Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Eight: The Mind-Body Problem

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. In fact, I could have placed this (and other posts in this series) under the title that I have used for another series of posts, “The Radical Left Needs to Call into Question Existing Social Institutions at Every Opportunity.” For further understanding of the stressful context in which I provided the summaries, see the post  A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Eight.

The context of summaries related to the brain was that the principal of Ashern Central School, where I worked, started talking about “brain research’ and how teachers needed to implement such research in their daily teaching practice. He even placed an article on brain research in our school mailboxes. As a consequence, I researched the issue and provided critical summaries that critiqued his reductionist view of human intelligence as “brain work.”

The relevance of the issue has to do with division of labour between intellectual labour and manual labour. Typically in schools, there is an emphasis on “academic learning”–which means purely intellectual pursuits at the expense of the use of the body as an essential aspect of the learning process. To ignore such issues is to ignore a cleavage in our society that needs to be repaired through the creation of a socialist society that eliminates such a division of labour.

I must emphasize that such work is necessary despite the possible negative repercussions by management. If we are afraid to question management and employers in our own workplace, how can we expect others to challenger their particular employer? How can we expect to unite to challenge the class of employers generally if we fail to challenge our own particular employer?

It is much easier to criticize other employers than one’s own–just as it is easier to criticize other nations than one’s own.

Such criticism is also necessary since the class power of employers is supported in various ways, including ideological means. To fail to challenge the power of the class of employers in diverse domains makes it all the more difficult to challenge them at the economic and political level. This is a typical weakness of social-democratic or reformist approaches to challenging the class power of employers. They idealize one or more domains (such as the public sector or education or law) without engaging in inquiry into the real nature of these domains (see, for example, Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Two).

Good morning, everyone,

I sent the attached article last night to the ESJ Ning. If anybody has any suggestions for improvement (in terms of content or in terms of attempting to communicate with the ESJ chairs), I would appreciate it.

I prefaced it with the following:

The author (Eric Bredo) of the following article, “Evolution, Psychology and the Reflex Arc Concept,” argues that John Dewey’s 1896 article, which criticized the reflex arc concept of psychology, formed an initial ground for Dewey’s critique of modern school systems. Dewey incorporated Darwin ’s theory of evolution in his psychological theory and in his educational theory.

The reflex arc of psychology incorporated the difference and link between sensory nerves and motor nerves, on the one hand, and the spinal cord and the brain on the other. Psychologists interpreted the link in purely mechanical terms (one following the other in time). They interpreted the response of human beings as merely a mechanical following on a predetermined stimulus. Ideas mechanically emerged and were then mechanically transformed into responses as the spinal cord and the brain created images, which then led, mechanically, to responses through the motor nerves. The spinal cord and the brain served as mechanical mediators between the senses and the motor response.

Dewey criticized this theoretical psychological model because living beings do not act in exactly the same manner as inanimate nature; although living beings are always physical-chemical beings, they have additional properties that modify the behavioural attributes of the physical-chemical world. Dewey used the illustration of a child who reaches for a bright candle. The child is not stimulated by the bright candle to reach the bright candle, nor is the stimulated with another, independent stimulus when she is burnt. Rather, the child is actively involved in determining the nature of the stimulus through the act, in the first instance, of looking (through the use of head muscles and eye muscles). The child’s use of motor muscles and nerves leads to a sensation of seeing the bright candle so that motor action mediates the sensation (or the supposed stimulus). The stimulus is not therefore “given” passively but actively is achieved through the child’s own act. The achieved stimulus, through the act of looking then guides another, interrelated act of reaching for the candle (if it is within reach and, if not, in the act of walking towards the candle). The act of looking guides (limits) the act of reaching, and the act of reaching guides (limits) the act of looking. Each act is functional with respect to the other act within the total act.

The so-called stimulus of the bright light from the candle itself depends on the context of the child seeking to find out what the nature of the bright candle is by reaching for it. To reach for it, she must first orient herself and her body parts so as to get a clearer view of the source of the brightness (clarification is required through the act of looking). She then further clarifies the nature of the object through the act of reaching, which is mediated through the persistent act of looking. Without such a mediation, the act of reaching may well lead to overshooting or undershooting her grasp and thereby lead to a failure to act according to her intended goal of reaching for the bright candle.

