Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Six: The Reduction of the Nature of Teenagers to Their Brains

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 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).

Hello everyone,

Attached is another article sent to the ESJ Ning. I prefaced it with the following summary and commentary:

The author of the following article, “The Gift and the Trap: Working the `Teenage Brain’ into our Concept of Youth,” (Howard Sercombe) argues that Michael Males’ criticisms of most of the research on youth’s so-called risk-taking behaviour, as reductionist and unscientific is justified. Most of the research ignores social environmental conditions that influence behaviour; the conclusions derived from such “brain research” should therefore be treated with suspicion. Youth, like all human beings, should be seen as a conjunction of biology, social environment and agency (self-determination). Youth, like all human beings, is irreducible to “brain states.”

Sercombe calls for research that unites the biological approach, the sociological approach and the role of agency (human beings as persons who make decisions). However, he argues that we lack a model that incorporates all three. Hence we need to focus on both the biological approach and the sociological approach in succession, with the one balancing the other until a new synthesis may arise.
Sercombe concurs with Males’ earlier view that, when sociological factors are taken into account (such as comparable levels of poverty between teenagers and adults), then the level of risk-taking is comparable.

The author points out that the issue of whether youth have inherent characteristics or have characteristics that are accidental (dependent on social circumstances) has had a long history, dating back at least to Aristotle. Hence, the issue has divided theoreticians for a long time.

What is new is the use of recent “brain research” to claim that teenagers have tendencies towards risk-taking when compared to adults. Such a view claims to be scientific but in fact expresses a prejudice by adults against teenagers. In other words, it is stereotyping in the form of alleged scientific inquiry.

Sercombe, by contrast, claims that modern brain research actually tells a different story. Brain research shows that the neural structure of the brain is subject to modification due to experience. Therefore, neural anatomy and physiology are functions of both maturational processes and environmental processes. The emergence of certain behaviours is a function of genes and the environment. If environmental conditions are not present, then the neural connections may not be established despite appropriate genetic timing. Conversely, if genetic conditions are not present, then the neural connections may not be established despite appropriate environmental conditions. Nature (genetics) and nurture (environment) are two sides of the same coin; they both need to be present for certain neural structures to emerge.

There is (contrary to such authors as David Dobb, in his article “Beautiful Brains”) no one-to-one correspondence between genetics and human behaviour.

Recent brain imaging shows that different connections between neurons are established as experiences differ. Furthermore, human beings, as agents, persons or subjects of their own lives make decisions which, in turn, influence both the environment and the neural structure of their brains (and those of other people).

Sercombe then provides some facts from the U.K. that question the so-called nature of adolescents for risk-taking. He points out that the recent financial meltdown was hardly due to teenagers but rather to adults. Such a meltdown has had much more devastating consequences than the so-called risk-taking behaviour of youth.

Sercombe calls for humility among researchers who favour nature over nurture, or nurture over nature. We do not, at present, he claims, have a model that integrates both in any consistent manner.

He only takes issue with Males’ apparent rejection of the tendential distinctiveness of adolescence as a transition towards adulthood as revealed in brain imagery.

He does criticize Males for apparently rejecting modern brain research and what it tells us about teenagers. The structure of modern teenage brains share certain commonalities with the structure of the brains of adults (since both share a common environment in, for instance, experiencing similar school structures), but there are distinctive aspects to the structure of the brains of teenagers. There is a change in the ratio of grey brain matter to white brain matter from the onset of puberty until the early 20s. Myelination occurs, making the brain more efficient as certain neural structures are selected for use(a function of genetics, environment and agency and not just genetics, as the reductionists claims), whereas synaptic pruning results in the elimination of connections and hence structures that are not used. The teenage years do bear witness to an evident restructuring that makes the neural structures more nearly approximate the more rigid structures of adult brains. By the age of 14, more or less, teenage brains are similar in structure to the structure of adult brains, but they need to be edited and organized into more efficient structures.

The author considers differences between the structure of the brains of teenagers and the brains of adults to be significant only in terms of tendencies. If certain environmental conditions are present (including specific kinds of agents), then there may be certain tendencies to act in certain ways. The specific environmental conditions will have a say in whether adolescents will act differently from their adult counterparts to any great extent.

Sercombe, like Males, points out just how bias the research is against youth. Interpretations of the data from brain research invariably treat youth as deficient when compared to adults. Sercombe queries why research never emphasizes the positive aspects of teenagers as exemplified in the data. (Although he does not specify, it can be inferred that such a characteristic as greater flexibility in rule rejection and reconstruction may be something which adults would do well to cherish.) The discourse on youth (by, of course, mainly adults) presupposes that youth are defective in some manner so that such discourse infects research as well. Such a view leads to the slippery slope of treating youth as pathological and in need of strict control by adults.

