Reader Response by Crysta Balis for Dr. Linda Radford in EDU 5260: Introduction to Curriculum Studies

Reader Response by Crysta Balis for Dr. Linda Radford in EDU 5260: Introduction to Curriculum Studies

Wabi Sabi and the Pedagogical Countenance of Names (Seidel & Jardine, 2012) is a highly abstract and philosophical article; and yet so too is the concept of ‘thinking’. Thinking forms the ellipsis (…) between the question and the possible answers. As educators, ‘thinking’ is at the nexus of our professional calling: we are in a profession driven by these ellipses as we strive to cultivate, prompt, develop and motivate thinking; our own thinking, as much as our students’ thinking.  We would be foolish, however, to assume that thinking is contained within our four classroom walls, prompted by one ‘grand narrative’ or that our students’ minds are like blinking cursors on a blank document, (modern day Tabula Rasa) waiting for our words.

The essence of the article is rooted in the idea that there is a world of thought to be discovered outside of ourselves, and that words and names, acting as “curriculum guide[s]” (Seidel & Jardine, 2012, p. 177) are the doors which open us into these worlds. Moreover, to venture outwardly requires a “provocation” (p. 177); something occurring which shakes the status quo, rattling the assumptions we had formed in the first place, and inciting us to explore new ones. This assumes that our world is one which is defined by our cultural underpinnings, which are rooted in language inasmuch as other practices and manifestations. Finally, there is a significant interplay between the article’s theoretical underpinnings -hermeneutics and semiology – which will be explored further here.

Hermeneutics: The Philosophy of Thought

Hermeneutics would problematize the act of thinking as occurring in isolation within ourselves, resulting merely from “human agency, human ‘wantings and doings’” (Gadamer, as cited in Seidel & Jardine, 2012, p. 187). German philosophers Martin Heidegger (1968) and Hans-Georg Gadamer (1989) depart from their predecessors who view thinking as patterned, and as a thing to be passively accepted or singularly achieved. For Heidegger and Gadamer, the essence of thinking occurs outwardly, in the act of seeking, in ‘going to find thinking’. Thus, their hermeneutic philosophy “places thinking back into the world and asks after that which beckons it, that which needs thinking, that which makes thinking thus possible” (Seidel & Jardine, 2012, p. 187). Significantly, it is something from without that prompts thinking, “… calls for thinking” (p. 187) and beckons us to “break forth” (p. 180). This philosophy reminded me of Ted Aoki’s lived experience as a Japanese-Canadian; within the landscape of his life, issues around ethnicity provoked him to explore his place within Canada and Japan respectively, as a result of the institutionalized racism, exclusion and intimidation he experienced, especially around World War II. He “occasionally felt [his] humanness crushed or disturbed” (Aoki, 1983, p. 324). That with which he struggled – the label of Japanese-Canadian, or one, or both, became also what lured him to think – and write –  about his identity.

It is here- in the ‘breaking forth’ from our preconceived notions to discover new ones- where the article’s title, the Pedagogical Countenance of Names, occurs: as to journey into the world of any thought, one must first encounter its external layer- that which names it. “Names,” explain Seidel and Jardine (2012), “have sometimes hidden or occluded motion and agency to them, something to show and teach, some path to set out that needs to be taken in order to be understood” (p. 178). Further, each word “calls up a world” (p. 179). In our course, the indefinable “Curriculum” is a name for the world encompassing questions about “Nature…Elements and the Practice of curriculum” (Dillon, 2009, p. 344). As we have seen in this course, each question opens into another domain, from Indigenous thought to life-writing, political and historical texts- each of these lenses attempting to challenge the status quo of the word “curriculum.” For Aoki, (1983), the words with which he was named again and again, Japanese-Canadian, Japanese-Canadian, Japanese-Canadian lured him to the study of his ethnicity, and to the creation of a new name for his endeavors to hold both identities equally within his sights: “Double-vision” (334).

