The Growth of My Educational Knowledge in Responding to the Originalities of Mind and Critical Judgements of Others.


Jack Whitehead, Department of Education, University of Bath

For a Monday Evening Conversation on 10th Nov. 2003.


I'm sometimes startled and fascinated by the originality of other people as I experience them expressing their meanings in ways I haven't thought of. After some confusion, as I seek to understand these unfamiliar meanings, I begin to understand myself and the world in which I live, in new ways.  As the originality of mind of others influences my own, I integrate new insights into my understandings. The public sharing of these new insights, in Monday evening conversations in the Department of Education of the University of Bath, helps me to clarify my insights, test their validity through the public exercise of critical judgement and hence include them in the growth of my educational knowledge.


Here are some of the ideas and experiences that have recently surprised, fascinated and disturbed  me:


1) Eden Charles' description of his visit to Africa (including Sierra Leone) and Ubuntu way of being.


      "When I got to Sierra Leone they took me (to work with the victims of the war). I did some of the work with the team of people who worked with the victims, particularly women who had been raped and who had had babies by the armies who were fighting against them . So, I did some work with those teams and I met some of those people. It was very, very difficult. For me, one of the things that did is that despite the fact that I call myself African  in a lot of ways, despite the fact that I have African friends there was something about being there and seeing the pain that people had been through and just seeing the complete humanity of those people in that pain and seeing the fact that it hurt them just as much as  hurt anyone else. It wasn't another country somewhere else. It wasn't , 'Well they've always got wars in Africa so that they are used to it'. No, they aren't used to it. It's awesome. It's devastating . And for me reaching somebody where she's raising a child whose father raped her and killed her husband and this woman has got to deal with all those kinds of issues, it did something to me Jack that was deeper than all the political theory . It brought home to me at another level, the humanity thing. In a sense the unity of humanity in the way we hurt, in the aspirations for our children and dealing with the terrible contradiction of 'I love my husband, he's dead and I'm raising a child by the man that killed him.'"    (Eden Charles, video-taped conversation, 31 Oct. 2003)


I've a 12.6 Megabyte Mpeg 4 video clip of 1min 4.3 seconds of this conversation that I can send people who have broadband. Eden has said that it is OK to share this and I'm going to do this on Monday 10th Nov. As Eden describes his experience, I felt the communication of a loving warmth of humanity. As Eden speaks I feel that this is intimately connected to the humanity of the women who have experienced such pain. In my understanding I connect this communication with Eden's way of being in Ubuntu and his African Cosmology. I hope to express myself on Monday in a way that shows the influence of my understanding of Ubuntu that is recognisable by others. I take such recognition to be a necessary step in the social validation of my own living educational theory. I'll distinguish my personal validation from this social validation and relate one to the other.  I will draw on Tim Murithi's ideas on Practical Peacemaking Wisdom from Africa: Reflections on Ubuntu . Tim says that the cultural world-view known as ubuntu highlights the essential unity of humanity and emphasizes the importance of constantly referring to the principles of empathy, sharing and cooperation in our efforts to resolve our common problems. You can access Tim's paper at


2) Simon Riding's 'Living myself through others' (How can I account for my claims and understanding of a teacher-research group at Westwood St Thomas School?) You can scroll down to Simon's paper from


Simon's idea of 'living myself through others' startled me because it seemed to challenge my commitment not to violate the boundaries of the sense of identity and integrity of others. Acknowledging that I was living myself through others seems to require a commitment to a relational way of being that I believe I bring into my professional educational relationships in which I assume a responsibility as an educator. With the help of my understanding of Martin Buber's notion of mutuality and the special humility of the educator I seek to avoid violating the boundaries of the identities of those I'm tutoring or supervising. I recognise the value for my sense of living a good and productive life in the affirmations I receive when I see the life-affirming energy of others being expressed in a connection with who I am/what I am doing, in our educational relationship. I feel Simon's idea is helping me to move into an Ubuntu way of being through affirming to others that my life affirming energy is sparked into being and sustained by their own.