Although the author’s approach is noteworthy in the much needed attempt to take into consideration the biological and the sociological (and psychological) aspects of the problem, he seems to be unaware that such a synthetic approach to all three was proposed by John Dewey a long time ago. Sercombe’s view that we need to balance research that excludes sociology and psychology from biology (or vice versa) by referring to research that emphasizes sociology and psychology will never result in a synthesis. What is needed is a synthetic approach that incorporates all three from the beginning, even if implicitly—as does Dewey’s theory.

Dewey begins with human beings who are dependent on each other and on the world of which they are a part—a social, biological and physical-chemical environment. Emphasis on the biological, the sociological or the psychological assumes a functional character: we emphasize one or the other for particular purposes. At a lived level, though, there is no distinction. Human experience is never purely physical-chemical, or purely biological, or purely social. It is all of them together in an inseparable unity. Emphasizing the biological may be required to ascertain certain aspects of our experience, but it never exhausts it.

Educators would do well to study more carefully Dewey’s philosophy in general and his philosophy of education in particular. They may then avoid the reductionism characteristic of biological approaches to human beings or, for that matter, the reductionism characteristic of sociological (and psychological) approaches to human beings and the education process. They may also avoid pandering to prejudices against youth based on pseudo-science (such as that presented in David Dobb’s article, “Beautiful Brain”).

Educators, however, are adults, and as adults they tend to consider their standards to be sacrosanct. They may well avoid engaging with Dewey’s theory since Dewey long ago argued that, although children (and adolescents) need in some ways to become like adults, adults need to become more like children (and adolescents):

“With respect to the development of powers devoted to coping with specific scientific and economic problems we may say the child [and adolescents] should be growing in manhood. With respect to sympathetic curiosity, unbiased responsiveness, and openness of mind, we may say that the adult should be growing in childlikeness. One statement is as true as the other.” (Democracy and Education, 1916, p. 55)

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Five: The Division Between the Intellectual and the Manual

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”). The Ning was a social network for chairs of various Equity and Justice Committees of the Manitoba Teachers Society to communicate with each other.

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 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.”

Such critiques are relevant for socialists since the issue of the division of labour between intellectual and manual labour is something that needs to be abolished as socialism proceeds. The reduction of intelligence to “brain work” reflects the one-sided division of labour between intellectual labour and manual labour and needs to be opposed.

Hello everyone,

I sent the attached articles to the ESJ Ning and put them in a binder in the staff lounge. Indirectly, they are a critical response to an article that the principal of Ashern Central School recommended (he sent it to us as an attachment and put it in our mail box).

I prefaced the articles with the following:

The author of the following article, “The Ontogeny of Consciousness: John Dewey and Myrtyle McGraw’s Contribution to a Science of Mind,” (as well the additional article by the same author, “Myrtyle McGraw’s Neurobehavioral Theory of Development”) (Thomas C. Dalton) provides a counterargument to “brain-based research” that is reductionist, that is to say, that reduces explanations of human behaviour primarily in terms of biological changes in the brain due to maturation. The emergence of neural structures in the brain is just as much a function of experience as it is a function of biological maturation.

Before providing a summary of the article, a few words are in order to clarify why the article is important for educators. Evolutionary theory informs us that living bodies evolved before the emergence of the central nervous system and the brain. Should not educators take such evolution into account when performing research into the nature and functions of the brain? Is the control of the body irrelevant for learning—as those who focus on academic subjects imply? Or is the control of the body central to the learning process?

Since evolutionary theory involves an inseparable connection of the body of a living being with an environment —life is a process that involves simultaneously living beings (with a body) and an environment—then evolutionary theory must include relations between the living being’s body and the living being’s environment. Often, though, brain studies simply ignore the environment (and hence the body)—thereby distorting evolutionary theory while claiming to rely on it. Similarly, the denigration of the body in modern schools finds its reflection in disembodied brain studies—as if human beings were pure beings of the brain, disconnected from their environment.

Since control of the body (and the life process) is denigrated in schools (academic subjects are the focus), there is little wonder that some early brain research remains hidden to many educators. Such research contradicts the school system’s emphasis on academic subjects and the assumption that disembodied “brain research” constitutes the ultimate in research.

