Tag Archives: philosophy

The Master and His Emissary, Part 1⤴


For the last couple of months I have been slowly reading Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary. Slowly – because it is a big book, in more ways than one. I am only scratching at the surface of it – but the discussion of the left and right hemispheres is fascinating. As a leftie and the daughter of a leftie, I grew up with a lot of folk wisdom about the left hemisphere as being the faculty of reason and language while the right hemisphere is the domain of emotion and visual imagery. This, as McGilchrist shows, is false – both hemispheres are involved in each, just in different ways. The right provides us with the big picture, while the left is good at analysing details and specifics. In his RSA talk, McGilchrist gives an example of a bird to illustrate this – using its left hemisphere to focus on picking out tasty seeds from amongst the pebbles while the right hemisphere scans the area for possible danger. Both functions are vital, both sides need to talk to each other and, importantly, also listen to each other. In particular, the right hemisphere is connected to the physical world in a way that the left is not. And this can lead us into problems when the left forgets to pay attention to the right, which it is prone to do. I would really recommend watching this talk. I’ll be back to talk about the consequences for humanity for prioritising the left way of thinking over the right which is the subject of the second part of this book.

Heideggerian Art⤴


Language Noths
Language Noths” flickr photo by NomadWarMachine shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Inspired by a Twitter conversion, I added a couple of phases from Heidegger to an AI art generator and this is the result. These are the phrases:

Why are there beings at all, instead of Nothing?

Language remains the master of man. 



Queen Margaret Bridge over the Kelvin
Queen Margaret Bridge over the Kelvin” flickr photo by NomadWarMachine shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Aletheia was a Greek Goddess. The word is often translated into English as truth – and Aletheia’s Roman counterpart is called Veritas. However, as Heidegger and others say, truth is really insufficient as a translation. Truth is a noun in Latin, but in Greek aletheia is an activity.  This is not just an exercise in semantics. Heidegger understood the importance of language: it shapes our understanding of our world and constrains what we can say.

Etymologically aletheia means un-forgetting or un-concealing (a- lethe). In Greek mythology the river Lethe was one of the five rivers in Hades, and all those who drank from it forgot everything they knew.  In “The Origin of the Work of Art” Heidegger tells is that art opens up a clearing to disclose meaning – it helps us to un-forget. And further – art is not just a way that we can find out about ourselves and our world – it also creates meanings for us as a community. I might prefer to conceptualise this slightly differently and talk about art as opening up possibilities for different meanings, interpretations or understandings, but the idea is thought provoking.

Wittgenstein makes a similar point in his Tractatus (5.6) when he says that “the limits of my language are the limits of my world” – if we can’t describe something in words then in a very real sense it does not exist for us (I am aware that Wittgenstein would have gone further with this thought at the time than I am doing now).  And further, in a later work:

“A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.” Philosophical Investigations, 115

Art helps us to give us the concepts that we need to understand our world in new ways – it reminds us that there is more than one way of looking at things. Aletheia is stronger than just remembering, it is making a conscious effort to act in a certain way – it is an attitude towards the world. I think that this might well describe the demeanour of a bricoleur. Our ‘what if?’ and ‘yes, and?’ attitudes to life help us to open up the world to ourselves in new ways and discover new ways of being in the world.

Heidegger and Bricolage Part 2⤴


Fortune Teller
Fortune Teller” flickr photo by NomadWarMachine shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

In my earlier post I suggested that Heidegger thought of understanding as being an uncovering of meaning, and I further suggested that this is one of the things that we bricoleurs do when we mix and remix. In this post I want to continue with my interpretation of bricolage through a Heideggerian lens.