The stimulus of the bright candle is thus a product (and not something “given” or antecedent to the act of looking). The stimulus is constituted in part through the act of looking; the child is just as much implicated in the construction of the stimulus as is the existence of the bright candle in the child’s environment.

The assumption that the response of reaching for the bright candle is independent of the act of looking is typical of a mechanical view of the situation. The act of reaching, however, is not just a physical act but an act impregnated with intent: it is reaching for the bright candle. It is a purposive act. To be successful, the act of looking must mediate the act of reaching. The act of looking, though initial in time in relation to the total act of touching the bright candle and hence in that sense the stimulus, must function to control the act of reaching so that the response is not a response to the stimulus but a response into the stimulus. The act of reaching mediates in turn, the act of looking; the act of looking is limited by the act of reaching (the child just cannot look anywhere). Just as life is a process which is mediated by implicit goals that limit actions (the goal of the reproduction of life, for example), so too is an act, with limiting actions that mutually define the total act. Each sub-act must be linked to and mediate the other sub-acts, and the total act (the ultimate goal) must mediate each sub-act from the beginning.

Once the goal of reaching the candle has resulted in a burn and the withdrawal of the hand by the child, the act of looking may then mean the sensation of burning under certain circumstances. The act of looking is modified in meaning because of the earlier experience of looking and reaching for the bright candle—if the child learns to connect her acts to the consequences (doing and undergoing). One aspect of learning is, then, to connect up one’s acts with the consequences of those acts.

The act of looking is mediated by spatio-temporal movements (such as the act of reaching); we learn to observe not just with our eyes but with our previous experiences that incorporate other acts (such as spatio-temporal movements through locomotion). The act of looking is adapted to (modified by) the act of moving. Similarly, when we move, we learn to mediate our locomotive acts (adapt, control or limit them) through our sense acts.

If a similar situation presents itself, but the nature of the object is unclear, then inquiry is needed to determine the nature of the object before acting intelligently. The nature of the stimulus needs to be reconstructed so that an appropriate response can be forthcoming. It is here that the emergence of consciousness is relevant; consciousness emerges when there is an ambiguous situation, giving the child the time necessary to inhibit action and reflect on and explore the situation.

The nature of the object needs to be clarified, not absolutely, but in relation to the earlier experience of the child. The child does not know what to do because of the ambiguity of the object. Once the object is clarified, then the child can act in a unified manner again intelligently. To act without clarifying the nature of the object would be unintelligent.

Inquiry (and exploration), then, forms an essential condition for all learning. Furthermore, inquiry involves an evolving relationship between the child and her environment. Both the child and the environment undergo reconstruction or evolution, with the child learning, in part, through her own actions (self-determination).

Since both the child and her environment undergo induced change through the initiation of the child’s own actions, by changing her environment she may (if she connects her actions to the consequences of her actions) change her own capacities (habits or structures that have a function in the environment). Learning then can be considered self-change through action on the environment in such a way that new connections, both “subjective” (structural habits internal to the individual) and “objective” (structural conditions in the environment). The terms “subjective” and “objective” are in quotation marks because, in reality, the life process always involves the living being and its environment.

Schools typically waver between treating the child (the living being) as primary and the environment as secondary, or the environment as primary (as in outcome-based education) and the child as secondary. The life process, however, is a continuous process that can only be separated into subjective and objective aspects for specific purposes as, for example, when the relationship breaks down.

In real learning, it is the situation and not one side or the other of the life process that is changed since the situation requires inquiry and change (which involves both aspects of the life process—although not necessarily in equal measure, depending on the situation). The rhythm of life requires varying focal points as the situation develops: the drama of life.

Human life, however, generally involves others as part of the environment so that the immediate environment for most individuals is social (and even when it is not, it is mediately, through language—a social product—as well as the production for the conditions of life, such as food, clothing and shelter).

