcate the idea of valuing what we see in others, ignoring parts we don't like, and embracing differences. It's a goal I feel I could really get behind. Corey raised the biggest issue though. Mom's (and teachers and others) need to make judgments- we can't just accept all (even in the face of less dramatic behaviors than the murderer Cheryl alluded to). It is a Mom's job to filter behaviors/ attitudes and try to promote certain ones in the socialization process. Sure, most would be willing to adopt the idea of loving your neighbor, not judging people and focusing on their strengths; but when it comes down to it, Mom's (at least this mom) will also subtly influence some judgment. When I see my kids hanging around with someone who does not value school, I never put that person down, and may in fact emphasize the things I find positive about that person- but I also work to influence other relationships with people who DO share my values about school's importance.

As teachers, we also can't fully adopt Paul's stance since we must make some judgment, not only for the more cynical concrete needs of the institution for which we are teaching, but for protections of the people our profession/career serves. For instance, I had to fail a student because it was clear to me that she had the potential to hurt others with her level of negative judgment- she wasn't going to serve in a social work role well. She had progressed over the year (the sign we've talked about as what we look for), but she still blurted out things to teen moms like "How could you let yourslef get pregnant? That's just wrong" even after a semester of going through all the reasons why various things she'd said previously were inappropriate (It's still better than her first interaction where she asked a teen mom if she didn't think she was going to end up in hell- but prided herself on the fact that she'd phrased it in the form of a question- one of the few things she'd learned in the first year of her practicum). I go into all that detail because changing norms to full acceptance without judgment, even if we could do it, won't work. Certain judgments must remain for society to function- the teachers and soccer moms will see that that is true, for good or ill.

Each of those thoughts is only loosely connected through the idea that JAmes implies that our self CAN change by his question about whether it remained the same. This fits Paul's point- but I argue that it is very unlikely that a majority of "selves" can change to erase all levels of negative judgment away and still have a society that functions well. At least that's the beginning of the coalescence of thoughts today. Curious how others view it.


deep waters
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-02-21 07:42:15
Link to this Comment: 8329

My head (and heart) are still reeling from yesterday afternoon's discussion of Carol Gilligan's The Birth of Pleasure. Thanks very much to Tom for suggesting the text. I want to bookmark here a few questions, just to be sure we can find them on the table when we next return to it. I find myself still very puzzled by the (male?) optimism that Gilligan's framework gives us a "revolutionary" (Paul) way through "culture as disability" (Tom). Substituting one myth--one tragic story (=one whose outcome is inevitably sad) for another (that is, the inevitability of Psyche's abandonment for the inevitability of Oedipus's blindness) doesn't get us (well, @ least it does give me, not yet, not by a long shot) a more hopeful place, a more hopeful framework for thinking (and bringing) about a more democratic culture than the one we now inhabit. Helping both little boys and mid-sized girls learn NOT to deny the wish to be "fused," acknowledging that the exploration of that desire "will cost," that the desire for fusion and the desire for connection (AND the desire for autonomy, to return to in a moment) are incompatible stories...well, I still don't see how that helps us step out of complex of competing desires (or: what we have substituted for it: the dissociation of self/the denial of one desire for another) into a new more enabling account of who we are in relation to others. Still strangely absent from all of this, seems to me, is the discussion of the desire for autonomy: is the presumption that this is a reaction formation, a defense against the more fundamental desire to be fused (which, when thwarted, finds its expression as a demand for independence/a protection against the shame of having asked...and been denied)?

Deep, deep waters here. How nice to have others swimming alongside.
Anne


see also further resonances
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-02-21 08:19:30
Link to this Comment: 8333

...to UNculturing disability, the play of the unconscious, pragmatism and william james @ "the redemptive power of language"


Story of a story ... "Birth of Pleasure", chapter
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-02-21 16:35:54
Link to this Comment: 8341

My great thanks also to Tom for bringing Gilligan's book to our table, and to everyone involved for a conversation even richer (if that's possible) than past ones. Here's what grabbed me, from book/conversation:

Let's for the moment take it as a given that "fusion" is to be understood as no more and no less than the feeling one gets when one is effortlessly dancing with another person. One might (or might not) also have that feeling when one is engaged in sex with another person, when one is playing basketball with another person, when one is having a particularly satisfying conversation with another person, etc etc. It is not a feeling specific to any particular activity but rather one that can be experienced in relation to lots of activities. If "fusion" has too many negative connotations for some, as it seems to (too oppressive, too ambitious, too ... icky?), then perhaps we could call it "interconnected vastness" (i.v. or "ivy" for short? ... probably closely related to the "oceanic feeling" that Freud denied ever having and to the "flow state" of the psychologist Csikszentmihalyi) but with particular reference to human interaction.

The essential elements of ivy are that it is

.
OK, with that in hand (and, I hope, in a form that makes it compatible with some other lines of thinking for which it raises in turn some interesting questions), here's what I think is a gas about Gilligan (chapter 1). She asserts

Phew ... but interesting, no? Notice that it is the dissociation, NOT the conflict, that is the problem. It is the dissociation, the refusal to recognize the conflict, and not the conflict itself, that gets in the way of trying to find new (better?) ways to deal with the conflict. To put it differently, conflict is potentially generative; resolving conflict by denial of one or the other element or by isolating the elements from one another (dissociation) is paralyzing. The individual versus culture/society conflict is only part of the story; there is a related internal conflict as well (between the wish for ivy and the wish for other things). And both, depending on how they are handled, can be either paralyzing or generative.

Interesting too, for me, to have Gilligan suggest (I think) that (on average) the female and male dissociation is different and, furthermore, that (by implication) ivy and connectedness are not the same thing. Ivy (if I'm understanding things critically) is in conflict BOTH with autonomy AND with connectedness. This makes a lot of sense to me, and perhaps is useful to others and in other contexts as well? Dissociated males assert autonomy while denying their wish not for connectedness but for ivy? Dissociated females assert connectedness while denying their wish not for autonomy but for ivy? If so, the apparent gender conflict between connectedness and autonomy is actually a result of deeper, different, but commonly originating dissociations denying, in both camps, the wish for ivy.

Where is Gilligan going to go/come out with all this (assuming there is actually some relation between this story and Gilligan's)? I don't know, and am anxious to find out (WILL go buy, read the rest of the book) but, in the meantime, I'm going to


ps
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-02-21 16:47:38
Link to this Comment: 8342

Yeah, yeah, I'll try and fix things up with my daughter, tell her its ok to be interested in "love" .... just not TOO interested.


caring for the soul: not shrinking
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-03-20 10:25:50
Link to this Comment: 8910

I left our session yesterday full up (as always) and spilling over (as always) with what was not said. One additional dimension I wanted/was trying to get on the table (hm: couldn't seem to get a word in edgewise...) was the religious. I want to say here again, in religious language, what Gilligan says psychologically and Paul-Roland-Tom say politically. I lift my language from another book I'm reading/reveling in right now, Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul:

care of the soul means not taking sides when there is a conflict at a deep level.... Polytheism...means that psychologically we have many different claims made on us....It is not possible, nor is it desirable, to get all of these impulses together under a single focus...polytheism suggests living within multiplicity....In a polytheistic morality we allow ourselves to experience the tensions that arise from different moral claims....when you find tolerance in yourself for the competing demands of the soul, life becomes more complicated, but also more interesting. An example might be the contradictory needs of solitude and social life....Sometimes they seem to war against each other...,

the most rewarding quality of polytheism is the intimacy it can make possible with one's own heart. When we try to keep life in order with a monotheistic attitude--do the right thing, keep up the traditions, and be sure that life makes sense--our moralism against ourselves can keep certain parts of our nature at a distance and little known....An attitude of polytheism permits a degree of acceptance of human nature and of one's own nature that is otherwise blocked by single-mindedness...We do not care for the soul by shrinking it down to reasonable size...

So, I'm adding another option to that (ridiculous) *natural* rank-ordering of possibilities available to us. In order of preferable options, we now have

I've been in analysis now for 1 1/2 years, and am slowly become aware of the futility of my attempt to find a "coherent story," one that organizes my multiple energies and desires into a single shaped narrative. This notion of polytheism, of not trying to bring all the complexities and contradictions into alignment, but honoring them all...

well, that's hopeful--because, I think, less dis-associating, less separating-the-self-from-the-self AND from engagement with the world. See a two-year-old description (the italicized part) of this phenomenon. (Inextricable interconnected) ivy arises again.


some more thoughts ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-03-20 12:07:10
Link to this Comment: 8911

Was reading a student paper that has the following as the opening quote The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function" Seems relevant, relates to Camus, of course, and to More. The quote is attributed widely on the web to F. Scott Fitzgerald, without any specifics. What the hell was HE thinking about? And, more significantly perhaps, isn't it interesting how the same idea recurs in quite different contexts? And, even more interesting, how the same idea expressed in one context is hard to hear in another, so one goes looking for someone to say it in some context with which one is more familiar/comfortable?

I STILL think that the extension from the personal to the political WAS in Gilligan's mind, whether she was fully aware of it or not, when she wrote the book. And I STILL think that the words/style/context she uses makes it harder for people to recognize that extension. And I think there may well be a relation between the two, that Gilligan's thinking outran her personal style/communicative tools. And THAT's interesting, not only re Gilligan but also re a more general question of whether there is or is not an optimal communicative style.

One other thought (with thanks, again/as always, to all for the rich conversations from which these come): I now understand better the individual/social tension as it is felt by social workers. Patronage systems DO improve the lot of individuals in the short run. What they DON'T do is to improve their lots in the long run/enhance their self-determination abilities/level hierarchies. And THERE, I think, is the individual/social link that was on the mind of Jane Addams and others in THAT social work tradition. It is not enough to help people improve their short run lot; one needs to help them, in their own interests, to become more effective causal agents in the culture of which they are a part.

For the record, exactly the same issue (with exactly the same proposed resolution) occurs in teaching. It is not enough to give people the information they need to be successful in the short run, the task is to help them become effective information generators/critics/synthesizers in the long. Same thing for child-rearing?


on being TOO interested
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-03-22 18:32:34
Link to this Comment: 8946

Yeah, yeah, I'll try and fix things up with my daughter, tell her its ok to be interested in "love" .... just not TOO interested.

I got this attached to a student e-mail today: "Inability to love is the central problem, because that inability masks a certain terror, and that terror is the terror of being touched. And if you can't be touched, you can't be changed. And if you can't be changed, you can't be alive."--James Baldwin

It is not enough to give people the information they need to be successful in the short run, the task is to help them become effective information generators/critics/synthesizers in the long. Same thing for child-rearing?

Am trying right now to advise my own daughter re: taking a stand--does she want to be righteous or kind? say the prophetic thing publically, or facilitate change privately? What language would be most effective, for communicating her perspective to those who see the world differently?

Patronage systems DO improve the lot of individuals in the short run. What they DON'T do is to improve their lots in the long run/enhance their self-determination abilities/level hierarchies.

I still think it's *all* (private AND public) about risking ivy:
Being willing to be moved by...what moves us.
Being willing to risk...moving others.
Being willing to risk...moving together, in concert.

See Pandora Opens the Box.