Dewey’s theory of human development is based on Darwin ’s theory of evolution, but Dewey incorporates systematically Darwin ’s insights into his theory rather than reductionist and superficial views of Darwin ’s theory of natural selection (typical of much “brain-based” research) . So-called brain studies, for instance, that refer to Darwin’s theory of evolution often simply ignore the body and go directly to the brain, drawing false conclusions based on their own unanalyzed assumptions.
Turning now to the article mentioned above, the author provides a description of some of John Dewey’s research concerns and how his protégé, Myrtyl McGraw, developed a research program related to infant development, especially the relation between an infant’s and toddler’s bodily movements up to erect locomotion and the development of the infant’s brain in the context of a doubtful or problematic situation.

The more specific issue was the relationship between consciousness and habit in the context of a problematic situation.

The author outlines some aspects of Dewey’s theory before moving to an analysis of McGraw’s work.

Dewey, in his How We Think, argued that the primary problem for the infant and toddler was control of the body. Increasing control of the body was, for the emerging consciousness of the infant/toddler, the major problem that the infant/toddler needed to solve. Dewey was interested in the relationship between the emergence of consciousness, its function, and the transfer of conscious control from the cortical region of the brain to the subcortical region of the brain in the context of the infant’s/toddler’s need to control the body.

Dewey tried to avoid the dualism of reducing all consciousness to brain states, on the one hand, or in reducing all behaviour to conscious conditions on the other.

Conscious experience in a problematic situation, which demands inquiry, can expand the capacities of the individual through, for example, enabling the infant to gain conscious control over certain movements of the body (rather than have such movements under the control of subcortical control, initially, which tended to be gross movements at best and inefficient—if such movements were forthcoming at all) and, in turn, provide a basis for further use of the body in increasingly complicated processes.

Dewey relied on Herrick’s view that inhibition of movement necessary for reflection involved the functional capacity of the cerebrum to override the cerebellum’s automatic response mechanism. Such an overriding function enabled the time necessary to anticipate events that are in the process of unfolding or may occur in the future and consequently to act accordingly. Consciousness, for Herrick, arose as central and periphereal systems were in the process of being coordinated with each other; control over the body and consciousness were not separate events. Consciousness in a functional sense is thinking, and it arises in a problematic or doubtful situation. It was the interplay of resistance and the need for control that occasioned cognitive growth (if it indeed did occur at all).

Dalton points out that Dewey considered the isolation of cognitive experiences from non-cognitive experiences is pernicious since most of who we are involves non-cognitive experiences as the background against which cognitive experiences arise and have any meaning at all. Cognitive experiences arise in a doubtful or uncertain situation (a problematic situation), that includes the whole body as well as the environment. Cognitive development may occur in such circumstances because inquiry (and judgment) is required, forcing us to expand and deepen our conscious perspective in order to overcome the difficulty.

A problematic situation, which occasions the need for inquiry and forms the basis for all learning, introduces disequilibrium into the situation; to resolve the situation in other than a trial-and-error fashion, it is necessary to separate out possibly divergent modes of action and judge them on the basis of the purpose to be achieved—an occasion for the consciousness as a function to arise.

Dewey distinguished consciousness, however, from mind. Consciousness is focal , ephemeral and explicit whereas mind is diffuse (a background), more constant or structural and implicit. As a problematic situation proceeds, shifts in consciousness from the foreground to the background (making aspects of the background—but never the whole—background the foreground) may occur.

Myrtyle McGraw’s theories and experiments with twins furnished some corroborating evidence for Dewey’s theory that intellectual or cognitive development is a function of conscious control over the body that becomes transferred to neural structures linked to bodily habits.

Consciousness is a function and not a separate entity or thing. Consciousness is a function in the context of a problematic situation, where inquiry is required before acting. Consciousness arises due to the need for judgment in a problematic situation and is not merely an irrelevant phenomenon characteristic of behaviourist theories of learning.

McGraw, through her experiments, tested Dewey’s view that is was a problematic situation that occasioned the possibility for increased (cortical) control rather than just reflex actions controlled through subcortical levels; she also tested his view that conscious control became inscribed in the body and simultaneously transferred to subcortical control.

It was the introduction of a problematic element, which interfered with normal or habitual action of the body governed by subcortical processes, into an infant’s and toddler’s experiential situation that could lead to increased control over the environment through the need for cortical control over balance and the need for judgment. It was not a mere repetition (or iteration) of motor actions; practice was insufficient. Practice must occur in the context of a problematic situation. To address a problematic situation, a delay in motor reaction is necessary so that reflection and judgment become necessary.

In McGraw’s longitudinal study and experiments with a set of twins, she found that one of the twins, when exposed to various experiences that challenged his motor judgment under conditions of uncertainty, became more pensive and better able to size up a situation by making more explicit and taking into account more relevant aspects of the problematic situation before reacting.