In his discussion of constructionism, Seymour Papert contrasts two type of problem solving – the analytical, which take a theoretical approach and the practical, which he calls bricolage. Simon Critchley makes a similar distinction in his book Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, sketching a brief history of philosophy and distinguishing between two types of Western traditions in philosophy: the Anglo-American and the Continental. The difference between these two schools of thought is not a geographical one, it is a difference in approach. The Anglo-American school of philosophy proceeds by logical analysis; the Continental school uses hermeneutics (interpretation) as its method (I am oversimplifying here of course). One way of drawing this distinction would be to think about it in terms of a scientific and a literary approach to understanding (human) nature; another would be to look at in terms of being theoretical on the one hand, and experiential on the other. This latter is the type of approach that I am characterising as bricolage.

My first two degrees in philosophy were taught in the Anglo-American (analytic) tradition, and I think it is fair to say that there was a mistrust of Continental Philosophy as lacking in rigour. However, this is based on a misunderstanding of the phenomenological approach. Phenomenology does not deny the scientific approach (or, it need not), but it does not believe that this is the only, or the best, way to understand the human experience. The analytic approach is theoretical; the phenomenological approach is grounded in the concrete. Critchley suggests that the former approach is looking for knowledge, while the latter hopes to find wisdom.   In Being and Time Heidegger suggests that what we need is an existential understanding of science, and suggests that scientific explanation alone cannot explain our practices.1 Papert agrees, and suggests that we can find meaning by playing with concrete objects without the need to move beyond them to abstract truths. Both show ways of being in the world as bricoleur.

1 Merleau-Ponty describes phenomenology as ‘unveiling the pre-theoretical layer’ of human experience on which the theoretical conception of the world is based (in Critchley, p 113). It is something that people have to do, not to theorise about.

The Purposes of Education⤴

from @ EduBlether

I recently listened to the brilliant audiobook “The Purposes of Education: A conversation between John Hattie and Steen Nepper Larsen” and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The book wrestles with the question of the purpose of education through two relatively distinct and opposing lenses. Hattie’s visible learning paradigm, with a focus on empirical data on the one hand, and Steen Nepper Larsen’s educational philosophy on the other. I think I was drawn to this book because of the ongoing tensions and apparent dichotomies I face every day in my job as a teacher and leader. I observe, on a daily basis, the impact of these competing philosophies. The ruthless efficiency put forward by empirical data claiming to provide the next best thing in education is ever-present in schools, alongside the slow, nuanced and abstract concepts of the pursuit of equality, social justice, flourishment and the development of democracy.

The book was challenging on various levels. Firstly, it was meant to read as a dialogue between two highly regarded educational contributors…however this didn’t really work as an audiobook and I got confused who was saying what. The real challenge however came from me confronting and interrogating what I believe to be the purpose of education, beyond simply a few left-leaning , progressive yet abstract phrases about democracy. Determining what you believe to be the purpose of education is a hugely political, personal and consequently provocative pursuit.

The politics of this question is unavoidable in my opinion. The political element comes down to what you value in society and democracy. There is a very clear trend towards neoliberal policies and practices in education at present. Neo-liberalism is concerned with business-like efficiency, accountability and continuous (measurable) improvements. From this lens, education is seen in economic terms. The financial investment in education needs a sizeable return, not least because a country in modern politics is measured by how educated their population is. How do we measure how educated someone is? By prioritising the assessment procedures which give us a reliable, comparable result that we can easily track progress against. However, there are those who believe that this neoliberal/efficiency model has resulted in us valuing that which can be measured, more than education itself. It is from this perspective that we get the argument that the purpose of education is primarily to gain qualifications and to be ready for work.

The book ‘Purposes of Education’ makes repeated reference to Gert Biesta’s concept of ‘learnification’ here. Biesta argues that in modern educational discourse there has been a shift in language to focus disproportionately on ‘learning’ or ‘learners’. Biesta believes that this language falls short to accurately describe education. His point is that reframing the educational discourse onto the individual removes the complexity of the process and creates an empty individualistic ‘process-speak’. Ultimately in education, students learn something, from someone, for a specific purpose. The ‘learnification’ of language cannot fully capture this as it does not speak to content, direction or relationships. Also, if this becomes the only language available, the criticism from Biesta is that teachers become purely process managers, rather than integral parts of the learning relationship. If we also subscribe too heavily to the language of ‘learnification’, then it limits our power to truly question the complexities inherent in education. Biesta has observed that ‘if we fail to engage with the question of good education head-on – there is a real risk that data, statistics and league tables will do the decision-making for us’.