Fishing
Name: Lucy Kerma
Date: 2004-03-23 15:39:37
Link to this Comment: 8966

Excuse me for dropping in from the outside, but I have been following this conversation with interest and thought I would share a different perspective. As a practioner with an academic background, I work at the intersection of higher education and community development, finding ways to connect the academic and administrative resources of a university with community needs and opportunities. In this kind of work, I am deeply engaged in issues of social change (and economic change, and educational change, and political change, and physical change, all of which are related to my mind). Paul's point about the difference between short and long term goals seems absolutely right to me. There's an old saying, "Give me a fish and I will eat for a day. Teach me to fish and I will eat for a lifetime." It's a critical insight for community development, and so too for teaching, for child-rearing, for social work, and I suspect for many other endeavours: the goal is to build the long-term capacity and self-sufficiency of the individual and community, so that they can create their own worlds and, in turn, teach others.

The connectedness that Paul describes above, whether personal or political, in the private or public realm, seems to me to come along with the commitment and genuine engagement that some people are able to bring to their interactions. Is it risky? I don't know about that. But, at least for me, it is critical if you want to get anything done.


While I'm at it, I wanted to give a plug for a web site that Serendip has been sponsoring, in support of a project in West Philadelphia that is all about building capacity and living in the "long run": www.40thst.org. The web site describes a month-long process of community discussion around the evolution of a retail corridor in University City, 40th Street. The corridor serves an economically and racially diverse neighborhood, and over the course of a month over 350 very diverse people have come together for a series of facilitated conversations about how this corridor should be developed in the future. In addition to the web site, we have a number of "drop off" locations throughout the neighborhood for residents without access to the internet, and we printed the forum area so we could share the conversation as widely as possible. The discussions resulted in a series of "principles" and we are now talking about how to implement them. As important as the principles, though, is what we have learned through the process -- "long run" stuff: I think we have learned how to listen and to talk more effectively, and I hope that will serve us well going forward.

As I think about the process in these terms, I think it has tried to address both short term (solving the problem of 40th St) and long term (creating better community conversation and ties) goals at the same time. Maybe that's what teaching, child-rearing, social work ... what all these activities are trying to get at, not either/or but both/and.


theory/practice
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-03-24 10:37:45
Link to this Comment: 8979

Nice to have Lucy dropping by. Here's an active link to the website she mentions (http://www.40thst.org), and I think I referred to in our last non-virtual get together. It has in fact been a very interesting/useful place for me to try and further develop some abstract ideas by putting them both into simpler words and into practice. The on-line forum for 40th Street is worth browsing through in its own right, and has some examples of my own efforts at "simpler" (?) words and "practice" (?). Well ... "simper" and "practice" at least in comparison to what I sometimes do. Anyhow, "both/and" undoubtedly better than "either/or", and its nice to have someone (another someone) aboard who can help us be sure what we think/say is informed by/germane to life in the trenches.


The Third Great Thing
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-03-25 09:56:20
Link to this Comment: 8995

Lucy's given /reminded me of an important old idea: "connectedness...seems...to come along with the commitment and genuine engagement that [we] are able to bring to [our] interactions."

Makes me think that the key, here, to ivy and social change, to the social change that ivy facilitates, and to the ivy that social change facilitates, is attention to a third thing beyond two people "effortlessly dancing with one another." What's important here is that both/all of them are engaged in an activity larger than themselves. Parker Palmer talks about this in the book we read a few weeks ago in the Explorations of Teaching group, The Courage to Teach. His language is the language of the classroom, but I think the "third great thing" he describes is equally descriptive of a course, a governmental structure (WISH it were particuarly true of a local academic governmental stucture!), a revitalized place of commerce and culture like the 40th St. corridor, the web, the making of a mural to represent (what we want ) Bryn Mawr to be, parenting and...what else??

Here's Parker's account; my edition would replace "transcendent" with "co-equal and co-accountable to me and thee," but...you'll get the idea from his language:

"the classroom should be neither teacher-centered nor student-centered but subject-centered...this is a classroom in which teacher and students alike are focused on a great thing....If we want a community of truth in the classroom, a community that can keep us honest, we must place a third thing, a great thing, at the center of the pedagogical circle. When student and teacher are the only active agents, community easily slips into narcissism, where either the teacher reigns supreme or students can do no wrong. A learning community that embodies both rigor and involvement will elude us....True community in any context requires a transcendent third thing that holds both me and thee accountable to something beyond ourselves, a fact well known outside of education...the power of a subject that transcends our self-absorption and refuses to be reduced to our claims about it....Such a classroom honors one of the most vital needs our students have: to be introduced to a world larger than their own experiences and egos, a world that expands their personal boundaries and enlarges their sense of community."


can we bring Jane Addams into the mix?
Name: Corey Shda
Date: 2004-03-26 09:02:38
Link to this Comment: 9010

I am picking a thread in Lucy, Anne and Paul's latest comments, which is the idea of knowing as being open to other people and ideas and whether it is comfortable or painful (or both). This echoes a passage from Jane Addams essay "the Subtle Problems of Charity" She is talking about her settlement house work and the clashes of cultures and values and difficulty of working with actual people, and certainly speaks to the "theory/practice" title of Paul's latest posting.

"For most of the years during a decade of residence in a settlement, my mind was sore and depressed over the difficulties of the charitable relationship...Recently , however, there has come to my mind the suggestion of a principle, that while the painful condition of administering charity is the inevitable discomfort of a transition into a more democratic relation, the perplexing experiences of the actual administration have a genuine value of their own...The social reformers who avoid the charitable relationship with any of their fellow men take a certain outside attitude toward this movement. They may analyze it and formulate it; they may be most valuable and necessary, but they are not essentially within it. The mass of men seldom move together without an emotional incentive, and the doctrinaire, in his effort to keep his mind free from the emotional quality, inevitably stands aside. He avoids the perplexity, and at the same time loses the vitality."

The discomfort of worrying about the consequences of what you do is a willingness to keep your eyes open and to try and understand what disabilities our abilities and privileges bring (Culture as Disability?). I am struck by people who do not let the doubts paralyze them while at the same time do not push them away (refuse to disassociate from the discomfort?). Jane Addams tells us that if we are not discomforted by our helping, then there is something wrong; and if we are not perplexed by work with others then we are not truly alive. So we need to both know our limits and to love, we need to acknowledge our own needs and integrity and respect students, we need to help others and be aware of the ways in which some kinds of helping can damage, etc. Because all of this involves other people, we have to also be willing to take the risk that we'll try this and our imagined partners (or our partners as we imagine them) will or will not join us. This strikes me as a shared thread of the Freire, Palmer and Gilligan readings and also connected to the progressives and the imperative to recognize our understanding as contingent and imperfect but nevertheless not avoid acting and making moral decisions working with what we have so long as we are willing to be open and revise as new experiences and interactions accrue.
Another point on this that came up in last week's discussion was whether the knowing (or the attempt to know) is a burden, a privilege or an obligation. So for example DuBois' double consciousness is both a burden and a privilege. And I, like I understood Paul, believe that this is not (only) a burden but a privilege. To be honest with myself, I really see it as an obligation, with all the moral implications that carries- i.e. the people that don't have to "see double" should (and I think you can read DuBois this way too...)
I've been wondering about how to think about Psyche's looking at Cupid- she's kind of compelled by her own need, her curiousity, her sisters' stories, what else? I also wonder about the different knowings and how they are connected (the personal and the policital, maybe?)
As usual, our continued conversation raises more questions even as I write this.
Corey


Psyche Sees Double
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-03-28 18:54:31
Link to this Comment: 9037

Like Corey, I was struck by the story of Psyche's looking @ Cupid; Gilligan's account of this event spoke very strongly to some impulse of my own. Corey's juxtaposing it w/ Du Bois gave me a possible understanding both of what was going on in that myth and what impels me to continual question-asking, data-gathering, truth-seeking.

Get this, folks: Psyche was attempting double consciousness. In refusing to be bound by the terms Cupid set out, determined--despite (because of?) his prohibition against "looking"--to see for herself what he looked like, she was trying to see double. She was openly acknowledging her wish for two contrary impulses--what she wanted and what WAS--to be in alignment, and her awareness that they were not. She was grasping for what DuBois didn't ask for, but was handed, as a black man in this country, and what (according to Gilligan, many) women in all countries/all ages have been afraid to seek.

No wonder her act speaks so strongly to me.
Thank you, Corey, for the insight.


Wow- plus a little more
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2004-03-30 08:11:04
Link to this Comment: 9075

Like Corey and Anne, I too keep going back to Psyche's decision (and I use that word purposely to inform prior discussions) to look despite prohibitions. I love the connections Corey and Anne have made to double consciousness- they ring for me. I'd like to add that in both cases there is a "monstrous-ification" that is occurring by virtue of not looking and seeing, and that the seeing (or development of double-consciousness) allows each to see the other more fully and allows the potential for true connection. Du Bois, if I'm remembering correctly, suggests that speaking the truth of these connections is what is necessary to fulfill the potential for connection. As Psyche does not get the chance to speak until later in the myth (and then after much trial and tribulation) we see that speaking the truth of connection (a different form of ivy?) is a further part of what is necessary to enable connection: Seeing and Speaking are needed.

I see this frequently in couples I work with as well- they may each see each other's strengths and vulnerabilities, but if they don't speak to one another of the acceptance of both strengths and vulnerabilities of the other, the fears about acceptance, or lack thereof, (analogous to monstrous-ification possibly?) continue and poison the relationship. This even seems to fit into the discussions among the community members of West Philadelphia- only when they See and Speak, without defense and without adoption of the stereotyped beliefs each may have about the other, is there hope of fulfilling the potential of connection. I'm really loving the connections we have built via GIF- and I'm glad to see and speak of them:)


how necessary is honesty?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-01 17:55:28
Link to this Comment: 9120

For another ASTONISHINGLY rich discussion of double consciousness see The (Continuing) Evolution of (My) Mind : An Engagement with Dan Gottlieb. I was quite moved by that engagement, and coming off of it find I'd very much like to talk more--here on the forum or when we meet again in person--about this matter Judy raises of Seeing and Speaking. Am wondering if double consciousness (necessarily?) entails what Judy calls "speaking the truth of connection...as a further part of what is necessary to enable connection," or whether it might (possibly?) involve acknowledging what (BMC student) Orah Minder has called the aerial view of reality, WITHOUT feeling the need to describe it to all of those w/ whom one shares life on the ground.


bibliographer keeps her promise
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-23 14:34:51
Link to this Comment: 9570

My head is spilling up and over w/ the marvelous conversations we had over dinner last night and in the explorations of teaching workshop this morning w/ Mary Belenky and Blythe Clinchy; I'll probably write more about this later, once the volcano's settled a bit...

But I did want to follow up right away on my promise to provide links to several of the texts/events that came up during this morning's conversation:

You'll find on-line on Serendip the full text of Ursula LeGuin's 1986 Bryn Mawr Commencement Address, with which Blythe opened our session.

You can get information about Eleanor Duckworth's upcoming visit to campus from Victor Donnay in the BMC Math Department. There is a chance to meet w/ her in an informal small group discussion, 1-1:30 next Thursday, 4/29/04, in the Multicultural Center; a 2 p.m. workshop on math/science education @ the Gateway Center; and a public lecture in Room 243 in the Park Science Building from 7-8:30 pm, w/ a reception afterwards until 9 p.m.

Also--here's who she is:
A former student and translator of Jean Piaget, Eleanor Duckworth grounds her work in Piaget's theories of the nature and development of intelligence. Her main interest is in teaching and the experience of teachers and learners of all ages both in and out of schools. Duckworth is a former elementary school teacher and has worked in curriculum development, teacher education, and program evaluation in the United States, Switzerland, Africa, and her native Canada.  Her Ph.D. is from Universite de Geneve.  Recent publications include:  "Tell Me More": Listening to Learners Explain (2001); Teacher to Teacher: Learning from Each Other (1997); "The Having of Wonderful Ideas" and Other Essays on Teaching and Learning, second edition (1996).

