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The cultivation of sensitive perception a perspective on aesthetic education

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The Cultivation of Sensitive Perception
A Perspective on Aesthetic Education
Ariana Gonzalez Stokas
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for
The degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Under the Executive Committee of the Graduate School of
Art and Sciences
UMI Number: 3420780
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Ariana Gonzalez Stokas
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The Cultivation of Sensitive Perception
A Perspective on Aesthetic Education
Ariana Gonzalez Stokas
This inquiry seeks to describe the nature of sensitive perception, which I identify as
an embodied sensibility that mediates concepts and concrete phenomena, through
an examination of the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Dewey, Maurice
Merleau-Ponty and Johann Von Goethe. I draw extensively on the work of Claude
Monet as a visual analogy for how sensitive perception functions. After linking
sensitive perception to an embodied experience, I explore how this significant mode
of perceiving may be cultivated in the educational environment through a deliberate
attentiveness to the pedagogical nature of the interplay between students, spaces
and objects of inquiry.
The result of this investigation is a vision of curriculum that offers teachers a way of
envisioning their practice as an open, generative and progressive process. I argue
that the cultivation of sensitive perception may permit students and teachers to
perceive the interplay between concepts and concrete experience. Finally, I seek to
make the case that when this way of knowing is denied in educational practice, it
inflicts a form of knowledge inequality on teachers and students. This knowledge
inequality arises when the teacher and the student are not permitted to perceive the
generative possibilities inherent in conceptual and phenomenal engagements; when
the objects of knowing become reified from their actual life in the world.
Table of Contents
Recovering the aesthetic
Locating Aesthetic Education beyond the art classroom
The nature of Aesthetic Education beyond art
A Sensitive Methodology
Subject matter/Things
Bodies/teachers, students, administrators and staff
Space or the learning environment
Unifying the parts: The place of embodiment
Chapter II: Becoming sensible: Sensitive Perception and the Embodied Experience
Expanding Baumgarten's educational project
Embodiment and the cultivation of sensitive perception
The lessons of painting
A manner of scientific thinking
Cultivating the sensitive perception of subject matter
Chapter III: The shape of curriculum: Sensitive perception and the things, bodies
and spaces of learning
Emile's sensible encounters
The right to property and justice
Rousseau and the inculcation of moral sentiments
Spinning and the progressive reconstruction of experience
From sense education to intellectual education: Considering Maria Montessori's method.... 88
The classroom environment
The things of sense education
Goethe and the sensitive perception of science
Color as progressive
The delicate empiricism of color
The primary encounter of color
Goethe's color theory and beautiful knowing
Chapter IV: The Pedagogy of sensitive perception
A transactional metamorphosis: Sensitive perception as a perpetual self-education
Keeping the thing alive: Defining the object of inquiry
The cultivation of sensitive perception in the teacher
Teacher education as an embodied perceptual encounter
Bill's classroom
The teacher's gaze
Chapter V: Aesthetics and Inequality: Why Sensitive Perception Matters to
The Ordering Regime: The School as Test
"Excluding Beauty"
The Neglect of the Corporeal
Teaching as an expressive act
Education as an invitation to the possible
A sensitive methodology
A vision of education
I would like to extend my utmost gratitude first and foremost to my adviser, David
Hansen, who accepted me into this program and opened the door to this journey. I
would like to thank him for helping me to find my voice, for his quiet, faithful
presence throughout these many years of study and for asking hard questions.
I would like to acknowledge the Philosophy and Education community at Teachers
College, who prevent the work of philosophy in education from being a lone voice in
the wilderness. I would like to thank Merleau-Ponty, Dewey and Rousseau for being
tireless companions.
I would especially like to acknowledge Mr. Jeremy Herbst who without, none of this
work would be possible. Your tireless support, delicious dinners and frank
commentary allowed me to produce something that I feel immensely proud of. Te
quiero siempre.
To my brother, Alexander Stokas, you told me to go when I didn't believe I could and
for that reason, this is also because of you.
