A View From The Field

How can my knowledge be of use to other teachers? Back in the garage with my bullshit detector – The Clash


Gary Williams’ Educational Enquiry (1) MA Unit, University of Bath. Submitted 26th January 2010




In 2001 Catherine Snow (p. 9) argued that “Good teachers possess a wealth of knowledge about teaching” and that “The challenge here is not to ignore or downplay this personal knowledge but to elevate it”.  This personal knowledge, she went on to argue, is a rich resource that is largely untapped “Because we have no procedures for systematizing it”. Snow believes that systemisation will provide the basis for “Rejecting the personal anecdote as a basis for either policy or research” but I believe that the resource she wants to tap into is most directly embodied in the form she wants to reject.  Consequently, I want to use this module to challenge Snow’s rejection by presenting a personal anecdote that embodies my values and understandings as a legitimate contribution to education knowledge and a call to arms against systematizing teachers’ narratives. What follows is, I hope, a story of one of my educational influences that embodies my values and understandings in such a way that it enhances our knowledge of how we can tap into and augment teachers’ knowledge about themselves and their teaching.   Let’s start somewhere near the beginning.


The Back Story


If you really want to know, I didn’t want to be a teacher.  To me teachers were a different breed, shipped in from a place that fashion forgot to impose education on us and bore us with things that they thought were worthwhile. We were us and they were something else.  They didn’t understand us and we didn’t understand why they wanted to do the job. 


Don’t get me wrong, they were well-meaning enough and they struggled long and hard to educate us.  Some of them even managed to provide more than the occasional moment of interest or enlightenment but, without fail, the method was the same – and that is what we objected to.  We, of course, were too young and ignorant to have heard of Marshall McLuhan or the medium being the message but we weren’t stupid and we knew what we were supposed to do in every single lesson; namely sit still and listen to the teacher, believe in authorities and remember facts.  Before long most of us had got the message.


Some of us coped better than others with these arrangements.  A few coped well enough to be viewed by the teachers as what today would be called gifted and talented – although they must have been eternally grateful for a gift that saw them mercilessly abused by their peers for being teachers’ pets.  Most of us kept our heads below the parapets, tacitly following the rules whilst engaging in guerrilla tactics to talk about what we wanted to talk about and do what we wanted to do.  A few, however, couldn’t cope.  They wouldn’t do anything they didn’t want to do, they wouldn’t keep quiet and they wouldn’t accept authority.  They were Gods to the rest of us.


One of these was Alex Stokes.  Bottom of the class in everything, Stokesy was in your face, unrelenting, trouble.  Always had been.  When Stokesy couldn’t cope at primary school he would storm out of the classroom and head for the top of the nearest tree.  We sometimes watched for hours as the teachers tried to coax him down.  By the time we got to secondary school, though, Stokesy never ran.  He’d stand and slug it out, sometimes literally. If someone “Had a go at him”, he’d tell them where to go.  If he couldn’t do something (which was most of the time) he’d do something else.  And if it was boring, he’d make his own amusement.   According to the teachers, Stokesy was good for nothing but I learned differently on a cold, wet February in the Brecon Beacons (Appendix 1).


Looking back, there is much that fascinates me about Stokesy’s story.  First, and most obviously, there’s a story of an unrecognised talent pointing to the need for us all to work hard at developing the eyes to spot everyone’s unique ability.  Stokesy had always been an amazing climber but climbing wasn’t on the curriculum so his talent was at best out of sight and at worst an annoyance.  Too often our response to finding gifts and talents is like the Mulla Nasrudin tale in which Nasruddin is found looking for something under a street lamp.  When asked what he is doing, Nasruddin replies that he is looking for his key.  After further questioning it becomes clear that Nasruddin lost the key in a field but he is looking under the street lamp because “There is more light here”.  If we want to recognise people like Stokesy we are going to have to start looking in difficult, out of the way places as well as in the comfortable places with the clearest view.  And I want to recognise people like Stokesy.  Not to recognise the talents of people like him is a social injustice and what is true of our pupils is also true of our profession.  Snow is right in as much as to persistently fail to recognise and give credit to the knowledge of teachers is a scandal.  However, if we continue to look for educational learning under the abstract, generalized, systematized streetlamps of the Academy or Aristotelian logic we will continue to find what we have always found.  The key to new knowledge will only be found if we look in new places.


