Home > Commentaries on TTC > The only number whose letters are spelt in alphabetical order

The only number whose letters are spelt in alphabetical order

Return is how the Way moves.

Weakness is how the Way works.

Heaven and Earth and the ten thousand things

are born of being.

Being is born of nothing.

“Please sir, Mr Tsu, is this going to be in the test?”

The Way, then, is cyclical. And round. Like me. Like a circle (we are led to believe) it has no start and no end. Is this not also true of education? And are we not most likely to become more educated if we return from time to time to our existing knowledge and submit it to the bright glare of our critical minds? I should coco.

And the Way, like the Flesh, is weak. That is, it doesn’t bulldoze its way through the mango groves of the mind. It flits, fairy-like, through the long grass and becomes one acquainted with the night. By which I mean that the way of teaching that is most in harmony with The Way of The World is not an intrusive way that is laid down by road-making machines. It’s a path that may already be visible through the undergrowth. It is the road travell’d rather than the road not taken. Whether we like it or not, we follow in the footsteps of others, although our journeys are different. The language we use has been shaped by others, and will shape our thoughts and our efforts. But we too will pass through and our footsteps will shape the path. That is, our language will shape the language of our later selves and of our future generations. OMG!!!!

In what I see as the socioconstructivist thought of more than 2000 years ago, Lao tells us that the world and all that is in it did not come into being before we came into being. And, considering when this was written, that’s a bloody impressive insight. It is human consciousness that gives meaning to the world; it is human consciousness that divides the world into heaven and earth. We put meaning on what we find. But there is no real meaning to any of it! So in the classroom, everybody will have their own view of what has happened and what happens, but no one will have an objective view. Of course, this is no longer news to anybody. We all know that teachers and students will experience the “same” reality in very different ways. What can we do about it? We can make sure that we leave time in every class for people to reflect on what has just happened and how it has affected them. We can ask learners to offer their summaries of the lesson rather than impose our summary of what has happened. We can point learners at the start of the lesson to the direction of the path which we intend to set off down.

Taoists hold that everything is an illusion. The sociocontructivist fundamentalists argue that everything that we know is a social construct because all knowledge is socially constructed. It is the same thing. What it means for us is that we must always keep in mind that learning is both social and highly individual. And this knowledge must shape our teaching.

Categories: Commentaries on TTC
  1. October 20, 2010 at 11:27

    I have imagined language as a plant growing in our minds. Its roots are attached to the soil, which is our understanding of the world, and specifically the exophoric knowledge that is required for an utterance to make sense to us. Once the language is lost from consciousness and is forgotten, the plant dies (a rapid life cycle). But the plant decays and produces a deeper soil, so permitting more advanced discourse (either in terms of language, or of academic substance) to take hold and have meaning to an individual. And those long forgotten plants, well, they may have produced seeds that could lay dormant for many moons, but under the right conditions, will germinate. Where did they idea come from? Return is how the Way moves.
    An excellent post, thank you for it.

  2. dfogarty
    October 22, 2010 at 07:44

    Thank you for your far superior comment! I see a lot of mileage in this metaphor and have, somewhere or the other, argued that that the language teacher is well-served by the metaphor of the gardener. It is always reassuring that there are other people who think like me (althou the gardening metaphor is not original, I know). Sometimes I think that I might be the only patient in the asylum.

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