Sunday, 22 June 2014

Mistaking the forest for the trees

I had a very interesting dinner conversation with Amaruq yesterday. She brought up something from my blog entry yesterday and alluded to the image of an old adage of mistaking the forest for the trees which I thought was really insightful and helpful and expansive of what I was trying to say.

Our institutions (including the education system) seem especially prone to mistaking the forest for the trees, she said. People are less people than numbers—molded and overflow filed down and edited out by way of neat boiler-plated language that fit "clients" into an arbitrary taxonomic criteria, come hell or high water. In fact, a bureaucracy is a taxonomic scheme gone haywire, apparently in a double-bind by confusing the act of naming and classifying for purpose; the thing-in-itself confused for a means (...to what end? -it dare not answer).

Going back to Amaruq's insightful comments: to a naive person the forest is a messy, chaotic profusion of brush and bramble in need of domesticating influence of a gardener. Forget for the moment that, in its pristine state, it is an indication of health and vitality of biota (plants and animals together); some plants need to be emphasized and exaggerated and some need to be suppressed and eliminated.

Gardening is no more science than bureaucracy is science. Neither can ever be scientific because both are prescriptive not descriptive, and neither are willing nor even capable of reflecting on what end they serve. Both only know the language of interference/disruption and death.

It is the same kind of difference between Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. Piaget may be likened to the archetypal Victorian: prudish, hypocritical, stuffy and narrow-minded—as in the image the nouveau riche clumsily aspire to, as if "class" can be purchased. Vygotsky, on the other hand, is a real scientist: faithful to describing what he observes, reflective and authentic to his aha! moments.

At the time of this writing, CBS's Sunday Morning is featuring an essay on doodling, not as a folk art form but rather as a mechanism for memory retention and learning. I think they're on to something. I think you've met the type, the type that insists on being stared at (blankly, if need be) while they talk. Have you ever done that? The human face has many distracting aspects during speech; one can only focus on one eye at a time; the mouth is a sphincter; the nostrils flare and stretch and flex, blissfully unaware of how distracting they are to what is actually being said.

Better the speaker observe and gauge the reactions and receptivity of the listener. The human face is beautifully human and authentic when unforced by cultural "niceties" and allowed to focus solely on the social act of listening. The mark of a great teacher and speaker is their attention to the details of the facial and body language cues, not the other way around.

Jay

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