At a more general level, McGraw saw control of the body leading to a problematic situation as involving, a shifting center of gravity due to the movement of the body in the face of locomotion and the consequent dynamic shifting centre of gravity. Such acts as sitting up required a coordinated effort of various parts of the body to overcome gravitational forces and to maintain a sitting position in the face of such gravitational forces. McGraw hypothesized that “body sense,” or somatic sense, took precedence over the other senses in terms of the emergence of consciousness.

Alternate movements of the upper and lower body required conscious coordination for prone locomotion to occur (such as crawling), but control was at first centered on the lower part of the body, and then on the upper part of the body (with the lower part of the body being relatively inhibited from movement before the coordination of the two could arise). Each step in the control process was displaced to secondary behaviour (less consciously controlled) as a new focus for attention arose because of new problems; conscious control was gradually relinquished to subcortical control as new problems arose. The behavioural repertoire was becoming structured through the development of neural structures and bodily habits, and this repertoire formed supports for more complex structures and bodily habits to arise (as Dewey argued with his theory of consciousness and habits). As a new, more complex problem arises, however, behaviour may at first seem to regress.

Consciousness of the world arises when the child learns to sit up (it is unclear in the article, though, why this is so). Differentiation of self and objects arises when the infant is capable of reaching and pointing intentionally. Self-consciousness arises after erect locomotion leads to an awareness of a causal relation between self-initiated movement and the manipulation or movement of objects (awareness of self, presumably, is a function of awareness of a relation between intention, awareness of movement of the body and awareness of movement of an object—and the difference between them).

The problem of locomotion, whether prone or erect, requires the infant and toddler to resolve the challenge posed by balance in the face of gravitational forces that shift as the child changes in size, weight and form. Such challenges or problems as the child attempts to achieve crawling or walking constitute the basis for learning at the early stages. Judgment is required when engaged in learning to move through space, and such judgment thus contributes to the expansion of human experience as the child interacts with her environments and incorporates her judgments into her behaviours, at first at a conscious, cortical level but later at a subcortical, habitual level.

Learning, which requires judgment, involves, on the one hand, a combination of structures inscribed in neural structures and bodily habits, with both supporting functions that integrate the child with her environment, and on the other, conscious functions that enable habits to be restructured as problematic or uncertain situations provide challenges.

Learning, contrary to maturationists (those who believe that learning takes place only after physiological development at a certain level is complete—those who believe that “nature” forms the basis of all learning), can occur through the mediation of judgment and the structuring of the environment in the face of a problematic situation.

Often, in educational circles, “brain research” is presented as something new. Dewey’s early interest in brain research in relation to learning in a problematic situation, and McGraw’s research, indicate that research into the relation between the development of the brain and education arose over a century ago. However, that research links brain research to the emergence of new bodily habits as a function of judgment in the face of problems associated, in the first instance, with control of the body.

The modern school system, however, treats the body as something that can be dispensed with when learning. Experimental science in general, and Myrtle McGraw’s experiments in particular, have demonstrated the hollowness of such a view. The modern school system still suffers from a myopic view of what constitutes learning, with its emphasis on academic subjects at the expense of vocational subjects. Such a view should not be surprising—when class prejudice is considered. This class prejudice leads to one-sided individuality and reinforces a class society riveted by oppression. A hierarchy of individuals is created.

Can any teacher, in the classroom, resolve such social problems? Does not equity and social justice demand recognition of the nature and extent of the problem? If we simply ignore or turn a blind eye to such problems, are we not contributing to the problem rather than sharing in resolving it?

Fred

Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Five: More Philosophical Considerations

This is the fifth and perhaps the last post in a five-part series on the issue of the reform of the police versus its abolition. (I came across an article on unions and the police (not police unions) and may write a post on that still). It is more theoretical than the first four posts since it deals with references to philosophies that try to link the present to the future and the future to the present in a much more general way. The issue has general significance for a socialist strategy.

The context of this post is explained thus (from the previous posts):

Mr. Rosenfeld, a self-declared radical and Marxist living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in an article published in the social-democratic magazine Canadian Dimension on April 20, 2020, Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking), responded to another article published on April 12 in the same magazine, written by James Wilt,  Abolishing the police is the only reasonable response to Winnipeg Police killings. Wilt argues that the police cannot be reformed but must be abolished since their function is essentially repressive, and that essential function is sufficient for demanding its abolition

I also quoted Mr. Rosenfeld in a previous post:

It is one thing to envision what a future socialist and decolonized society might look like in 100 years and strive to move in that direction. But to talk as if the necessary political and social conditions of such a society exist at this moment is to fly in the face of reality. And, once again, it takes the struggle to transform or democratize these institutions off the agenda.