Finally: you'll find multiple examples of the use of on-line forums to help students KNOW and EXPERIENCE that they are co-producers of knowledge @ Forum Archive, The Story of Evolution/The Evolution of Stories. And a description of my book on same both @ Academe and Peter Lang.

Think that fulfills my obligation as bibliographer!

Thanks to all for a wonderful experience in teaching-and-learning together.

Anne


about silence..
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-24 19:31:04
Link to this Comment: 9581

Just wanted to assure Corey that, despite my "meanness," yesterday, in insisting that all my students have an obligation to speak/contribute to our common project...

I still value silence! See Silence redux...


about silence..
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-04-24 22:01:13
Link to this Comment: 9583

Just wanted to assure Corey that, despite my "meanness," yesterday, in insisting that all my students have an obligation to speak/contribute to our common project...

I still value silence! See Silence redux...


Poets...
Name: Xenia Mori
Date: 2004-04-30 23:01:23
Link to this Comment: 9711

Paul, Judie, Corey, Anne, Tom, Roland, Cheryl, Sam,

Thanks for the fascinating discussion this afternoon. My mind is still swimming in all the multidimensions of thought, memory and knowing what we know. While I was preparing a talk for tomorrow (a dedication for the walking track I helped to raise funds for), I began looking for quotations on walking. When I found the following quote, I thought about our discussion today and wanted to share it with you.

NUMBER: 23290
QUOTATION:
He knew a path that wanted walking;
He knew a spring that wanted drinking;
A thought that wanted further thinking;
A love that wanted re-renewing.
ATTRIBUTION: Robert Frost (1874–1963), U.S. poet. "A Lone Striker."

It strikes me that poets, like Robert Frost, are able to distill their thoughts and perhaps initially unconscious awareness to an essential essence-perhaps to the core of the I function, using few but carefully selected words. Poets have that uncanny ability to choose words to invoke imagery and feeling as if able to traverse the divide between the two boxes you describe. I remember once hearing an interview with a poet (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten) who said that he rarely knew what the poem would become because it "just came" to him, out of no where, as if percolating up from below. This description resonates for me as I reflect more on todays discussion.

Perhaps we need to invite a poet to our next meeting? What are your thoughts?

Xenia


Learning to tell our story walking
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-05-02 23:19:06
Link to this Comment: 9748

I'd actually just been thinking, not about a poet, but about how nice it might be to read some fiction together during the summer months. I've just begun Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn, about a Tourettic detective (MUCH here that resonates w/ Friday's discussion about conscious/unconscious processing, as well as with earlier discussions re: connectivity and networking...). There's one passage in particular that picks up very nicely from Xenia's "path that wanted walking," and her notion that poets are distillers:

A true story...was of the beat cop...who routinely... if met with excuses, would cut them off with "Yeah, yeah. Tell your story walking." More than anything, this somehow encapsulated my sense of Minna--his impatience, his pleasure in compression, in ordinary things made more expressive, more hilarious or vivid by their conflation. He loved talk but despised explanations. An endearment was flat unless folded into an insult. An insult was better if it was also self-deprecation, and ideally should also serve as a slice of street philosophy, or as resumption of some dormant debate. And all talk was finer on the fly, out on the pavement, between beats of action: We learned to tell our story walking. (p. 69)


last week
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-05-03 17:59:33
Link to this Comment: 9752

Enjoyed it too ( as always). Actually has interesting connection to a recent presentation about information from which came an idea of a distinction between "useful" and "potential" information (akin to a distinction between useful and potential energy).

As for the conscious/unconscious distinction in re "memory", see A Bi-directional Bridge Between Neuroscience/Cognitive Science and Psychotherapy?. Thanks, all, for pushing to the point where I had to realize that the "bits and pieces" in the unconscious had to be compared to a "story" in the conscious to get "memory". There is, I think, more gold in them thar hills yet to mine.


Thinking too- about limbic knowing
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2004-05-04 12:17:35
Link to this Comment: 9756

I have many thoughts swirling and not quite cohering- seem to me not to be on the bottom box of the unconscious nor the upper level processing box of consciousness, but somewhere in the middle, trying to find a story to be tucked away in the upper box. So please bear with me.

Yesterday on NPR they were interviewing interogators about the ethics of interogation in prisoners/detainees and what is allowable. In response to a questioner who implied that one is only going to be able to get useful information from prisoners if allowed to threaten or torture them, the interogator/trainer replied that prisoners go into a "state of limbic thought" where they will provide more useful information if they believe their interogator won't hurt them and is on their side, than if threatened.

Don't know quite how the connection goes for me, but I wonder about the discussions we've had about ivy and connection and if they must, too, be occurring in "limbic thought", a place where it seems the whole gestalt of thought, emotion, physical sensation and unspecified knowing occurs. Both consciously and unconsciously processed at the same time, yet not of the pre-conscious Freud discussed as known knowledge that one must pull to consciousness. Again, it seems to me that this is a place where decision-making that occurs- not by the flip of a coin as Paul has asserted, but by full analysis of both concrete bits of info., as well as intuitive knowledges that one doesn't even know one has, but senses and can learn about if one gives substantial attention to one's thoughts and behaviors (and the goal of good analysis).

Can this synthesis of the two boxes (or pulling from both simultaneously) only be done in the space not only between the "brain boxes", but necessarily in the context of relationship and connection? How does safety in the relationship connection/ ivy contribute to being able to process on these integrated levels (as it sure seems that those whose relationships and survival are threatened have much more difficulty accessing this level of thought)? What happens when social norms are the threat, in the absence of threats to survival, or maybe even relationships? And on what seems a very bizarre note, how does this relate to physical connections (i.e., what level of brain is active during orgasm for instance)?

Just musings, hoping for some responses.


Fellow Travelers and Their Portmanteau Words
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-05-05 22:33:38
Link to this Comment: 9799

I've just posted, in my conventional, compulsive archival-mania, one account of our recent Workshop with Mary Belenky and Blythe Clinchy (with Eleanor Duckworth included for good measure @ the end). You'll find there an observation that picks up quite nicely from our recent discussion of Damasio's The Feeling of What Happens: "It was as if their minds had 're-organized themselves,' destroying the 'system for memory which had been in place.'"

Coming into this space to tell you that, I'm also picking up on a number of additional resonances between both those teaching workshops, Paul's observation, and Judie's query, above. Paul's just given us a nice new distinction between potential and useful information (in the terms of our most recent discussion, I gather that the former are the "fragments" occupying the minds of us all, the latter the "memories" we construct of them). I see this distinction as another useful way of describing what Belenky and Clinchy call "received" and "connectivist" knowing, the latter also being the reason Duckworth insists that each of us gets our students to Tell Me More.

Judie's thinking-aloud about how gestalt knowing might be facilitated by "interconnected vastness" (in Paul's terms, "an unhierarchized outside facilitates an unhierarchized inside"--a reverse of his earlier discussion of the connection between ivy and thinking, in which he claimed that "having refused hierarchy within oneself, one cannot but become subversive of hierarchy, of all kinds, in the social and political realm"--in other words, that eschewing hierarchy "inside" enables us to work against it "outside"). This, too, is alternative language for what Belenky & Clinchy describe as the ability to integrate what one receives from others into what we ourselves feel and think; it's what Duckworth demonstrated when she refused to use her authority to stop a discussion, because "given an answer, kids stop thinking."

Can't wait for the next round of this endless process.

Thanks to all, both local long-term residents and visitors stopping by to travel along w/ us for a while.


Follow-up to Eleanor Duckworth's Workshops
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-05-14 22:57:39
Link to this Comment: 9884

Eleanor Duckworth's visit to campus on April 29, 2004 (co-sponsored by the Math Science Project Partnership of Greater Philadelphia and the Center for Science in Society) generated some interesting conversation in the halls around here afterwards--so several of us decided to gather this afternoon, May 14, for a (sit-down) follow-up discussion (with the same sponsors; for which thanks). Attending were folks from quite a range of departments--Kim Cassidy (Psychology), Jody Cohen (Education), Anne Dalke (English), Victor Donnay (Mathematics), Paul Grobstein (Biology), Blythe Hoyle (Geology) and Corey Shdaimah (Grad School of Social Work)--with as wide a range of reactions to what Eleanor had shown us. Some of us very much liked her sessions because they gave us some new math knowledge, others because they "threw our math knowledge into question"; others disliked them intensely because they refused to allow us to rely on the algebra we comfortably use to think with (and we were horrified at all the time spent on answers which were algebraically incorrect).

We agreed that, in both her afternoon and evening sessions, Eleanor posed an exercise intended to bring out different and conflicting answers--but we had quite a lively discussion about the end point of that demonstration, and what its consequences might be for us as teachers. We were agreed in wanting, by the end of Eleanor's presentation, a "meta-level" discussion of her intentions: was she using the tool of inviting students to "tell her more" in order to arrive, finally, at a group consensus about the right answer (just how was its rightness adjudicated?). Mention was made, in this context, of Thomas Kuhn's account, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, of how scientists arrive at proofs: each explains his own "story" of what is happening until--motivated by the discomfort of dissonance among the stories--they agree on a common one. But we "lose something if everyone agrees." Can there be different levels of consensus? (There was a quip here about "Quaker math.")

Of more interest to this group was the possiblility that Eleanor did (might she? might we, as educators?) use the different ways that different people think not in order to arrive at consensus, but rather to encourage further inquiry (and so extend her claim that "given an answer, we stop thinking"). Along this line, we brainstormed three possible productive endings for Eleanor's exercise. The first was the one she gave us, which might usefully be "nested" into the others:

This led to discussion of the presumptions (=a schema of "progress through stages" which learners follow) underlying Piaget's (and Kim's) work; perhaps it would be more productive to assume that what kids actually learn, in time, is not to progress through a sequence of increasingly sophisticated and abstract logics, but rather what the relevant contexts are for applying what they already know. Some of us, dissatisfied w/ that proposal, wanted it further elaborated: where do such schemas come from? From contextual experience? Or are we born w/ them? (Who was right? Locke or Kant?)

There was also quite a bit of discussion about whether specifically content-driven exercises (such as the one Eleanor was using, to help children really understand--without falling back on the shorthand of numbers--the fundamental concept of proportionality) can ever enable learners to really play out the range of multiple possibilities available (to "fluidize their brains"). Perhaps such content-driven workshops are necessary to reach teachers (or teachers in training) who begin with the value of coverage--in order to move them beyond it.

Perhaps the liveliest point of discussion, however, was whether this sort of exploratory teaching can actually enable students to perform better on standardized tests. Several of us were convinced that it would not--that such tests are aimed @ evaluating a different set of skills (for which exploratory thinking would be a disadvantage, since so many "right" answers are right only in very limited contexts). Others were equally adamant that--given the current educational climate--we HAD to be able to assess the effectiveness of such teaching on standardized forms. Might other testing mechanisms be developed, that invite multiple right answers? Can we do assessment in terms of thinking skills, rather than according to subjects?