Finally to my parents, Alexander and Dahlia Stokas: you believed in education from
the very beginning of my life and were my first teachers. You worked tirelessly to
provide education that was not only adequate but also inspiring. This work is a
tribute to you as educators and parents. Thank you for your sacrifice and love.
For my mother,
Carmen Idahlia Olmo Stokas,
For showing me the meaning of education
An apple is much more to me than a fruit. It is a thing of my intimate experience. I
have come to know it because I have grown up in the Northeast, a place where
apples dwell. I know it is a good fruit to eat with many varieties. It is also warm
autumn days spent trekking through an apple orchard, the wooden handle of a
picker reaching up into a blue sky while the smell of fermenting apples is crushed
around by my feet. It is the smell of apple crisp baking in a classroom. It is the fruit
of migrant farm workers back breaking labor who line up in the supermarket their
checks clutched between weathered hands to send money home by Western Union
to places where apples are an exotic fruit. An apple is much more than a
classification, it is a thing to live within: a place from which we may perceive the
beautiful stellate possibilities of knowing.
Aesthetic education has long been concerned with developing the perception and
knowledge of works of art. Alexander Baumgarten delineated aesthetics as an area
of philosophical inquiry in the early 1700's. His work in aesthetics was, largely,
eclipsed by the towering shadow the work of Immanuel Kant cast with the
publication of his critiques in the late 1700's. Baumgarten's work to claim that
aesthetics leads us to a particular kind of rationality, one as equal and as necessary
to logical rationality, was largely forgotten with Kant's move to place aesthetics, in
particular knowledge gained from the senses, outside the realm of cognition. Kant
fixed his attention on the kind of judgments that lead us to say that something,
whether a work of art or nature, is beautiful. This preoccupation with the nature of
judgments or how we can know something is beautiful or not, left behind, in some
ways, Baumgarten's belief that sensual perception could lead us toward a kind of
knowledge. Aesthetics post Kant, particularly the tradition that has influenced
aesthetic education, became preoccupied with aesthetic judgment or how we may
understand a work of art or nature as beautiful, meaningful, or enduring.
In the early 1990's Discipline Based Art Education or DBAE, whose theoretical roots
extend into the 1970's, sought to implement a rigorous academic approach to
education in the arts. DBAE believes education in the arts should be informed by the
following scholarly disciplines: Art history, art criticism, aesthetics and art making
(Arnstine, 1990). Aesthetics entered education as a method of teaching students to
understand, perceive and talk about their experience with art objects. This is an
orientation that resonates more with Kantian, neo-Kantian and philosophy of art
approaches to aesthetics. As a result of this movement, aesthetic education has
come to mean an education in the experience of the arts. It is from this conception
that I take my departure into inquiring about the nature of aesthetic education
beyond the art object.
The inquiry into the nature of aesthetic education beyond the encounter with the art
object has recently captured the attention of a number of theorists. The work of
David Granger, particularly his book Dewey, Pirsig and the Art of Living, is primarily
responsible for the direction I find my project taking. He says,
If this aesthetic education writ large is to become a reality, however, we need to
create learning environments where students are encouraged to be proactive as
full human agents-not merely reactive as disembodied minds; where they
regularly move beyond the point of recognition to perception. (Granger, 2006.)
It is to this call that my project responds; I aim to articulate a conception of
education in schools that cultivates sensitive perception through attention to the aesthetic
experiences of the curriculum. I will seek to change how we view what already exists in
education and how we may begin to see anew what has always been there but which,
often, we neglect. This neglect, I will posit, is signficant because it contributes to a type
of knowledge inequality in education.
In addition to Granger, philosophers such as Richard Shusterman, Yuriko Saito,
Arnold Berleant, Steffen W. Gross and Joseph Kupfer have engaged a renewed
understanding of aesthetics as a discipline that may illumine our experience of the world.
It is my belief that their theories can assist in conceptualizing what aesthetic education
beyond the art object is and why such an education is significant to teaching and learning
today. I must emphasize that aesthetics in art education is a necessary and essential
element; it is not my intention in this inquiry to diminish or alter those efforts. Rather, my
project is to take issue with the conception of aesthetic education as limited to learning in
the arts and to show how the aesthetic may function in the larger experience of school.
