Distraction and Dromocracy in Learning

Debates about media in academic institutions are as old as academic institutions themselves. Is handwriting better than typing for learning? This article indicates that the answer is yes, specifically in terms of classroom learning. I would disagree. Part of the argument is that handwriting is better because it makes you slow down. I like the point about slowing down. The current obsession with speed—Paul Virilio’s dromocratic society—is very much a problem that should be addressed, and presumably it should be addressed very quickly. Slow down now! However, taking typing out of the classroom is not the solution. Continue reading

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Socrates and Place

Socrates can’t learn from place.  He’s too anthropocentric.  I always think of Plato’s Phaedrus (230d), where Socrates says this:

You see, I am fond of learning. Now the country places and the trees won’t teach me anything, and the people in the city do.

He is fond of learning (philomathes), but country places (chorai) and trees (dendra) don’t help, whereas anthropoi do.  What really interests me here isn’t the obvious anthropocentrism of Socrates, but this: Phaedrus is able to use written discourse as a drug to lure Socrates to the countryside (where he might be capable of learning in place, of place), and after he is drugged-dragged out into place, he asks forgiveness for his anthropocentrism.  Here’s a slightly more complete version of the passage.

Forgive me, my dear friend. You see, I am fond of learning. Now the country places and the trees won’t teach me anything, and the people in the city do.  But you seem to have found the charm [pharmakon] to bring me out.

 

Rough Words with Whitehead and Neruda

“In order to acquire learning, we must first shake ourselves free of it. We must grasp the topic in the rough, before we smooth it out and shape it.”
Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: Free Press, 1966), p. 6.

That comment from Whitehead could be read as an exegesis of one of Pablo Neruda’s poems, Verbo.  Here’s a rough translation:

Verb

I’m going to crumple up this word,
I’m going to contort it,
yes,
it’s too sleek,
it’s as if a great dog or great river
had passed its tongue or water over it
during many years.

In the word I want
the roughness is seen
the iron salt
The de-fanged strength
of the land,
the blood
of those who spoke and of those who did not.

I want to see thirst
Within its syllables:
I want to touch fire
in its sound:
I want to feel darkness
in its cry. I want
words as rough
as virgin stones.

It’s only teaching, but I like it

The last month has been a busy one.  I’ve graded roughly 400 pages of student papers, and I’ve given about 60 hours of lectures.  I haven’t spent much time writing, and I feel good about that.  Well, I suppose I’ve done some writing, if you count lecture notes, syllabi, and emails to students.  To adapt a phrase from Mick Jagger, it’s only teaching, but I like it.  This is what I do. 

I consider myself a teacher far more than I would consider myself a writer.  Along those lines, I feel an affinity with Heidegger: my work is not to write, but to teach, where teaching is understood not as advising or instructing (belehren) but as a practice of letting learn (lernen lassen).  Foucault is also a companion in that regard.  I often recall his statement that he is a teacher and not a writer or a public intellectual or a philosopher.  This isn’t to say that being a teacher precludes writing.  Heidegger and Foucault wrote quite a lot.  But they were not writers.

I would say that teaching is more difficult than writing.  Indeed, teaching is even more difficult than learning, since the teacher has to learn how to let students learn.  The teacher has to be more teachable than the students.  I feel like that’s almost verbatim from one of my favorite Heidegger books: What is Called Thinking?  Not incidentally, that book is a series of lectures, like so many of Heidegger’s works.

I’m sure there are some possible rebuttals to what I’m saying here.  Nonetheless, I simply can’t shake some of my Heideggerian convictions… after so much walking along the path, still coming into the nearness of distance…  Hier stehe, ich kann nicht anders.

Learning to Swim with Deleuze

The movement of the swimmer does not resemble that of the wave, in particular, the movements of the swimming instructor which we reproduce on the sand bear no relation to the movements of the wave, which we learn to deal with only by grasping the former in practice as signs.  That is why it is so difficult to say how someone learns: there is an innate or acquired practical familiarity with signs, which means that there is something amorous—but also something fatal—about all education.  […]

When a body combines some of its own distinctive points with those of a wave, it espouses the principle of a repetition which is no longer that of the Same, but involves the Other—involves difference, from one wave and one gesture to another, and carries that difference through the repetitive space thereby constituted.  To learn is indeed to constitute this space of an encounter with signs, in which the distinctive points renew themselves in each other, and repetition takes shape while disguising itself. […]

To learn to swim is to conjugate the distinctive points of our bodies with the singular points of the objective Idea in order to form a problematic field.  This conjugation determines for us a threshold of consciousness at which our real acts are adjusted to our perceptions of the real relations, thereby providing a solution to the problem.  Moreover, problematic Ideas are precisely the ultimate elements of nature and the subliminal objects of little perceptions.  As a result, ‘learning’ always takes place in and through the unconscious, thereby establishing the bond of a profound complicity between nature and mind.

Gilles Deleuze, Difference and repetition, trans. Paul Patton. (Columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 23, 165.