(submitted for doctoral study, Fall 2004)
There’s an old joke in my family, and it began years ago in a context that goes something like this: my father would come home from his position at a research University and the topic of conversation around the dinner table would invariably turn to the nonsensical behavior of someone in a position of power and/or authority. After expressing our incredulity at the behavior in question, my father would remind us that he was “…the 2nd smartest man in (the state)!” and when we would ask who was the SMARTEST man in (the state) , he would reply, “He already LEFT!”
Since we no longer live in that state, this family joke has evolved to other states and institutions. It is now invoked as a laughing point, but at the time of its genesis, was a more serious commentary on matters as my father saw them.
Both of my parents graduated from high school, and went right to work. My father’s parents were the 1st generation in the family to graduate from high school in 1936, and they saw college degrees as a luxury of families with money. Though ‘nurses training’ was something that my mother always dreamed of, she went from high school graduation to hospital work as a laboratory technician assistant.
I came on the scene much earlier than either of them anticipated, and when my mother quit her job to stay at home with me, my father pursued studies at various institutions of higher learning while working full-time, and eventually earned his way into an apprenticeship as a skilled tradesman.
Neither of my parents ever completed a formal college degree, though they are two of the most educated people I have ever met. This may seem counterintuitive to the description I have provided of them, but in the context of Drs Garman and Piantanida “What Do I Mean by Deliberation” think piece, it may make more sense.
Growing up, the dinner table in my home was much the same as dinner tables had been in my grandparents’ homes, and my great-grand-parents’ homes; a conference table and an educational forum. Topics of the day were discussed with great enthusiasm and debates were not deferred due to the risk of indigestion. Politics, religion, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the ruination of the environment – nothing was sacrosanct (excepting those things that would be inappropriate for children).
Though I did not realize it until many years later, my parents and grandparents were not simply expressing opinions based on gut reaction. They were engaging all of us in a deliberative discourse based on knowledge they gained from reading, research (albeit informal) and personal experience. The dinner hour at my parents’ home was (and still is) the embodiment of Dr. Garman’s contention that “…educational encounters are involvements where the events are charged with meaning, …and where knowledge exists as it is being produced and recorded at once”. As I grew older and spent more time in the homes of friends, and listened to their parents, I realized what an educational opportunity I had experienced at the knees of people whose lives spanned the invention of electricity and the Model T, to the invasion of American homes by the television. I also realized that unlike many of my peers’ parents, my parents read voraciously. The weekly visit by the Bookmobile to my early rural home was not only a treat to me, but gave my mother the opportunity to explore such topics as world history, biographies, classical literature and poetry, and early 20th century primary school textbooks, like McGuffy’s Reader. It’s hard to imagine a 21st century mother reading a primer from grade school years past , but my mother found within them a rich history and cultural context that helped her frame the perspective of her parents and others from earlier generations. She is still fascinated at the level of difficulty found in readings prescribed for 3rd and 4th graders within these early 20th century texts, and recalls comparing those to my own reading materials from the late 1960’s and wondering why so much had been “lost in translation”.
My father’s preferred reading genre leaned toward current events (politics) and historical non-fiction, usually involving wars and the political maneuvering that led up to them, and inevitably resulted in some families making millions, while others lost immeasurable treasures (e.g. sons, land, homes) To this day, the foolish stranger who attempts to argue a political point with my father will slink away, sorry that they opened the subject, as my father can quote decades of facts and link families, fortunes and failures with events throughout modern history with unwavering accuracy. Interestingly, even with their unusual hunger for and attainment of knowledge in many areas, my parents for years, viewed themselves as ‘less educated’ than their peers who held college degrees. They had fallen victim to our culture, which has encapsulated the concept of knowledge and education, consigning its attainment to the formal classroom.
How is this relevant to my journey through (doctoral required class) and my subsequent academic pursuits in the doctoral program of studies in education? I receive no college credit for this dinner table experience, nor am I any more or less likely to succeed than others who travel with me. My childhood experiences do, however place me at ease in this sea of discourse and discussion; I relish the opportunity to engage in debate about subjects which inspire passion in others that may be contrary to my own point of view, and welcome the chance to “embody” the knowledge of the collective, and incorporate it into my professional “being”, along with the assigned readings and discussions. Quoting Polanyi (1960), Dr Garman notes that it is through “incorporating [it] into our body…so that we come to dwell in it” that we come to know something. I embrace this karmic return to a place so familiar.
((post script, 2012: in reviewing this post from 2004, I realized that my wishes for a karmic return to a familiar place of discussion and discourse was a mythical dream… doctoral study – at least that particular class – was no match (and was in my estimation, a disappointment) for the richness of discussion and discourse that STILL takes place in my family home, and now includes my own grown children, son-in-laws, and grandchildren))
Anderson, W.T. (1990). Reality Isn’t What It Used To Be: Theatrical Politics, Ready-to-Wear Religion, Global Myths, Primitive Chic, and Other Wonders of the Post-modern World. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Garman, N. (1990). The Closed and Open Contract: Two Irreconcilable Structures in the Curriculum. Journal of the World Council for Curriculum and Instruction. Vol IV, No. 2, 176 – 182.
Garman, N. (2004). Pedagogical Tropes as Curriculum Making: A Think Piece. Unpublished manuscript,University ofPittsburgh.
Garman, N. and Piantanida, M. (1999). What Do We Mean By Deliberation? [Excerpt] The Qualitative Dissertation: A Guide for Students and Faculty. Thousand Oaks,CA: Corwin Press.