Eleanor had mentioned to one of us the range of exercises she'd experimented w/, in order to teach proportionality (for instance, mixing a variety of color pigments, then asking which mixture was "more purple-y"); but we agreed that every example is going to be "hooked," in some way, to the subjectivities of the real world. We discussed the notion that the rules of math are deliberately structured in order to enable us to determine what is true. For example, the meaning of distance, once well defined as operational, was brought into question w/ the development of other geometries. We think that math represents reality, but it is just a model, just a translation, which we try always to equate w/ certainty (mention was made of Radcliffe Edmunds' talk, in last fall's "What Counts?" series, on The Theology of Arithmetic, which traced back to the Pythagoreans our still-current desire to locate the infallible and unchangeable in numbers).

Discussion closed w/ the proposal that such lively conversation about why and how we teach might well continue in a number of venues on campus. Stay tuned for further possibilities...


Reflections on our Duckworth Discussion
Name: Victor Don
Date: 2004-05-16 09:44:16
Link to this Comment: 9895

Reflections on our Duckworth Discussion
May 15, 2004
Donnay

Here are some of my thoughts on our Duckworth adventure and its implications for me as an educator.

By not giving a tidy wrap up to her presentation, Duckworth (teacher) provided us (student) with a rich learning opportunity. People expressed feelings of uncertainty and curiosity about what the purpose of her presentation had been (as well as disappointment, frustration and anger). Having active thoughts stimulated us to get together and discuss the issue further.

It takes courage for a teacher to bring one's students into this zone of discomfort, knowing that one of their reactions will be anger at the teacher for not "doing it right'; i.e. for not telling the student the answer. Knowing ahead of time that this reaction will happen (indeed hoping that it happens) can make it less scary for the teacher.

Many thanks to Anne and Paul for bringing us together – we have all been subjected to so much authoritative teaching that many of us have lost much of our natural sense of power and would not have been able to take the initiative to set up such a further dialogue without their leadership.

There are many valid/true/correct answers to a question as illustrated by our diverse responses to the question "what happened at Duckworth's presentation and what was the point ?" or as illustrated by the participants response to "which mixture tastes more coffeeer and why?"

Our past backgrounds and present areas of thought, contribute to forming our particular responses (connection to Paul's presentation on how the brain works). All the diverse reactions we have are valid and bring valuable information to the discussion.

Having a comfortable, non-judgmental environment is an important ingredient in making it safe enough for people to share their own thoughts even if they are different from other people's. Depending on one's own perspective on an issue, it may look like someone else's ideas are totally "wrong" or at least "way off base". That is because we do not yet understand that person's perspective; the thinking that underlies their response. If we can delve deeply enough into their thinking, we will see that there is an internal logic as to why they made the response they did.

It is hard to pay enough attention to other people's explanations to really understand "where they are coming from". In the afternoon session, people complained about "their brains hurting" as they tried to follow the various explanations that were being given about " what tastes more strongly of coffee". My first reaction to some of the discussion in today's group was that "people were really missing the point". They may have been missing my point, but they had their own points that they were interested in. And their points can have a value for me.

To be willing to undertake the challenging task of understanding another's thinking and for this person to be willing to open up their thinking process to our scrutiny, there needs to be trust and respect for one another's thinking including a basic faith that the other person is "smart" and has information/ideas that is worth learning about.

It was probably a good thing in terms of the trust/safety factor of the group that I did not say to people in the group: "You are really stupid. You are completely missing the point of her presentation" even if that was what I was feeling. This might have caused people to shut down.

In the context of the math problem, I was aware that there are many different trains of thought that can lead to a "correct" solution and was able to enjoy seeing how different people thought. On the question of "what was the point of the Duckworth presentation", I was more welded to the notion that my ideas were "correct" and other people's ideas were "off base". This variation in my response might be related to my experience level with the "material". In math, I have had multiple experiences of seeing the value of different approaches to a problem and reflecting on that experience. Although I might have had previous experiences of "really listening and hearing" other peoples' thinking on a more "subjective" topic (debatable), I have not had many of these experiences or reflected extensively enough on them. Hence I was not able to recognize/remember at the start of yesterday's discussion that I was in a situation where there was value to be gained from listening to (i.e. trying to understand) other people's perspectives. (Intellectual arrogance that those of us who have been successful in "traditional" schooling situations can develop).

There is value to trying to understand differing views. By engaging in Paul's perspective (rather than dismissing it as "off base"), my mind started thinking about rational numbers as a mathematical model of the concept of more/less than. I had never thought of that idea before. Anne's comments about taking into account whether an author was a wife beater in thinking about his writings, stimulated me to think about this meta-cognition view of our group discussion. Blythe's comments about there sometimes being a "right" answer (ex. in how to spell words) also stirred the pot. I was also struck by the "heated" nature of the debate in the group, which initially felt threatening to me, but then noticed was carefully couched in the setting of intellectual (not personal) debate: Paul's comment about finding himself on the wrong side of an issue for example.

In yesterday's faculty meeting, I was able to listen to the opinions expressed by a wide variety of colleagues and get some new ideas as to what the crux of the problem was in the "what is a course debate" – a mismatch of expectations. For me to be able to take in my colleagues viewpoints, it was important that my mind was functioning well; i.e. that it was not shut down as a result of fear or anger or hurt. This experience supports my opinion that it is important to create explicit "rules of engagement" for our faculty (and community dialogue) in which people will feel safe and hence able be able to think clearly.

In working up the courage to present my idea of "rules of engagement" to the faculty, it was helpful to take the perspective (as suggested to me by my wife) that although this idea might not be "the complete, perfect solution that everyone would agree with"; it would stimulate discussion and act as a catalyst to generate ideas – be an input for other people's thinking. Knowing that my suggestion did not have to be perfect to be valuable was very freeing.

Until people have processed information at one level, they are not ready to process information at a higher level. I am thinking of a comment like "that is a really stupid idea" and how that could shut down people's thinking. However, I feel that having reached a new level of understanding about this cohort of ideas, I would now welcome a discussion around the issue of such comments.

When Paul raised an issue at Duckworth's talk, she said that she did not want to deal with it then. Was this a seeming contradiction to her view of the importance of exploring people's thinking or a sense that most of the people in the audience did not have the "point of view" to engage in the issue Paul was raising? This speaks to the issue of teacher still having a role in guiding the proceedings.

By bringing such a "rude" issue out into the open and examining it and setting ground rules together, we diffuse its power over us. If we all have such a discussion, then in the future if one of us says "that is a stupid idea", rather than the comment freezing people's thinking, it might elicit laughter and knowing smiles (.. there goes Charlie, slipping back into silly old judgmental mode... what a sweet dear ... given how he was treated by the educational system, it is not surprising that this mode of (non) thinking will occasionally still pop up in spite of his best efforts to overcome it ... ok group, somebody give Charlie a hug and let's get back on task).

Yet another brand new thought. For the past 15 years, I have been involved in project called Re-Evaluation Counseling (Co-Counseling for short). The basic idea is one learns listening skills and then takes turns with a partner listening and being listened to. Being listened to well is a powerful (and rare) experience. Usually the second person is so eager to be listened to himself that he keeps interrupting the first person. However, the process of being well listened to as one thinks/reflects on an issue (why is it so hard to finish writing my paper; why I am so scared to have people disagree with my ideas) can result in freeing up one's thinking (diffusing the power that the old pattern of thinking had on one). A basic tenet of Co-Counseling is that our thinking/perception of issues is heavily influenced by our previous experiences and their emotional impact and that negative experiences can cause us to think/act in less than rational ways. By being listened to, we can undo the damaging effects of these previous experiences and regain our full ability to think clearly – as well as live our lives zestfully.

Parting thoughts for now: these are my thoughts and writing them out was useful for me. In so far as they provide an input stimulus for other people's thoughts, they would be useful for other people. My views are not the "correct answer" and I do not expect that people reading them should/could/would necessarily find them all to ring true for themselves (much as I would like this to happen!). What might happen is that depending where people are in their own thinking, some of these reflections might resonate immediately, a person might take away others to ponder (humm ... it is important to have time to think and reflect for this type of learning to take place ), and for other ideas, a person might respond "Victor sure missed the boat on that one"

Gee, I have learned a lot from Duckworth's presentation.

Cheers,
Victor


how freeing to be imperfect
Name: adalke@bry
Date: 2004-05-16 10:11:51
Link to this Comment: 9896

I'm wanting to draw one strand out of Victor's rich reflections--

"In working up the courage to present my idea...to the faculty, it was helpful to take the perspective...that although this might not be 'the complete, perfect solution that everyone would agree with,' it would stimulate discussion and act as a catalyst to generate ideas – be an input for other people's thinking. Knowing that my suggestion did not have to be perfect to be valuable was very freeing--"

and link it to the core idea in one of the texts we're reading for our next discussion in "Explorations of Teaching" (scheduled for Tuesday, May 25, 1-3 p.m. in the Kingsbury Room, GSSW): Sharon Welch's very acute explanation, in The Feminist Ethic of Risk, that constructions of ethical responsibility shaped by an ethic of control (which assume it's possible to guarantee the efficacy of our actions) are paralyzing. We think that the impossibility of guaranteed success, of arriving @ single comprehensive solutions, is a tragedy, rather than celebrating these limits as sources for richness, diversity and novelty....

This train of thinking is richly reminiscent of our earier conversatins in the Monthly Study Group about pragmatism (I link to Corey's comments, but there were many others...): the need to take a stand on the basis of (always incomplete) information and (always unpredicable) results.

Bon mot from my current bedtime reading, Amana Cross's Poetic Justice:
"All causes are lost causes, as e.e. cummings used to say; otherwise, they're effects."

Will let the mathmaticians among us take up THAT gauntlet!


Reflections on our Duckworth Discussion
Name: Blythe Hoy
Date: 2004-05-17 09:53:39
Link to this Comment: 9900

As I was thinking about our small group discussion (on May 15) of ED's presentation, I realized that I had missed an important clue in ED's 2/3 vs. 3/4 presentation of the problem. She kept going on about different solution volumes, and this weekend the chemist in me took over as I was thinking how I would mix up these two solutions (presented as RATIOS of different liquids) to create an empirical taste test. The first would have 2 parts (volumes) milk + 3 parts (volumes) coffee. There would be a total of 5 equal volumes. A chemist mixing such a solution might combine 20 mL milk + 30 mL coffee to yield a 50-mL drink. For the next solution, she would combine 30 mL of milk + 40 mL of coffee for a 70-mL drink. The milk concentration by volume in the first solution would be 20 mL out of 50 total mL (0.40 milk v/v). The milk concentration by volume in the second solution would be 30 mL out of 70 mL total liquid (0.43 milk v/v). I realized that this is why folks were matching paper clips and discarding equal numbers of milk and coffee clips, and this is why their answers sounded reasonable to me (though the chemist part of my brain must have been asleep that evening!). I suspect it might be difficult for the casual coffee drinker to pick out the difference between the two solutions, rendering the problem moot for the geologist portion of my brain, which is interested in really BIG differences such as millions of years. Her example of 2/3 vs. 3/4 as a comparison of FRACTIONS works only for equal volumes of liquid, say 50 mL of each drink, so that 2/3 of 50 mL = 33.3 mL milk and 3/4 of 50 mL = 37.5 mL milk (which is a little more than 10% more milk in the second drink - possibly discernibly different to the taste). The latter approach appeared to have been the point of her example, because the "correct" answer presented at the end of the evening session was to use 12 as a least common denominator, and convert 2/3 to 8/12 and 3/4 to 9/12, thereby concluding that solution B contained more milk. In the trained-as-a-scientist/engineer part of my brain, I believe that use of fuzzy definitions (RATIOS AS ANALOGIES vs. FRACTIONS OF A TOTAL) makes a reasonably simple problem more complicated than it needs to be. In the child part of my brain, I wonder how on earth I managed to survive my education and become a scientist!



