Saturday, December 15, 2012

A History of a Course

A History of a Course

And so we come to our final moments together as a class. Over the past 15ish weeks we have covered a rather large amount of content, philosophical arguments, and well “time”. Since this is part history class, time is of the essence since it is time that we travel through in looking at the spaces and practices in which “art” and “education” have occurred.

Efland while not the most exhilarating read does I think when juxtaposed with much of the other texts we read show us a particular way of doing history. He, we might say, provides a rather “straight” telling of the history of art education and in doing so covers over the untidy, unruly, failures of time gone by. Yet, I think there is benefit to such a straight reading because it does provide us one vantage point of thinking about art, art education, and education. From the Greeks and their gymnasium where the mind and body were “one” to the Middle Ages and the concept of the “apprentice” to the “child-art” movement we see the successful attempts at doing art education. And success if one aspect of living.

Yet, we might here at the end realize that success is not all it is cracked up to be. We might realize that our “time” together has been bookended by two drastically different approaches to ‘art’, ‘education’, art education, and history. Halberstam in her Queer Art Of Failure that we worked through today asks us to look at queer histories that “must contend with a less tidy past”. Failure becomes the name of the game for it is failure that disrupts the colonial, neoliberal, capitalist, normalized worlds of what it means to “be” or “do” living. We might, on our own time, think about the PBS documentary we watched on the history of American education (narrated by the most darlin’ Meryl Streep) how the failures of education’s past might expose some rather strange lessons that the conservative and liberal historians failed to grasp with their desire for American Education to be a “success”. But I won’t “go there now”...instead leaving that for you to do in your own time.

Instead I want us to think about “philosophy” since that has been the “other” part of class.  Perhaps philosophy is the failed discipline these days that “takes” time and seems rather out-dated in these days where “time is money” and “practicality” is the ideal form of doing things. Philosophy is after all, particularly in education, the discipline that seems out of touch and unrelated to the daily lives and practices of teachers. Unlike most other courses, the philosophy of education is the course most often put on the ‘cutting block’ and disdained by students for its irrelevance or difficulty. Yet, I am not totally convinced of I will wax on for a bit on this thing called philosophy that we have engaged together because I didn’t succeed at anything else...I couldn’t “do” so therefore “I teach” and I teach “philosophy”.

Let’s begin with a definition of “philosophy” and let’s do so with Matthew Lipman whose work on children and philosophy opened up ways of de-professionalizing philosophy and opening it up to the lives of children. Lipman writes:

philosophy is concerned to clarify meanings, uncover assumptions and presuppositions, analyze concepts, consider the validity of reasoning processes, and investigate the implications of ideas and the consequences in human life of holding certain ideas rather than others (224)

And so from reading philosophers from various perspectives - be that progressive, pragmatic, postmodern, poststructural, or feminist - we see an attempt to engage meaning and concepts in order to think through the consequences of such meaning and concepts. Lipman, we might be able to see now from his definition of philosophy is a pragmatist...for philosophy is not about “Truth” but about how words or ideas impact the ways we live and the consequences of doing so. The assumptions we make impact how we “do” things.

Jacques Ranciere as discussed by Halberstam uncovers the assumption of inequality that pervades how education is thought proposing instead to “presuppose” equality of intelligence. Perhaps the most challenging ideas in contemporary education and educational philosophy...Ranciere asks that we start with the assumption that teachers and students have an equality of intelligence...meaning neither is more capable than the other in terms of intelligence. The student does not need to be filled with knowledge...a knowledge that is never complete and sets the student up to constantly look for a knowledgeable other to “explain” the world. What does education without explanation look like and what does it mean to say to you, as Ranciere did “I must teach you I have nothing to teach you”? What does it mean to ask of ourselves that we taught ourselves amidst conversations with opposed to having been “taught” by me, a teacher? Can you now, at the end of our time out the implications of such a philosophical idea?

