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robertogreco : mauricemerleau-ponty   5

Children learn best when engaged in the living world not on screens | Aeon Essays
"As a parent, it is obvious that children learn more when they engage their entire body in a meaningful experience than when they sit at a computer. If you doubt this, just observe children watching an activity on a screen and then doing the same activity for themselves. They are much more engaged riding a horse than watching a video about it, playing a sport with their whole bodies rather than a simulated version of it in an online game.

Today, however, many powerful people are pushing for children to spend more time in front of computer screens, not less. Philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have contributed millions of dollars to ‘personal learning’, a term that describes children working by themselves on computers, and Laurene Powell Jobs has bankrolled the XQ Super School project to use technology to ‘transcend the confines of traditional teaching methodologies’. Policymakers such as the US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos call personalised learning ‘one of the most promising developments in K-12 education’, and Rhode Island has announced a statewide personalised learning push for all public school students. Think tanks such as the Brookings Institution recommend that Latin-American countries build ‘massive e-learning hubs that reach millions’. School administrators tout the advantages of giving all students, including those at kindergarten, personal computers.

Many adults appreciate the power of computers and the internet, and think that children should have access to them as soon as possible. Yet screen learning displaces other, more tactile ways to discover the world. Human beings learn with their eyes, yes, but also their ears, nose, mouth, skin, heart, hands, feet. The more time kids spend on computers, the less time they have to go on field trips, build model airplanes, have recess, hold a book in their hands, or talk with teachers and friends. In the 21st century, schools should not get with the times, as it were, and place children on computers for even more of their days. Instead, schools should provide children with rich experiences that engage their entire bodies.

To better understand why so many people embrace screen learning, we can turn to a classic of 20th-century French philosophy: Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception (1945).

According to Merleau-Ponty, European philosophy has long prioritised ‘seeing’ over ‘doing’ as a path to understanding. Plato, René Descartes, John Locke, David Hume, Immanuel Kant: each, in different ways, posits a gap between the mind and the world, the subject and the object, the thinking self and physical things. Philosophers take for granted that the mind sees things from a distance. When Descartes announced ‘I think therefore I am’, he was positing a fundamental gulf between the thinking self and the physical body. Despite the novelty of digital media, Merleau-Ponty would contend that Western thought has long assumed that the mind, not the body, is the site of thinking and learning.

According to Merleau-Ponty, however, ‘consciousness is originally not an “I think that”, but rather an “I can”’. In other words, human thinking emerges out of lived experience, and what we can do with our bodies profoundly shapes what philosophers think or scientists discover. ‘The entire universe of science is constructed upon the lived world,’ he wrote. Phenomenology of Perception aimed to help readers better appreciate the connection between the lived world and consciousness.

Philosophers are in the habit of saying that we ‘have’ a body. But as Merleau-Ponty points out: ‘I am not in front of my body, I am in my body, or rather I am my body.’ This simple correction carries important implications about learning. What does it mean to say that I am my body?

The mind is not somehow outside of time and space. Instead, the body thinks, feels, desires, hurts, has a history, and looks ahead. Merleau-Ponty invented the term ‘intentional arc’ to describe how consciousness connects ‘our past, our future, our human milieu, our physical situation, our ideological situation, and our moral situation’. He makes readers attend to the countless aspects of the world that permeate our thinking.

Merleau-Ponty challenges us to stop believing that the human mind transcends the rest of nature. Humans are thinking animals whose thinking is always infused with our animality. As the cognitive scientist Alan Jasanoff explains in a recent Aeon essay, it is even misleading to idealise the brain independent of the rest of the viscera. The learning process happens when an embodied mind ‘gears’ into the world.

Take the example of dancing. From a Cartesian perspective, the mind moves the body like a puppeteer pulls strings to move a puppet. To learn to dance, in this paradigm, a person needs to memorise a sequence of steps. For Merleau-Ponty, on the contrary, the way to learn to dance is to move one’s physical body in space: ‘in order for the new dance to integrate particular elements of general motricity, it must first have received, so to speak, a motor consecration.’ The mind does not reflect and make a conscious decision before the body moves; the body ‘catches’ the movement.