So what are the alternatives? What is the purpose of education if not to ensure children simply ‘learn’ or to achieve qualifications and start working. What are we missing out on?

It is also useful to look to more of Biesta’s work here. Biesta also argues that education is for qualification, subjectification and socialisation. The qualification function of education is one we are all too familiar with. Education for the purpose of doing something; gaining exam results, passing tests, readiness for the workplace etc. Socialisation refers to the many ways that education makes us become part of a particular social domain and allows us to learn the customs and ways of society. Subjectification refers to the process quite opposite to socialisation. Subjectification is the process of becoming an individual, learning who you are and to think independently. For Biesta, we have to be mindful of the balance between all three pursuits of education.

I would argue that all 3 of the above purposes of education are reflected in the Four Capacities in Scottish education; Responsible Citizens, Effective Contributors, Successful Learners and Confident Individuals. However, my question would be, do we have the balance right between all three areas that Biesta puts forward? I think that we have a huge focus in Primary education on Socialisation and Subjectification. However, as a whole, the education system is disproportionately skewed towards qualification. A balance that needs questioned when we are interrogating the question of the purpose of education. Overemphasising qualification, high stakes assessments and measurable outcomes of education subsequently changes the discussion around the pedagogic practices involved. I believe this forces a pedagogical discussion which over-emphasises methods, strategies and teacher-pupil interaction which sees improving attainment as the main proxy for success.

For me, the over-emphasis on qualification, and the efficiency model favoured currently is problematic. As Nixon (2009 : 195) argues:

‘it is not just a different way of talking about the same thing. It radically alters what we are talking about. It constitutes a new way of thinking about teaching and learning…it effects how we teach…’

Another alternative political view to the business-like, neoliberal model discussed above comes from the perspective of Critical Pedagogy. Here, education is a tool to dismantle the status-quo and not reinforce it. Education is a liberating force that builds democracy and encourages critical thought and the ability to change the world. From this perspective, which most closely aligns with my own, education should challenge inequality and the dominant uneven power relationships. It should prepare children to imagine a world that could be, rather than encouraging conformity with the world that is. For Paulo Freire, education does not exist in and of itself, but it exists to ensure that things change. In this view, children learn to be critically engaged in order to facilitate the transformation of the world they are in.

But of course, your view on this is inherently personal, hence the philosophical lens taken by Steen Nepper Larsen in the book. Discussing how you arrive at your own personal political standing is beyond the scope of this post. It is a complex mixture of various socialising agents; friends, family, social background, race, gender, class, education…this list could go on (perhaps a good blog post for later?)…My point however, is that where you stand on the political spectrum of the debate on the purpose of education will be an acutely personal decision.

Therein lies the provocative part. Education is a national policy, and at some point this policy has to be put into practice. When creating education policy and a national curriculum there is inevitably, intertwined within, the answer to the question of the purpose of education. This could be explicit (positive destinations, raising attainment, developing the young workforce) or more abstract and nuanced (successful learners, effective contributors etc.). This is contested, provocative and a site of struggle because of everything I have discussed above. The question of purpose cannot ever be apolitical or ahistorical. There is always bias at play, dominant perspectives reflected and political agendas enforced. How can everyone working in education reach a universal agreement on the complexity involved in the question of the purpose of education? What would universal agreement mean? Can you split priorities on something so fundamental? Is it feasible to assume that the answer to the purpose of education can be answered by multiple competing perspectives in the same system?