It is my contention that Mr. Rosenfeld has a mechanical or external conception of the relation between the present and the future, as well as the relation between the future and the present. This mechanical or external conception is characteristic of all reformist socialists. It is, in other words, a pattern that is consistent with what I called a bad aim in the previous post. By contrast, the abolitionist stance incorporates the future in the present and the present in the future. This internal purpose or aim is characteristic of the more profound philosophies in the past.

The linking of the present to the future in an internal way goes back at least to Aristotle, perhaps the greatest ancient Greek philosopher. From Alfredo Ferrarin (2004), Hegel and Aristotle, pages 21-22 :

But, Aristotle asks, does not a physician cure himself? When such a phrase is used we must indicate that what we actually mean is that the physician heals himself qua [as] patient, not qua [as] physician. Here the doctor is an active principle of change in another thing or in the same qua [as] other. The distinction of respects is crucial, and such examples can be multiplied. Yet Met. Θ 8 [reference to Aristotle’s work Metaphysics] proves that this does not extinguish the question. This “active principle of change,” dunamis, must mean generally “every active principle of change and rest. Nature . . . is an active principle of change but not in another thing but in the thing itself qua [as[ itself” (1049b 5–10). So there do seem to be cases in which agent and patient are the same, and in which different respects cannot be distinguished. Such cases still have to do with becoming, but with a highly qualified notion of becoming. If I use a tool, say, a saw to cut a piece of wood, here agent, means, and patient fall asunder [apart]; but in the case of a living being, agent and patient are identical; the animal acts on itself qua [as] itself. Such cases have to do with a peculiar kind of activity, an activity in which the end and the agent are the same; but in such cases the idea of a self-actualization of sorts, a becoming that is not external to the patient because it is effected by and directed to itself, is central.

Life is constituted by self-movement and self-change; change in this case is the same as self-change and is different from mechanical or external change. External or mechanical change does indeed occur, but there is no identity of the beginning, the means and the end or result.

Aristotle views internal ends to be very distinct from external ends (pages 23-24):

Activities are ranked according to whether their ultimate end is internal to the agent or outside of the agent. The end of production is the product, an object external to the producer; here the activity is instrumental to the usage, so that the ship captain’s expertise and knowledge of the form and end is architectonic and directive for the ship builder’s art. In action, by contrast, producer and user are the same, for good action is the end (Eth.nic. VI 2, 1139b 3–4; 5, 1140b 7), [reference to Aristotle’s work Nichomachean Ethics] and action has no end outside itself (Pol. VII 3, 1325b
15 ff.) [reference to Aristotle’s work Politics]. An end that is chosen for its own sake is a complete and perfect end in an absolute sense (haplôs, Eth.nic. I 5, 1097a 30). This praxis or action is a complete activity (Met. Θ 6, 1048b 18 ff.), which gives a determinate meaning to individual existence.

The importance of the incorporation of life–and its internal purposefulness–for philosophy is also seen later. Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, incorporated purpose into his philosophy in what is called his third critique Critique of Judgement (the first two were Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Practical Reason). Kant’s incorporation of internal purposiveness into his philosophy was itself incorporated into the philosophy of another German philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel. From Karen Ng (2020), Hegel’s Concept of Life: Self-Consciousness, Freedom, Logic, pages 5-6:

In order to provide a systematic account of the concept of life, this study will defend three interrelated claims. The first is that the core tenets of Hegel’s philosophy, and particularly those that concern his concept of the Concept, center on the purposiveness theme, inherited from Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790).5 In the third Critique, a text that is considered by many to be the key for the development of post- Kantian philosophy,6 Kant introduced the problem of nature’s purposiveness in connection with an investigation into the powers of judgment, essentially arguing that a principle of nature’s purposiveness is the condition for the non- arbitrary operation of judgment in its pursuit of empirical knowledge.7 As part of his investigation, Kant introduces an idea that I argue is central for the development of Hegel’s concept of the Concept— namely, the notion of internal purposiveness manifest in the self- organizing form of an organism or natural purpose (Naturzweck). The idea of internal purposiveness is the Kantian ancestor and model for Hegel’s concept of the Concept, and Hegel repeatedly attests to its importance, claiming that “reason is purposive activity,” and more emphatically, that internal purposiveness is “Kant’s great service to philosophy” (PhG ¶22/ 3:26; WL 654/ 6:440).8 [Reference to Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit]. Although the details of Kant’s own account are, to be sure, much disputed, what is indisputable is Hegel’s unequivocal endorsement of Kant’s conception of internal purposiveness and his insistence that it plays a positive, constitutive role with respect to the activities of reason and thought.