Philosophers have long attributed a spectatorial stance to the mind, when in fact the body participates in the world. It is common sense that the head is the ‘seat of thought’, but ‘the principal regions of my body are consecrated to actions’, and the ‘parts of my body participate in their value’. People learn, think and value with every part of their bodies, and our bodies know things that we can never fully articulate in words.

Surely, one could reply, this might be true for physical activities such as dancing but does not apply to all intellectual pursuits. Merleau-Ponty would respond: ‘The body is our general means of having a world.’ Everything we learn, think or know emanates from our body. It is by walking through a meadow, hiking beside a river, and boating down a lake that we are able to appreciate the science of geography. It is by talking with other people and learning their stories that we can appreciate literature. Buying food for our family infuses us with a conviction that we need to learn mathematics. We cannot always trace the route from experience to knowledge, from a childhood activity to adult insight. But there is no way for us to learn that bypasses the body: ‘the body is our anchorage in a world’.

Merleau-Ponty would not be surprised if people showed him students learning on a screen. Students can project themselves into the world that they see on a screen, just as many people are capable of thinking abstractly. As long as children have had some exposure to the world and other people, they should be able to make some sense of what they see on screens.

Still, Merleau-Ponty gives us reasons to resist the trend towards computer-based education. Proponents of personalised learning point to the advantages of having kids on computers for much of the school day, including students working at their own pace to meet learning objectives. However, from a phenomenological perspective, it is not clear why students will want to do this for very long when the experience is so removed from their flesh-and-blood lives. Teachers and parents will have to use incentives, threats and medication to make children sit at computers for long stretches of time when children want to run, play, paint, eat, sing, compete and laugh. To put it bluntly: advocates of screen learning sometimes seem to forget that children are young animals that want to move in the world, not watch it from a distance."
children  learning  nature  bodies  education  schools  howwelearn  2018  nicholastampio  howwethink  mauricemerleau-ponty  1945  plato  descartes  johnlocke  kant  davidhume  perception  screens  digital  technology  senses  personalization  sfsh  tcsnmy  lcproject  openstudioproject  body 
august 2018 by robertogreco
An Upsurge of Questioning and Critique: toward a Community of Critical Pedagogy
"There has been, of late, a lot of talk about centers of teaching and learning, digital innovation centers, and efforts to grapple with the emergent nature of the educational profession and practice. Academics of a certain shade are padding down desire lines toward a future where learning and progressive digital education might leave its paddock and find its space upon the wider pasture of higher education. Many of these efforts, though, look and feel like paddocks themselves, circumscribed around professionalism, administrative power or vision, closed by the choice of their constituency even in their testament of openness.

If leaders choose groups of leaders, if those groups publish upon their pedigree in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Times Higher Ed, &c, then they will be hard put to magnify their purpose through an allegiance with education’s lesser privileged: students, adjuncts, “drop outs,” instructional designers—those without access, without committees, without the funding to network, without the key cards necessary to open certain doors. Change kept at high levels—change which doesn’t include, but makes obsequious gestures towards, those who lack the privilege to debate change—cannot be productive except to elevate higher the privileged and further disenchant those who most need change to occur.

Change, in other words, cannot be accomplished with a coffee klatsch, no matter how well-funded by a Mellon grant.

Maxine Greene writes that conscientization—that critical consciousness that alerts us to our agency, and that spurs us to intervene in the world—to make change— “is only available to those capable of reflecting on their own situationality” (102). If we find ourselves finally capable of that reflection only when or if we clear a certain pay band, or are granted a certain title, or are invited into the right rooms (rooms too often unlocked by respectability politics), then what of those who remain outside those rooms, who cannot—or refuse to—participate in respectability, those without the titles, those underpaid?

Doesn’t leadership in education also include the adjunct who offers their time to an online community college student? Doesn’t leadership include a student who conscientiously objects to Turnitin? If leadership in education has to include a 3D printer, an Oculus Rift, a budget to hold “summits” and attend conferences, then I fear there are too many leaders being left out.