3) Joan Whitehead's 'Making the possible, probable'


Joan's idea of 'making the possible, probable' is moving me to focus on the social relations that I need to understand to spread the influence of educational practices that exist in particular contexts, hence showing their possibility, yet they are not widespread throughout the social formation. I am thinking of those contexts in which individuals have shown that it possible to generate their own living educational theories as they seek to live their values as fully as they can. As I seek to spread the influence of these possibilities and hence make them probable, I am integrating ideas on explicit pedagogic relations from Basil Bernstein. I am thinking of integrating his ideas on pedagogy, symbolic control and identity in my own practices as I seek to influence the education of social formations and to research this process. According to Bernstein:


Pedagogy is a sustained process whereby somebody(s) acquires new forms or develops existing forms of conduct, knowledge, practice and criteria from somebody(s) or something deemed to be an appropriate provider and evaluator - appropriate either from the point of view of the acquirer or by some other body(s) or both (p.78).



When I talk about pedagogy, I am referring to pedagogic relations that shape pedagogic communications and their relevant contexts. Three basic forms of pedagogic relation may be distinguished, explicit, implicit and tacit. Explicit and implicit refer to a progressive in time pedagogic relation where there is a purposeful intention to initiative, modify, develop or change knowledge, conduct or practice by someone or something which already possesses, or has access to, the necessary resources and the means of evaluating the acquisition. The acquirer may or may not define the relation as legitimate, or accept as otherwise, what is to be acquired. Explicit or implicit refers to the visibility of the transmitter's intention as to what is to be acquired from the point of view of the acquirer. In the case of explicit pedagogy the intention is highly visible, whereas in the case of implicit pedagogy the intention from the point of view of the acquirer is invisible. The tacit is a pegadogic  relation where initiation, modification, development of change of knowledge, conduct or practice occurs, where neither of the members may be aware of it. Here the meanings are non-linguistic, condensed and context dependent;  a pure restricted code relay. An example would be modelling, perhaps the basic pedagogic mode; primary in the sense of time and primary in the sense of durability. The primary modelling where both transmitter and acquirer are unaware of a pedagogic relation must be distinguished from secondary modelling which is a deliberate and purpose relation only for the acquirer.



Bernstein, B. (2000) Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity: Theory, Research, Critique. Lanham, Boulder, NewYork, Oxford; Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.



4) Paulus Murray introduced me to the ideas of 'Ubuntu' and 'Post colonial theorising'. Paulus' website is at . Paulus also introduced me to Michael Bednar's (of the University of Texas in Austin) responses to the U.S. House of Representative's Subcommittee on Select Education Hearing on "International Programs in Higher Education and Questions about Bias" Theorising.


Michael writes:


|"Testimony provided by Dr. Stanley Kurtz (available from the link above) portrays areas studies centers as hotbeds of unpatriotic anti-Americanism. Dr. Kurtz focuses, in particular, on post-colonial theory and the work of Edward Said's Orientalism in which "Said equated professors who support American foreign policy with the 19th century European intellectuals who propped up racist colonial empires. The core premise of post-colonial theory is that it is immoral for a scholar to put his knowledge of foreign languages and cultures at the service of American power." (quoted from Kurtz's statement found at"


As I see my own rejection of the old disciplines approach to educational theory and the creation of living educational theories as post-colonial actions I want to educate social formations that are still upholding colonial values and interests so that they learn how to engage in post-colonial practices and create and pedagogise their own living, post-colonial educational theories. In Je Kan Adler-Collins' forum on living action research I am engaging in a co-enquiry with Peter Mellett. I am hopeful that this will contribute to the education of social formations.


5) Alan Serper's 'Who am I? Who I am' has moved me to clarify the difference between the life-affirming energy I value most highly from the cosmos in the face of my certainty of my death and the life-enhancing pleasure I feel in the presence of the loving spirit of others.  You can access Alan's writings on 'Who am I? Who I am' at  . Here is an extract:


"I am.  I am me.  I am here in the world.  I am an undefined blur,  constantly defining, creating, constructing and reconstructing himself anew  in light of my journeys, my searches and quests in the world, both inner  and outer.  I cherish and value both this confusion of mine and my claim to have it and be confused.  I believe it is my strength.  I think chaos and admittance to chaos and confusion are the best form of knowledge and order.


I am by no means a mystical.  I prescribe to a very cold, detached,  positivistic, 'scientific' and academic way of doing so, as opposed to an abstractive, metaphysical and mystical manner.  I am the product of continental philosophy (e.g., Jaspers, Heidegger, Tillich, Bubber).  My burning, gushing 'romantic' 'lava' and passion are cooled and chilled by

very rational, continental, 'academic' (17th ? 18th centuries), interdisciplinary/'adisciplinary' philosophy/ideas, by reason.  I believe  the only manner to propose a post-positivistic alternative to the reductionism and mechanism of the human subject and human existence in the world is by using a positivistic, 'scientific', valid, reliable and standardised framework, structure and terminology.