Perhaps this brings us to thinking about “giving a lesson” and the problems with such an idea in these postmodern times. Can we really “give” a lesson when such thought is often built upon the idea that something must be given in return? If I give you a lesson are you obligated to give something in return - papers? discussion? Or can I simply give and move on - not expecting something in return? If I do I neglect my “responsibility” as a teacher? If so, what is my responsibility? What is yours? I am not sure...have I given you your lessons? And have you given me what students are supposed to give in return? Have we all been responsible?

Enough of such questions...let’s be pragmatic. Pragmatism seems an apt place to be pragmatic since “pragmatism” is for education quite useful. It is not concerned with transcendental meaning or truth. It recognizes the slipperyness of language and how language can come to signify many different things, but does not get caught up in language games. The challenge for pragmatists is to think through the consequences of holding such beliefs or “truths” on how individuals can or cannot relate to one another. From Cleo Cherryholmes showing the ways to do “different” types of readings - itself a “pragmatic” approach - to Cornel West asking us to think about “prophetic thought” and “tragedy” we see pragmatism orienting us toward seeing philosophy as rather ‘practical’ and concerned with consequences.

Pragmatism has its own drawbacks though and so there are other ways we have been asked to orient our gaze. But before getting to other ways...let’s ponder “orientation” since I find it an interesting term. If we think about the various philosophical realms we explored...we might see how they “orient” us (position our gaze) in different ways. In doing so, such orientation simultaneously opens up ways of seeing while framing other things out. This is easily seen with the concept of “sexual orientation” where one’s orientation makes one look at particular bodies while framing out other bodies. Our “sexual orientation” orients us in particular ways toward particular bodies and pleasures and I would argue sensibilities.

So, the feminists orient us to frame the world by thinking particularly about gender. Nel Noddings, Angela Davis and Maria Tamboukou all asked us to look at gender and philosophize how “gender” implicates how teachers are seen, how teaching has been constructed in the modern era, and want ways thinking like a feminist opens up particular questions or ideas for doing education. Additionally, how do feminists themselves “disagree” and complicate one another by wanting to think more particularly about the position of raced female bodies? Classed? Able-bodied? It’s challenging and particular...but I think important.

Lynn Fendler - a poststructural feminist we might say - moves us away from thinking explicitly about “gender” and toward thinking about language. The radical question asked by poststructural feminists - namely Judith Butler - is “what is woman”? Such a question - damning to some feminist projects that rest on the assumption that “woman” is a stable category - points to the ineffable. If we accept language as figural - as opposed to holding onto the idea that language is “representative” - what are we allowed to do? We saw in our own class discussions brought in by you yourselves...that poetry and art can by being figural open up the imagination to break out of the status quo (and quite possibly maintain the status quo). How, Fendler asks, can we think about “figural education”? And is “art” a rather privileged domain to do so?

Before my concluding paragraph...I want to do my duty as a philosopher and point out that much of what we have engaged in throughout this semester while focused on issues of knowledge and knowing...was often more about ethics and relationality. If as I have noted many times, “knowledge is ubiquitous” and we still think schools are important despite such ubiquity of knowledge...we realize that schools are a “place” where people meet. So, how do we relate to one another? How do the knowledges we have engaged and the knowledges that we fail to see limit and open up the challenges of relating to the self and other? How does education shift if we focus less on “knowledge” and more on that ineffable thing of relationality and the feelings, emotions, and affects of being in a classroom? I am not sure...

I am, as you well know, not an artist so I am perhaps not qualified to engage in such an artistic question. I am somewhat of an outsider to this thing called “art education”...yet, my hope in engaging this adventure in insight with you all over this short period of time that perhaps we were able to see that education does not have to be dull...that as Foucault being dull is quite an achievement BUT one with a purpose...for if education was “pleasurable” like sex he says, then people would be knocking down the doors to get in. While none of you tried to knock down the doors to my class...perhaps illuminating my own failure to make education pleasurable OR my success as maintaining the dull, sad, history of education founded on inaccessibility...I might hope here at the end...that our time together allowed something to happen or opened up the possibility that somewhere, there in the future that will then be present these lessons we have engaged will come to life and the consequences will be beautiful.

I thank you for giving me your time and attention...

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