To me, Stokesy has always pointed towards where those new places might be.  Bottom of the class he may have been but Stokesy always seemed to know where his own personal key was and he wasn’t much interested in searching under anyone else’s street lamp.  Many years later I bumped in to Stokesy in a pub.  He’d been expelled about a year after the climb and gone his separate way but we recognised each other and reminisced about that day in the Beacons.  I told him that if only the teachers had spotted how good at climbing he was when they were trying to get him out of trees he could have climbed Everest by now.  Stokesy laughed and said that teachers couldn’t recognise anything except their own reflection.  “Besides,” he added, “I wouldn’t have climbed Everest.  I’d probably have become a cat burglar”.  I drank my beer happy in the knowledge that Stokesy’s bullshit detector was still working.


Given the constant negative messages he received I can only guess at where the security to stand his ground came from but, be it bouncing down a cliff like The Guns Of Navarone or finding something else to do when the lessons got too much, Stokesy simply wasn’t interested in being anyone else’s reflection.  Somehow he always seemed to understand himself and his relationship to systems.  That, I think, is a rare gift and it is one he shared with me in all our relationships – even if he was smashing my own street lamp most of the time.  It is a gift I have always treasured and one I am trying to pass on by showing people that I understand myself and my relationships to systems through storied moments contextualized within a wider historical and social narrative that reveal some of my values and understandings. 


Stokesy stood by what Jack Whitehead, in a personal e-mail to me, called “The energy flowing values and understandings the individual uses to give meaning and purpose to their life” every time he stormed out of a lesson and I am attempting to show that I am prepared to stand by mine by producing a public story that is structured in such a way as to embody my meaning.  The intention in making this narrative public is to captivate the imagination of the reader so that the injustice of not “recognising” or “legitimizing” the stories of others resonates and forms the basis for change.  I am arguing from personal experience that some people make sense of themself through story and, if this is the case, to make a story illegitimate is to reject the legitimacy of a life.   To reject an individual life such as Stokesy’s is a crime but to reject an entire form of life story is tantamount to cultural genocide.  This not only offends my values of justice, tolerance and respect, it also crashes headlong into my understanding of education as a life affirming practice in which our role is to help students make sense of themselves and their worlds by engaging with their stories instead of expecting them to engage with ours.


The Unfolding Story


A year or so after the Beacons experience The Clash began singing the words at the head of this chapter and it seems to me that Stokesy had some sort of in-built bullshit detector of his own. Dewey (1938/1997) stressed that the role of the individual is assigned in an environment – what he is permitted to do is what he will learn – and, for Stokesy, what he was permitted to do was bullshit which meant that what he was learning was bullshit too.  When we got those messages about sitting still, being quiet, remembering facts and obeying the teachers just about everyone except for Stokesy learned something.  As Postman and Weingartner first taught me to recognise, the trouble is that along with the lesson content we also learned that passive acceptance is better than active criticism; that discovering knowledge is beyond our power; that learning is an individual pursuit; that the thoughts of our classmates don’t count; that there is always an answer; that voices of authority are to be trusted more than independent speculation.  Stokesy was right to kick against all this because, in short, his bullshit detector had spotted that the real lesson was that our thoughts didn’t count.  I am kicking against Snow because my bullshit detector suggests that her real lesson is that we can’t trust teachers to tell their story for themselves.  It also tells me, however, that to deny Snow the right to tell her story or to refuse to engage with it would be hypocrisy so I’d better consider the story of story.

Plummer (1983) points out that, “The telling of a tale of life is no new business”, and examples of stories, in one form or another, can be traced back to pre-history.  Even autobiography, which is the major modern genre for telling a personal narrative, has a history stretching back at least as far as John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding and, arguably, as far as St Augustine’s Confessions.  The telling of a tale of life is, indeed, nothing new but I am arguing that personal narratives have the potential to take us to new practice by reflecting on the embodied knowledge of teachers.  Before we make that leap, however, we need to consider the notions of narrative and reflection.


In a recent issue of Educational Researcher on Discourse of Narrative Research (Appendix 2), BaroneCoulter and Smith (2009) have focused on narrative researchers as witnesses of injustice and agents of social change. In the narrative above I am engaging with both these issues in relation to my professional practice.