Let us now listen to Mr. Rosenfeld:

It is one thing to envision what a future socialist and decolonized society might look like in 100 years and strive to move in that direction. But to talk as if the necessary political and social conditions of such a society exist at this moment is to fly in the face of reality. And, once again, it takes the struggle to transform or democratize these institutions off the agenda. Further, considering what it would take for a socialist government to challenge capital and bring in critical transformations of the state and the economy, policing would certainly have to change, but it would have to play a role in dealing with those who organize to oppose these changes.

If a socialist society involves the abolition of the police as a separate power, then that end, if it is to be internal to present activity, must function to organize our activities in the present towards that end. Otherwise, the reference to striving “to move in that direction” involves an external purpose that has no function in the present. It is a mere “ought” that will never arrive since it always pushed into the future rather than linked to the present.

The German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel criticized the ought typical of this point of view. From The Encyclopedia Logic (originally published in 1830; new publication 1991), page 30:

However, the severing of actuality from the Idea is particularly dear to the understanding, which regards its dreams (L e., its abstractions) as something genuine, and is puffed up about the “ought” that it likes to prescribe, especially in the political field-as if the world had had to wait for it, in order to
learn how it ought to be, but is not. If the world were the way it ought to be, what then would become of the pedantic wisdom of the understanding’s “ought to be”?

Hegel also saw clearly that, theoretically, this ought is really an aim that is designed to never be reached; he called such an aim the “bad infinite.” Mr. Rosenfeld’s socialist society (100 years from now) is like the (bad) infinite that lies beyond the finite world in which we live. From G.W.F. Hegel, The Science of Logic (originally published in 1812/1816 , new publication in 2010), page 111:

When, therefore, the understanding, elevating itself above this finite world, rises to what is the highest for it, to the infinite, the finite world remains for it as something on this side here, and, thus posited only above the finite, the infinite is separated from the finite and, for the same reason, the finite from the infinite: each is placed in a different location, the finite as existence here, and the infinite, although the being-in-itself of the finite, there as a beyond, at a nebulous, inaccessible distance outside which there stands, enduring, the finite.

Another interesting aspect of Mr. Rosenfeld’s article is the arrogance expressed in the article towards more radical views. Mr. Rosenfeld characterizes explicitly more radical views as “ridiculous” and “sloganeering”:

Calling for the abolition of the police force sounds ridiculous to most people because it is. Radical sloganeering is no substitute for engaging with the complexities and requirements of serious left strategies for change.

Mr. Rosenfeld shows explicitly his real contempt for workers and others who are, directly or indirectly, oppressed by a separate police force–for that is the issue, not his ridiculous characterization of the problem. His “reformist sloganeering” is also ridiculous since he provides an external model of how we are to move from where we are now to where we want to go–by offering us an external model of aims.

Mr. Rosenfeld also explicitly expresses his contempt for workers and others who are, directly or indirectly, oppressed by a separate police force in the title of his article: “Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking” [my emphasis]. Mr. Rosenfeld, apparently, does not even understand what intelligent thinking involves. Among other things, it involves linking means to ends, and ends to means, in an internal fashion. From John Dewey (1938), The Logic of Inquiry, pages 9-10:

Reasonableness or rationality is, according to the position here taken, as well as in its ordinary usage, an affair of the relation of means and consequences. In framing ends-in-view, it is unreasonable to set up those which have no connection with available means and without reference to the obstacles standing in the way of attaining the end. It is reasonable to search for and select the means that will, with the maximum probability, yield the consequences which are intended. It is highly unreasonable to employ as means, materials and processes which would be found, if they were examined, to be such that they produce consequences which are different from the intended end; so different that they
preclude its attainment. Rationality as an abstract conception is precisely the generalized idea of the means-consequence relation as such.

Mr. Rosenfeld, by using a model of thought that is characterized by an external relation between means and ends, necessarily engages in unintelligent or irrational thinking. He then accuses anyone who disagrees with his model of sloppy thinking.

It is interesting that Mr. Rosenfeld had the opportunity to comment on some of my views on the police in a couple of posts (see Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One  and   Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part Two). The first one was posted on August 30, 2020, and the second one on February 21, 2020. On May 29, 2020, Mr. Rosenfeld made the following comment on the article I posted (see Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Three): “Well, I’ve finally had enough.” He unsubscribed from my blog. I guess this is the expression of the democratic nature of of the social-reformist left–a lack of debate and discussion. The accusations of “being ridiculous” and engaging in “sloppy thinking” also express the democratic nature of the social-reformist left.

This does not mean that the police can immediately be abolished (any more than can the enemy in any war)–but it does mean that we need to begin to organize for the purposes of abolishing the police (just as, in any war, we need to begin immediately to organize to engage in battle and–to win the war)–and calling for such abolition. Mr. Rosenfeld forever will push the abolition of the police into the future–like all social-democratic reformists. Mr. Rosenfeld’s means do not correspond to his end, and his end does not correspond to his means. He engages in irrational thinking.