Semiotics and Slippage

Through these examples, we see that what calls out from the world, inviting seekers to open its doors are words. Further, the concept of semiology, the study of signs, works now to explain what is coined in the article as “slippage” (Seidel & Jardine, 2012, p. 177), that is, when we glimpse a peek at the space between something’s name (its “signifier”) (Donald, 2012, p. 42), and that which the name is meant to represent (its “signified” [p. 42] concept). In the article, Jardine (2012) makes reference to his son’s question, “What would have happened if we had called trees ‘weekends’ and weekends ‘trees?’” (Seidel & Jardine, 2012, p. 176) to point out the moments in which this slippage – the peek at the space between the encasement and its contents – occurs.  In this slippage, we are afforded an additional pedagogical opportunity when our assumptions about normalcy are challenged, and we become privy to another perspective. This opens us to the dynamism and evolution of words and language, and, moreover, to the exploratory landscape and history residing within each word.

Growing up & Relativism

Growing up, although our family never traveled, the world came to us. For almost ten years, our family belonged to a “Homestay” program for the local college, and we rented a room in our house to international students from all over the world. They would stay with us for days, weeks, months, or on occasion, a year. We suddenly had a revolving door of cultures coming in and out of the house, from Japan, China, Korea, Brazil, Mexico and Spain. This experience afforded me a sort of ‘slippage’ – a different lens through which I could view the world. For example, it was Hong Suk from Korea who pointed out to me the overt American patriotism inherent in the film “Independence Day”; while I had watched yet another film unquestioningly, he expressed (for what clearly was not the first time) indignance at the representations of other countries to further glorify America. The name of the film, “Independence Day” took on new meaning in that moment. With Hong Suk’s insight, Independence not only took on the connotations of victory, but of conquest, of self-righteousness and of exclusion. The Americans had independently saved the world, while most other countries in the film were annihilated, Hong Suk’s home town among them. Without Hong Suk in this instance, as with so many other examples throughout these homestay years, it never would have occurred to me to challenge the hegemonic discourse offered by “Independence Day.” His was a curriculum of insights.

Wabi Sabi

In their article, Seidel and Jardine (2012) evoke a Japanese children’s book, Wabi Sabi, to illustrate these elusive concepts. Wabi Sabi is a Japanese paradoxical concept of beauty which appreciates imperfection within perfection – but in the children’s book, this definition is unknown to a cat named Wabi Sabi, who is only prompted into curiosity about her name when “visitors from another country” (Seidel & Jardine, 2012, p. 176) ask her master about the meaning of Wabi Sabi. Her master’s response, “That’s hard to explain” (p. 176) fuels Wabi Sabi’s curiosity further, and she ventures out into the world to piece together definitions of Wabi Sabi from different sources.  Within the article, Seidel and Jardine (2012) infer that it is words and names which beckon us, their metaphorical function working as doors which lead us from a singular to a broader consciousness.

So too, Wabi Sabi is beckoned by her name, prompted to answer the question, “What does Wabi Sabi mean?” (p. 178). Significantly, her curiosity was never innate, but rather provoked by ‘others’. This finds relevance to Denise Egéa-Kuehne’s (2012) article about the ways in which education responds to diversity. Egéa-Kuehne (2012) would seem to narrate Wabi Sabi’s conundrum of being stuck in that place of ‘taking for grantedness.’ She builds on Seidel & Jardine’s (2012) urges to have learners “break forth” (p. 180), from embedded commonplace and taken-for-granted notions, positing that education “means including otherness and multiple, even conflicting voices, thus providing opportunities for critical reflection. Excluding these voices, that is neutralizing education, is tantamount to a decision not to educate” (Egéa-Kuehne, 2012, p. 138).

Autobiography, Centrality and Education

Seidel and Jardine’s (2012) intertextual approach within the article, moving swiftly from Wabi Sabi, to Gadamer (1989) and to an exploration of the interconnectedness of nature’s pines and finches is intended to shed further insight on “the storied order of language denot[ing] a deeply ecological order” (Seidel & Jardine, 2012, p. 179), meaning that the inquirer is interconnected to exactly that which s/he explores within the world revealed by the word: “There is a more difficult truth here that Wabi Sabi is discovering: the pine siskins, like her, ‘are’ their surroundings. They are empty of self-existence separate from their abode” (p. 179). In this way, just as Wabi Sabi is an elusive concept outside of Japan, Japanese language and culture, we are defined by our surroundings and one’s autobiographical and cultural world is central to his / her understanding of each word. Hong Suk’s interpretation of “Independence Day” was shaped by his marginality within the film. “The center is everywhere” (p. 180) refers to every person’s reality – each his or her version of truth as connected to his or her life, culture and experiences or callings s/he encounters. Dismantling the idea of one universal truth, one center, one way to view “Independence Day” and thus one ‘grand narrative,’ Seidel and Jardine (2012) remind us that “each and every thing becomes the center of all things and, in that sense, becomes an absolute center. This is the absolute uniqueness of things, their reality” (p. 180). Here we are reminded that no one person possesses the center, and of the significance of relativism and of understanding as connected to autobiography. Thus, the isness of curriculum becomes further explored for its potential to be shaped by as many ‘centers’ or truths or versions of essentialism as possible, giving way to plurality as opposed to universalism.