Clandinin and Murphy (2009) focus on ‘Relational Ontological Commitments in Narrative Research’ and I shall be engaging with my own ontological commitments in the narrative below as I reflect on a self-study of my own practice. In this narrative I demonstrate my agreement with Clandinin and Murphy’s claim that, “research texts need to speak to the everyday experiences of researchers and participants to arrive at an understanding of those experiences as "storied" phenomena within social, cultural, institutional, and linguistic narratives.” (p. 598)


Eakin (1999) has shown that different kinds of storying produce different selves and Bleakley (2000) backs this up by claiming that stories are told not only to recount experiences but also to construct identity.  Viewpoints such as these assert that stories are not neutral and cannot simply be accepted because they act to produce particular selves.  The medium, again, is the message.  Specifically, a personal-confessional tale acts to construct a stable, unitary and transcendent self exercising sovereign power.  It offers a humanistic self-discovery story in which the “subject” is discovered, revealed or explicated.  Personal narratives may appear to provide a methodology that allows the voice of teachers to be heard but the dangers are that they can merely reinforce the humanistic, existential tradition  that promotes an unproblematic “Know thyself through introspection” approach, believing itself to be revealing identity or reflecting a “true”, “authentic” self, free to tell its tales.  A quick glance at the bullshit detector, however, shows that this is not the only story available.  Consequently, it is also not the only self or voice.  If we are to meet Snow’s challenge we need to recognise that teachers’ voices will themselves be constructs of a particular historical and cultural narrative and reflect upon how those voices are constructed or positioned. 


The challenge for teachers. therefore, is to understand themselves and the way they are positioned within the education system as well as Stokesy did all those years ago.  Merely presenting an anecdote as a personal confessional narrative will miss the opportunity and create a familiar modernist tale of truth telling subject but if the tale could present the self as not only something we are but also an object we actively construct there might be hope.  Such a tale would have to ask questions about how the telling is producing (inevitably plural) identities and pay attention to the fact that it is precisely the selection and interpretation of story that brings the voice (identity) in to being but, if it can do this,  I argue, the personal narrative can hold possibilities.  If teachers can attempt to understand how their professional selves are positioned in a social structure they can write themselves into what Derrida (1990) calls “Difference”, at which point the process of personal narrative becomes an aesthetic and ethical self-forming as an act of resistance to dominant discourse.  Then, and only then, do we stand a chance of generating new knowledge or enhancing practice.


My challenge to the teaching profession, then, is to produce a series of “local narratives” or “small stories” that explore particulars in a historical or cultural context in the way Lyotard (1984) envisioned.  Elements of a teacher’s experience need to selected, interpreted and presented within the wider story of education precisely to bring voices (identities) into being and help us remember ourselves.  By this I do not mean remember our past in order to “reveal” or “reflect”  “true” or “authentic” selves but, rather, remember that this I is here now, positioned in such a way and acting in a certain fashion.  The anecdote is important because it is the “field text” that forms the basis of research but it is not the end of the story.  By asking questions of the anecdote related to meaning, social significance and purpose we can construct a personal sense of justification that brings an “I” into being and allows it to connect with “they”.  As Clandinin and Connelly (2000; p122) have pointed out, “Injecting that I is not easy” because “Most of us are astonishingly unclear about what our inquiry interests are and how to justify them in personal terms” but finding the “I” in the research problem is the heart of the matter.  Inquiring into the anecdotes that embody our personal experience is to engage in research as a quest – a re-searching for a story that provides a self with new meanings, understandings and relationships to others.


The ‘I’s that are created in this form of research will necessarily change as the story unfolds because each one of us is a plurality and we need to view the process as fluid instead of thinking of it as being governed by theories, methods or systems designed to produce clearly definable outcomes or solutions.  There will be no final text or definitive I, only a series of interim texts to be shared and negotiated with others.  However, remembering them and where they come from will draw attention to the fact that too often we are not conscious of ourselves.  Too often “it observes”, “it laughs”, “it thinks”.  We do not feel; this I is observing this, noticing this, thinking this.  If we could truly remember ourselves and bring the I into focus we might stand a chance of really expressing our personal knowledge.  Remembering ourselves through personal narratives might even help us wake up and remember ourselves in life as it is lived.  If we did this there really might be hope for us enhancing practice by, among other things, recognising that the curriculum is the stories we tell our students, understanding that personalised learning involves the meaning our students derive from those stories and realizing that our purpose has something to do with consciousness.


