Ways of Knowing

This afternoon, I was texting back and forth with Chris Cluff about Robin Wall Kimmerer and the podcast she did with Krista Tippet. I said that we, as a culture, really need to consider Indigenous knowledge, other ways of knowing and that I deeply value the concept of reciprocity as outlined by Dr. Kimmerer. He asked me what I meant about “other ways of knowing”.

I had to step back from the conversation and told him that I would figure out what I meant and get back to him. In this reflection, I realized that this personal interrogation had actually begun earlier in the day. In another threaded discussion on Twitter, just a few hours earlier, with a former student of my high school, I responded to her post connecting to the feelings of a young boy in front of a computer crying. This image, captured by the parent was shared with the teacher to let her know about his online learning experience. His teacher needed to know. Image

This former student replied in the thread sharing the difficulty of remote learning because teaching and learning were happening in the same space – her home. I found that to be interesting because teaching and learning for me are always in the same spaces of my life.

I replied,

For me, the loss was presence. 

Once the physical connections of student presence were severed in favour of digital ones, the learning that I gained by simply existing in the same space, breathing the same air, moving about amidst the myriad of nonverbal cues which we consume each day, vanished. The messages found in presence fell away and I was starved of vital physical and emotional information about my students. As teachers, we become accustomed to reading the body, the eyes, the facial expressions, the kinetic energy and we are negotiating a connection, an understanding in each moment; we are trying to know our students.

And, when you get to know someone really well, you just know without words. Ironically, in the documentary about the making of the movie, The Matrix, Keanu Reeves is asking the Wachowski brothers how Trinity knows that Neo loves her and they keep repeating, “He knows!” with greater and greater emphasis and a deeper bend in the knees with each repetition. Sometimes, my youngest son will, without prompting, be in a room with me and say, “What’s wrong?” He knows in a way that cannot be quantified or proven and didn’t need explicit evidence for him to discern it.

I got back to Chris and said,

I think about it in terms of culturally relevant pedagogy.

I knew this was an easy way out of a complex question. And here I am, hours later still musing on ways of knowing.

Anticipation and Imagination

This morning I searched the etymology of “anticipate” since I, and many other teachers, are well and truly mired in it. I sometimes find comfort in the analysis and deepening in my understanding of a word, its connotations, derivations, and anatomy.

The Online Etymology Dictionary states,

1530s, “to cause to happen sooner,” a back-formation from anticipation, or else from Latin anticipatus, past participle of anticipare “take (care of) ahead of time,” literally “taking into possession beforehand,” from anti, an old form of ante “before” (from PIE root *ant- “front, forehead,” with derivatives meaning “in front of, before”) + capere “to take,” from PIE root *kap- “to grasp.”

Later “prevent or preclude by prior action” (c. 1600) and “be aware of (something) coming at a future time” (1640s). Used in the sense of “expect, look forward to” since 1749, but anticipate has an element of “prepare for, forestall” that, etymologically, should prevent its being used as a synonym for expect. Related: Anticipatedanticipating.

I like the use of anticipation as a form of “taking care” rather than preventing; it is the hopeful sense of the word that I want to feel right now. And even though, there is anxiousness, undeniably, I did experience a sense of lightness return as I prepare a shell of a course, a shell of an evidence record of learning, both which may serve for any English course that any English teacher, including me, might be teaching. It’s liberating in a way, not being confined to one predetermined timetable as our school boards wrestle with the pandemic school plan. This educational freedom to step back from the specific content of the course is forcing me to focus on the much sidelined, more important approaches, more humane ways of building community, creating equity, and bringing social justice to the forefront of everything that I do.

 

Yesterday’s webinar with Dr. Robin Kay on Remote Teaching felt like the pulse of a defibrillator which converted my anxiety to anticipation. The workshop was an experience in meta-teaching; he taught a group of 80+ educators remotely while modelling for us what works and how to pace the content, keep engagement, and differentiate. All my previously scheduled afternoon plans evapourated as I fell into the tech vortex of experimentation trying Perusall, and Edpuzzle, and exploring shared websites from generous participants in the workshop. I returned to my former playful self full of curiosity rather than concern.

This state of not knowing what I’ll be teaching or specifically how I’ll be teaching has also allowed me to employ what Cornelius Minor refers to as”radical imagination”. I am creating a shell which radically imagines social justice, student voice, and a community of inquiry framework. The chaotic part of pandemic teaching has allowed me to break out of the prescribed English teacher’s “do this” list and, instead, forge ahead with ideas that I’ve allowed to be sidelined because they are seen as “woo woo” or “not effective” or “the latest trend” or “not rigorous enough”.

I returned to the online etymology dictionary and typed in “radical”.

late 14c., in a medieval philosophical sense, from Late Latin radicalis “of or having roots,” from Latin radix (genitive radicis) “root” (from PIE root *wrād- “branch, root”). Meaning “going to the origin, essential” is from 1650s. Radical sign in mathematics is from 1680s.

That’s it. The anticipation of teaching that has roots grounded in the individual student experience and identity which is essential to realizing one’s genius. There is a vision that I can anticipate and radically imagine for teaching this year.