I will seek to clarify the nature of sensitive perception and how it may be
cultivated in teaching and learning. My inquiry will focus particularly on curriculum
but curriculum understood not only as subject matter but also as the dynamic
embodied interaction of the spaces, objects and individuals engaged in the school
endeavor. If aesthetic education has been defined as an education in the experience
of art objects then I aim for my inquiry to explore how the experience of the
curriculum becomes the locus for aesthetic education in the form of sensitive
Although there are a number of aestheticians writing about aesthetic
somaesthetics and everyday aesthetics, little work has been done to articulate the
implications of these theories in school and grant a picture of what aesthetic
education might look like in practice. Part of my project is a recovery of a way of
conceiving aesthetics as a means of showing how the cultivation of a particular type
of perception is rooted in its original project. My thesis is that the aesthetic
"multisensory embodied experience" (O'Loughlin 2006), and that such an education
may give rise to the development of a manner of beautiful knowing that Alexander
Gottlieb Baumgarten's work points toward. Articulating the nature of the
relationship between perception and aesthetic or embodied experience is central to
understanding what aesthetic education beyond art may be. David Prall writes,
"aesthetic experience is the experience of the surface of our world directly
apprehended." (Prall, 1967). Perception is a key concept for this project because it is
central to the aesthetic experience, to a manner of knowing that emerges from
embodied engagement.
While discussed overwhelmingly in aesthetic philosophy in relation to the art
object, perception is pointed to in the works of John Dewey, Maurice Merleau-Ponty
and Johann Von Goethe as central to knowing all phenomena. If we understand
sensitive perception to be an embodied experience, as Maurice Merleau-Ponty and
John Dewey would have us believe, it becomes clear that it is only through an
attentiveness to how the curriculum of school, the interplay of spaces, objects and
individuals, is shaped that it may be cultivated. I believe and hope to show in my
project that the cultivation of sensitive perception lies central to the project of
envisioning aesthetic education beyond art and that this cultivation finds its locus in
the aesthetic experience of the curriculum.
The aesthetic is a slippery term. It has come to mean anything related to art, to
design and even to plastic surgery. Philosophically the aesthetic is most often
spoken of in terms of the art object. Recent contemporary philosophers have begun
to recover a notion of the aesthetic that can, arguably, be traced back to Aristotle's
aisthesis, meaning from the senses. There have been discussions about the
aesthetics of the everyday, of the environment and of the body. While these
discussions will be central to the conception of aesthetic education that I will offer
in this inquiry, I should clarify here how I understand the aesthetic, as this
conception lies central to how I conceive my inquiry. My understanding is firmly
rooted in interpretations of Alexander Gottleib Baumgarten's Aesthetica. So while
my inquiry is new in the sense that it seeks to articulate the nature of aesthetic
education in school beyond the art object, it is built upon the origins of the discipline
known as aesthetics.
Baumgarten's work is problematic mainly because it has never been fully translated
from the Latin and is, in comparison to other works of philosophy, a fragment of a
theory. I strongly feel that Baumgarten's ideas on the aesthetic are too significant to
education to allow these obstacles to dissuade us from its consideration. Nearly
every philosopher who discusses the aesthetic beyond art cites Baumgarten as the
foundation for such conceptions of the aesthetic.
In a 2002 paper entitled, The Neglected Programme of Aesthetics, Stefan W. Gross
gives a short but illuminating discussion of Baumgarten's notion of the aesthetic. He
pinpoints two major ideas from Baumgarten's theory that, I believe, provide the
foundation for understanding the nature of the aesthetic beyond the art object. The
first idea Gross illuminates is Baumgarten's conception of man as afelix aestheticus.
This man cannot be reduced to either a purely rational or a purely sensual being.