Within the formal landscape of education, the notions of slippage, and life’s beckoning call become problematic when we think about our students, the four classroom walls, ‘core’ curriculum, the ‘grand narratives’ and even the desks that serve to tether our young into one place. Are our students humanized, their passions ignited and cultivated? Are their ways of thinking, their ‘centers’ and their essentialism, their cultures acknowledged? Does the educational system beckon them into new worlds, or does it stifle their potential by imposing one standard?  Moreover, are the words (read: the possible worlds) we present to them fueled with agendas and expectations, and often, one intentionality? Juxtaposed with the pedagogical countenance of names, which as we have explored implies a beckoning, and a personal and autonomous exploration, it would appear that our imposed curriculum guides do not foster the spontaneity or the autonomy or the choice implicit in real discovery. We impose these words onto our students, despite what might be beckoning them. At school, the center is only there.

What’s in a Name?

Wabi Sabi finally discovered the meaning of her name after being lured into curiosity, journeying outside of her abode and seeking guidance from different sources. She finally discovers that Wabi Sabi refers to the Japanese aesthetic of imperfections found within perfection: she says “everything is alive and dying” (Seidel & Jardine, 2012, p.176). Hers is a happy ending- a metaphor for finding one’s identity. But what about our students – our peers, like Guochao who, lured into the wor[l]d of education, and who journeyed to Canada was confronted with cultural hegemony when he discovered that the name ‘Graham’ mitigated some of the alienation he experienced when living as Guochao? In last week’s response he said: “Changing my name from Guochao to Graham implicitly indicates that I am not the person who has the ownership of power in this land, and to some extent I don’t even have the power to own my name” (Zhao, 2013).

These powerful words should provoke a slippage, one which reveals that the name “Graham” is colonizing our peer, Guochao’s identity as it silences the cultural and historical implications of his name. He asks us: “So my English name is for whom? Is that for me, so I can better access mainstream society, or is that for Canada to strengthen their dominant position?” (Zhao, 2013). Inasmuch as language provides us with doors to open, they sometimes lead us to only one version of the world. Gadamer (1989) writes: “Every word causes the whole of the language to which it belongs to resonate and the whole world-view that underlies to appear” (as cited in Seidel & Jardine, 2012, p 178). What is Canada’s worldview, and the English language’s resonance with our peers who assume new names in our classes? And if Guochao is now Graham, has his Chinese perspective on education been silenced as well? Shakespeare writes, “What’s in a name?” Perhaps far more than we ever thought.

References:

Aoki, T. (1983). Experiencing Ethnicity as a Japanese Canadian Teacher: Reflections on a Personal Curriculum. Curriculum Inquiry, 13 (3), p. 321-335.

Dillon, J.T.(2009). The Questions of Curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 41(3), pp. 343-359.

Donald, D. (2012). Forts, Curriculum, Ethical Relationality. In Nicholas Ng-A-Fook & Jennifer Rottmann (Eds.), Reconsidering Canadian Curriculum Studies: Provoking Historical, Present, and Future Perspectives, pp. 39-45.

Egéa-Kuehne, D. (2012). Provoking Curriculum Studies in Multicultural Socieities. InNicholas Ng-A-Fook & Jennifer Rottmann (Eds.), Reconsidering Canadian Curriculum Studies: Provoking Historical, Present, and Future Perspectives, pp. 107-118.

Guochao Zhao, Reader Response for EDU 5260, Nov 7, 2013. University of Ottawa. Retrieved from Blackboard.

Seidel, J. & Jardine, D. (2012). Wabi Sabi and the Pedagogical Countenance of Names. In Nicholas Ng-A-Fook & Jennifer Rottmann (Eds.), Reconsidering Canadian Curriculum Studies: Provoking Historical, Present, and Future Perspectives, pp. 175-190.