As I will show in another post (while criticizing Sam Gindin’s views (a political colleague of Mr. Rosenfeld here in Toronto and joint author of a book, with Leo Panitch, on globalization), the issue of an external purpose versus an internal purpose is relevant for determining or characterizing the nature of socialist society and socialist relations.

John Dewey, perhaps the greatest philosopher of education, incorporated the life process–and internal purposiveness–into his own philosophy. He has this to say about the present and its relation to the future (and to the past): will leave him to provide the last word philosophically on this topic. From Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938), pages 238-239:

For the purposes of a particular inquiry, the to and from in question may be intelligently located at any chosen date and place. But it is evident that the limitation is relative to the purpose and problem of the inquiry; it is not inherent in the course of ongoing events. The present state of affairs is in some respect the present limit-to-which; but it is itself a moving limit. As historical, it is becoming something which a future historian may take as a limit ab quo[from which, as in a beginning] in a temporal continuum.

That which is now past was once a living present, just as the now living present is already in course of becoming the past of another present. There is no history except in terms of movement toward some outcome, something taken as an issue, whether it be the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Negro Slavery in the United States, the Polish Question, the Industrial Revolution or Land Tenure. The selection of outcome, of what is taken as the close, determines the selection and organization of subject-matter, due critical control being exercised, of course, with respect to the authenticity of evidential data. But the selection of the end or outcome marks an interest and the interest reaches into the future. It is a sign that the issue is not closed; that the close in question is not existentially final. The urgency of the social problems which are now developing out of the forces of industrial production and distribution is the source of a new interest in history from the economic point of view.

There is accordingly, a double process. On the one hand,  changes going on in the present, giving a new turn to social problems, throw the significance of what happened in the past into a new perspective. They set new issues from the standpoint of which to rewrite the story of the past. On the other hand, as
judgment of the significance of past events is changed, we gain new instruments for estimating the force of present conditions as potentialities of the future. Intelligent understanding of past history is to some extent a lever for moving the present into a certain kind of future. No historic present is a mere redistribution, by means of permutations and combinations, of the elements of the past. Men are engaged neither in mechanical transposition of the conditions they have inherited, nor yet in simply preparing for something to come after. They have their own problems to solve; their own adaptations to make. They face the future, but for the sake of the present, not of the future. In using what has come to them as an inheritance from the past they are compelled to modify it to meet their own needs, and this process creates a new present in which the process continues. History cannot escape its own process. It will, therefore, always be rewritten. As the new present arises, the past is the past of a different present. Judgment in which emphasis falls upon the historic or temporal phase of redetermination of unsettled situations is thus a culminating evidence that judgment is not a bare enunciation of what already exists but is itself an existential requalification. That the requalifications that are made from time to time are subject to the conditions that all authentic inquiry has to meet goes without saying.

Present problems include the oppressive, racist and deadly power of a separate group called the police that preserve the existing class power of employers as well as the systemic racism that has accompanied it in various countries. Socialist relations between people would not require such an oppressive, racist and deadly power. To link the future in the present, and the present in the future, by proposing the abolition of the police, is to think and to act intelligently.

It is not sloppy thinking to incorporate internal purposefulness  into our actions; it is intelligent thinking. Some of the greatest philosophers have incorporated such a view into their own philosophies.

What do you now think of Mr. Rosenfeld’s title of his article: “Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking”?

Supplement

One of the good things about blogs is that you can return to a post and add to it (or change something)–unlike emails. 

Mr. Rosenfeld, in another article that addresses the implications of a possible victory of Trump or Biden  (https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/us-election-what-could-it-mean-for-canada-and-the-canadian-left).  He briefly refers to the police and his continued advocacy for the their reform rather than their abolition–without argument: 

Of course, the push from below includes the movements in cities across the US demanding radical reforms of the repressive apparatuses represented by policing and criminal justice, and directly attacking systemic racism, as well as the on-the-ground movements against fossil fuels and pipelines.

He fails to refer to “the movements in cities across the US demanding” the abolition of the police due to “the repressive apparatuses represented by policing and criminal justice.” 

This neglect and indeed probable conscious omission of references to more radical demands–what do you think it expresses? 

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Four

This is a continuation of earlier posts.

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 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.”

Hello everyone,
 
Attached is another article sent to the ESJ Ning (but not published–the file is greater than the 3 Mb allowed on the Ning).  It is in a binder in the staff lounge.
 