These are all questions that everyone in education should be asking themselves in my opinion. Or at least be mindful that any decision, even the decision to not ask the question, becomes political. The struggle will never go away. The balance of competing agendas and multiple perspectives is an inevitability in a mature and complex education system. However without interrogating your answers to these questions, you risk working for a system, with priorities and perspectives that do not align with your answer to the fundamental question of ‘What is it all really about?’. It may seem like navel-gazing, academic thought or pointless rhetoric without practical gain. But without analysing your purpose, you risk being purpose-less and in turn open to any shiny new initiative or approach that comes your way, slowly degrading the very reason you got into this job leaving you in a state of being unfulfilled, gradually grinding away your power, autonomy and agency (dramatic finish eh?) So, I urge you, take the power back, ask yourself the question:

What do you think the purpose of education is?

How to philosophise with a hammer⤴


A concept is a brick. It can be used to build the courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window. Deleuze and Guattari ATP p x11

At other times another means of recovery which is even more to my taste, is to cross-examine idols. There are more idols than realities in the world: this constitutes my “evil eye” for this world: it is also my “evil ear.” To put questions in this quarter with a hammer, and to hear perchance that well-known hollow sound which tells of blown-out frogs,—what a joy this is for one who has cars even behind his cars, for an old psychologist and Pied Piper like myself in whose presence precisely that which would fain be silent, must betray itself. Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols 

Sometimes philosophy needs to shake things up. Sometimes we can be too polite, sometimes reasoned debate will just not work. I’ve been meaning to write a proper piece about this for a long time now. Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t. In the meantime here’s some snippets, and a damned good tune.



It depends how you look at it⤴


Blind men and elephant3

There’s a story that’s often told about a bunch of blind men and an elephant. Each man only encounters a part of the elephant and, based on their partial understanding, disagree with the others about the *real* nature of the animal. I wrote about this years ago on another site, now lost, and I can’t remember exactly what I said, butI said something related during rhizo15.

I’m not a fan of pretending that educational researchers can be objective. However, I don’t think that an implication of this is that all educational research is a matter of subjective opinion – there’s an alternative candidate that’s worth consideration.

Perspectivism is the view that every point of view is a matter of perspective.* Everybody has their own perspective, and it’s important to recognise that this might not be the whole story. This doesn’t mean that truth is subjective, or relative – perspectives can be better or worse than others, and some perspectives can be aggregated to make a bigger story, as the blind men can do in order to get a fuller picture of the elephant – if they take the time to listen to each other.

Rhizomes are like this. Each of us finds our own way of navigating then, each of us have our own perspective. We can often understand others’, and we can agree or disagree with them. Rhizomes are heterogeneous multiplicities, to use some of D&G’s words.

Perspectivism grounds my methodology and my ethical approach for my PhD. I am looking at CLMOOC and putting my interpretation on what I see there, then making my interpretation open to others to agree, or disagree. I’m not pretending to have all of the answers, but I am suggesting a point of view that I think is plausible. I think that’s how educational research should be viewed.

* There’s a lot more to this, of course. I’m not suggesting that there is no such thing as objective truth, it’s more complicated than that. But this will suffice for here.

Be the Pink Panther⤴


Today’s Daily Create  brought to mind a quote from Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus:

Write to the nth power, the n – 1 power, write with slogans: Make rhizomes, not roots, never plant! Don’t sow, grow offshoots! Don’t be one or multiple, be multiplicities! Run lines, never plot a point! Speed turns the point into a line! Be quick, even when standing still! Line of chance, line  of hips, line of flight. Don’t bring out the General in you! Don’t have just ideas, just have an idea (Godard). Have short-term ideas. Make maps, not photos or drawings. Be the Pink Panther and your loves will be like the wasp and the orchid, the cat and the baboon. ATP p. 24-5

It’s all about heterogeneity and rhizomes, of course – about working outside the lines, about not conforming to state control. It’s the essence of DS106 and CLMooc, for me. So here’s a gif for today:


Mathematical Mindsets – course responses. Unit 1.⤴


Why are schools keen to label children as smart or gifted?


My intiial reaction is that I have no idea. Maybe using gifted allows SMT to ask class teachers what their plan is for ‘stretching’ some children. I feel this is used as a counter balance to the question of what teachers do to support less able children in lessons. This differentiation battle has been ongoing for a while and is not in line with the AiFL which I have studied when reading the Shirley Clarke books.


