Way To Go, Buddy!

Over the years I’ve come to take “differences” seriously. I take “complexity” seriously too, which makes sense…to me at least. At the same time, I’ve noticed that there are those who fear or even hate “differences” as well as “complexity.” I prefer conversations with them to be either already short or ultimately shortened.

Nearly 30% Still “Believe” …

From time to time I express my political views explicitly. They’re probably a lot more obvious than what I think, but bias is bias. What triggered this flare up? I frequently see a statistic indicating that 30% of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim. It’s the word “believe” that gets me in particular; yet, when it’s embedded in this sort of proposition, I feel compelled to gag. In my view this pseudo factoid is akin to claiming that the Mississippi River actually begins 5 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico. Forget that the entire watershed covers what, two thirds of the country? While we’re at it, forget also that the percentage is even higher among Republicans. I simply wish that, each time the so-called statistic is mentioned, someone might feel inclined to ask how it is that this belief was first implanted and how it has been nourished so long. It may be the very nature of “beliefs.”

30 friggin' percent

Vacillation Over Time

Vacillation Over Time

Sketch Club

A few days ago I posted a drawing of a road sign that depicted, in theory, “four possible routes,” one of which is indicated as “temporarily closed.” In that post I referenced a paper by George Spindler that I think helps to explain these “four alternatives.” By all means feel free to check out that reference to see how Spindler applies this typology to what happens when prospective teachers undergo teacher education, how they integrate exposure to countervailing approaches to teaching and learning, and what effect that heterodoxy has on their teaching styles once in the classroom with real students. What’s stuck with me ever since I was first introduced to Spindler’s framework in the early 1980s as a grad student in anthropology, besides its timeless applicability in terms of teacher education, is its essential typological power and generalizability, especially in the polarized context of our current political discourse.

To shorten this a bit, I’ll pose a question. How many sides are there to the story? Two right? Two because you’re either right or wrong, right? Two because there’s good and bad, black and white, up and down, in and out, and so on, right? Well, you guessed it; not so fast, right? Right.

Spindler’s typology, while its used in a purely inconspicuous and instrumental fashion, helps us see that there are perhaps more than two sides to the story, as it were. And here’s the thing. There aren’t just three sides either, you know, that side that magically emerges whenever you look at both sides of the story…in what some might call a fair and balanced approach. No, no magic here, even though that’s heading in the right direction. Why? Because it’s very possible and even more tempting to look at two sides (or more) in an unfair and imbalanced way. In Spindler’s typology those who incompetently, unfairly, and inconsistently look at both sides of the story are identified as Vacillators. So now there are at least three ways to get carried away by the story: (See Temporarily Closed)

1. Exaggeratedly right-leaning (i.e., crazy from the get go coming from the Right). Derived from Spindler’s Reaffirmative Traditionalist,
2. Exaggeratedly left-leaning (i.e., crazy from the get go coming from the Left). Derived from Spindler’s Compensatory Emergentist, and
3. Incompetently and inconsistently both right-ish and/or left-ish leaning (i.e., even crazier coming at times from both sides without even knowing it). Derived from Spindler’s Vacillator, the most dangerous and destructive orientation.

Now, there is a fourth side that Spindler calls the Adjusted. This orientation requires the most cultural, communicative, and interactive competence. My aim is to identify myself as an Adjusted, but in all honesty, I admit that I’m not always successful.

Where do you see yourself?


When Is It Kaput?

In the early 1980s I attended a lecture given by an artist/philosopher who aimed to explain the act of art creation. From his phenomenological perspective – and strengthened by his beautiful German accent – he emphasized that the very first line, smudge, mark, or expressive movement is a mistake. This is then followed by a second expressive attempt to correct that first mistake, an act which results in an even bigger mistake, of course, and, naturally, an even more compelling invitation to mend it. See a pattern? Each subsequent, additional, inductive, and deductive effort to repair the opus merely adds to the accumulation of purposelessness and further hollows out any remaining significance! Finally, the artist discovers that nothing can fix it; no more tinkering, no more cobbling, no more troubleshooting. The piece is irreparable. The piece is finished! “It’s Kaput!”

For years I internalized this rather lopsided approach and applied it to practically every aspect of my being. Yes, it was like playing Russian roulette with my life.  When it came to art, I approached the blank paper, the block of wood, the lump of clay like a Quixotic adventure. I entered it and allowed myself to get carried away. When the muse was there, we collaborated swimmingly; when it wasn’t, I’d try again later. Nowadays, I realize that there aren’t enough hours in the day and that some things really do start off as half-baked ideas, require planning, rely on infrastructural support, and so forth, long before execution.

I still love indulging in let’s just see what happens. It challenges me to go with the flow and know when to quit. Is there such an alternative as quitting while you’re ahead?