The felixa estheticus is the whole human perpetually negotiating within herself any
number of conflicting aims, faculties and poetic powers. Gross explains, "Felix
aestheticus can be interpreted as the sensible creator and developer of his own
world, that is, human culture." (Gross 2002] The felixa estheticus shapes and is
shaped by those objects and experiences she encounters in her world. She is in a
perpetually progressive condition of reconciling what the world is with what she
knows of the world and may make of the world from what she knows. She is
perpetually negotiating between the universal forms of the world she is thrust into
and the particular manifestation of those encountered things in her local
individualized experience. For example, I learn as a child to recognize an apple. I
subsequently can identify it. However, that apple becomes universalized to me
through my particular life encounters with apples and their cultural significance. I
will refine and develop many such examples in the chapters ahead.
The image of Baumgarten's felixa estheticus that Gross presents is an important
foundational concept to my project because it broadens aesthetics from a
philosophy of art into an "approach to human knowledge, experience and
perception." (Gross 2002) It takes the aesthetic and places it firmly within the
interplay of human beings relating to phenomena, the art object being one of the
many phenomena that may work to educe this way of being.
The second significant concept Gross illuminates in his short yet eloquent paper is
Baumgarten's concept of the aesthetic as a philosophy of sensitive knowledge
{cognitio sensitivaj. This is related to the vision of man as a felix aestheticus in that
the sensitive knowledge permits the individual to know the aesthetic nature of her
and the world. Gross defines the cognitio sensitive, in the following manner:
The goal of the cognitio sensitiva is the grasp of the special, the particular, in
the diversity and complexity of its relations and connections. Abundance,
magnitude, richness of being, and liveliness should be preserved in their
respective specificity, and we must avoid conceptual reduction and
With his description of cognitio sensitiva Baumgarten, I believe, gives us a picture of
the type of beautiful knowing that the aesthetic sphere may open us to. It is
knowledge that straddles dualisms informing us of the particular and how my
individual particular knowledge of this thing is rooted to a larger web of
significance. The cultivation of this kind of perception is how, for Baumgarten,
sensitive cognition develops. The aim of sensitive cognition, for Baumgarten, is the
perception of the stellate possibilities that may emerge through phenomenal
experience. We may understand the sensitive perception of this stellate possibility
as beautiful knowing.
Baumgarten says, "Aestheticis finis est perfectio cognitionis sensitivae, qua
talis. Ha ecautem est pulchritido." (The aim of aesthetics as a discipline is the
development and improvement of the sensitive knowledge. This improvement is
beautiful.) (Gross 2002) Baumgarten understands Beauty or pulchritido quite
differently than the tradition of aesthetics that followed him which saw beauty as an
emotive judgment, often related to pleasure or delight. Beauty, for Baumgarten, is
connected to the ability to sensitively perceive. "Beautiful thinking is a way of
thinking that is very much aware of and sensitive to its object and not to the object
alone but to all the relations of that object." (Gross 2002) The perception of things
in their relations and connections, or the ability to perceive phenomena both in its
specificity and in its magnitude is the sensitive engagement that opens one to
beautiful knowing. Knowing becomes beautiful when it sensitively grasps the
stellate possibilities of phenomena, when it apprehends the concrete and conceptual
interrelationship of the world. This manner of thinking is never closed; it remains
open to further comprehension, to new possibilities. It is through sensitive
engagement that the attenuated bond between concept and phenomena gains depth
and thickness from the encounter of each individual. This manner of knowing
expands and shifts, revisiting the multisensorial world as a touchstone of reference
and grows to perceive that nothing, no category of knowledge, is a closed endeavor,
its roots in a primary landscape remaining transparent.
The cultivation of sensitive perception through an embodied aesthetic
engagement develops in the individual a progressive capacity for sensitive
cognition. Progressive is understood here not as a linear movement but rather as
perpetual in character, spiraling back upon already held notions, reconstructing
them through new experiences and uncharted perspectives. Therefore perception is
a temporal ripening wrought through an embodied encounter of the world. As
Merleau-Ponty describes in The Primacy of Perception, "We find in perception a
mode of access that is rediscovered at every level." (Merleau-Ponty 1964) The
pedagogical nature of sensitive perception, of embodied experience, is one that will,
I hope, permit us to rediscover the depth that lies within the educational encounter.
