Integral knowledge, Being and view: Perspectives backing transformation of habitus in public schools

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Integral knowledge, Being and view: Perspectives backing transformation of habitus in public schools

Roland Lucas

CUNY Graduate Center

Mathematics and Technology

November 5th, 2011


Determining “what counts as knowledge” involves the convergence of one’s epistemological and ontological standpoints, which will inevitably shape the quality of one’s inquiry into a subject. In quantum physics there is a concept that the experimenter will always influence the outcome of an experiment by the very act of selecting what to measure. This may be difficult to wrap the mind around, but I think it is true that the strictest of positivist in their very selection of data to analyze, does expresses a convergence of epistemological and ontological standpoints, despite any claims of complete objectivity devoid of influence from personal frames of reference or values. The following discourse explicates my perspectives on the nature of knowledge construction, being, and value, that permeate my approach to transformative education in public school predominated by African Americans and Latinos.

Integral VS Partial Knowledge

Knowledge can be partial or integral. Partial knowledge is where one takes a part and ignores the whole, or sees the whole and ignores its myriad expressions and revelation in the part. Integral knowledge knows the part to be inseparable from the whole. It is able to see or reach the whole through the part. It realizes that the part reveals the whole in a way that defies the logic of a subset not being able to contain the set. Integral knowledge sees the interconnectedness, wholeness or oneness of all things, from the macro levels, through to the micro levels. It embraces this wholeness, this oneness of all things while acknowledging the validity of every expression of the whole. This knowledge is intimately tied or yoked to ones’ conception of self. One can view the self as isolated, disjointed, and in the extreme in opposition with the other. This is related to partial vision or knowledge. If there is a partial self- knowledge, there must then be a partial comprehension of the world. On the other hand, one can know ones’ Self to be joined in oneness, interconnected, with the essence of all things. All things then become a part of one’s self. This vision is intimately tied to integral knowledge. This is the basis of a collective consciousness or Being within groups.

Social Application of The Unified Field Theory

My approach to life in ALL of its modalities is seeing it as an integral whole with extended parts that are always connected to the whole. The Whole is always behind supporting the extension, and the extension is always giving expression, in whatever degree, to the whole; whether the part “realizes” it or not. Einstein spent much of his life seeking a “theory of everything” that would integrate the various laws of the universe into one whole. With this theory one could express the integration of the various laws of the universe into one comprehensible whole as a mathematical equation no longer than an inch. This endeavor has its parallels in the quest to understand human evolution, knowledge systems, and societal organizations, “the whole”, expressed in various time periods, nations, states, communities, and yet these can be depending on context, “the parts” of a larger Whole.

If I were forced to offer an equation that would express the relationship of the whole to the parts in mathematical terms it would be as follows: A:X::X:B or A/X=X/B; where for example, A and B can be any two events or experiences (past or present), and X is the whole that can be the collective experience/memory or Collective Consciousness and Being of humanity on a global, national, ethnic, state, regional, or local neighborhood levels, depending on the context. A and B are all integrated with the whole, and therefore with each other. The part can be the experience of a person, neighborhood, region, state, ethnic group or nation that is always related to, and gives expression to, a more comprehensive whole and at the same time is related to all other parts. From the macro to the micro and vice-versa, this formula extends as an infinite series in all directions.

In my theory of everything as it relates to human evolution and organization, human collective consciousness on any level is not static, and is not bounded by concepts of birth and death, past or present. It is continuous and integrated. The collective human consciousness of today is connected to the collective human consciousness from ages ago; hence the terms collective memory, collective awareness, cultural heritage, national progress, and soul of a nation. As I engage a subject of inquiry from whatever level or vantage point, I am always using this worldview as a basis. Knowledge that cuts of the relationship of one thing to another, that ignores the relevance of one experience to associated ones, or that declares one body essential while related ones irrelevant, is in my view partial. It represents partial awareness, and a restricted consciousness. There are always polarities of the same essence. We slide along the poles with varying degrees of awareness of the essential oneness between poles. We are always swimming in a unified ocean passing through waves of expression, experience, or knowledge.

Transformation | Reproduction | Agency | Structure | Production | Creation – Multilectic Aspects of Social Life in Public Schools

In attempts to have a more holistic view of education practices in public schools, in the spirit of the integral vision I expressed above, and after devoting much focused attention to the transformation, agency, and production aspects of habitus in my math classes, I’ve subsequently made a conscious effort to pay attention to the reproduction, passivity and creation aspects that always complement the former in dialectical relations that together can be said to form ever present “multi-lectic” bases of social life across fields in the life-world of students.

In striving to transform educational environments predominated by African American and Latino students, I have largely focused on the structure | agency dialectic. I’ve embraced being conscious of macro and meso level structures of society that tend to constrain the educational attainment and life chances of these groups. This focus on having awareness of oppressive structures and awareness of the agentic ways we can act to transform these structures, producing new structures that are less constraining, has perhaps led me to neglect other equally pertinent dialectical aspects of the habitus of said learning environments. As I am concerned with production of new structures through agentic actions, I must also give careful consideration to the creation of culture, or structures that occur not through agentic means, but through passive means. By passive I do not mean blind acquiescence to domination. I mean the state of being receptive to enculturation or to inscriptions of others who contribute to scaffolding the agent’s eventual actions. This also has to do with the subtle and not always visible, development of identities. Identify formation does not always occur in the active doing by agents, but also in their passive and sometimes radical, listening. It occurs too in their observations, identifications, being with, imitating, following, and ideological scrutiny of others. I must also consider that students and teachers bring to classrooms, ideologies and schema accreted throughout their respective histories, that impact consciously or unconsciously what gets enacted. Sometimes we refer to this as second nature, or disposition. It is the business of educators to move conscious liberating practices, to the realm of second nature or disposition in our students. The common example in mathematics is that we hope through practice and drill on solving problems of a certain type, that students will commit their new found competencies to second nature or conditioned response, so that when presented with this problem type in some new context, that students will have the natural disposition to solve similar problem types in novel situations, without resort to relearning as if from scratch. The uncommon example is that we hope that through teaching social justice mathematics, that students will employ their acquired competencies in mathematics towards the uplift of their communities in an ongoing basis once they graduate.