Name: Corey Shda
Date: 2004-05-19 09:54:16
Link to this Comment: 9901

I wanted to share some thoughts that were helped in becoming a bit more concrete after I taught my first class in Issues of Cultural Diversity, a summer course at social work.
I have been thinking a lot about the idea of rules of engagement, which we talked about briefly and Victor mentioned in his posting. I have also been thinking about what I had mentioned in the discussion, which was stressing the difference in what I study and teach from the way many were characterizing the idea of right answers in particular contexts. I was glad that Anne referred to my comments on pragmatism that hopefully dispel some of the relativism red-herring arguments (that we didn't have, but always lurk on the edges of these discussions).
I didn't mean to imply that there are no constraints on the answers I believe are "acceptable," even in the disciplines where, whatever the context, there doesn't seem to be much agreement or clarity. In thinking then about what would be a right or wrong answer to a question related to a question of social policy, I'm not sure I could say that we can know what a "right answer" is although it seems to me that we could identify a "wrong answer," and that this is tied to the rules of engagement. In my first cultural diversity I asked the class to come up with some ground rules for the class, because many of the topics are deeply personal and difficult to discuss. My main goal in doing this was to get us all to recognize the difficulties this class can present and to think about how the discourse can be facilitated or impeded by the way that we listen and talk. The underlying themes that connected all the rules that came out were that they were designed to create a classroom atmosphere that felt safe and welcomed honesty (both personal and intellectual); that was based on respect for others; that encouraged people to take responsibility for and examine their ideas; that encouraged curiosity that was grounded in true interest rather than judgment or some agenda; and, maybe most importantly, that did not stop the conversation. These strike me as similar to what Duckworth was trying to do in the way she paid (gave?) attention to the participants (that I feel also made others give attention more carefully), and similar to what Habermas proposes when he talks about the rules for democratic discourse. The actual rules can change, as can answers (which remain contingent in the Pragmatic sense)-so long as they do not shut down discourse. So the only wrong answer would be one that shuts down discourse generally or that bars someone/some group from participating in it (not because they had broken the rules which I guess would be okay- I have to think about that- and not, for example, because of some group or individual characteristic or disciplinary boundary). I'm wondering if this then can be the threshhold then for all discussions, in all contexts- even for the ones that have a "right answer" in a given context. Perhaps what was troubling about the end of Duckworth's seminar (that I missed, but based on the impressions I had from some of you) was the sense that after having learned about the variety of possible answers in different contexts, the declaration of one "right answer" without being willing to address (1) context,
and (2) what might be learned from the exercise that was different from the intended outcome
had an inhibiting effect and stopped discourse on one facet of the discussion (perhaps the most interesting one for many).
Thank you all for continuing this discussion
Corey


Last Confederate Widow Dies
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-06-03 16:35:32
Link to this Comment: 10045

Before we descend again tomorrow afternoon to the level of neurons ;)

I want to pick up (on a level that I can make more sense of) /pull out of Roland's summary of our last discussion both Paul's notion that "memories are created on the fly," and Corey's related thought that "we select our memories...for political purposes...." And I want to do so by laying two more stories alongside one another.

The first comes from an obituary in Tuesday's (6/1/04) Philadelphia Inquirer,
"A. Martin, Last Civil War Widow":

a celebrated final link to the old Confederacy...she spent her final years with the Sons of Confederate Veterans squiring her to conventions and rallies, often with a small Confederate battle flag in her hand and her clothes the colors of the rebel banner...the historical distinctiveness of the South, so tied to the Civil War, had been disappearing, and Martin provided people with one last chance to see that history in real life. "She became a symbol, like the Confederate battle flag."

What's of interest to me here, of course, is the utter tenuousness/utter constructedness of this "history in real life," this "symbol." At 18, A. Martin met a man; had a son by him; the father died. In 1927, when she was 21, she made a "marriage of convenience" w/ an 81-year-old Confederate veteran, and had a son by him. Asked if she loved her husband, she said, "That's a hard question to answer. I cared enough about him to live with him. You know the difference between a young man and an old man." Mrs. Martin said her husband never talked much about the war...."He'd say it was rough, how the trenches were full of water....They were so hungry that...they came across a potato patch and made up some mashed potatoes." He died in 1931; two months later, Mrs. Martin married her late husband's grandson.

Now set this preservation of "memory" alongside a talk I gave in Ohio last week on Finding the Language of Peace, which I built on (among other things) the assertion that Susan Sontag makes in her recent book, Regarding the Pain of Others:

People want to be able to visit--and refresh--their memories. Now many victim peoples want a memory museum, a temple that houses a comprehensive, chronologically organized, illustrated narrative of their sufferings....Perhaps too much value is assigned to memory, not enough to thinking....To make peace is to forget. To reconcile, it is necessary that memory be faulty and limited...

So, enter again Damasio (p. 312, p. 332): "the most startling idea in this book is that...consciousness begins as a feeling.....all our memory...exists in dispositional form (a synonym for implicit, covert, nonconscious), waiting to become an explicit image or action...dispositions are not words. They are abstract records of potentialities...the town of Brigadoon waiting to come alive for a brief period."


Hacking on Damasio
Name: Roland Sta
Date: 2004-06-05 11:39:13
Link to this Comment: 10048

The newest edition of the NY Review of Books includes a wonderful and critical review of Damasio's newest book "Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain". Here is the link: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17217.
Roland


stewing
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-06-05 19:18:41
Link to this Comment: 10049

I left our session yesterday in laughter...and wonderment: what makes these conversations of ours such a delight (am wondering if knowing the recipe would make them reproduceable, or whether they have to do w/ the unique constellation of our unique selves...;)

Whatever. Here's what I've been stewing over since; further vegetables welcome in said pot:

1. "Emotion is the method the unconscious has to communiate with consciousness" (VERY nice; thanks, Paul).

2. I think I now understand, from Damasio, why we have emotions in general (i.e., what functions they serve...) but I still don't know why each PARTICULAR one of us has the PARTICULAR emotions she has. Am still wondering just what makes (Damasio, Looking for Spinoza, via Tom) for an "emotionally competent stimulus" (i.e., one that "generates change in the feeling state") for each of us as individuals.

3. This question is of course very closely related to my repeated one abt. why each of us selects PARTICULAR memories. I think I now understand, from Damasio, why we have memories in general (i.e. what functions they serve), but am also still puzzling over why each of us has the PARTICULAR memories she has. When we construct these "phoney" (sic) things we call memories, "to account for traces (=associations between experiences)," why do we construct the particular constellations we do? Corey and I both discussed, above, the nurturing of particular memories for political or patriotic reasons...but why is each of us also haunted by memories we would rather NOT have...what function do they serve?

4. Relatedly: if "transference is the essence of perception," if we inevitably see everything through the lens of prior experiences, then, again: why do we unconsciously select (is this how it works?) the PARTICULAR lens, the PARTICULAR earlier experiences that affect our current ones?

5. Finally: if all this is interpersonal, essentially a social process between subject and subject...then there also still remains for me the matter of honesty: I have questions whether the concept of being honest w/ another (much less being honest w/ oneself) has any worth or meaning, in light of the formulation of both emotions and memories?


Women's Ways of Loving
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-06-05 19:52:57
Link to this Comment: 10050

The other thing I've been chewing over is the essay about "The Critical Reexamination of Fusion" which Tom shared w/ us @ the end of yesterday's conversation (and for which many thanks). It of course has enormous resonance to our conversation this winter about "effortlessly dancing w/ another" (aka interconnected vastness, or ivy) and offers, I think, a major correction to the certainty of the claim "that ivy will be at most transiently and incompletely satisfied." The essay draws on studies of intimacy in lesbian relationships to argue that fusion be understood not as pathological but as normative (okay, so that concept's a problem; let's say instead that the essay argues for including fusion--actually sustained fusion--in the range of possible "healthy expressions of mature love").

What Mencher offers in this chapter is an alternative to the traditional psychoanalytic understanding of psychic life as beginning in fusion (mother-baby dyad) and proceeding as a struggle against an intense desire to return to this state of merger: "this longing continually alternates with the 'fear of re-engulfment' which threatens the personal identity and entity of the individual. The longing for union and fear of re-engulfment is the basic conflict of human existence." Analysts following this conventional line of thinking might counsel their patients, for instance, to maintain individual boundaries by creating "elements of secrecy and mystery," in order to protect themselves from "uncontrolled intimacy,"or "sustained fusion."

Mencher turns on its head this psychoanalytic view of adult fusion as pathological (=expressive of an "impaired development of the self and immature or regressed object relations"). She focuses instead on the increasing ability, as one matures, to engage in mutually enhancing relationships which hinge "neither on the assertion of difference of self from other nor on a lessening degree of need for or connection to the other." She arrives at a "paradox of empathy": by joining in an intimate connection, self and self may become more accurately articulate: "the more we feel connected, the more we feel ourselves."

Mencher ends by suggesting that the earlier theories re: struggling for differentiation arose from the difficulties male theorists had/have in conceptualizing true relatedness. I heard echoes here both of Judie's report on the disinclination of male therapists to discuss countertransference, and the reports from several participants in our group of a profound sense of separation of self from self, of "mind"(for instance) as the part of the neural system that is "oblivious" to what the rest is doing....

What do the rest of you hear??


One more bit...
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-06-06 10:27:12
Link to this Comment: 10066

...then I'll hush. It's from Damasio, p. 203, and seems to me another contribution to the argument that our memories are active constructions. I noticed this passage in particular because I live so much in anticipation (and of course, following from that, inevitable-eternal disappointment):

our memory of the here and now also includes memories of the events that we constantly anticipate--what I like to call memories of the future....


trail of thought
Name: Anne
Date: 2004-06-11 12:16:30
Link to this Comment: 10098


Well, that silence didn't last too long...

Look, Roland, @ the trail of thinking you got going, which winds its way from

GIF
to Beauty
to Information.

Talk about a tangled web!


Traditions and Winds of Change in Graduate Educati
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-06-21 13:37:39
Link to this Comment: 10114

Yo. Thought all of you would be delighted to know that the "dear graduate student" letter which Catharine Stimpson first drafted to deliver to us last October just appeared in 6/18/04 Chronicle Review as "Traditions and Winds of Change in Graduate Education." See http://chronicle.com/temp/email.php?id=5whxs8089u5e1w8wg6ckka95od6dsfy7


thoughts
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-07-11 12:41:07
Link to this Comment: 10393

Rich conversation yesterday (as always). Sorry Tom wasn't there in body but very much there in spirit. Thanks to him/all. A few notes on things to talk more about, for myself and anyone else interested.

An important idea, that "human nature" is always and necessarily inferred from observations of humans in particular contexts. So, could indeed be the case that conceptions of the desirability of "autonomy" reflect observations on humans functioning in a dominant "heterosexual" mode and that one could usefully come up with an expanded conception of "human nature'" by looking at humans functioning in other contexts (eg lesbian relationships). To do so requires the starting posture that there is no "normal", only what is (in its diverse richness) and what might be.