The small stories we tell and the identities we create will be personal myths, for sure, but I see more hope in that than any grand truth on offer.  Many social commentators argue that we live in a demythologized world in which large numbers of us no longer believe in an orderly universe governed by a just God and, for all its power and precision, some of us no longer trust the unambiguous objectivity of the Academy.  In the midst of this existential nothingness, we are challenged to create our own meanings and discover our own truths as an act of ongoing psychological and social responsibility.  Our world can no longer tell us who we are and how we should live so we must figure it out for ourselves. For some of us this is done by arranging the episodes from our scattered and often confusing experience into stories and understanding them in terms of narrative unities and discontinuities.  Encouraging others to do something similar could create new meanings and point towards new practices which allow students to tell their own story and enable them to better interpret the stories of others.  In order to do that, however, we have to allow teachers to tell their personal stories or anecdotes.  Far from being excluded as “The basis for either policy or research”, then, we have to accept that the personal narrative is the foundation of everything – and I use the word purposefully here because I think the Foundation Stage is where we get closest to expressing these principles in practice.  The personal narrative is the field text that is the metaphorical equivalent of the field in which Nasruddin lost his key.  Finding the key is a metaphor for researching that narrative and creating new meanings.  And, to labour the point somewhat, taking that key home is a metaphor for positioning our inquiry beside other streams of thought or inquires in the public arena.


The joke, of course, is that even when we get home we’ve still got to figure out how to unlock the door but at least we are not on our own anymore.  Each story is, by definition, personal and subjective but the text can be cut adrift from the final authority of the writer because it is open to the varying interpretations of the reader (Roland Barthes infamous “Death of the author”).  Making our personal knowledge and understandings public in the way I am attempting to do, therefore, is likely to lead to a state of discussion, not its end.  Again, though, we will find no absolute solution to the never ending story because we are involved from the outset in the business of subjectivity and interpretation.  Instead we will find ourselves in a space that approaches Lyotard’s dissensus and, for me, this is optimistic because hope for change lies not in our agreements but in our disagreements.  As Lubeck (1998) says, “Modern ways of thinking orient us to value stability, certainty and consensus…….yet, arguably, we are most likely to grow in our practice when we are exposed to different interpretations and different ways of doing things.”  This is a space in which we could argue about what is truth, question values and develop practice. Along the way we could also challenge some of Lyotard’s “grand narratives” such as self or knowledge and, by giving weight to difference over sameness, could encourage and respect plurality.  If we could then take that story back into our classrooms, I would argue, we would not only enhance practice surrounding inclusion but better prepare our students to function in a properly democratic society.


To be fair, I am not the only one arguing for a place in which teachers reflect upon and research their experience in order to develop knowledge and enhance practice.  The Government, for example, is just one among many proposing something similar with its Masters in Teaching and Learning programme.  The difference is that everyone else wants to act as a gatekeeper for this knowledge and it was interesting to note how quickly organisations like QAA and UCET were queuing up to provide methods for “validating” such a programme.  The real problem with getting a teacher’s voice heard, then, is that whilst no-one wants to admit to controlling what teachers are permitted to say everyone wants to control how they are permitted to say it.  Even Snow denies the anecdote as a legitimate voice.


Stokesy would immediately have rebelled against the bullshit at work here.  The fact is there are no “proper”, “valid”, “objective” or “truthful” research methods.  They are all “made up” social constructions and there are no techniques for totally accurately and truthfully capturing and relating aspects of life.  All attempts, whether they come in words or numbers or visual images, can only be re-presentations and, hence, interpretations. As Patricia Clough (1992) has stated, “All factual representations of reality, even statistical representations, are narratively constructed”. The question, therefore, is not whether narratives should be allowed but which one to choose.  Attempts to impose one research or narrative method will merely control the story the researcher is able to tell, the identity they are able to form and the knowledge they are able to create.  This is no way to “Elevate personal knowledge” or tap in to “A rich resource” and what counts as educational theory should never be allowed to be separated from “in the field” educational practice.  Instead, we need to get back in the garage with The Clash’s punk sensibility and “make it up for ourselves”.  Yes, it will be anarchic, yes, there will be anecdotes equivalent to a punk kid in a bedroom trying to master three chords.  But there will also be recognition that we all have a song to sing and encouragement to sing it.  Then we might be able to spot the gifts and talents in ourselves and use these to encourage the gifts and talents in our students.  Some of those three chord bedroom songs did, after all, change my life.  Perhaps some of our stories can change my practice.