So what is a belief message you can give to students when you’re talking to them about their work?


You have to give them the belief that they will get there eventually. I remind them that I have failed at many things but I have always managed to get the hand of something if it mattered enough to me. I also discuss with the class why I am asking them questions – not because I don’t know the answer, but because I want to know if a certain person knows an answer but more importantly how that person works something out.


The evidence that those with a “growth” mindset have more brain activity than those with a fixed mindset is pretty amazing – and important. What does it make you think about? Is there something you may do or say differently because of this evidence?


It reminds me that as well as telling my class that we learn stuff which is hard, because it grows our brains, I must remind them that they will find it hard and that they will get there in the end.


How can you help parents with math anxiety?


I think several approaches/actions are required here leading to an understanding of why they are anxious.


Firstly you can share links to video clips, reading matters, research, courses etc showing how growth mindset works and how this links into mathematical understanding.


Secondly you need to remind them of that time in maths that they felt terrible because they couldn’t answer a question in a certain time limit. Ask them how that shaped their feelings towards maths as a subject. Discuss with them the way maths is taught at university where depth and understanding matter more than time limits.


Share with them some of the rich learning tasks from youcubed and ask them what they think someone is learning when the are working on these tasks. During this model maths talk with them too and explain how this cements learning.


Discuss my own feelings towards maths and how they changed when someone took the time to explain how maths worked to me in a way in which I could understand it.


From all of this, ask them how well they feel maths was taught to them. If they feel the teaching they received was not the best, this can be linked to their anxiety. It’s not their fault, a lot of it is the way things were in the past in maths teaching.


What were the main ideas you heard from the interview with Carol Dweck that you think can be helpful in your teaching or interactions with students?


Growth mindset is telling the children that they can develop abilities.

Struggle is good but needs some support.

Be ‘casual’ about mistakes whilst offering to help the student get it right and scaffolding their answers.

Some people are unclear what a fixed and growth mindset are.


What are you most excited to learn from this course?


New ideas for use in class.

How I can support children who struggle the most with their maths.

Things to say to other teachers, SMT and observers in my classroom when they question what I am doing and why I don’t have maths groups.


What ideas do you think were most helpful for the students in the video? What impacted them most?


The idea that getting things wrong in maths is OK and that finishing first does not mean the best. Also, the idea that only struggling through maths develops the brain. Immediate recall and pages of correct does not grow the brain.

Educational reforms.⤴


As soon as the PISA results came out, the questions, accusations and incriminations began. Blame it on the CfE, blame it on the SNP, blame it on the boogie. I’m not going to blame anyone, there’s plenty of stuff written by plenty of people on the internet already, indeed I’m not sure the PISA results are something to aim for or worry about – Finland seems not to be too concerned – but I am going to write about working through major education reforms in my career to date.

The two major reforms which took place whilst I’ve been a teacher occurred in England and Scotland. In England, I taught through the time of the National Literacy Strategy, the National Numeracy Strategy, the QCA units, the QCA unit plans, SATS tests and OfSTED inspections every four years in a range of schools in England.  In Scotland I’ve taught throughout the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence, and seen at first hand via The Girl, the national assessment procedures.

The reforms in England were massive and to a large degree micro-managed. The Government wanted improvements in literacy and numeracy and wrote strategies to make sure this happened. If there was debate around what ‘good’ literacy and numeracy should look like, I wasn’t part of (I was in my 20s though, so I knew everything anyway). The strategies were written by a group of literacy experts and then rolled out to schools in the autumn and winter to be put into place for the start of the next school year.

