Thursday, January 20, 2011

Environed Mental Studies: More Data! More Data! (Goethe on his Death Bed

Environed Mental Studies
To my spring students and colleagues
(Courses Without Borders Series)

  "No one can serve two masters.
   Either he will hate the one and love the other,
   or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other".
My courses are listed in the catalog as American  Literature,
Readings in  Humanities, and D&D –Dialog and Dialectic
Frame Discourse:  talk that talks about how we're talking
                  and not just the "what."

     Consider 3 Sets of Competing & Hostile Values
                  common to any COURSE

                I.   In  “Subject” (content)
The texts are specimen samples representing American
and Humanities literature, plus a book by Gregory Bateson
called Angels Fear: Toward an Epistemology of the Sacred.
The context:  the group of readers in each course, what
they bring to it, their background, experience, bias &
belief systems, prejudices and convictions.
These 2 (text/context) are radically incommensurate, may I
say “hostile” values: . Try comparing the variety & quality of

stock cars at  some NASCAR event with the range of idiot
syncraticand individual drivers.  Ridiculous, yes?  Apples
and Elephants.Pork barbecue and Paying Customers. While
they relate, theyare members of  different classes of  "being"
and the values of one can’t be used to assess the values of
the other without reduction and contamination..
Here’s the framing question that determines the
ENVIRONMENT  for study.
Which of the 2 – texts or context – is primary in value?
                                cars or drivers
                         barbecue or consumers
                           product or process
                     II. In  Attitude: Mind-Set
Play – fooling around, mess & guess, margins for error.
Work – covering ground, getting IT done. task driven  
These  2  are radically incommensurate, may I say, “hostile”
values, mind-sets, attitudes, frames of minding   They
can relate, sure, if adequately differentiated and “protected”
from the values of one contaminating the values of the other.
    Which of the 2 – play or work – is of primary value?          

Of course they can be related (if separated and not allowed
to contaminate the values of each)—but it makes a difference
which of the 2 is seen as over-all Master of the Domain:
a Play mind-set or a Work mind-set.
               III.   The  ENVIRONMENT as a Whole
                                  encouraging either
  X)  Individual Genius                      Z) Collaborative Genius
     textual harassment        OR           contextual exploration
    (individual mastery)                         (shared edification)
Can you imagine how different these two environments are?
X)  You already know X – have been raised and educated
in X all your life.   We teach for individual accomplishment,
achievement,competitive ranking & excellence.
Z ) Keith Sawyer describes 2 prerequisites for an
environmentthat fosters and nourish collaborative genius (Z):
        1)      an atmosphere that encourages failure.   
        2)      a shared suspicion of “clarity” –or “answers.”
   You tell me how compatible Z is with X: :incompatible, yes?
These 3 oppositions do not address the subject matter
(content) ofAmerican Literature, Readings in Humanities,
or Dialogue & Dialectic They address the Environment: 
the FRAME of MIND which servesas meta-context and
epi-atmosphere (normally ignored) inside ofwhich: study
Meta-Environmental Discourse, call it. It’s like talking
about how we will talk about xyz rather than simply
talking about xyz.—ortalking about how-we-are-talking
about xyz while we are talkingabout xyz.
Does this sound loopy?  Of course.  It is—which is why
IT isn’t practiced easily. It is an aspect of dia-lectic: to be
able to talkacross the  talk about the talk that is going on,
but it createshavoc with the getRdone, task-driven,
arrow of purposenormal instrumental talk.  
X .
Can you imagine a caucus meeting where it became
possible  not onlyto be talking about xyz—but also
getting good at talking about howyou’re talking about
xyz even  while talking about xyz?.
Or in some argument with some significant other
(because if it’san insignificant other, the awkwardness
of this practice may notbe worth the attempt) being able
to talk about how you are talking about xyz even while
talking about xyz?   
Or a class…can you imagine a class which talks about
itself talkingabout any this or that—sustaining, as it were,
a double level (so to speak), where how it was talking
was just as important—even maybe more important
than what it was talking about?   Schizoid – and making
virtue of it.
Collaborative genius!  An “emerging” value and
phenomenon. Like laying jazz rather than playing
in the bathroom for the echo-effect.. Rather than
in-concert with sheet music, music stands & tuxedos.
Maybe like playing old time music on the back-porch
— try a little Ragtime Annie, some Whiskey Before
Breakfast, Over the Waterfall—plunkety plunk & a
good time  had by all.

Can you tell the difference?  The relationship? 
Hit reply-to-all if you want to put this in play.
Or what's a college for?

xxxooo, Sam

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