Quoting Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Greene writes:
Praxis cannot be the viewed as the project of any single individual. Rather, it is “the cluster of relations of an ideology, a technique, and a movement of productive forces, each involving the others and receiving support from them, each, in its time, playing a directive role that is never exclusive, and all, together, producing a qualified phase of social development.” (99)

In other words, change requires movement across many lives, the weaving together of multiple and unexpected intelligences, and a radical inclusivity that is bound to make uncomfortable those who issue the call, that disrupts the disruptors, that leaves humbled leadership. It’s not that a community formed around inclusion must aim to unsettle and unseat, but rather that the myriad diversity that answers the call will necessarily yield the unexpected. A multitude will never be of a single mind; but it is a multitude, by Merleau-Ponty’s accounting, which is the only means toward change.

Similarly, Jesse Stommel has written about critical digital pedagogy, that praxis:
must remain open to diverse, international voices, and thus requires invention to reimagine the ways that communication and collaboration happen across cultural and political boundaries;
will not, cannot, be defined by a single voice but must gather together a cacophony of voices.

Cultivating these many voices to realize a praxis is an ongoing project. I wrote recently to a friend affected by the recent UCU strike in England:
There are times when a critical pedagogy refuses to be merely theoretical. It is a tradition that comes out of a concern for labor, for the agency of those doing labor, and the perspicacity inherent behind that agency. The imagination is not an impractical facility at all, not a dreamer’s tool only, but a precision instrument that delivers a certainty that things can be otherwise; and in the face of circumstances that are unfair, the imagination gives us insight into what is just.

Similarly, though, the imagination asks us to consider justice an evolutionary project, if not an asymptote we will never quite reach, a process more than a destination. “The role of the imagination,” Greene tells us, “is not to resolve, not to point the way, not to improve. It is to awaken, to disclose the ordinary unseen, unheard, and unexpected.” Each new dialogue around justice leads to new insights, new confrontations, new inventions, and each new dialogue necessarily also uncovers old hurts, systemic injustices, and offenses nested within un-inspected assumptions and behaviors.

It is with this in mind that I find myself so often blinking into a teacher’s or administrator’s assertions about grading, or plagiarism, or taking attendance, or just “making sure they do it.” There are undetected injustices riding under our teaching policies, the teaching we received, and the teaching we deliver.

There are likewise injustices riding under so many attempts to gather in our circles of prestige. To enact a just agency, we must step outside those circles into unexpected places. “An upsurge of questioning and critique must first occur,” Greene insists, “experiences of shock are necessary if the limits or the horizons are to be breached” (101)."

"It’s my belief that the Lab must be a place where a cacophony of voices can be heard, where an upsurge of questioning and critique is the mode of the day. And to make this happen, no door is left unopened. If praxis “signifies a thinking about and an action on reality” (98), then Digital Pedagogy Lab seeks to be praxis, and to make change through the movement of productive forces, new insights, new confrontations, new inventions. All gathered together in matching tee-shirts."
seanmichaelmorris  criticalpedagogy  lcproject  openstudioproject  pedagogy  inclusivity  2018  digitalpedagogylab  mauricemerleau-ponty  maxinegreene  jessestommel  praxis  inclusion  justice  vision  administration  hierarchy  injustice  professionalism  power  openness  open  teaching  learning  howweteach  howwelearn  privilege  change  respectabilitypolitics  respectability  conferences  labs  ideology  diversity  highered  highereducation  academia  education 
april 2018 by robertogreco
John Berger | The Essay Prize

Italo Calvino, “Exactitude”
(from Six Memos for the Next Millenium, Harvard University Press, 1988)

Rebecca Solnit, “After Ideology”
(from Hope in the Dark, 2005)

Simone Weil, “Evil”
(from Gravity and Grace, 2002)

Arundhati Roy, “The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire”
(from The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, 2004)

Iona Heath, “Ways of Dying”
(from Matters of Life and Death, 2007)

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind”
(from The Primacy of Perception, 1964)

Walter Benjamin, “On Language as Such and On the Language of Man”
(from One-Way Street, 1928)