More concretely, in educational terms, learning must involve the participation of the student in her education, but the environmental conditions must involve the setting of situations that involve the need for inquiry. Inquiry also requires the use of the body, and the use of the body can be intelligent or unintelligent. Learning is not some academic exercise (although the modern school system treats it that way). Intelligence is really an adverb—to act intelligently, which in turn reflects back on the individual as a characteristic of the individual—the intelligent person (an adjective). Thought and intelligence are not abstract characteristics of individuals but active ways of acting in the world. It may be necessary to step back and reflect (distancing oneself from the environment)—but only in order to act more intelligently in the world.

The contempt for bodily activity characteristic of the modern school system is in essence contempt for real intelligence. The typical split of “mind” and “body” that has typified philosophical disputes since Plato, with the bias towards the abstract, the academic and the spiritual and against the concrete, the practical and the instrumental, is really against real inquiry and elitist—and against real education.

Bodily habits, provided that they enable students to expand and deepen their connections to their environment instead of restricting it, express the developmental process of education. Habits form the stable means by which consciousness, with its focus on foreground, becomes part of the habitual bodily actions that stabilize our recurrent relations to the environment and thus form the basis for generalization (not just “concepts” characteristic of elitist views of education). The development of the consistent habit to engage in inquiry is the ultimate goal of education—education as growth.


Socialism, Part Nine: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Three: Education

This is a continuation of a previous post.

In a previous post, I pointed out that Mr. Gindin claimed that the expansion of educational services would involve scarcity and therefore would require external or extrinsic motivation of some sort. (Mr,. Gindin is head of the Toronto Labour Committee and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor) union.

Let us look at part of a previous quote from Mr. Gindin’s writing on socialism:

Furthermore, the calculation of scarcity can in particular not ignore leisure, with leisure representing the “realm of freedom.” Even if we produced enough of what we wanted, as long as some of that labor isn’t completely voluntary but instrumental, then effective scarcity of either labor time or the good/service remains. Workers may even like their jobs and see them as a source of creative expression and satisfaction, but as long as they’d periodically prefer to not show up or leave early, some further inducement is needed to offset the sacrifice of providing those labor hours. That inducement is a measure of the persistence of effective scarcity. And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of structured incentives becomes paramount. This is not just a matter of motivating adequate hours of work, but of affecting its intensity and quality, and influencing where that work is best applied (i.e., determining society’s overall division of labor).

Mr. Gindin’s use of “scarcity” is meant to show that he is being realistic. He claims the following:

Scarcity — the need to make choices between alternative uses of labor time and resources — is unlikely to end outside of utopian fantasies because popular demands, even when transformed into collective/socialist demands, are remarkably elastic: they can continue to grow. Think especially of better health care, more and richer education,

Mr. Gindin prides himself on being realistic (his reference to “utopian fantasies” is meant to show this). In reality, he is a most conservative “socialist” (really a social democrat) who operates in terms of the capitalist economy and its social institutions.

He converts the relation between necessity and freedom in a socialist society into a false relation of mutual exclusivity. Thus, for him in the educational sphere an expansion of educational services necessarily leads to a diminution of resources in other areas. If, however, freedom and necessity are united and reinforce each other in the educational sphere and in other spheres (an internal relation of freedom to necessity), there need not arise such a diminution since human activity in other areas will, in turn, be enriched.

Mr. Gindin does not explore how educational institutions may change under a socialist system and how this might effect the relationship between necessity and freedom both in work and outside work.

John Dewey, an American philosopher of education, certainly did not believe that education excluded either necessity or freedom. Operating between 1896 and 1904 in Chicago, the University Laboratory School (commonly known as the Dewey School) used the common needs or common necessities of most of humanity for food, clothing and shelter as the point of development for children’s physical, intellectual, emotional, ethical and aesthetic development. By having children try to produce food, clothing and shelter in various historical epochs through the occupations associated with these needs, Dewey hoped to bridge the gap between intellectual and physical life that deeply divided American capitalist society.

Children started with purposes that they understood (the need or necessity for food, clothing and shelter) and were to come to understand the natural and social roots of varying the means for satisfying such common needs or common necessities.

Of course, the need for food and shelter (and, in most environments, the need for clothing), are given by the natural conditions of humans as living beings. They did not choose these conditions. However, through varying the means used by diverse historical societies, children can gradually come to learn about the potentialities of the natural world in diverse geographical areas and the diverse means by which human beings have come to produce their own lives. They learn increasingly how to control their own basic lives by experiencing diverse environments and diverse means by which to address problems associated with the satisfaction of the basic needs or necessities.

