Why We Do What We Do: Part Two

“Our philosophical experience now, finding ourselves here, necessitates taking up philosophically the question of practice.” (Cavell, 1989)

I am proposing that if we are to seek an understanding of the grand values and beliefs of an individual, community or culture, we must first seek to observe/describe/reflect upon the very ordinary, everyday and cyclical practices that come to constitute the entity’s form(s) of life. For Stanley Cavell, “[In Wittgenstein], I seemed to find what I could recognise as this space of investigation, in [his] working out of the problematic of the day, the everyday, the near, the low, the common, in conjunction with what [we can] call speaking of necessaries, and speaking with necessity.” (Cavell, 1989) The practicalities of one’s existence “takes place around the aspects of daily life, the ordinary and the everyday events of eating, talking, queuing, exchanging pleasantries, greeting people of different age, sex, and gender, drinking, sleeping, dressing, washing, and so on.” (Peters, 2010a, pg 28).

With the above introduction, I launch again into “Why Do We Do What We Do”. In today’s entry, I aim to touch upon the conditions under which given practices flourish. Any given practice - let’s say, brushing one’s teeth - is optimally accompanied by a whole raft of practices along with concepts, knowledge and narratives that justify the practice. In this picture, full participation in the practice of - as stated, brushing one’s teeth - is contingent on understanding the significance of the act within a community that values and engages fruitfully in the practice. And young children are often brought into such activities. Over time the children gain a fuller understanding of the significance of each activity as part of a network of activities that make up - in this case - hygienic practices. Wittgenstein considered the process in terms of training into the application of particular rules that underlie the cultural acts, “I cannot describe how (in general) to employ rules, except by teaching you, training you to employ rules.” (Zettel #318) Therefore, “every instance of the use … is the culmination of a process of socialisation ... Training differs from explanation in that - at least among children - it is largely non-verbal and it is aimed at producing certain actions.” (Phillips, 1979, pg 126).

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Quote on the 'Social Theory' of Language Acquisition

From Dr Daniele Moyal-Sharrock's paper entitled "Coming to Language: Wittgenstein's 'Social Theory' of Language Acquisition" presented Solutions Focused Learning Conference in Budapest (6 - 8 May 2010)

The initiate must be "a biologically and socially adept human being ... susceptible to training ... [with] fundamental trust [in] the authority of the teacher ... [engaged in] socio-linguistic interaction ... transmissible ... through enculturation" and which transforms one's capacity to see, practice and conceptualise language in fluent and meaningful ways. 

Why Wittgenstein? Why not simply a site about literacy and learning?

Why did I create a website about Wittgenstein and learning? Wouldn't it have been smarter to create a direct site about language, literacy, numeracy and learning? And refer to curriculum outcomes rather than a philosopher's axioms? Clearly, a more general site would allow for more flexibility. I must admit that Wittgenstein's philosophy can appear obscure at the best of times. That said, I don't feel it will take too much time to explain myself, and I will do so in reference to three of the major texts.

As a result, we gain insights into three dimensions of language: language as structure and form; language as diverse practices; language used to convey knowledge. In each of these perspectives, both communities and individuals must use their imaginative and cognitive capacities to use, deploy and think through language in the great hurly burly of life.

"Doesn’t understanding start with a proposition, with a whole proposition? Can you understand half a proposition?" (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Grammar)

The above applies to all three dimensions. Understanding comes from a full command of the forms, uses and knowledge inherent in our utterances.

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Vision and Determination: Ideal Qualities for Every Teacher and Learner

"Each morning you have to break through the dead rubble afresh so as to reach the living warm seed." (Wittgenstein, Culture & Value)

Talk of best practices, teaching programs, cycles, and progressions can lull the casual observer into believing that programs on their own bring about result. A program's success is only as powerful as the vision and determination of the teacher delivering it and the learning engaging in it. We should not forget that learning is work, that skills and knowledge can and will be forgotten (if not reinforced), and that teachers and learners need to wake up each morning to ponder yesterday and reach for the "living warm seed" of today's and tomorrow's and the next day's learning. Schools (and other forums of learning) may be full of a great many activities (the 'rubble'), but teachers and learners must regularly return to the significance of all the activities (the 'warm living seed') that all the hard work is seeking to attain. 

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