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Teacxhing, thinking, learning.

Michael Winston


I'm reading with keen interest the arguments presented here about belief systems. My favourite educationalists, Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, in their seminal book 'Teaching As A Subversive Activity' promote the argument that discovery comes not by design but largely by inquiry. They cite Galileo and Copernicus as two examples of scientists who challenged contemporary thinking and were roundly persecuted for it. Of course, now we know the earth is not the centre of the Universe, but such talk in medieval times was heretical. Galileo and Copernicus challenged orthodox thought by inquiry; they didn't decide to get up one morning and 'discover' the motion of the celestial bodies; through inquiry, they perceived and described that which was already there. Their challenge to the belief system, however, was so profound and so iconoclastic that it nearly cost them their lives. Postman and Weingartner also note the subtle shades of language we use and the profound effect it can have on our perceptions e.g. when we say, 'John (or Jane) is stupid', we are in fact talking more about ourselves than John (or Jane). 'Stupid' does not exist. It is a convenient expression of disapproval of the behaviour we see in others, a kind of label we use to describe our feelings of frustration about the behaviour of others. This observation draws on Earl Kelly's assertion that 'my language is me' - that is, what I say is who I am and the language I employ confirms my beliefs and prejudices. A fact is a statement of a human judgement and is, therefore, subject to all its fallibilities. Bear with me: I'm half-way through.

The inquiry method of education advocated by Postman and Weingartner is a student-centred method of education focused on asking questions. Students are encouraged to ask questions which are meaningful to them, and which do not necessarily have easy answers; teachers are encouraged to avoid giving answers when this is possible, and in any case to avoid giving direct answers in favour of asking more questions: just like the GW/AGW debate, in fact. In this sense, education takes the form of Socratic methodology, giving open-ended answers to problems not yet clearly defined, or speculative, or open-ended in themselves. (e.g. like GW?)

The inquiry method is motivated by Postman and Weingartner's recognition that good learners and sound reasoners centre their attention and activity on the dynamic process of inquiry itself, not merely on the end product of static knowledge (''The right answer! Well done Fred''!!). They believe that certain characteristics are common to all good learners :

* They enjoy self-confidence in their learning ability

* They find genuine pleasure in problem solving

* They have a keen sense of relevance

* They have reliance on their own judgment over other people's or society's

* They have no unfounded fear of being wrong

* They are not hasty in answering - they are reflective

* They have a flexible point of view

* They have a respect for facts, and the ability to distinguish between fact and opinion

* They feel no need to seek final answers to all questions, and take comfort in not knowing an answer to difficult questions rather than settling for a simplistic answer.

While this might not be entirely pertinent to the AGW/GW debate, I think that some of the above points are relevant and worth considering when we present our beliefs, opinions and facts for examination. It sure does cut down on the meandering (except in my case, alas!).

Incidentally, I have no idea if AGW/GW is taking place, despite a great deal of reading and thinking. I genuinely value the opinions of posters here in guiding me to some sort of conclusion at some point in my lifetime!




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