What of the learning of science? Does learning how to produce our basic necessities exclude the learning of science? Is there some sort of opposition between learning how to produce such basic necessities and the need to make choices about the learning of science? Does learning how to produce basic necessities in various environments involve a waste of time since the time could be spent learning about science? Mr. Gindin, with his false dichotomy of identifying the need to make choices with scarcity, would probably consider it necessary to choose between the learning how to produce the basic necessities and learning science.

Dewey, however, did not believe that learning how to produce the basic necessities and learning science were mutually exclusive. Human beings naturally focus on ends since they are living beings; means are secondary to the ends of life. Dewey repeats in a number of works his contention that human beings naturally are more concerned with ends than with means: “For men are customarily more concerned with the consequences, the “ends” or fruits of activity, than with the operations by means of which they are instituted” (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, 1938/1986, page 253). However, consideration of means is just as essential to the life process.

If intelligent action (which is what education needs to develop) involves the coordination and means and ends, then education needs to have children learn to shift from their concern or interest or natural proclivity towards ends to a concern with the conditions for the creation of those  ends and the coordination of the two.

Through engagement with the occupations linked to basic needs or necessities, the child gradually becomes conscious of the steps  required a as well as the material means necessary for the basic ends to be achieved. A shift in attitude gradually emerges, as means and their perfection become more important—but always-in relation to the end to be achieved.

The shifts from ends to means and their eventual coordinate relation can lead to the habit of ensuring that the ends desired are placed in the broader context of the means
required to achieve them, and the choice of means to achieve ends be placed in the wider context of the total process of their impact on oneself and others.

A shift from concern from ends to means as a temporary end in itself can thus form the basis for the development of science.

Analytic categories characteristic of the diverse sciences are to emerge gradually. For
instance, the study of chemistry emerged from the process of cooking as well as from the metallurgical processes associated with the basic occupations. Similarly, physics emerged from the processes of production and use of tools.

The basic occupations  provide a bridge between common-sense inquiry and scientific inquiry. Without such a bridge, science would remain vague and would likely be resisted. Moreover, hose who do tend towards an interest in scientific work as such would likely become remote from the concerns of the common person, and would fail to understand how science is, ultimately, instrumental to-the human life process.

On the other hand-, the common, person could fail to appreciate how science can enrich her life and how it does affect her life in the modern epoch. For instance, Dewey mentions how metallurgical operations performed by human beings to transform metals into something useful resulted in the identification of about half a dozen metals (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry). By abstracting from the immediate relation between human beings and substances of the Earth, science has enabled human beings to identify over 60 metals. Through scientific inquiry, differentiation of metals and their diverse uses have expanded substantially in a relatively short period of time. The common person needs to understand the, need, (or scientific inquiry in relation to the limitations of common-sense inquiry as the scientist needs to understand that scientific inquiry may be an end for her but instrumental for many people.

The point of this is to show that the allocation of resources to the expansion of educational services need not entail some sort of “scarcity” merely because the allocation of resources to schools entails the non-allocation of resources in other areas. The allocation of resources in one area can result in the transformation of individuals into individuals with expanded horizons. The expansion of horizon can, in turn, lead to enhancement of experiences in other areas in a qualitative feedback loop that enhances the totality of live experiences.

As long as the resources allocated to schools involve the enrichment of both the living and social nature of human beings in a coherent fashion (taking into account both their nature as living beings and as social beings), the allocation of resources need not involve some sort of limit to other social activities; the necessity of producing food, clothing and shelter can lead to an expanded horizon and thereby to enhanced freedom.

Schools, if they contribute to the growth of children, would form one of many institutions that would contribute to the qualitative enhancement of our lives as individuals and as social individuals in a unique way.