Along these lines, a second key idea: that one ought not to use perceptions of "changeability" or "non-changeability" as defaults for what are actually "moral" questions. That something is influenced by genetic information is NOT the same thing as saying it can't be changed. Ditto for individual experiences (eg trauma) and for cultural influences. ALL things always reflect genetic/experiential/cultural influences (Genes, Brains, Behavior). The question ought always to be whether one wants/chooses to change something, and not whether the something is "genetic", "biological", "cultural", etc. Teasing out the influences may however be helpful in figuring out how difficult it might be to change something (whether doing so is worth the price in terms of other things) and how one might go about changing it (in near or long term). This leaves open the question of why one would or would not want to change something in any particular case. A possible answer is that one wants to give people in general the maximum conrol over their own lives, ie one encourages change which itself enhances the power of people to change themselves. This may include/require cultural change (cf Culture as Disability and Depression ... or (Better?) Thinking About Mood).

Related to all the above, the essay I mentioned is

I am, and I can think, therefore ...

In addition to its relevance (I think) to what we were talking about yesterday, the essay is intended to generate a Serendip exhibit that would illustrate/reflect on line some of the dynamism of the kind of engaged story-telling that we do together in person. Have a look and, if you are intrigued, contribute something that helps make this work?


Valorizing Change
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-07-14 15:39:45
Link to this Comment: 10419

I add my thanks to all for last Friday afternoon's conversation--and especially to Judie for opening her porch-and-pool to us and our families...seemed interestingly a propos to have husbands and children and one-soon-to-be-a-child entering into/wandering out of/ intersecting w/ our discussion about intimacy and fusion...

Just as we were breaking up, one of us (was it Cheryl? or Sam?) asked why we were "valorizing change." Paul gives one answer to that question, above, w/ his observation that one wants to give people in general the maximum control over their own lives. Another answer might be that it is human "nature" (yes, I know that I'm begging a question here!) TO change--that we cannot help but become what we are not, that in fact it's precisely and paradoxically our change-ability that defines us as human beings (=it is our nature not to have a nature??) We've discussed the existentialist understanding in this space before, which still seems to me the most acute (pun intended): a knife is defined by its sharp edge, its essential knifey-ness, while for humans existence precedes essence: we get to try out, experimentally, what we are and might be...

and the target's ever moving. That much seems pretty obvious to me; where you guys showed me, Friday afternoon, that it gets more interesting is in the question of responsibility in the arena of social change, the notion repeatedly returned to by Corey and Judie and Roland, and articulated again by Paul above: that we use "changeability" as a default for what are actually "moral" questions: can/should a society (an educational system?) hold people RESPONSIBLE for changing themselves in any PARTICULAR way (=learning to read? becoming more self-sufficient? altering their sexual preferences?) Who gets to say? Why? How?

Turning that range of questions back to the social workers....
Here are a couple more (largely literary!) contributions to the puzzle:

I made up a page about the range of thoughts our conversation (in juxtaposition w/ a number of others!) evoked in me; am still toying w/ it, but see Embedded for an attempt not to valorize either movement or stability, either security or freedom, but to acknowledge the interdependence/interactivity of both poles of experiences, both needs....

In the same forum, I've recorded a conversation with friends about whether we can insist on others' changing themselves; see also Changing Community. Wherever THOSE things take you (and I warmly second Paul's invitation for you all to join this new version of web-based conversation--where, by the way, you are--willingly or not, already present; see "We Are, and We Can Talk, Therefore...")

...on to a few more immediate matters. At Sam's request, we're going to hold off on the previously-assigned text (Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels) in favor of a work of fiction (this is our good-bye gift to her: that she gets to CHOOSE). Everyone but Corey (who will be producing, in the interim, a real child for us to study--and love) is to read Octavia Butler's Bloodchild, a short story which will return us to matters of symbiosis (=interdependency?), parasitism (=co-dependency?) and (as you social workers may be particularly interested to note), questions of the relation of harm-reduction to risk-taking, as per an earlier discussion w/ Sandy Schram in the Making Sense of Diversity series.

Our current plan is to meet (NOT on Friday July 30th as originally scheduled, but rather) on Tuesday, July 27, @ 1 p.m. Place to be determined ("Bloodchild" is set on another planet, if that affects the desire/decision to be elsewhere...)


A New GIF guy
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2004-07-15 12:10:23
Link to this Comment: 10421

I don't want to co-opt Corey's news- but didn't think she'd be checking this site real soon- her new little guy arrived last evening- Sagi, 7 pounds and mom and baby are fine and home- what a celebration of true interdependence and differentiation from fusion while still fused.


congrats Corey!
Name: Ann Dixon
Date: 2004-07-16 09:48:46
Link to this Comment: 10425

Sagi's spreading his 7 pounds over 21 inches long!


sagacious
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-07-18 09:10:55
Link to this Comment: 10433

I don't know how Sagi('s family) is pronouncing his name, but when I first heard it, my first association was to "sagacious"--and I was laughing aloud at the notion that this wise child, having been the subject of much of our discussion last week, w/ fingers pointing at Corey's belly, debates about what counts for "context" in the development of a child's personality, what's laid down in the womb, what's accreted later, how much of that is changeable, how much of that we can expect/require him to change--

well, I had to laugh at the image of Sagi's coming out to set us straight.

I join my congratulations to others--

What a gift, this life.


Oxytocin, fusion and following
Name: Judie McCo
Date: 2004-07-19 10:53:27
Link to this Comment: 10435

We've gotten a far ways from our first GIF discussion of the Emergence book, yet I've recently read an article that brings it full circle- ironically written by Steven Johnson, the author of Emergence, though I hadn't processed it when I read the article. It seems especially apropos in light of Sagi's birth and the fact that at least one of our GIF folks is experiencing high levels of oxytocin (a hormone secreted at birth and during lactation).

So to summarize, Johnson writes of his son's birth on Sept.10, 2001 and how he was fantasizing about finally letting go of the worry/anxiety of a somewhat complicated pregnancy and his hope of returning to contentment once he saw his wife and newborn resting comfortably after the birth. Of course we all know what happened the next day, only 20 blocks from where the new Johnson family was resting. He was astounded by his wife's calm and continued caring for their son and began researching why his anger and fear response differed so dramatically from hers(don't all we academics try to make sense of things in the most overly-rationalized ways!?!). He found that Oxytocin conveys a sort of peace/calm/connection feeling (intersecting with dopamine rich areas in the brain) in humans. Further, he found that prairie voles have been a big research subject in oxytocin research because they mate for life and have high oxytocin levels, yet if their receptors are blocked, they "act less like 'Leave It To Beaver' and more like Woodstock".

So let's see if I can synthesize all the questions this raises for me:
1- We seem to once again have an organic substrate- whether brain structure, gender, or brain chemistry- that sort of limits and yet promotes certain human behaviors in ways that seem to obviate "free will". While a big step from the agency/ structure debate, this whole issue of how biology limits/promotes behavior is one we seem to keep returning to. While Paul, I believe, is right and pointing out that "what is" questions should not define answers to moral questions, one still must grapple with how responsible we are for our behavior when it's more determined by things beyond our control (our biological substrate) than we choose to acknowledge. (Does that make sense?)

2- Having read Anne's conversation with LaChance, it raises the questions about an area I think about as Rapproachment- an Object Relations theory term that refers to the stage of life when children (18 months old or so) both require a secure base (generally their mom) and need to travel from her in order to explore. Bypassing Paul's question at our meeting of whether these early experiences really set the template for the way we approach life, security and exploration later in our lives, one needs to ask how we then define what gets allowed within the exploration that still allows the secure base to remain secure. Within the infant/toddler context, it seems the child must be allowed to wander and explore without criticism, but only to the point where s/he starts to explore a dangerous area- ie heading out into the street or eating non-edible objects- at which point mom sounds her disapproval, baby returns to be reminded that the base is still secure despite mom's reprimand, and the cycle starts over again. In our GIF context, we use one another to provide a set of relationships of trust from which we jump into new thoughts/ ideas and are able to challenge those that get a little far afield. In light of some of the language and marriage metaphors used in Anne's piece, one must wonder, too, how stable and secure a marriage "secure base" can remain when one or both partners begin to explore other options in areas remote from the secure base-hmm.
So where';s the question?- how much of these developmental processes are guided (since I refuse the notion that they are "determined") by biology and how much are just feedback loops? How do social norms then get defined by the customary outcome from these processes/loops, and/or how much are they open to modification on individual and later societal levels?

We keep coming back to these same questions in different forms. I hope to see further thoughts on these from our esteemed group in the near future:)


continuing the conversation
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-07-27 17:46:51
Link to this Comment: 10489

Ho hum ... MORE rich conversation. Thanks to all, as usual. And to Anne, for putting Blood Child on the agenda, DID turn out to be germane/useful, ickiness notwithstanding (essential?). Apologies to Octavia Butler too, should have known she wouldn't let me down. Other books of hers on the theme of change, expanding exploration as an ethic/morality/religion: Parable of the Sower and the Xenogenesis triology.

Apologies also to Judy, for being among those who didn't respond here to her earlier posting/questions. Hope she feels (as I do) that they provided the essential framework for today's discussion, and that that in turn provided, if not some answers, at least some additional ways to think about/pose the questions.

A few things from the discussion that stuck in my mind, for whatever use they might be to others ...

An "organic substrate" is real (or as "real" as anything gets) and does not "obviate 'free will' and is not "beyond our control". Yes, we may have more "limits" than "we choose to acknowledge" at any given time, but there is freedom to be gained both from knowing that and from the organic substrate itself (see I Am, and I Can Think, Therefore ... ). Moreover even the less "thinking" parts can be fun and useful (" ... there is a good deal more to work with, when you consider the organism as a whole. Add to this the therapist ... ").

Thanks to Corey (and Judy) for saying, in essence, that the general framework is all very fine BUT however useful it is to recognize one CAN change, that doesn't give one much guidance for thinking about what kinds of changes one has available and which ones one ought to favor in any particular case (and thanks to Roland for pointing out that, on the flip side, the general framework still provides something useful that generalizes across lots of different particular cases).

I DO tend to work in the abstract, but it is very much in the realm of the applicability to the concrete from which comes the test of the usefulness of the abstract, and its continuing modification, so the Corey/Judy challenge was particularly valuable to me. Without it, I might not have said, there's more to this "treeness"/"thinkness" business than that one CAN change (important as it is, in both clinical and political contexts); one can, if one chooses, elect to use enhancing the potential for change as the principle ethic/morality, which in turn gives one, in particular cases, some basis for deciding which changes to pursue and how to weight costs and benefits of each (whether to try and change self or culture, for example).

Would an ethic of supporting/enhancing change work? Could one encourage people not to pick the best (or least bad) of a set of roles with presumed outcomes, but instead to pick an action that seemed most likely to result in the greatest potential for future change/exploration? There is, as widely noted (thanks Sam, among others) a substantial wish in humans for stability. What about that? On the flip side, I argued that many of the worst instances of humans causing substantial suffering (instability) for themselves and others could be traced to a misunderstanding that actions taken to try and achieve short term stability assured longer term stability as well. Maybe its time for humanity to learn from its past, and recognize that exploration/a "change commitment" might do better in the long run (and would at least not recapitulate the mistakes of the past)? Was this how/why the narrator in Blood Child made his choice? Would it be a viable way for Judy's client to make hers? Stay tuned for our next exciting episode of ....