Towards a Re-solution


In this module I have attempted to use a story from my past that embodies an aspect of my knowledge about education to develop a polemic arguing for the need for teachers to construct personal narratives.   I have claimed that these will develop positioned identities which can be shared and discussed in order to create new knowledge and enhanced practice.  I have suggested that the type of story told influences our knowledge, that all stories are subjective and that the best way to bring about transformative change is to argue about the stories being told.  I have also suggested that, whilst many organisations purport to want the same things, in reality they act as gatekeepers by controlling the form a “legitimate” story is able to take. 


In the field of research, many of those legitimate stories are constructed in what Jerome Bruner (1986) calls the “paradigmatic mode” of thought and I am conscious that you, dear reader, are even now cross referencing what you read against marking criteria that call for tightly reasoned analysis, logical proof and reference to authoritative voices.  In the end, though, my embodied knowledge positions me in opposition to this mode of thought and, whilst I have attempted to engage with the systems Snow wants to create, I have structured my text to embody my meaning.  In producing this narrative I have come to new understandings and become more aware of values that, in making my story public, I am showing that I am prepared to stand by. The specific values I have expressed are justice, tolerance and respect and not truth or objectivity so these cannot be used to validate my story.  Instead it must be judged against my own “Living” values and validated against my own explanatory principles.  When we get right down to it, the only justification I need for my principles or the validity of my method is that, in applying them, I have learned something and come to new understandings of myself and my world.  In short, I am the living proof.  This does not mean that I am arguing that anything goes or that all stories are good. It does, however, mean that my story deserves to be judged on my own terms.  Given that my own terms exclude truth or objectivity from the evaluative criteria I recognise that this presents something of a problem but I suggest that the task is not impossible.


For me, an important characteristic of most good stories is the extent to which the way in which they are written allows the storyteller to make imaginative contact with the reader/hearer.  To a considerable degree this relationship depends upon the extent to which writer and reader share beliefs and values but it can also be aided by skilful writing.  With reference to fiction, Virginia Woolf (1992) suggests that:


The writer must get in touch with his (sic) reader by putting before him something which he recognises, which, therefore, stimulates his imagination and makes him willing to co-operate in the far more difficult business of intimacy.  And it is of the highest importance that this common meeting place should be reached easily, almost instinctively.


Marion Dadds (2007) seems to be hinting at a similar common meeting place when she argues for the concept of empathetic validity as “The potential of practitioner research in its processes and outcomes to transform the emotional dispositions of people towards each other, such that greater empathy and regard are created”. 


In making my narrative public I have attempted to engage you in that intimate meeting place so that greater regard can be given to the personal narratives of teachers.  Through my story I have tried to demonstrate that, whilst I empathise with students like Stokesy, in the end I am not him and do not believe we should smash anyone else’s light or head for the top of the nearest solitary tree.  Instead we need to engage with each other’s stories tolerantly and respectfully in a quest to find new meanings. I hope my story has aesthetic merit in as much as it has stimulated your senses by inviting interpretative responses and eliciting reactions (as contrasted with anaesthetic qualities which dull our senses).  I would also hope that my reflection on narrative has made a substantive contribution to the construction of knowledge and meaning making.  If I have done all this I would say that I have constructed a good story.  You, of course, are more than welcome to disagree with me.  That is the whole point.  My truth is no more valid than yours and, when all is said and done, I’ve simply told you my story in an attempt to get you to join the discussion and tell me yours.  That is how we will meet Snow’s challenge and improve what we are doing. 

Everything else is bullshit.








Barone, T. (2009) Comments on Coulter and Smith: Narrative Researchers as Witnesses of Injustice and Agents of Social Change?

Educational Researcher 2009 38: 591-597.

Barthes, R. (1977) Image-Music-Text.  New York: Noonday

Bleakley, A. (2000) Writing With Invisible Ink: narrative, confessionalism and reflective practice. Reflective Practice 1:1 pp 11-24

Bruner, J. (1986) Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. London: Harvard University Press

Clandinin, J D & Connelly, F (2000) Narrative Inquiry: experience and story in qualitative research.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Clandinin, J. D. &  Murphy, M. S. (2009) Comments on Coulter and Smith: Relational Ontological Commitments in Narrative Research, Educational Researcher 2009 38: 598-602.

