Critical Education Articles Placed in the Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Nine: A Feminist Logic?

This is a continuation of earlier posts.

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to place critiques, mainly (although not entirely) of the current school system. At first, I merely printed off the articles, but then I started to provide a summary of the article along with the article. I placed the summaries along with the articles in a binder (and, eventually, binders), and I placed the binder in the staff lounge.

As chair of the Equity and Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers’ Association of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), I also sent the articles and summary to the Ning of the MTS (a ning is “an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks”).

As I pointed out in a previous post, it is necessary for the radical left to use every opportunity to question the legitimacy of existing institutions.

The following is what I wrote to either the Ning or to the executive of Lakeshore Teachers’ Association or both (I cannot remember now):

I could not send the attached article to the ESJ Ning because the file size is greater than 3 MB and the Ning allows a maximum of 3MB.

I still did send the following summary and commentary, though:

The author (Caroll Hart)  of the following article, “Power in the Service of Love,” argues that Dewey’s work, Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, provides a basis for the development of a logic that addresses feminist concerns for a theory that incorporates contextual experiences into the fabric of logic (including the specific contextual experiences of women). Women’s experiences are not the same as those of men, but at the same time there are commonalities, she implies, so logic should be capable of developing a universal logic that incorporates difference within itself. Dewey’s logic attempts to do just that.

Traditional logic is primarily a male preserve that claims to be universally valid and that excludes a large part of experiences by women. Traditional logic excludes a large part of the chaotic and ambiguous nature of ordinary life and language. On the other hand, traditional logic does seem to have some validity—there is no rational ground for rejecting traditional logic in favour of no logic at all. The problem, then, is to develop a logic that incorporates some aspects of traditional logic but at the same time goes beyond such logic.

Carroll Hart argues that John Dewey’s theory of logic satisfies those conditions and that feminists would do well to incorporate Dewey’s theory into their own ways of thinking and practice.

Logic, for Dewey, is a means to an end and not an end in itself, when viewed from the point of view of ordinary experiences of human beings in their daily lives. Logic is a tool, serving human ends rather than some universal end to which human beings must submit necessarily. We use logic to improve our lives and performances in our lives, and it is our lives and our performance in our lives that logic must serve. Logic is an instrument or tool, and we are the master of that instrument or tool. Logic serves us; we do not serve logic. Logic is, as the title of the article suggests, in the service of love—for our own lives and for our environments.

A logic that serves us permits us to become more sensitive to the environment or context within which we act.

Logic in its traditional sense is ordering or organization in a systematic fashion; in a sense, it is the organization of organization, or systematic systematization. However, the nature of this systematization is in dispute. Is it a systematization of the actual order or structure of the natural world? Is it a systematization of our language?

In experimental science, logic serves a functional status as a means to economize on effort by applying logical rules to derive conclusions that can be experimentally more relevant. Logic in this context is a means for us to regulate or control our experience and not something separate from us or from a specific function. Typically, though, logic is separated from its function and becomes an entity unto itself, with the consequent degradation of human experience.

Logic and intellectualization are inherently about constant relations and connections, but the reduction of the world of human experience to pure, unchanging relations and connections ignores the nature of experience as variable and subject to change. The establishment of constant relations through logic and the intellect is a means of controlling the variable nature of experience and not of ignoring that variability.

Viewing the world in purely logical and intellectual terms (typical of schools) excludes a large part of human experience and denigrates that experience while elevating logical and intellectual experience to a superior realm above ordinary human experience. Logical and intellectual relations are important, but they are important as means for guiding and enriching ordinary human experience—not dominated and denigrating it.

Indeed, the need for logic and intellectualization emerges from the ecology of the body/mind, with a situation within that ecology leading to the need for inquiry and thus for logic and intellectualization. Logic and intellectualization also leads to that ecology by contributing to the resolution of the problem that gave rise to the need for logic and intellectualization in the first place. Learning (inquiry) exists, ultimately, for the sake of ordinary experience and not vice versa.

In a situation in ordinary experience in which a problem emerges, there are conflicting aims or ends that cannot be immediately realized. Common-sense inquiry typically emerges as a result in order to address the problematic situation. People make inferences of the consequences of acting in a certain way when certain conditions are present and judgement about the nature of the problematic situation and about what is to be done in face of such a situation.

Logical forms arise to ensure that inference and judgement are controlled rather than haphazard. Logic enables us to check our inferences and judgements against previous rules culled from past experience.

There are two general logical forms, one involving definitions (decomposable into “if-then” sentences), and the other involving actual conditions in the world. Logical forms that are definitions may be too abstract to assist in the process of inquiry, but they may be broken down into more specific and interrelated characters useful to guide inquiry. Logical definitions involve each character forming a necessary component of the total logical term. (A triangle, for example, as a logical term, must have three interior angles that add up to 180 degrees. If something is a triangle, then it must have three interior angles that add up to 180 degrees.)