I recall the literacy strategy being rolled out in 2 hour staff meetings after school – I hate after school meetings, I’ve done a day of teaching, there is assessment to do and I’m tired: You’re not going to get the best out of me. These meetings were scripted by the government, the trainers read out what we needed to know and we worked through units of work which explained how the strategy worked, how we should plan, how we should teach reading,writing and spelling. We soon spotted that the answers to the trainers’ questions were usually on the next page of the document! For this training we were given a complete strategy, various unit breakdowns of our own, resources (which we needed to make up in school) and some examples of expected work. It was a slog but by September we had stuff in place and away we went with it. The lessons I taught from the strategy weren’t perfect, but there was a structure in place to help me.

Of course, your school didn’t HAVE to follow the literacy strategy, but if you didn’t and the OfSTED or local authority came a calling, your school literacy strategy had better be an improvement on the national strategy. If your SATS results weren’t up to standard then OfSTED might make an extra visit and again, you’d better be getting the national strategy in place or else (or else usually meant your HT retiring or resigning).

Once we had successfully implemented that – well actually by October of that same year – the National Numeracy Strategy was launched. If you’ve had the misfortune to chat to me about this, you’ll know I love the NNS! The Government spotted some of the problems with the literacy strategy and made some key improvements.

The NNS contained examples of questions and ideas you could use, straight out of the folder. The document, like the NLS had learning objectives for each term of each year group (meaning for differentiation there was a progression mapped out). However, the NNS was supplemented with two things I thought were brilliant.

Firstly, there was a 5 day maths course for every teacher in the UK. 5 days out of class (in a hotel at times) to discover the document, talk about it with colleagues from other schools, plan how you would implement it with your class, look at all the resources. Like the NLS it too was scripted, so the Government really were leading this change in EXACTLY the way they wanted it to go. The 5 days were back to back. A full week thinking about nothing more than numeracy. It changed my teaching approach to maths from ‘here’s the book kids’ to something I love to this day. And really it bloody well should have done, bearing in mind the cost of this to the UK taxpayer.

The other wonderful thing was the resources the NNS team made and shared. They created some wonderful teaching programs which I use to this day and they wrote the unit plans. These were highly detailed documents for each unit of work. Unit one was place value it contained 5 plans, one for each day of the week. Each plan was A4 and was pretty much a script for the lesson. There in the same folder (and latterly on CD-ROMS) were the resources (including worksheets) you needed for the lesson. Differentiated. The idea was that these plans were a start point, you changed them to suit the needs of your class. Lots of teachers did and that was great, but even if you didn’t (because you were, like so many teachers lazy ? what you delivered was good quality, written by numeracy experts, lessons. If you were new to the job it allowed you to know where to pitch an average lesson and how to piece your maths teaching together over a term. I loved them and still did out the ideas for a concept which my class find tricky to see if I’ve missed anything.

After a year or two, the Government did it again. They released the QCA topic documents. These detailed the teaching for all of the non-core subjects on a lesson by lesson basis. Again, all the information you needed to teach the lesson was contained in the folder. You adapted it, changed the order, added bits in, took bits out but the basic lessons for all your Art, DT, History, Geography, Music, Science, RME and PSE were there. Concurrent to that, the Government noticed that problem solving and investigations was not progressing as well as they wanted, so they created more problem-solving resource and ran another 5 day maths course for two teachers in each school to upskill them in teaching this. Again, resources and knowledge I still use to this day.

Looking back, it seems a great time, with resources aplenty, cash aplenty, but it was hard, hard work at times, with the pressure of OfSTED ready to pounce and the pressure of SATS scores needing to meet targets for school and local authority. For me, giving me start points close to a finished article of a lesson plan or termly plan allowed me to focus on the delivery of the lesson, moving children to their next target (of which they had many) and how I might make these at time dry lessons interesting and meaningful for the children. For teachers, new to the profession it certainly offered a proven scaffold to begin their careers. I loved the support the strategies and unit plans gave me and the time it freed up to think about the needs of the children in my care.

I will discuss the education reforms since I’ve moved to Scotland in my next post. I think it’s possible I moved out of England before things took a turn for the worse, but I’m happy to hear comments from people who disagree with that thought or with things as I recall them from the late 90s and early 2000s