My role is to deautomatise you, to make you reflect and dereflect, to go out of your normal, everyday monotonous, life and to think very hard.  If  you wish, that is.  It is completely up to you.  The choice to do so is  yours."


Alon's writings always provoke a creative tension in me. They certainly de-autonomise me in the sense that as I read Alon's words my 'I' as a centre of consciousness, choice and responsibility, comes to the foreground of my awareness. What I am learning from Alon's writings is not to forget to acknowledge, and to strengthen the importance of the self-reflecting 'I' in accounts of life-long learning that are moved by the spirit of Ubuntu.


6) Alan Rayner's inclusional way of being and my responses to my experience of his pedagogical practices.  You can browse through Alan's writings at:


In relation to Alan's seven questions below, I recognise that I am integrating some of his insights about inclusionality, communication through pipes, death and infinity into the growth of my own educational knowledge:


(i)             What is the difference between an object and a place?

(ii)           What is the difference between a 'string' and a 'pipe'?

(iii)       What is a 'wire'?

(iv)       What is space, and how much resistance does it have?

(v)        What is the difference between zero and infinity?

(vi)        What is death? This highlights the difference between notions of

'annihilation' of substantial presence (extinction) and 'release' of energy space    (transformation).

      (vii) What is the difference between 'content' and 'context'?


As well as feeling a strong connection with Alan's inclusional way of being (I connect this with Ubuntu) I make sense of much of my present pedagogic practice in my web-based communications in terms of interconnecting, branching networks of communication. I have already shown you this influence in the Wiltshire Journal of Education and in Jean McNiff's and Joan Whitehead's recent keynote addresses (see  I owe the image of interconnecting and branching networks of communication (through pipes) to Karen Tesson and Alan.


On the 10th December 2003 Jean McNiff and Moira Laidlaw will be present at the opening of China's Experimental Centre for Educational Action Research in Foreign Language Teaching at Guyuan Teachers College. While both Moira and Jean speak and write most eloquently for themselves I think we share a delight in our acknowledgement of  the value we have found for ourselves in each others' ways of being and productive lives. This includes the pleasure of sharing this delight with others. So, I offer for your critical judgements, as part of my processes of validation, my claim that I can be seen to have integrated into my ways of being and living educational theory some of Alan's understandings of inclusionality, pathways of communication and living boundaries. By integration into my living educational theory I am meaning that I am using these meanings to clarify the embodied values I use as living explanatory principles in my accounts of my life-long learning.


In relation to Alan's questions concerning death and infinity I am responding:


I am aware of saying to myself, "In who I am and what I am doing there is an infinitude of knowledge that I can add to through the exercise of my originality of mind and critical judgement.  I live with the paradox that if my embodied knowledge is infinite how can I add to it!"


I have many  responses to the question, 'What is death?'  So far in my life I have experienced  a flow of life-affirming energy in the face of the certainty of my own death. I feel this flow of energy with delight and pleasure and live with the mystery of feeling that while the source of this energy is beyond my comprehension I can include it as an embodied spiritual value in explanations of my learning. Being with my Father as he died a week after Nelson Mandela's release from prison, was accompanied by his communication a week earlier of the value of sharing the power of being, together. At the age of 6 the images of Auschwitz he gave to me in a book on Victory in Europe, evoked my certainty and awe that human beings could do this to each other.  At the age of 59 (only a few weeks ago) walking round the  Old Jewish Synagogue in Prague, looking at the names of individuals killed in the concentration camps, together with the exhibition of children's art from that time, brought me back to the awesome pain evoked by Eden's description of his work in Sierra Leone. The life-affirming responses, communicated by Eden through his relationships, transcended for me, the pain of the violations through the hopeful humanity expressed by the women in Sierra Leone. I felt this communicated through Eden's own humanity.


In the spirit of Ubuntu and a flow of life-affirming energy, I hope that I have communicated something of the importance for my own learning and emerging living educational theory of integrating these new insights into my embodied values. Given that I am sharing these insights in a forum of educational action researchers I am inviting you to help me to strengthen the quality of my contributions to educational knowledge through sharing your creative and critical responses to this account of my learning in my emerging living educational theory. 


Love Jack, 7th November, 2003.