The other logical form has to do with inference and the determination of the specific nature of kinds involved in a problematic situation. The determination of the various kinds involved in a situation and the kind of situation itself requires inquiry and is controlled by the logical form of definitions .

Definitions and kinds are not isolated but form part of a system of interrelated cultural meanings. Interrelated definitions permit extensive logical implication and refinement; interrelated kinds permit extensive logical inference.

Interrelated definitions and kinds, if not situated in their function as means of controlling our inquiries in the face of problematic situations as we live our lives, assume an independent form that seems to be valuable in themselves—independently of human beings. However, such autonomization of logical forms typical of the conventional view of logical and intellectual terms leads to meaningless terms since such forms have meaning only in relation to their function of aiding in guiding and controlling inquiry in the face of a problematic situation.

Logical and intellectual forms thus must be connected to the world of ordinary experience, which involves the body and not just “pure reason.” Logical forms must involve a unity of the existential and the ideal. Both, in turn, must involve the inquiry process in the context of a problematic situation arising from ordinary experience.

To reduce the world of ordinary experience to the world of logical forms is to strip our multifaceted experiences to a one-dimensional world characteristic of academics—who have mainly been male. Such a world undoubtedly has its elegance, but to take it as the whole of human experience is to confuse the part for the whole and to sacrifice the whole for the part. It is to strip the richness of human experience of its qualities and to sacrifice that richness for the sleek elegance of logical forms.

It has been male academics who have traditionally claimed such logical forms to be universally applicable regardless of differences in human experiences. Dewey, though male and an academic, recognized that such universality was a chimera. The logical forms are means for the end of enrichment of the human community and not some universal end to which we must all conform. We use logical forms when faced with a problematic situation, and those logical forms assume a universal form but always emerge from and return to differential situations with all their “chaos and messiness.”

The logical forms enable us to grasp commonalities among situations, but differences among situations lead to a refining of the logical forms as well as branches that constitute different commonalities over time.

One of the problems which the Hart does not face is whether differences may take precedence over commonalities. Although of us live on this Earth and therefore share a common situation to that extent, differences may indeed lead to irreconcilable conflicts.

The educational implications of this view of logic and intellect should be obvious. These educational implications are opposed to the modern school system, which makes intellect the end of everything. The experiences of students that do not have the intellect as their focus are considered irrelevant. Learning, and only learning, is important. Although Dewey’s logic appreciates the importance and role of learning, the intellect and logic in human life—indeed, Dewey wrote his book Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, in part, to emphasize the importance of inquiry and hence learning in the life process—it is still an end to other means for most people. To take the means (learning) for the end (improvement of human life), and to take the end as the means (human life is to be sacrificed for the sake of learning) is to pervert human nature and to assume an academic and elitist attitude towards human experience.

Schools need to treat the development of the intellect in functional terms, as means toward an end and not ends in themselves. The development of the intellect may indeed become a temporary end as students learn to appreciate the importance of intellectual development for the improvement of human life, but it should never be forgotten that the focus on the development of the intellect is a temporary perch before the child flies towards other goals that are most often more important than so-called learning goals for the students.

There is a limitation to Hart’s article. Hart recognizes that she is from the middle class, but her difference from the working class may blind her to their distinct differences. For example, the middle class often denies the importance of the power of employers in influencing workers’ behaviour. Often, they cannot even face the situation that workers (whether male or female) become employees who are converted into things to be used by employers. Their personhood is denied when they are working; it is only recognized in the sale. Loss of civil rights as an employee is rarely something that the middle class can face critically. They seek to avoid engaging in debate over the issue since such debate may oblige them to rethink their lives and change the direction of their lives, and they have little desire to change the direction of their lives.

Dewey’s logic has therefore much to recommend itself to feminists, but those feminists who are of the middle class, if they do indeed wish to recognize difference within commonality, must make a sustained effort to recognize the limitations of their own experiences. Working-class women are both women and members of the working class—subject to the power not only of males but of employers. Educators, too, must come to recognize the importance of that power and incorporate such recognition in their own practices—together, in solidarity with each other and with other employees subject to the power of employers.

A working-class feminist logic may indeed appreciate and incorporate Dewey’s theory of logic into its own theory, but it must be supplemented by a logic that incorporates differences that may indeed be irreconcilable—such as the differences between employers and employees.

Educators would well incorporate Dewey’s logic into their own work and supplement it with a logic that recognizes irreconcilable differences. Equity and social justice demands such recognition.

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