Looking forward to further conversation. As always.


addendum
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-07-27 18:10:37
Link to this Comment: 10490

Forgot to remember another bit of conversation worth remembering:

humans conveniently forget that they will inevitably die, and so efforts to assure short term stability are, in the long run, pointless

is demonstrably NOT the case that humans (or most other organisms) are drive exclusively by the wish to transmit one's own genes into the future. If it were, sex would not be as common/significant as it is.


one more THEN I'll stop
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2004-07-27 18:41:52
Link to this Comment: 10492

Re rapprochment-object relations:

Why assume that it is ONLY the child who is exploring, and that this can only happen if the child "is reminded that the base is STILL secure (my emphasis)"? Seems to me that one might equally conceptualize the observations in terms of both the child AND the mother (or father) exploring (the parent learning from the exploration about, among other things, the child and vice versa) and a base which, rather than remaining "secure" is constantly changing in a way that reflects both explorations. In fact, I'd argue there are some advantages to the second conceptualization: it gives the parent as well as the child something useful to do with themselves, gives the child some agency, and makes the "base" flexible. All of which might in fact enhance security over the longer run? Maybe there is some applicability to "marriage"? Social norms notwithstanding?


bloody child/cheerful thought
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-07-27 19:18:12
Link to this Comment: 10493

Yep. I was pretty worried about assigning such a creepy tale. But Sagi's-oxytocin-inducing-presence and all your good thinking...

got me out of that pickle/off that hook. And on to a few others. Questions remaining on my table are directed

--to Judie: I want to understand more/better what you were saying about the importance of recognizing the real limits on the choices we have available. I know we've mentioned in this group what Paul, long ago, called "bounded variance"--an infinite range of possibilities w/in limits: i.e. there are countless ways to be a tree...but none of them are shrubs. Translated into the current context, this means that although we do not have all choices available, we do have--within certain limits--multiple possibilities. So, Judie--I'm curious why you emphasize the limits beyond which we cannot go, rather than all that is (potentially) available within them.

Was also reminded, as we talked this afternoon, of conversations elsewhere about the work of Swarthmore Psychology Professor Barry Schwartz, whose recent book on The Paradox of Choice suggests that there is a tipping point, beyond which a large number of options paralyzes consumers, and actually prevents them from making a selection. There needs to be a large enough search space so that one can actually survey the choices available. That's not what's bothering you, is it--the possibility that celebrating all our choices/valorizing too many choices will end up incapacitating us?

--to Paul: I think I understand the logic of your suggestion that we might "elect to use enhancing the potential for change as the principle ethic/morality" (though I think you still haven't said explicitly why: because it increases the range of choices/places we may need to move into, right?). But I don't see how/why the choice of the narrator in "Bloodchild" is not "recapitulating the mistakes of the past"--he's just fulfilling his assigned social role. Yes, he's deliberately DECIDED to fulfill it, rather than (say) kill himself--but just what mistake is he not repeating? (...think I'm also having trouble getting my head around the practical use-value of that guideline: given the infinite number of factors affecting any of our choices, can we ever REALLY repeat --or ever really know that we ARE repeating--a mistake?)

And finally, relatedly, a good-bye question for Sam: I want to understand more/better what you were saying about shame--and whether constructing the game here as one of increasing the range of choices would excuse us all from ever feeling ashamed again, for all our not-so-good choices?

Cheerful thought.


Double Consciousness, Redux
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-07-28 17:28:06
Link to this Comment: 10518

The thing about our GIF meetings is that they keep on "giving" (="taking"?...up time in my brain). We think and talk together, then I go home, make dinner, go on thinking (to myself) and talking (in this forum, to myself and to you all...) And the thinking complexifies with each new thought. Let's see if I can untease the various strands running around in my head right now (out of my head, into the forum: the better to sleep tonight...)

This is a four-stranded rope, made up of two recent Chronicle articles and two recent experiences of my own. They are all (I think) about "double consciousness," which we defined here eons ago as a wish for 2 contrary impulses--what we want and what IS--to be in alignment, and an awareness that they are not.

In the July 23, '04 Chronicle is a piece by David Glenn called "The Tease of Memory," which tells how psychologists are now dusting off some remarkably sophisticated19th-century explanations of déjà vu: "One of them suggests that déjà vu happens when the processes of 'sensation' and 'perception,' which normally occur simultaneously, somehow move out of sync. Fatigue, it said, may be a cause." Precisely the opposite suggestion was also in play: "that déjà vu occurs when the nervous system is unusually well rested.... 'the apperception of a strange scene may be so easy that the aspect of the scene will be familiar.'" Current scientific explanations include both "double perception" and "duel processing" (the hypothesis that "memory involves distinct systems," and that déjà vu occurs "when our familiarity system is activated but our retrieval system is not.")

Then: in the July 30, '04 Chronicle is another piece by Michael Bugeja called "Unshaken Hands on the Digital Street," which laments the effect that cellphones (=computers?) have had on our most intimate relationships: "We are connected to everyone elsewhere and not necessarily to anyone in our immediate environs. Our suroundings metamorphose into elevator music--they are our space but not our place." Setting aside my most immediate reaction (that sometimes replacing local connections w/ global ones can be a very GOOD thing), I want to push Bugeja's observation a little further. In the same way that is it healthy for a culture to "know what people are doing," [including] activities which distress us (such as the work of hate groups, or child pornography), and internet usage has made such activities visible, so too the explosion of cellphone use (per Bugeja) makes visible what has been going on all along: "Cellphones remind us that we dwell in more than one place at most times, splitting consciousness in parks, cars, schools, restaurants, and malls."

Yes: I want to try and say something here about this frequent experience (way before cellphones, but made insistently visible by their use) of being self-divided, of being (say) "in the flow," in a conversation in a crowded room, then suddenly having an awareness of yourself as outside yourself, separated from the self who is still engaged, talking, eating (ever happen to you in a crowded room?). I want to try and say something here about the frequent experience of being "in more than one place @ most times," of actually having (at least) two experiences @ once (recent somewhat shamefaced example--but others have had similar experiences?): @ my cousin's wedding last week, I noticed that one of the groomsmen looked very familiar. When I asked, and my mother told me, his name, I said, "Oh, I was in love with him in high school." Mother said, "Anne, you never could have been in love with him He's forty years younger than you!" I realized then, of course, that it was his father whom I had loved. But--in that earlier moment of (mis) perception--I was again a teenager, a 54-year-old woman experiencing herself as 16. Who was, experientially, momentarily, 16.

All this is a somewhat round-about (grin) way of saying that I want to offer a revision--an internalization--a relocation--of Paul's conceptualization, above, of a flexible, constantly changing "base" for parent-child or married relations: the self itself as a flexible, constantly changing "base." Doubly/multiply conscious.

Social norms notwithstanding.


Double Consciousness, Redux
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-07-29 13:06:01
Link to this Comment: 10522

The thing about our GIF meetings is that they keep on "giving" (="taking"?...up time in my brain). We think and talk together, then I go home, make dinner, go on thinking (to myself) and talking (in this forum, to myself and to you all...) And the thinking complexifies with each new thought. Let's see if I can untease the various strands running around in my head right now (out of my head, into the forum: the better to sleep tonight...)

This is a four-stranded rope, made up of two recent Chronicle articles and two recent experiences of my own. They are all (I think) about "double consciousness," which we defined here eons ago as a wish for 2 contrary impulses--what we want and what IS--to be in alignment, and an awareness that they are not.

In the July 23, '04 Chronicle is a piece by David Glenn called "The Tease of Memory," which tells how psychologists are now dusting off some remarkably sophisticated19th-century explanations of déjà vu: "One of them suggests that déjà vu happens when the processes of 'sensation' and 'perception,' which normally occur simultaneously, somehow move out of sync. Fatigue, it said, may be a cause." Precisely the opposite suggestion was also in play: "that déjà vu occurs when the nervous system is unusually well rested.... 'the apperception of a strange scene may be so easy that the aspect of the scene will be familiar.'" Current scientific explanations include both "double perception" and "duel processing" (the hypothesis that "memory involves distinct systems," and that déjà vu occurs "when our familiarity system is activated but our retrieval system is not.")

Then: in the July 30, '04 Chronicle is another piece by Michael Bugeja called "Unshaken Hands on the Digital Street," which laments the effect that cellphones (=computers?) have had on our most intimate relationships: "We are connected to everyone elsewhere and not necessarily to anyone in our immediate environs. Our suroundings metamorphose into elevator music--they are our space but not our place." Setting aside my most immediate reaction (that sometimes replacing local connections w/ global ones can be a very GOOD thing), I want to push Bugeja's observation a little further. In the same way that is it healthy for a culture to "know what people are doing," [including] activities which distress us (such as the work of hate groups, or child pornography), and internet usage has made such activities visible, so too the explosion of cellphone use (per Bugeja) makes visible what has been going on all along: "Cellphones remind us that we dwell in more than one place at most times, splitting consciousness in parks, cars, schools, restaurants, and malls."

Yes: I want to try and say something here about this frequent experience (way before cellphones, but made insistently visible by their use) of being self-divided, of being (say) "in the flow," in a conversation in a crowded room, then suddenly having an awareness of yourself as outside yourself, separated from the self who is still engaged, talking, eating (ever happen to you in a crowded room?). I want to try and say something here about the frequent experience of being "in more than one place @ most times," of actually having (at least) two experiences @ once (recent somewhat shamefaced example--but others have had similar experiences?): @ my cousin's wedding last week, I noticed that one of the groomsmen looked very familiar. When I asked, and my mother told me, his name, I said, "Oh, I was in love with him in high school." Mother said, "Anne, you never could have been in love with him He's forty years younger than you!" I realized then, of course, that it was his father whom I had loved. But--in that earlier moment of (mis) perception--I was again a teenager, a 54-year-old woman experiencing herself as 16. Who was, experientially, momentarily, 16.

All this is a somewhat round-about (grin) way of saying that I want to offer a revision--an internalization--a relocation--of Paul's conceptualization, above, of a flexible, constantly changing "base" for parent-child or married relations: the self itself as a flexible, constantly changing "base." Doubly/multiply conscious.

Social norms notwithstanding.


internal poles
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-07-29 13:19:25
Link to this Comment: 10523

I woke up (from a good night's sleep, thanks) realizing that the relevance of the multi-stranded narrative, above, to to our conversation earlier this week...

may not have been entirely apparent.

Where I thought it applicable was to Judie's (really archetypal) story about a woman who wants both the stability of her marriage and the freedom to go exploring with another guy. My "internalizing reformation" of the problem Judie posed suggests both that the story (as told) involves (inappropriately) constructing/"fixing" both guys as stable selves (maybe the husband is more exploratory than his wife thinks? maybe the other guy wants more stability?) and--much more importantly--that those poles of stability and exploration actually do not exist outside herself, are not located in others' desires, but rather as a double (triple/multiple) consciousness within, a self that (entirely coherently) wants both stability and freedom, as well as the freedom to move (the inevitability of moving?) between the poles....


Weaving strands too
Name:
Date: 2004-07-30 10:45:30
Link to this Comment: 10555

So many intriguing thoughts both within the postings and swirling around in my head that I thought if I didn't post, my brain might explode...so:

One observation first- it seems we've started conflating change and choice as well as stability and secure base- I'm sure we don't intend to say they're the same, so we may want to really work at teasing out definitions/connotations. For me at least, stability implies more "sameness" than secure base does. As Paul and Anne both indicate, the secure base can be evolving and changing to meet the needs of the exploration. (In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if exploration is really to find a new stability, not a choice to explore continually.) In terms of change and choice, it seems that when we talk about "valorizing change", we're really protesting that change for its own sake may not always be good- it may be that we need to focus on the capacity to make a CHOICE ABOUT CHANGE. This goes directly to Paul's ethic of change, which I'd like to see be an ethic of choice about change.

