CCK08: Reflection for Week 5: Part 3

A Year Without Reading?

As passionate as I may be about critical theory and pedagogy, educational theory, e-learning and philosophy in all of its manifestations, sometimes I wonder when it will all end. The reading and the learning never stops. Am I just aspiring to follow in the footsteps of my father, a retired professor? Is this an attempt to distance myself from my spouse and my children, out of an inability to relate to them on a profound level? What of books (and now the Web!), learning and knowledge anyways? So what? Who cares?

In 1972, following the death of Paul Goodman, Susan Sontag wrote about her relationship to Goodman, and in particular her relationship to his work. During that year, Sontag did her best to spend a year without books.

 On Paul Goodman: “Under the Sign of Saturn”

 Although I am trying to live for a year without books, a few manage to creep in somehow.  It seems fitting that even here, in this tiny room where books are forbidden, where I try better to hear my own voice and discover what I really think and really feel, there is till at least one book by Paul Goodman around, for there has not been an apartment in which I have lived for the last twenty-two years that has not contained most of his books (para. 13).

 Did Sontag end up better hearing her own voice, to discover what she really thinks and feels? Perhaps ironically, more research on my part would be required to find out. Or I could attempt to do the same, to see how I might be affected.

 Charlotte Joko Beck is a Zen teacher and longtime practitioner. Some of her public talks have been transcribed and are available in book format. In an interview with Donna Rockwell called “True Stories About Sitting Meditation,” the author mentions having read Beck’s books. It would appear that she is seeking confirmation or affirmation:

Donna Rockwell: I read your books.

 Charlotte Joko Beck: Oh you read. Well, give up reading, O.K.?

 Donna Rockwell: Give up reading your books?



 Charlotte Joko Beck: Well, they’re all right. Read them once and that’s enough. Books are useful. But some people read for fifty years, you know. And they haven’t begun their practice.

 The “practice” to which Joko Beck is referring concerns working to train one’s mind through meditation. Through meditation practice, one’s ability to see clearly in the present moment can be improved, to the extent that one is not as consumed by one’s own thoughts (hangups, obsessions, storylines). By extension, when one is less self-absorbed, the ability to be present for others is increased.

 While considering the abandonment of reading, why not consider abandoning writing as well? Inasmuch as the act of writing can help clarify one’s thoughts, when we name our world we perceive it through those names, rather than through a purely phenomenological lens. Learning by example and learning devoid of a pre-established framework (learning by doing, creative learning) are both valuable forms of learning in which formal theory does not necessarily precede and inform practice. The following excerpt, taken from the endnotes of Celia Haig-Brown’s (2000) “Taking down the walls: Communities and educational research in Canada’s 21st Century” relates to this notion:

 Writing as a “tool of forgetting”

 Lori Moses, the research assistant for the Pedagogy of the Land project described later in the paper, writes the following:

 Learning by example, Kaaren Dannenmann said during the summer course, is an important aspect of traditional knowledge. She cited Daniel Quinn’s discussion in My Ishmael of writing as a tool of forgetting. I myself experienced the perils of writing in a context of practical learning. To give one example: on the day we collected plant specimens by canoe, I wrote the names as we gathered them one by one. But the more I recorded the less attention I could pay to actual identification of the plants in their own habitat. Learning was constantly “postponed” to a time and place separate from the context (10).

 With Connectivism, learning can be resituated within the broader domain of experiential knowledge and informal learning. Haig-Brown’s formulation of 21st century education has strong ties with Connectivist learning as described by George Siemens.

 Education is concerned with the act of becoming. As with classical Greek educational objectives, learning assists individuals in coming to understand the world, to contemplate worthy and significant ideas and concepts, or, as conceived in a liberal arts education, learning is the process of coming to understand the world broadly and from many perspectives in order to see one’s role in advancing the needs related to ethics and humanity [my italics]. While this need has been well-served by traditional education, the forces of technological change, new opportunities to create and share information, and increased ability for interact with peers globally require a new model based on networks and ecologies. The current age should be one of throwing open doors of learning to bring as many potential contributors to our future as possible (Concluding Thoughts, para 2).

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5 Responses to “CCK08: Reflection for Week 5: Part 3”

  1. Jorge Crom Says:

    Texts, photos, videos may act as a replacement of memory.

  2. chrisl Says:

    Good stuff. I think the concept of meditation and “practice” are increasingly important given that many opt to use technology in a way that favors the sound bite, the drive-by and the half-formed thought rather than concentration, consideration and contemplation.

    It does seem important to note that Beck, in my opinion, is speaking specifically about reading about meditation and reading about Buddhism and enlightenment instead of spending that time practicing. I believe meditative practice can well include walking meditation, work, reading, writing… and I say “include” purposefully because such activities aren’t sufficient by themselves (for me). But the latter two are really important parts of my personal practice.

  3. adrianhill Says:

    Hi Jorge,

    I agree that the media you listed can serve the purpose of information storage and retrieval, and to our benefit. Kaaren Dannenmann’s point is that during the act of recording information for the purposes of information storage, she was missing out on important experiential knowledge that was taking place in the very moment that she was capturing knowledge in a writtten form.

    This is akin to if I were to take notes during a presentation, only to miss out on the physical presence and cues of the person presenting, because I was too busy taking notes. Was I really there? In one sense, of course I was. But what do I remember about that presentation? The presenter, or what I recorded in my notes? Both have their benefits, and perhaps a happy medium can be found. However, often I think that we must choose our priorities, to the detriment of one or the other perspective.

    In some oral traditions, (for example, among First Nations and in Tibetan Buddhism) there are well-established strategies that allowed the key concepts in expansive oral texts to be memorized and passed down from one generation to the next. Compare the ability of these speakers to my kids, who would rather look up the name of a business on Google in the phone book, or use Dictionary.com to find the spelling of a word, because their ability to sequence the alphabet has been rendered less necessary than in past generations.

  4. adrianhill Says:

    Hi Chris,

    I just read your slow blogging post, and am very pleased to have done so! You are right that mindfulness-awareness meditation can be conducted in any number of different contexts, and is not just limited to sitting and/or walking meditation practice–and I agree that it is an important point to make. The development of “skillful means” in Buddhism encompasses the ability to critically reflect on the reasons and motivations behind one’s actions, and one’s practice is arguably improved by participation in these activities, in addition to other forms of meditative practice.

  5. Dancing Monkey Mania » Blog Archive » links for 2008-10-14 Says:

    […] CCK08: Reflection for Week 5: Part 3 « Memeospheric Pressure Thinking about meditation, practice, reading/writing… (tags: mycomments) […]

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