Clough, P. (1992) The Ends of Ethnography.  London: Sage

Dadds, M (2007) Empathetic Validity in Practitioner Research: Educational Action Research, 16 : 2, 279-290

Dewey, J. (1938/1997) Education and Experience. London; MacMillan

Derrida, J (1990) Writing and Difference.  London: Routledge

Eakin, P J. (1999) How Our Lives Become Stories.  New York: Teachers’ College Press

Lubeck, S. (1998) Is Developmentally Appropriate Practice for Everyone? Childhood Education, Vol. 74

Lyotard, J-F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Manchester University Press

Plummer, K. (1983) Documents of life an introduction to the problems and literature of a humanistic method. London; Allen and Unwin.

Postman, N & Weingartner, C (1969) Teaching As A Subversive Activity.  Middlesex: Penguin

Shah, I. (1968) The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasruddin.  Octagon Press

Snow, C. E. (2001) Knowing What We Know: Children, Teachers, Researchers. Presidential Address to AERA, 2001, in Seattle, in Educational Researcher, Vol. 30, No.7, pp. 3-9.

Woolf, V (1992) Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown in “Selected Essays”. Oxford: Oxford University Press


Appendix 1.


The hardest bit, they’d said, was the first bit and, at first, it seemed like they were right.  Standing at the top and leaning back into nothing while I waited for the ropes to take my weight, I felt the air trap inside me and my legs turn to jellies.  Gradually, though, I felt the reassuring pull of the rope and gathered the confidence to lean further back over the cliff edge.  Slowly I shuffled my feet and, 150 feet above the ground, staring at the sky with the rain falling directly into my eyes, I knew why I was there.  I felt a rush of adrenaline, a soaring of confidence and an exhilaration about my own capabilities.  I didn’t put two and two together but the look on my face must have been why John Oram gave up his time to run the local youth club and take ungrateful oiks like me to the Beacons for a weekend’s abseiling.


A few feet to my right, Stokesy was, literally, in full swing.  He’d been the butt of more than one joke that weekend because he’d thought that abseiling was something you did on a lake in a boat called an ab.  Nevertheless, he was in his element now, bouncing about on the cliff face and telling everyone that he was going to do it like the blokes in The Guns Of Navarone.  No shuffling of feet for him, Stokesy practically ran off the top of the cliff and proceeded to explore what he termed “the jump technique” by hurling himself away from the cliff face and seeing how far he could slide down the rope before colliding once more with the wall of rock.  As I cautiously made my way down I could feel Stokesy below me developing his technique into wide, swinging arcs as he explored as much of the rock face as possible, all the while providing a running commentary on what he was doing and ignoring the increasingly desperate pleas from John Oram to slow down and go in a straight line.


And then it happened.  Everything ground to a halt.  Stokesy’s manic swinging and bouncing had turned the ropes controlling our descent into a tangled mass of spaghetti and they had locked, preventing our movement towards the safety of the ground.  Worse still, Stokesy was far below me and while they might have been able to pull me up the fifty of so feet I had descended, it quickly became clear from the nervous talk at the top of the cliff that they couldn’t pull Stokesy through my ropes and up.  There was nothing for it.  We were safe enough but we would have to wait there while a rescue team made their way down with new ropes.


Or that’s what they thought.  Stokesy had other ideas.  “Tell them not to worry”, he shouted up to me, “I think I can make it”.  What!?  Was he mad?  It was only the climbing harness that prevented the world from falling out of my bottom as I clung frozen to the ropes and the cliff but Stokesy had decided that the best policy was to climb back up.  Voices from the top told him not to be so stupid, that the slack couldn’t be taken up on the ropes and that he would effectively be free climbing but, as always, Stokesy took absolutely no notice of the words of authoritative wisdom and merrily set off.  For what seemed like ages I could hear him below me, clambering up the rock face and hauling the ropes behind him, until at last he appeared next to me.  “You nutter,” I screamed at him.  “We’re tangled together!  If you fall off you’ll drag me with you”. 


“I won’t fall off,” said Stokesy, “I’ve climbed harder than this before.  Besides, there’s only about fifty feet to go and if you climb too they can start to pull the ropes in”. 