I prefaced the article with the following:
 
The authors of the following article, “The Intelligent Method of Learning,” (Alireza Moula, Simin Mohseni, Bengt Starrin, Hans Âke Scherp,
& Antony J. Puddephatt) argue that higher cognitive functions unique to human beings are, physiologically, located in the prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobes. The prefrontal cortex covers about 1/3 of the surface area of the cortex for human beings whereas it covers 1/10 for gorillas. The prefrontal cortex provides the biological basis for the emergence of reflection, choice and intelligence.

The authors argue that the function of the prefrontal cortex is to adapt capacities and environment to each other—to act intelligently, or to coordinate means and ends until they form a unity. Such a view of the intelligence is consistent with the pragmatic view of the nature of intelligence (as exemplified in John Dewey’s theories, for example) as the development of a structure with a determinant function that can be learned. Through the development of intelligence (the capacity to adapt ends and means to each other and capacities to environmental conditions), more increasingly complex ends can be realized. Goal-directed behaviour on an increasingly complex level is made possible through the capacity to organize behaviour over time in a flexible manner through memory and attention systems that enable humans to self-monitor immediate acts in relation to the past actions and possible future actions. The prefrontal cortex permits the emergence of such executive functions through conscious reasoning and awareness.

The authors then describe two different kinds of schools. One school is authoritarian and relies on predefined outcomes, planned units and regular tests. The other is driven by problem solving, social solutions to problems and critical reflection by the students; both affective and cognitive aspects are emphasized in such schools.

One problem with the authors’ attempt to link the prefrontal cortex with Dewey’s view of intelligence is that Dewey considered the use of the body (via the basic occupations linked to the common social needs of human beings for food, clothing and shelter) to be essential to the development of intelligence. Problem solving first and foremost emerges as a function of the human life process in the environment through the use of the body (and not just the brain as a surrogate for the body). Indeed, for Dewey, the brain’s function was to integrate the sensory and motor functions of the body and in no way functioned as separate from such integration.

Another problem is that conscious reasoning and awareness, for Dewey, is intermediary; learning involves conscious attention in the context of a problematic situation that requires resolution, but such learning eventually becomes habitual. Conscious attention gives way to habit so that individuals’ consciousness can be focused on other aspects of the environment that require focus to handle increasingly complex problems and the formulation of increasingly complex ends.

Nevertheless, the authors of the article do broach an issue that requires serious consideration by educators concerned with equity and social justice: how to enable children and adolescents to adapt their capacities to the environment and to adapt the environment to their capacities. In other words, educators need to question whether, in the modern school system, the relationship between the executive function of the brain and the adaptive functions of the body assumes a class form as a distinction between “academic” intelligence and “practical”—unintelligence, with class divisions being a consequence.
 
Fred

Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part One

This is the first of a long series of posts of summaries of articles, mainly on education. 

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to copy critical articles, 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 author of the following article “Intelligence, Knowledge, and the Hand/Brain Divide,” (Mike Rose) argues that, despite some advances in curriculum in the past century, the academic/vocational divide in the curriculum—and among students—still prevails in the modern school system. This problem is wider than the school system, however. It expresses the bias towards defining intelligence as equivalent to academic excellence rather than a way of acting that occurs in daily life and which is expressed in blue-collar and service work, such as waitressing.

The author shows how vocational education in schools, originally, had to become isolated if it were to survive and not be dominated by those who defined good schools exclusively in terms of academic subjects. However, this isolation led to streaming of children of working-class parents, parents of colour and immigrant parents into vocational education and the implicit (and often explicit) treatment of such children as unintelligent and, at the same time, the implicit (and often explicit) treatment of students in the academic stream as exclusively intelligent.

This treatment of students who enter the vocational stream as unintelligent has often been incorporated into vocational programs as cognitive requirements have been diluted. Similarly, students in the vocational stream, although they often express contempt for the academic stream, themselves internalize the academic definition of intelligence and consider themselves to be unintelligent.

The author notes that, at least in the United States, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education and Applied Technology Act of 1990, coupled with the complementary School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994, proposed the integration of academic and vocational subjects. The author notes how one school linked a course on chemistry with a course on graphic arts, and others have effectively linked vocational and academic courses in terms of an occupational theme—the latter reminiscent of Dewey’s use of occupational themes to integrate the curriculum in the Dewey School (or the University Laboratory School as it was officially named).

However, the author also points out that, in general, these two Acts have really only resulted in the external addition of a few academic requirements rather than any real efforts at integration and parity of the academic and the vocational.

The modern school system, therefore, is still class-based and racist more often than not—hardly conducive to a democratic social order.

Should those concerned with equity and social justice issues be concerned about this situation?

Fred