Ideas & Their Implementation: Balancing Theory & Practice

"We have got onto slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk so we need friction. Back to the rough ground." (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Part I, #107)

Theorising and modelling are key activities in learning and in teaching. I have littered this entry with draft diagrams that seek to represent perspectives on literacy, language and learning. They are models. To me, they represent overviews. And it is important to conceptualise models of language, of literature, of love, of the solar system, etc. These are good things to model. The models guide our thinking, our ways of seeing and our ways of interpreting. They help us draw connections between discrete elements of information or experience. However, at some stage, the theorising must cease no matter how beautiful or elegant the solutions may appear to be.

Ray Monk recently wrote that, “one of the crucial differences between the method of science and the non-theoretical understanding that is exemplified in music, art, philosophy and ordinary life, is that science aims at a level of generality which necessarily eludes these other forms of understanding.” The generality of the model is enticing but the general model does not evoke the richness of exploration, examination and discovery of the particulars that one encounters in each instance of art-in-practice, reading-in-practice, or life-in-practice. For instance, a model of reading is a guide to practice, but it does not resolve or replace the need to get to the rough ground to engage immersively and imaginatively. A model may explore the components of comprehension, but the model itself does not make meaning happen. That is done by the thinker in the rough ground of practice. There is a tension between idealism and realism - between idea and implementation - and Wittgenstein was one who recognised this, as he also wrote,

"The only way for us to guard our assertions against distortions - or avoid vacuity in our assertions, is to have a clear view in our reflections of what the ideal is, namely an object of comparison - a yardstick, as it were." (Wittgenstein, Culture & Value)

Theories have their roles and are aspirational. And theories help individuals give shape and meaning to experience. I am the first person to be drawn to the attraction of developing models of teaching and learning, and in finding satisfaction in the "elegant solution" well diagrammed. Nevertheless, I find that the solutions are short-lived if comprehensiveness and perfection are expected. Whilst the model might soothe the anxious mind for the moment, this does not enact the change in the external world that one is hoping for. Bridging the gap between idea to implementation is key to enacting the theory through practice and in allowing practices to inform theory. Wittgenstein can also be quoted as writing, 

"We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched." (Wittgenstein. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, #6.52)

Good ol' hard work is the solution. It is not the theory of reading that should be the attraction, but the act itself. It is not the theory of love that should be embodying. Instead, it is the love that is fostered and cultivated on a daily basis that should be so. It is not a theory of art that should satisfy the artist. It is the discovery, the obsession and the challenge of the practice that should enthral the artist. This may shed light on one of the more cryptic elements of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,

"My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)" (Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus #6.54)

Even if Wittgenstein presents a theory of language and sense, he prefers that his readers apply and live in the manner befitting an exacting character than merely parrot his language. Scouring the Tractatus will not elucidate the text, though applying its ideas (difficult as they are to interpret) will be far more productive. 

What then is the lesson here? And who is it for? The lesson is directed to its author. I hope that it may have illuminated some insights from the external reader. I hope it isn't too great a disappointment if what was presented appeared to be mere ramblings. As for the lesson ... it is difficult to gain any traction on a model (of instruction) if all one is doing is tinkering with the elements in some hope at achieving perfection in time for implementation. The model can only be refined by seeing it in practice - throwing off the ladder and getting to the rough ground.  Or rather, developing the practice in a reiterative process in which theory informs practice and practice informs theory.