I have assumed in my teaching practice that if we reflected and focused on the agency side of producing culture where students are enacting practices in the math classroom and beyond where they are reaching their individual and community goals, that the latent, unconscious, passive side of the dialectical coin will take care of itself. I do recognize that humans have all kinds of conditionings, many of which tend to reproduce relationships that limit their power potentials. I also recognize that despite our best efforts of being conscious of structures that constrain our goals and life chances, we are in constant negotiation with these structures. Sometimes we acquiesce to them in the moment so as to get on with our larger project of transformation on a broader landscape. It’s like giving up on an immediate battle, but not the larger war. Recognizing the obvious forms of racism that permeate public schools where African students predominate, I do not necessarily advocate boycotting these schools, or refusing to teach in them until such time that they are transformed before being proclaimed fit to teach our students. I advocate transforming them from the inside out, sometimes with great obvious affect; and sometimes with latent, yet potent affect. Sometimes the transformation occurs deeply on the subtle levels, the passive side (passive resistance) of the agency | dialectic.

This begs the question, how best to manage the passive side, integrating it into a holistic vision of a multi-lectic space? How should we cultivate it so that it is in agreement with the agentic side? How should we deal with student identity development as competent doers of mathematics in support of their goals and that of their communities, when they are not acting in overt or even conscious ways to do so? Enculturation is not always conscious. Habits of mind unconsciously applied, need the precursors of drill and practice in a variety of settings and circumstances. The apprentice is not always and everywhere aware that she is learning from the master, even during some innocuous moment. Availing students to the resources and opportunities to effect positive change without always directing outcomes has its place. This is one of the beauties of student co-teaching. Students do not necessarily realize that when they are teaching others, they are mastering the concepts for themselves. Students also don’t necessarily realize that as they are elevating themselves, they are also increasing their potential to elevate their community. I say potential to do so because it is not a given one-to-one outcome of teaching content. I think it is important to monitor and guide students to applying acquired competencies to the uplift of their communities, without directly requiring them to do so. How do we teach students to embrace selfless service to their communities without compulsion? This is another aspect of passivity. I think one answer is through example. When students see teachers giving selflessly to the school community and loving it, they tend to want to do the same for the school community. This would then become a lasting characteristic of the student that they bring with them to all other fields of their life-world, particularly their community environments.

There is another dialectic, the conscious | unconscious, that needs to be accounted for when trying to transform the habitus of students such that students are better positioned to appropriate resources to reach their individual and collective goals. What happens when administrators, teachers and students are not aware of structures that will effectively thwart any real attempts to establish agentic practices on behalf of students?

Suppose for a moment that the movement for national standards and high stakes testing as it is applied to a “school in need of improvement” produces teaching methods that focus on route learning, teaching to test, and non-critical thinking. Yet in their zeal, administrators and teachers overwhelmingly think that there can never be too much inculcation of this kind focus in students. Suppose in actuality this focus on high stakes testing eclipses modes of inquiry, critical thinking, and project based learning that is benefits solving real-life problems relevant to the life-world of students; yet only a few teachers and administrators (say a lone math teacher) in the school are aware of this. If this or some other constraining structure is firmly entrenched in unconscious ways, what can the few conscious persons involved do to produce a pervasive consciousness that will begin a healthy transformation of the school environment? How should these few teach, in this climate, not wanting to do a disservice to the holistic education of students, but also not wanting to be categorized under the existing organization as a troublemaker? This is where one needs skill at being inwardly firm to your principles yet outwardly flexible. In such a climate in may not be advisable or fruitful to attempt everywhere and every time a transformation of the structures that structure the environment in overt ways. Subversion, to use a term, would be called for. Educating educators and students alike, means creating practices that will help them reach their goals. Yet in this scenario, it is clear that not everyone may have compatible goals, or compatible ways of achieving them. In this case, we can see that everyone, or every faction, has to decide if the environment they operate in has enough potential to become transformed in significant ways, or is it simply intransient.

Given that transformation and reproduction are always present, the question is more of degrees and timing. Can egregiously constraining structures be transformed into another state that increases the attainment of educational goals of students in a reasonable time frame? Since the technological engine of society pushes the demands towards ever richer competencies of students, transformation of practices that do not allow students to address these demands within a reasonable time, may seem not be a worthwhile endeavor. Perhaps then, it’s best for conscious educators to coalesce their common vision and focus it on levels and subfields where there is a greater potential for radical transformation, given the radical demand. Revolutionaries are smart to choose their fields of battle wisely else the revolution may never catch on and come to fruition. Such fields may not show shoots of visible transformation, but may have rich soil ready for seeding that will eventually sprout throughout in luxuriant growth. This seeding may be done invisibly, reaching the subconscious passively of students, but eventually germinating into agentic actions of students that can transform their habitus and that of their communities.


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