Monday, December 26, 2011

To Facilitate or Teach

Have been drawn back into blogging by a variety of factors. The trigger was reading an internet item ‘To facilitate or to teach’ ( ); but the wider factors attach to that item offering a frame of reference which resonated with my own sense of the circumstance of the autistically characterised person.

I’d then like to (informally) participate in the course ( ) which the item attaches to. That requires me, to register my interest, and to have an active blog (as that appears to be a crucial medium in the course experience).

I’m not a qualified teacher. I worked as a joiner. For the last several years I’ve been a part-time woodwork tutor at a small (30-40 students), private, Scottish school. That school sees itself as providing for “educationally fragile” children. Our students come with “diagnoses”, such as ASD ( )and ADHD ( ).

Prior to this formal employment at the school, I had involvement with another local college, Corbenic Camphill Community ( ). Prior to that involvement, my sense of what it is to be human was very much shaped by going through adolescence and further education in the 1960’s.

I’ve then come to this core personal conception of the autistic. I take the autistic to attach to how a collective can, across what passes for its social, so absolutely abjure some possible understanding or meaning, that this impacts on the occurrence and development of those who, by virtue of who and what they have become, must take recourse to that abjured understanding or meaning.

It strikes me that the obstacle encountered, by those I have met at Corbenic (and elsewhere) and support educationally at the school, is a deficit in collective capacity to open to autistic understanding and meaning. What limits that capacity, is what is involved in mediating the social to which a collective is effectively committed. That commitment had on a plane of collective process, is reflected on the individual and subgroup plane by processes of identification.

What I see in our school ( ), as our students behave in ways which challenge the school’s operational process, is a competition between, collective/social meaning-making and understanding (and it ultimately held in place by the power of the State -- ), and the wonderfully idiosyncratic meaning-making of radically independent individuals.

I’m not then all certain about just how much benefit can come to our students across “education”. The item mentioned above ( ) then offers this frame of reference in which “teaching” and “facilitation” are contrasted. I can see education provided across facilitation, being able to bring benefit beyond teaching as characterised in this binary.

When I encounter or support those I can usefully view in terms of this conception of the autistic, I fall back on my “sense” of things ( ). What I then find, is that identity-process is key to everything. If I allow my identity-process to run too crudely, then I might simply overpower what is emerging as and through the autistically characterised other. Where my identity-process is likely to have this capacity because I’m tapping into and recruiting collective process. That tapping-in and recruiting manifests in the understanding and meaning I chose to partake of, in and as I engage with this other.

I then have the notion that education proceeds best where the educationally-supported other comes to learning of which they can take personal ownership; where I then understand that for the autistically circumstanced person, this involves proceeding through understanding and meaning making for which there is no initial collective support.

To try to make some professional sense of all this, I undertook a set of Open University psychology courses. The course which became pivotal for me was “DD307 Social Psychology: critical perspectives on self and other”. ( ). The frame of reference of this course (which could be taken, loosely, to advance social constructionist ( ) meta-perspective) gave me two broad resources. Firstly, it allowed me to peg-back the “knowledge” which allows the children I support to be seen as they are by our collective; really so as to endorse my intuitive sense that this knowledge was questionable in its import. Secondly, this pegging-back of that knowledge and the whole collective project it attaches to, gave me something of a coffer-dam within which I could support children educationally across my own sense of them.

Now that sees me always having to defend what I do; and that’s where this facilitating (versus teaching) frame of reference seems to offer resource. I want to facilitate an autistically wieghted learning, which an autistically-characterised person might chose to take ownership of. I then fear that teaching children in this position, always risks simply overpowering them with socially produced understanding and meaning-making, that can never really cut the mustard if you are autistically configured and situated.

This facilitative frame of reference then connects with occurrence of children I would view in terms of this autistic notion, when we consider what modern technology and nascent community offers. Autistically characterised children have been empowered by such technology, as have exemplar adults ( ). Then, in our school, what the powers-that-be much struggle with, is peer-process and culture which sometimes appears at odds with a corporate intention as to how things should be turning out; where looked at from another angle, this evidences muscular proto-community.

I’m then much taken by the idea that facilitation has to do with the emergence of a common or collective purpose or project; especially if that facilitation is mediated across a constructionist sense of things. What I would want to see our school embrace as its educational project, is the preparation of our students to take part in just such facilitating process.

There is then another force in play at our school, namely teaching. Our students then tend to challenge what that teaching would transmit and mediate. Those who teach at the school, then see their daily work as the transcending and outflanking of that challenging. But what sees our students come forward across their own challenging sense of things, is everything which sees them configured and embedded; their own sensory data, everything which attaches to their identity, evidences the perspective of their challenging.

This is then a fundamental challenge, to the whole idea of an “expert”. Social construction and other critical perspectives already allow for the knowledge on which expertise depends, to be deconstructed, questioned, challenged. Autistically configured and situated children then reprise all this across the nexus of identity; these children being able to do this existentially, because they can take up identity position which a socially immured person cannot. As expert knowledge is ultimately a collectively and socially endorsed understanding and sense of things, the expert can only take up position which is social; such that the autistically situated person and the expert (teacher) tend to end in tense relation.

Regards the structure and decisiveness and structure which teaching can arguably bring, I reckon that facilitation can do all that, certainly with the children I educationally support. The crux here is identity and identity process. Structure and decision, which will prove functional across a joint-occurring, to my mind arises where identity does its work. The sequence of effect goes like this. The child has an initial understanding and sense of things; where that sense and understanding incorporates intention. In my subject area, all that has to be made to address wooden outcomes. Across initial sense and understanding, this can be a very difficult ask for students. What students then buy into, is a trust that, if they invest in what begins to suggest itself to them as our identities (theirs and mine and that of their peers) have effect on one another, then an outcome they can live with and through, will be had. This is a complex judgement, across all that self-configuration and self-situation and motivation (so identity in sum) involves.

It then seems to me, that what here takes place for these children as students, illuminates the teaching-facilitation intersection in general terms. What these children manifest with feral directness and psychological power, I think also plays out when people generally are able to embrace and take ownership of learning. We invest in learning when the evidence of sense and reflection indicates we can be realised on that pathway. We withhold from learning when we suspect we are open to being taken for a ride which most benefits the teaching other.

Teaching has form. If we apply the long-perspectives of evolution, history and sociocultural-comparison to teaching generally: then only a part of what we assess as teaching, is going to come out positively judged; and sense of that assessment-outcome is socialpsychologically embedded. This the moreso in an era of unconstrained and immediate information, where changes which once took centuries (or even millennia), now happen in decades. Across the manner in which living itself is now a process of being presented with the evidence of rapid change, teaching is only as good as the collective arrangements on which it is predicated; and these arrangements will soon be gone, being displaced by yet others.

Anyway. This facilitation frame of reference appears to, make a lot of sense, and offer itself as an instrument through which dialogue can be sought with the teaching from which it arguably differs.

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