Monthly Archives: December 2011

Postmodernity and Professional Life

The Pedagodfathers (previous post) is a postmodern text, or so it seems to me.  It employs an experimental, unconventional approach to academic writing and imaginatively pokes fun at convention.  There are many ways to describe postmodernity.  Above all, postmodern projects (in literature, social science, education, architecture and art) typically embody a profound rejection of deeply held modernist values and practices.  Paradoxically, postmodern projects require mastery and demonstration of the techniques developed by modernist predecessors.  And such projects always contain within them a double-gesture, simultaneously acknowledging (even celebrating) the past, while calling core assumptions and beliefs into question.

Modernists valorize work, logic, science, progress, freedom, universal laws — grand narratives.  Post-modernists approach all of these modern cultural treasures with incredulity.  Whereas modernists employ words that relate to the human capacity to see  (“clarity” — “insight” — “enlightenment” —  “lucidity” — “visualization” and so on), postmodernists draw on the human capacity to speak and hear (“voice” — “polyvocality” — “narrative” — “story” — “interrogate” ).  For a bit more on all this, here is a condensed (and far from complete) summary:  “An Introduction to Postmodernism for the Reluctant.”  It is important to note that, for social theorists, “postmodernity” is no longer where the action is.  More recent (and very interesting) conversations focus on other constructs (for example, “hypermodernity” and “supermodernity”).

What has social theory to do with educating professionals?   Here are some initial thoughts on the matter.  Theories of society provide alternative vantage points from which to examine our assumptions about professional practice and its consequences. Social theories also help shed light on the tensions and incongruities that arise in our own lifeworlds and those of our students and apprentices, who are typically more immersed (than their teachers and mentors) in the social, media and material environments that produce the postmodern psyche.  Those of us who teach and train professionals (and those who study and write about professional life) are typically well ensconced in modernity.   We need to prepare people to take on new responsibilities and commitments that will endure over time, but the old ways of achieving this outcome seem less effective than they were in the past.  Social theory(ies) point to some of the reasons why this is so, and they might afford creative new insights (!) into more effective pedagogical strategies — clearly a modernist aspiration.     — Edprof

A Postmodern Pearl

South Dakota Classroom

South Dakota Classroom

The Pedagodfathers: Lords of Education is a remarkable text — complex, multilayered and imaginative.  It captures the wonderful world of educational discourse through the voice of an “old hand” sharing his thoughts and observations with a young educator at the beginning of his career.  The book presents many keen insights and “pearls of wisdom.”  In the words below, the old hand (mentor) offers his best and final advice:  to treasure each moment, choose fresh beginnings and share the wine of life with others.   In the passage below, we are told to expect no more of ourselves than this.

“Eliot understood hell better than Sartre. Not that Sartre was completely wrong. He wasn’t. He was even right as far as he went. Hell is, at times, others. The pedagodfathers certainly torture all of us…But hell, as Eliot so beautifully conveys the ugly truth, is also oneself — our drives and choices, their consequences; our fears, failures, pretensions, delusions; our extended, unending solitude; our loss of dignity and self; and our imprisonment as strangers. He offers an exit, however, unlike Sartre: fresh beginning, each moment of the day if necessary. Fresh beginnings, however, are almost over for some of us; but, there are plenty left for people like you and Sophia. I hope you’ll take advantage of them. We need educators and attorneys, even administrators, who choose to enjoy a good life as they seek to build, protect and extend a just, free, good and caring society. Our hope — individually, professionally, institutionally — rests in each person’s treasuring each moment, choosing fresh beginnings and sharing the wine of life with others. No one can ask more from us, and we dare not expect more of ourselves” (Simpson, 1994, p. 157).

It is interesting to juxtapose this advice with the notion expressed earlier in this book about the nature of success (See  “On Doing What One Ought to Do“).  Captives of our culture, we (educators, human service professionals) are advised to live principled lives as well as good lives, while dedicating ourselves to creating and preserving “a just, good, free, and caring society.”  Two moral imperatives — to do what one ought (thereby redefining our conceptions of success), and to enjoy oneself while doing so!  This reminds me of Martha Wolfenstein’s fun morality construct — the mid-20th century notion that parenting should be fun and enjoyable, and if we find it otherwise, there must be a problem!  — EdProf

References and Photo Credit

Simpson, D. (1994). The Pedagodfathers: The Lords of Education. Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Detselig.

Wolfenstein, Martha (1951).  The emergence of fun morality.  Journal of Social Issues 7 (4): 15-25. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1951.tb02249.x

Photo Credit: Classroom, by Mike Kamrud of South Dakota.  Taken in 2010 and posted to Pics4Learning in 2011.

Integrity and Leadership in Higher Education

The Center for Creative Leadership  sponsors the Leading Effectively e-Newsletter that recently published an article on team “blockers” and “activators.”  My department chair passed this along to us, and I pass it along to those who might find it of interest: “Are you a Blocker or an Activator?”  [It was a gift, so it will circulate!  But I will have more to say on this in another post.]

In higher education, issues related to academic integrity (and how to help students acquire or maintain it) have been getting a lot of attention lately.   The Faculty Focus “e-zine”, recently published some tips on deterring cheating in an article titled “Five Strategies for Deterring Cheating.”

My sense is that academic integrity has to begin with faculty members’ own moral commitments and standards.  Although this might seem to be pretty straightforward, emerging technologies and the changing contexts of academic life add new layers of complexity.  See, for example, this Faculty Focus discussion of plagiarism:  “Are You Committing Plagiarism? Top Five Overlooked Citations to Add to Your Course Materials