I have been stewing for days about the challenge of why I'm focused on the limits rather than on the ability to change. My first response is that my entire life has been punctuated with people telling me that my approach to life (characterized by a belief that all limits are artificially created and there to be challenged) is naive and unrealistic. Have I started to believe them, or at least started taking on their verbiage? I hope not. I actually think that my chosen profession (and continued approach to life) is to challenge limits, try to push the edges of the "bounded variance", yet I think middle age has tempered that with this sense of 1- we haven't been able to have the revolution and create a truly just world (so limits seem tightly in place) and 2- I've come to see places where challenges of limits may have greater latent consequences (particularly socially) than anyone wants to acknowledge. It is these costs that change can bring (with the middle age realization that I have more to lose than I did prior to kids/houses/jobs etc.) that create limits- not of an insurpassable kind, but of a choice about changes in the face of recognition of the costs to self and society.

Examples of the above come in when one considers the big things in life:
Money- Don't many, if not most of us, choose not to use all our money for ourselves and the changes we can create for ourselves, but elect instead to maintain our standard of living while also giving money to organizations/ charities that we believe make the world a better place ( a choice not directly for stabilty, but for change, with the latent consequence of making our own lives more "the same").
Sex- Our social norms (though changable) decree sexual fidelity in marriage but we know that more than 1/3 of marriages that survive over a lifetime are affected by sex with other partners- yet some people (2/3's) still choose to limit their choices (a choice not to change?). Is it possible that the stereotypical mid-life crisis is really just a developmental response to too much stability being unhealthy, as Paul asserted during our meeting? How much does making a CHOICE to NOT Change create a sense of having had a choice and change the perspective from one of forced stability to chosen security?

One last thought pounding to get out before I must attend to the needs of this household! The discussions frequently take the form of trying to find abstract, philosophical "truths" that Corey and I tend to challenge based on specific incidents. Indeed, there have been several occasions when I've been accused of being too concrete due to trying to connect the abstract to a specific set of circumstances (an accusation you can see I bristle at somewhat). Paul's observation that this is actually positive got me thinking about why I (and I assume Corey) keep pushing this. It's not just that "the devil is in the details" as Corey said (though that is true), but also that we are doing precisely what knowledge claims/ hypotheses are to be subject to- we're subjecting the claims of abstract truth to falsification. We're saying "yeah but, it may hold here, but doesn't seem to hold here".

OK, three last quick (believe it or not) thoughts
1-Where does intellectual curiosity fit in with the intersection of stability/exploration? Are we back to Kuhn again?

2-Might we say "I think, therefore I can:
change who I am;
change how I see the world;
try to change how others see the world;
try to change the concrete, physical world"

and 3- Is this really all about perspective change? In a session with an infertile couple last evening, I was asked what I saw in other infertile couples who decide to no longer continue attempts to get pregnant and to decide not to have children. The husband was particularly concerned about the anger he saw his wife feel for friends who had kids and wondered if it would remain. I told them that my observation was that it had everything to do with whether they felt they were making a CHOICE not to have children or whether they felt it was forced upon them by nature/God/circumstances. When it feels like a chosen set of limits, as opposed to an artificially enforced set of limits, might people feel better about it? And does this just promote double consciousness?

Looking forward to continued discussions...


"I am determined, therefore..."
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-07-31 14:16:10
Link to this Comment: 10561

Thanks, Judie, for pushing for definitional clarity. I'm getting a vision, now, of the ways in which "limits" push us to "change," the reciprocal ways in which "change" helps us recognize our limits. And a very clear sense that the ability to observe oneself feeling and thinking enables what you call "perspective change," what I call "double consciousness," what Paul calls the ability to imagine something different than what is.

I've been working (in another vineyard nearby) on putting together a collection of essays on "Emergence." As part of this project, Doug Blank loaned me a copy of Hofstadter and Dennett's collection of essays, The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul. There's a ton in this book which intersects w/, supports and (occasionally) pushes beyond the sense of the exploratory-stable self we have been trying to describe together. I want to quote (contribute) three passages here. The first, by Doug Hofstadter, suggests that it is actually our limitations which make each of us persistently US:

an object bears a very special and unique relationship to itself, which limits its ability to act upon itself in the way it can act on all other objects. A pencil cannot write on itself; a fly swatter cannot swat a fly sitting on its handle...a snake cannot eat itself; and so on. People cannot see their own faces...each of us is trapped inside a powerful systems with a unique point of view--and that power is also a guarantor of limitedness. And this vulnerability--this self-hook--may also be the source of the ineradicable sense of "I." (278)

The second passage, a reflection on Raymond Smullyan, suggests (as Judie's account of her recent counseling session suggests) that this unique "I" is determined to choose/chooses to determine: Smullyan

gets at the attempt to reconcile the determinism and "upward causality" of the laws of nature with the free will and "downward causality" that we all feel ourselves exerting. His astute observation that we often say "I am determined to do this" when we mean "I have chosen to do this" leads him to his...statement that "determinism and choice are much closer than they might appear." (343)

But the most striking passage in the book, for me, comes from Stanislaw Lem, who explains (finally in a way I think I can GET) the "necessity" of the free-for-all that is the unruly unconscious: it is the source of our freedom. See elsewhere characterized as "contending" and "NOT coherent."


gold in some (old) hills?
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-08-08 21:30:47
Link to this Comment: 10612

Long ago, on another planet/in another semester....we were talking about exploring a distinction between "useful" and "potential" information--and the related notion that the "bits and pieces" in the unconscious had to be compared to a "story" in the conscious to get "memory".

Want to return, for a moment, to the gold in those hills. Today's (August 8, 2004) New York Times Book Review looked at Tony Eprile's The Persistence of Memory:

"The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting"...while all around, apartheid South Africa suffers from a "national dysmnesia," Paul Sweetbread can forget nothing....Paul's "picture-perfect memory" means that he is acutely aware of...all the inconvenient facts stick[ing] to the "flypaper" of his mind....Paul's narration proceeds by "looping digression," warily circling the horrors at the center of the story, following his elephantlike memory along various intriguing detours....the story culminates at the Truth and Reconciliation commission, South Africa's attempt to remember and exorcise its violent past....morals prompt him to remember, but to survive as a person...he also needs to forget....In the end, the novel seems to suggest that memory...is a compromise that makes the future possible...

So, here is the question that quote provoked in me. The book (review) opposes "morality" against "forgetfulness": it is moral to remember the atrocities of the past--but it is necessary, for survival, to forget them. How much of the past we bring along with us (in the form of the stories we tell about our experiences) facilitates further conversation? How much of such "potential" memory, made "actual," stops cold the possibility of future shared exploration? How can we know? (Any way but pragmatically?) Should we try--as a pragmatic intervention, one that directs us toward the future--NOT deliberatively to dredge up/hold on to what we know of what has happened historically? Is to do so "immoral"?


memory and morality
Name: Corey
Date: 2004-08-27 23:02:01
Link to this Comment: 10692

This is a response based on Anne’s posting, not having read the book (or the review) she refers to…
I understand your question to suggest that maybe we should let go of painful memories in order to be able to live together now and to move forward, and whether that is immoral.
This brings up for me the experience of showing a film in my cultural diversity class this summer about the internment of US citizens of Japanese heritage during WWII. A lot of the students in my class (this is a masters level class, so these are all people who were have college degrees) had never heard of this happening. The filmmaker tells of her own half-Japanese ancestry, and of wanting to learn more about what happened to her father’s family. So memory or remembering is not the same for everyone. It is different for those who are oppressed, for those who identified with the ones oppressed, and with the perpetrators or their descendants.
In this case remembering is a political act, an act that challenges oppression and the repression of stories that the “winners” don’t want to tell (why is this not in the history books I had in high school), and that those who were oppressed and their descendents (the film maker of this movie, for example) may feel the need to know and to tell.

So what does this mean for the intended audience? After I saw the movie made from Toni Morrison’s Beloved I ended up talking to a woman in the bathroom and she said something about not liking the film because it was hard. I myself had nightmares about it for a long time afterward and found it very disturbing, particularly as a mother of young children. But I remember saying to the woman that I thought that this is a story that needed to be told, and that others needed to listen to. Of course it makes us uncomfortable, but this happened to people and it happened to people because other people did it and let it happen and so we have an obligation to see it/hear it, whether or not it makes us uncomfortable and gives us nightmares.
So in some ways there may be a need to “hold on” in order to move forward.
And I think for many, as is the case in these stories and Truth and Reconciliation committees, moving forward in shared exploration can only happen when the stories get to be told by those who were not able to tell them and feel the need to do so and when they are listened to and acknowledged. So to get back to your question, my gut reaction is that it may be immoral, and that this depends on who gets to chose whether we “let go” and when. Who gets to chose what to tell, how to tell and who has to/should listen? Who owns the memories? And how do we figure in and respect different choices that victims make in coping with difficult memories of experiences that have both collective and individual dimensions, as all of these examples do - for some coping involves remembering and telling, for others it may involve forgetting.
thanks for another thought-provoking post...


memory and morality
Name: Corey
Date: 2004-08-27 23:09:49
Link to this Comment: 10693

This is a response based on Anne’s posting, not having read the book (or the review) she refers to…
I understand your question to suggest that maybe we should let go of painful memories in order to be able to live together now and to move forward, and whether that is immoral.
This brings up for me the experience of showing a film in my cultural diversity class this summer about the internment of US citizens of Japanese heritage during WWII. A lot of the students in my class (this is a masters level class, so these are all people who were have college degrees) had never heard of this happening. The filmmaker tells of her own half-Japanese ancestry, and of wanting to learn more about what happened to her father’s family. So memory or remembering is not the same for everyone. It is different for those who are oppressed, for those who identified with the ones oppressed, and with the perpetrators or their descendants.
In this case remembering is a political act, an act that challenges oppression and the repression of stories that the “winners” don’t want to tell (why is this not in the history books I had in high school), and that those who were oppressed and their descendents (the film maker of this movie, for example) may feel the need to know and to tell.

So what does this mean for the intended audience? After I saw the movie made from Toni Morrison’s Beloved I ended up talking to a woman in the bathroom and she said something about not liking the film because it was hard. I myself had nightmares about it for a long time afterward and found it very disturbing, particularly as a mother of young children. But I remember saying to the woman that I thought that this is a story that needed to be told, and that others needed to listen to. Of course it makes us uncomfortable, but this happened to people and it happened to people because other people did it and let it happen and so we have an obligation to see it/hear it, whether or not it makes us uncomfortable and gives us nightmares.
So in some ways there may be a need to “hold on” in order to move forward.
And I think for many, as is the case in these stories and Truth and Reconciliation committees, moving forward in shared exploration can only happen when the stories get to be told by those who were not able to tell them and feel the need to do so and when they are listened to and acknowledged. So to get back to your question, my gut reaction is that it may be immoral, and that this depends on who gets to chose whether we “let go” and when. Who gets to chose what to tell, how to tell and who has to/should listen? Who owns the memories? And how do we figure in and respect different choices that victims make in coping with difficult memories of experiences that have both collective and individual dimensions, as all of these examples do - for some coping involves remembering and telling, for others it may involve forgetting.
thanks for another thought-provoking post...





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