Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Passion for Possibility

Want (M.A Reilly, 2009)
“A meaning only reveals its depths once it has encountered and come into contact with another, foreign meaning: they engage in a kind of dialogue, which surmounts the closedness and one-sidedness of these particular meanings, these cultures. We raise new questions for a foreign culture, ones that it does not raise itself; we seek answers to our own questions in it; and the foreign culture responds to us by revealing to us new aspects and new semantic depths” (Bakhtin, 1986, p. 7).
Tonight I was listening to Beethoven's 9th. It is such an expansive and emotional work.  One that never fails to move me--largely because it opens me to possibility.  There's something untamed about listening to the 9th.  

When I think about listening I wonder about about learning--how learning ought to open us--ought to be largely a matter of possibility, not certainty.  And yet, the desire to be certain when confronting an unknown and have it named often determines us and what we value--be it in our homes, our hearts, or our schools.  Consider Maxine Greene who tells us:
We are not the first to feel a slippage under our feet, to grope for a “point d’appui,” something to stand on, a platform, a ground. Like so many of our predecessors, many of us grope wildly for security. We seek a certainty of protection, of salvation.  (from here)
But what is the price we pay for security?  I can't help but think of the cool comfort standards and high stakes testing have offered--twin methods we have been embracing since we were told we were a nation at risk.  Frightened of our limitations, we wondered who might we trust? And in the ensuing years we have learned most not to trust ourselves, our very eyes and ears. We substitute certainty and completeness that wrap itself around national standards and national tests for the slippages we feel when we stand on our own feet atop a world that is always in motion. 

When I think about the CCSS and other educational certainties it is the sameness--the way the language parses itself so neatly, so predictably that most confounds me as it concerns me. Consider how likely it is that David Coleman and company, could name for millions of children (at least those enrolled in public US schools) what they most need to learn and when. Standards are a closed system. And yet, if meaning is most revealed as Bakhtin says when it comes in contact with other, then what might we make of this rather closed movement of educational standards--self-referential, monologic?  Hegemonic?

Again, Greene offers us a way of framing this conundrum when she writes:
As John Dewey reminded us, facts are mean and repellent things until we use imagination to open intellectual possibilities. Imagination may be viewed as a passion for possibility...this is where the effort to achieve freedom begins—freedom as the opening of spaces in which choices can be made and action undertaken. Thoughtfulness, imagination, encounters with the arts and sciences from the grounds of lived life: this is the beginning and the opening to what might be.
It is from the grounds of lived life, where we most need to dwell--the spaces that open and close causing gaps to appear. Nothing living is ever finished.  It is in the lived life where we can best "anticipate and accept incompleteness" (Greene again).   And perhaps that--incompleteness--is what we might value most at school. 

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