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Back in Grade 12

September 18, 2012

9.18.12 (Kitchen of Forsythe Manor, Welland, Ontario, Canada)

Dialed in to DS106Radio. Waiting for Bryan Jackson (@bryanjack) and his grade 12 philosphy students to fire up their discussion of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.”

I listened yesterday to what I hope will be the first of a semester’s worth of teaching and learning I can share with Bryan and his students via their open online high school philosophy course. My participation yesterday, summarized by the tweets I tweeted (below in reverse chronological order).


Last night I rumminated a bit on how Bryan’s philosophy of teaching*, as evidenced in this instance by his openness, is unique and how other educators contend they are doing the same, but are not.

Teaching and learning in the open is hugely different from performing teaching and learning online. Performance is staged, often scripted and acted out in a sanctioned (closely bounded) space. Teachers and learners are expected to be ready to perform. They behave. They play their respective roles and wait for the reviews–maybe even a curtain call.

Teaching and learning in the open is wild. Anything can happen and hopefully it does (i.e., having one’s belief that Santa exists dashed to bits by a group of grade 12s, whatever). I once heard Nel Noddings, an American philosopher and theorist in the field of education, give a talk during which she said something like the best teachers prepare thorough lessons and hope they do not have to use them.

Today I listened and participated via Twitter.

ImageI was particularly interested when Liam St. Louis (whose voice I recognize from his excellent commentary “On Education“) started talking about what I heard as Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development in response to the discussion about discomfort and learning.

Image[Image from Kristy’s Universe blog.]

While the discussion moved in various directions I created my own image of what the ZPD might look like.


You will note that my image has three (could be 1,243) CYCLONES OF LEARNING intersecting. Why? Because learning, development, and growth in general across all species always happens within a context, or ecology.

Q: How does context (ecological, sociocultural, historical, etc.) impact your present understanding of Plato’s Cave?

Several of the students mentioned “starting with your senses” when attempting to discern whether we were all living in “The Matrix” or as unpaid extras in “The Truman Show.” Trusting one’s senses demands a dependency on our own rational intuition.

Immanuel Kant said:

All human knowledge thus begins with intuitions, proceeds thence to concepts, and ends with ideas.

Slavoj Žižek said:

I secretly think reality exists so we can speculate about it.

Beginning with what I know through my personal experience grounds me as I move into unknown philosophical territories. If I continue on wondering, I also continue wandering. I imagine the only place neverending wondering and wandering would lead me is to an epistemic crisis, and quite possibly madness. Not cool. I prefer to pick a spot and stay for a bit to contemplate the ideas. My habit is to let ideas lie and come back to them. I circle around, reframe, consider their context, history, and possible futures. Mr. Jackson seems to agree with me (at least in this instance) as he directed his students:

Let’s pause a moment to let those thoughts land.

Q: What habit(s) of mind to you have that assist you to thoroughly interrogate new philosphical ideas?

A couple of additional resources I thought of while listening today and constructing this post:

Around minute-30 of “Žižek!” the philospher remarks [WARNING: He’s doing a half-naked bed-in during this scene. No idea why, but if you watch the whole film, it makes sense.]:

How does a philosopher approach the problem of Freedom? By asking, “What does it mean to be free?” Philosophy asks when we use certain notions, when we do certain acts, what is the implicit horizon of understanding? What do you mean when you say, “This is true?”

Bryan called this question today as well at the end of class when he challenged the students to begin thinking about why they are using certain terms and words in their written reflections. This reminded me of the work of James Paul Gee, a educational theorist who focuses a lot of his work on Critical Discourse Analysis. However, when I was identifying a solid reference for this work, I found another piece of greater interest. This one is for Mr. Jackson, who’s pedagogy includes many of the positive attributes Gee describes in his post, “Beyond Mindless Progressivism.”

According to Gee (2011), one of the “key features of a well-designed learning environment” is:

All learners are well mentored by “teachers” and peers at various levels, as well as by the presence of smart tools and well-designed problem solving environments (both real and virtual).  All learners must learn to mentor.

I’d say we’re doing just that in Philosophy 12 and that makes me happy–John Cleese on The Muppet Show happy.


While it took me the entire day to construct this post, Mr. Jackson pulled everything together on the course blog, taught a bunch of stuff, ate lunch, learned new things, and probably even played the guitar. Basically he wins the day.

*My attention to Bryan’s teaching dates awhile back to when I was teaching preservice teachers at the University of Connecticut. He has always stood out to me as somone who consistently does his work with an open heart and mind for the good of his practice and his students’ learning. See my Storify “practicing theory and theorizing practice” for a good example.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2012 11:00 pm

    Last week’s trip got in the way of a proper comment, but this reading (and the many links here and which you’ve forwarded to me and the #philosophy class in the last week) have lent heaps of wisdom and reflection to my own and the class’ learning. The Gee list is particularly engrossing, and is not the only article that’s found its way into our school photocopier to share with others – having a teacher, thinker and learner like you in our midst is such an awesome addition to the class, and (in my humble opinion) a pretty unique example of collaborative teaching across the twitter & blogosphere.

    (I actually also made it to the gas station at lunch that day to fill propane tanks for the TALONS trip ( ; )

    Safe travels on the trip, yo.

    Makin’ art, dammit!


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