An analogy may help. Look at your own body. You need your own kidneys in order to clean your blood of impurities and excrete them in the form of urine.  The energy allocated to this function limits the energy that can be allocated to your other organs. However, your other organs should not have all your energy allocated to them; there must be a balance between the allocation of your total energy to the diverse organs and their functions, with some organs requiring more energy, others less, depending on a number of circumstances (level of current activity, age, gender and so forth). Merely because each organ has a limited amount of energy and resources allocated to it does not mean that there is some sort of “scarcity” of energy and resources. Your freedom to move about in an effective–and graceful–manner depends on the varying allocation of resources and energy to diverse parts of the body.

If schools develop individuals who can appreciate the continuity (and difference) between their common-sense experiences and scientific experience, the resources allocated to it will feed back into other institutions in a coherent fashion.

Furthermore, individual children will gradually discover what unique contributions they can make to others, and they will come to appreciate the unique contributions of others to their lives.

This process of receiving something unique from others and contributing something unique to others defines the nature of true individuality. True individuality means the impossibility of substitution of function. Individuality is not only unique existentially—all existences are unique–but also functionally; structure and function meld into each other. Means and ends become one unique event that persists as unique in its actualization.

Modern human relations need to “capture” individual variations since modern human nature can advance only through such variations. These variations are unique. From John Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916/2004, page 96):

… he [Plato) had no perception of’ the uniqueness of individuals. … There being no recognition that each individual constitutes his own class, there could be no recognition of the infinite diversity of active tendencies and combinations of tendencies of which an individual is capable.

Plato also did not recognize that stability or harmony could arise through unique changes. From Democracy and Education, page 97:

But it is true that lacking the perception of the uniqueness of every individual, his incommensurability with others, and consequently not recognizing that a society might change and yet be stable, his [Plato’s] doctrine of limited powers and classes came in net effect to the idea of the subordination of individuality.

The emergence of distinct .or unique individuals arises from the process of acting
within a social environment; individuality is an achievement and not a presupposition. From John Dewey (1922), Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology, page 84:

This fact is accentuated and made fundamental by the fact of infancy— the fact
that each human being begins life completely dependent upon others. The net outcome accordingly is that what can be called distinctively individual in behavior
and mind is not, contrary to traditional theory, an original datum.

The development of a unique function and the reception of unique functions from others constitutes an essential element of freedom, and the development of such unique functions can only arise in conjunction with the realm of necessity and not apart from it. From Jan Kandiyali (2017), pages 833-839, “Marx on the Compatibility of Freedom and Necessity: A Reply to David James,”  European Journal of Philosophy, volume 25, page 837:

The key point is that Marx is describing a communist society as one in which individuals achieve self‐realization through labour—by helping others to satisfy their needs. Thus, … Marx claims that in non‐alienated production, I would enjoy an individual expression of life during production and in knowing my personality to be manifest in the product I create. However, … Marx emphasizes how my production satisfies another’s need, and how that production for another contributes to my own, as well as the other’s, self‐realization. Thus, when you consume my product, I experience the enjoyment of knowing that my activity has satisfied your need. Because I have satisfied your need, you recognize me as the ‘completion’ of your essential nature. And finally, because I recognize that you appreciate my production for you, my cognizance of your appreciation completes my self‐realization.

What I want to emphasize is that this account of self‐realization through labour that meets the needs of others, labour that characterizes production in a communist society, involves a distinctive conception of the relationship between freedom and necessity. According to this conception, freedom is not merely compatible with necessity. Rather, the necessity of labour is part of the explanation for why labour is a free and self‐realizing activity. For it is only in labour that ‘I would have the direct enjoyment both of being conscious of having satisfied a human need’, and it is only when I have satisfied another’s need that I can be recognized as completing another’s ‘essential nature’.

Mr. Gindin, with his talk of scarcity, has a mechanical conception of human nature and of human relations. It is a conception which splits human beings into beings of necessity (beings of nature) and beings of freedom (social beings).

This mechanical conception if human nature and human relations is shared by his colleague, Herman Rosenfeld (see Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Five: More Philosophical Considerations). There seems to be a pattern emerging here: social democrats or social reformers view other people and human relations as external to each other–like ping pong balls rather than living and breathing beings with the capacity to engage in conscious and organized self-change.

Mr. Gindin also has a mechanical view of the relation of art in a socialist society since it, too, is restricted by “scarcity.” A critical analysis of such a view will be posted in the future.