This post is essentially a statement of teaching philosophy, as academic outreach, featuring few words most of which are via Tweets. It is also a contribution to #UBC100. I do not have much to give. I am not financially wealthy. But I can offer other riches—as can any faculty and many other members of the universitas that is the university community—riches beyond a banker’s wildest dreams or a property magnate’s most far-sighted imaginative speculations.
A statement of teaching philosophy, then.
Or: what is the point of it all?
Or: why am I here?
Or: why are we all here?
Or indeed: why am I?
Like many other faculty, students, others in our local community, and any concerned civic-minded citizens who care: I wonder about these things. About our university and about universities more generally. And I wonder at them, for they are things of wonder. Actually, just asking questions about anything at all is already in itself a thing of wonder.
Let’s take a step back in time.
And you may recall some other guiding, guardian, educational angels from an earlier post:
Angels may help and support, but they shouldn’t interfere. They are intermediaries and intercessionaries.
But the thing is, universities and education and The Point Of It All aren’t that simple; because life, the universe, and human beings aren’t either.
Leading to the fallacy of false dichotomy—
—and unnecessary conflict and other all-too-human error.
In any field—especially more specialised ones—we’re in scholarly communities that are now global networks. The online world and our parallel existences there intersect with lived experience: in at least one sense, we are already cyber-post-humans. We are also living scholarly interactions, which lead to further learning for all concerned, in a networked way that offers potential for more equitable relations. The Twitterverse is one such futuristic experimental space, showing glimmers of speculative hope for what might be, and for how ideas might translate to the world of lived experience. In a sustainable, resilient, harmonious but richly varied, balanced, living ecosystem.
All the above are reflections on academia; some from or about faculty; some not; some a mixture; and all are from conversations about researching, reading, and cogitating. All these form a joint enterprise that unites everyone involved, cutting across and flowing through divisive vertical hierarchies based in simplistic power-relations, weaving them back into a creative rhizomal live pulsating dynamic scholarly inquisitive universitas: the quest for knowledge, living that quest, having it infuse everything you do say think, integrating it into all of life, living breathing spreading ideas.
We are all scholars. We are all learning. Like the stoical-yet-sceptical Sheepish Others, like Janus at the threshold between the years, a triskelion conjoining three realities, like any two- or three-faced being who marks and guards time by looking into all of them at once: we look back to our assembled prior learning and forward to being future teachers and future continuing learners. Memory is key to learning: not as rote mindless memorisation, but as remembering; to reuse Garth Nix’s fine word, becoming a “remembrancer.” Locating all those past parts and selves, making sense of them and how they fit together, then putting them together, thus to become a whole person: “re-“making oneself anew each time out of these “members.” That’s how understanding “grows” and “evolves”; and then it does so through connections with others, through comparing and combining shared knowledge. Doing the same with the whole past, of which one is a part as one is a part of that greater ecosystem not just in the here and now but across time and space: in remembrance and commemoration. And in continuation.
Learning changes us; makes and unmakes and remakes us; does so in and of and as us. That constant transformation is what makes us, and makes us alive. And that is the true profound happy marvel, mystery, and magic of learning; of the special sacred sentient-creature’s condition (human or otherwise) of being a real live learner. We are translatio studii embodied, learning made flesh in miraculous transfiguration.
“Teaching” might perhaps just be the interactive communication of “learning” and just a part, a role, within it; one that can be played out by anyone involved in this living breathing thing. It’s not a matter of hierarchical stages, in which a person occupies one and only position in the hierarchy at any given time, progressing from one stage to another. We ebb and flow as teachers and learners throughout intellectual life. And, hopefully, we remain human and humble, cognisant and conscientious, caring and compassionate and communitarian, throughout.
Common ground to all engaged in this continuum, the adventure of learning: questioning:
“Academia” may seem like a different world in a multiverse; but the universe of university includes free space for all. Exemplary questioning of questioning:
Common ground: imagination, creativity, civilisation. And a larger thing that like knowledge itself extends beyond any single generation and is preciously transmitted to unite generations, communing with the dead and speaking to the future. That is, culture:
I’m going to end this post with a return to where I started, with those eloquent sheep. (They’ll also be reappearing in a later post on marginal illumination and other marginanimalism.) Many things start out their existence through definition as “not being something else” and that is of course a classic definition of “de-” “-finition” itself. Here’s a classic depiction of human inventiveness, innovation, and speculative imagineering that went awry, cut short, died, erased from all future knowledge. A lesson on what not to do. Remembered only by a bystander witness, whose commemoration will be coloured by his personal involvement and shadowed by his grief. Ignored by all those going blinkered about their Busyness.
Except for at least one of those sheep, one of the inquisitive edgy marginal ones, at the outer bound of the flock and at the edge of solid ground …