D.H. Lawrence, “The Dance of the Sprouting Corn”
(from Mornings in Mexico, 1927)

George Orwell, “The Art of Donald McGill”
(from Collected Essays, 1941)

Soren Kierkegard, “The Immediate State of the Erotic”
(from Either/Or, 1843)"

"Nilanjana Roy calls this a "'How to be Human' Playlist," and I agree: John Berger's ten favorite essays" ]
lists  readinglists  toread  johnberger  italocalvino  rebeccasolnit  canon  simoneweil  arundhatiroy  ionaheath  mauricemerleau-ponty  walterbanjamin  dhlawrence  georgeorwell  kierkegaard  nilanjanaroy  tejucole 
january 2017 by robertogreco
the blind man's stick - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement, by Lambros Malafouris, is a maddening but also fascinating book that is seriously helping me to think through some of the issues that concern me. Malafouris wants to argue that the human mind is “embodied, extended, enacted, and distributed” — extensive rather than intensive in its fundamental character.

He starts his exploration wonderfully: by considering a thought-experiment that Maurice Merleau-Ponty first posited in his Phenomenology of Perception. Merleau-Ponty asks us to imagine a blind man navigating a city street with a cane. What is the relationship between that cane and the man’s perceptual apparatus? Or, as Gregory Bateson put it in Steps to an Ecology of Mind,
Consider a blind man with a stick. Where does the blind man's self begin? At the tip of the stick? At the handle of the stick? Or at some point halfway up the stick? These questions are nonsense, because the stick is a pathway along which differences are transmitted under transformation, so that to draw a delimiting line across this pathway is to cut off a part of the systemic circuit which determines the blind man's locomotion.

(Bateson does not mention and probably was not aware of Merleau-Ponty.) For Malafouris the example of the blind man’s cane suggests that “what is outside the head may not necessarily be outside the mind.... I see no compelling reason why the study of the mind should stop at the skin or at the skull. It would, I suggest, be more productive to explore the hypothesis that human intelligence ‘spreads out’ beyond the skin into culture and the material world.” Moreover, things in the material world embody intentions and purposes — Malafouris thinks they actually have intentions and purposes, a view I think is misleading and sloppy — and these come to be part of the mind: they don't just influence it, they help constitute it.
I believe this example provides one of the best diachronic exemplars of what I call the gray zone of material engagement, i.e., the zone in which brains, bodies, and things conflate, mutually catalyzing and constituting one another. Mind, as the anthropologist Gregory Bateson pointed out, “is not limited by the skin,” and that is why Bateson was able to recognize the stick as a “pathway” instead of a boundary. Differentiating between “inside” and “outside” makes no real sense for the blind man. As Bateson notes, “the mental characteristics of the system are immanent, not in some part, but in the system as a whole.”

If we were to take this model seriously, then we would need to narrate the rise of modernity differently than we’ve been narrating it — proceeding in a wholly different manner than the three major stories I mentioned in my previous post. Among other things, we’d need to be ready to see the Oppenheimer Principle as having a far stronger motive role in history than is typical.

When I talk this way, some people tell me that they think I'm falling into technological determinism. Not so. Rather, it's a matter of taking with proper seriousness the power that some technologies have to shape culture. And that's not because they think or want, nor because we are their slaves. Rather, people make them for certain purposes, and either those makers themselves have socio-political power or the technologies fall into the hands of people who have socio-political power, so that the technologies are put to work in society. We then have the option to accept the defaults or undertake the difficult challenge of hacking the inherited tools — bending them in a direction unanticipated and unwanted by those who deployed them.

To write the technological history of modernity is to investigate how our predecessors have received the technologies handed to them, or used upon them, by the powerful; and also, perhaps, to investigate how countercultural tech has risen up from below to break up the one-way flow of power. These are things worth knowing for anyone who is uncomfortable with the dominant paradigm we live under now."
alanjacobs  2015  technology  modernity  blind  blindness  lambrosmalafouris  mauricemerleau-ponty  gregorybateson  oppenheimerprinciple  culture  assistivetechnology  disability  mind  materiality  bodies  body  disabilities 
july 2015 by robertogreco

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