I couldn’t believe it.  The nutcase was seriously suggesting that I climbed to the top with him!  “I can’t”, I protested, but Stokesy was having none of it.  “It’s easy,” he said, “I’ll find the holds and you just follow me up.  All you’ve got to do is keep three bits in contact with the rock”. 


And then Stokesy gave me a climbing lesson, teaching me how to secure three limbs to holds and move just one in order to find another hold and move up.  He did, indeed, make it look easy and I realised that this kid had been climbing all his life.  He’d spent half his primary school years up a tree and now I knew why he always had the biggest supply of conkers.  He was a bloody expert!  I also knew that I would lose a bucket load of adolescent street credibility if I didn’t follow him. That’s why, more scared than I have ever been in my life, I set off.


Amazingly, Stokesy was a great teacher over those fifty feet, talking all the while about what he was doing, finding a route he thought I could manage and constantly encouraging me with words of support.  When I crawled over the top I felt like Superman and I had the most profound respect for Stokesy.  The lad who was generally thought to be good for nothing had an amazing talent and, so I thought, had saved my life.  He was brilliant.


Sadly, my thoughts were not shared by everyone.  John Oram was white as a sheet, declaring our adventure to be “Foolhardy in the extreme” and cancelling the rest of the session but we didn’t care.  By the time we got back to our tents we had climbed 18,000 feet and we were heroes.  It was the best evening in our young lives.




















Appendix 2


Comments on Coulter and Smith: Relational Ontological Commitments in Narrative Research

D. Jean Clandinin

M. Shaun Murphy


D. JEAN CLANDININ is a professor and director of the Centre for Research for Teacher Education and Development, University of Alberta, Education Building South, Room 633, Edmonton, AB, Canada T6G 2G5; jean.clandinin@ualberta.ca. Her research focuses on curriculum studies, teacher knowledge, teacher education, and narrative inquiry. 

M. SHAUN MURPHY is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum Studies, University of Saskatchewan, 28 Campus Drive, Saskatoon, SK, Canada S7N 0X1; shaun.murphy@usask.ca. His research program focuses on teacher education, curriculum studies, narrative inquiry, and the interwoven lives of teachers, children, and families.

In this comment article on Coulter and Smith (2009), the authors raise concerns that focusing exclusively on issues of representation may lead readers to misunderstandings about narrative research. The authors argue that narrative ways of thinking about the phenomena under study are interwoven with narrative research methodologies. Drawing on Dewey’s theory of experience, they discuss three features of an ontology of experience. They highlight distinctions between narrative research and other forms of qualitative inquiry, attend closely to the transition from field texts to research texts, and address the interconnections between ontological and ethical commitments. In their view, research texts need to speak to the everyday experiences of researchers and participants to arrive at an understanding of those experiences as "storied" phenomena within social, cultural, institutional, and linguistic narratives.


Key Words: narrative research • relational ethics • relational ontological commitment • storied experience



Educational Researcher, Vol. 38, No. 8, 598-602 (2009)



Educational Researcher, Vol. 38, No. 8, 598-602 (2009)


 Discourse on Narrative Research


Cathy A. Coulter and Mary Lee Smith

The Construction Zone: Literary Elements in Narrative Research

Educational Researcher 2009 38: 577-590. [Abstract] [Full Text] [PDF] [Request Permission]  


Tom Barone

Comments on Coulter and Smith: Narrative Researchers as Witnesses of Injustice and Agents

of Social Change?

Educational Researcher 2009 38: 591-597. [Abstract] [Full Text] [PDF] [Request Permission]  


D. Jean Clandinin and M. Shaun Murphy

Comments on Coulter and Smith: Relational Ontological Commitments in Narrative Research

Educational Researcher 2009 38: 598-602. [Abstract] [Full Text] [PDF] [Request Permission]  


Michael W. Smith

Comments on Coulter and Smith: The Issue of Authorial Surplus in Narrative Research

Educational Researcher 2009 38: 603-607. [Abstract] [Full Text] [PDF] [Request Permission]  


Cathy A. Coulter

Response to Comments: Finding the Narrative in Narrative Research

Educational Researcher 2009 38: 608-611. [Abstract] [Full Text] [PDF] [Request Permission]  


Ariel M. Aloe and Betsy Jane Becker

Teacher Verbal Ability and School Outcomes: Where Is the Evidence?

Educational Researcher 2009 38: 612-624. [Abstract] [Full Text] [PDF] [Request Permission