It is in Baumgarten's theory that I hope to begin to recover the clear
foundation of how aesthetic education in school may be conceived as one concerned
with the cultivation of sensitive perception one that, through the multisensorial
embodied experience of the curriculum, may open us to beautiful knowing. I will
use Baumgarten, along with Johann Von Goethe, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and JeanJacques Rousseau to discuss a renewed understanding of aesthetic education as
related to embodiment and sensitive perception. Although I seek to illuminate the
connection between sensitive perception and beautiful knowing I will not, in this
inquiry, attempt an exhaustive defense of the nature of beauty and the place of
beautiful knowing in this larger debate. Rather, the aim of this project is to articulate
sensitive perception, the necessary foundation for a subsequent inquiry into
beautiful knowing. In this regard, this project may be conceived as a groundwork for
beautiful knowing.
It is important to discuss aspects of the philosophical history of aesthetics at this
point in my inquiry because I believe that this project is significant not because it
necessarily proposes something entirely new but because it will seek, through the
examination of sensitive perception and its cultivation, to connect a recovered
notion of the aesthetic to the educational experience. As a result of this inquiry it is
my hope that this will paint a picture of how the cultivation of sensitive perception
lies central to an aesthetic education and that articulating the embodied nature of
the curriculum is the means of such an aim. However, before we move into an
examination of the current scholarship surrounding this view of aesthetic education,
it is important to briefly examine Immanuel Kant and how his work, largely,
obscured Baumgarten's perspective of aesthetics as a discipline concerned with the
relevance of sensual perception and shaped the subsequent direction of aesthetics.
Immanuel Kant's Critique ofJudgment is considered one of the most
influential texts in aesthetics. This work, along with several of his critiques and
other writings, shaped modern aesthetics and took it, to some degree, far from
Baumgarten's vision of aesthetics as the science of sensory cognition; that method
which showed the import of sensual perception to the development of reason.
Kant's theory of the beautiful and his quest for the underlying conditions of an
aesthetic judgment lie central to the third critique. Kant's project is important to
consider, however briefly, because it grants us a full picture of the root of aesthetics
that this project seeks to engage.
Kant had fundamental disagreements with Baumgarten's vision of aesthetics
as a science of sensory cognition, particularly one that could yield a distinct kind of
knowledge. He believed this basis was flawed and the Leibniz-Wolffian philosophy
that comprised its foundation was erroneous. Sensibility, for Kant, yields knowledge
of the world but does not necessarily lead to the objective knowledge of concepts or
aid in the development of reason. However, Kant does not deny that sense
experience contributes to the development of our intuitions of phenomena. Our
intuition is composed of the substratum of sense experience in the world and the
representations of phenomena that the individual develops are not the same as the
objects in themselves. For Kant, we can never come to know things as they are apart
from our subjective understanding. Once the sense intuition gathers the sense data
from experience in the world and generates a representation of that thing, it is
fundamentally changed through subjective engagement. The nature of objects as
things in themselves, apart from the receptivity of our senses, is unknown to us.
(Kant, 1952) Kant's views on the aesthetic, while furthering the project of aesthetics
in terms of further articulating judgment, taste, and beauty, returned the senses and
sensory cognition to the lowly position they had occupied prior to Baumgarten's
resuscitation of them as contributing to a special form of knowledge. For Kant, they
could grant us no real truth of the world. Beauty, and the judgment of it, comprised
Kant's attention paving the way for the subsequent view of aesthetics as a discipline
primarily concerned with judgment.
In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant works with a definition of aesthetics that
is more closely aligned with Baumgarten's view of it as a system of cognition that
discloses a unique knowledge of the world; one predicated on the senses and the
development of the sensitive cognition. It is only later, in the Critique of Judgment,
that Kant begins to move toward the aesthetic as concerned with issues of
judgment; namely that of beauty, taste and disinterestedness. He says in the first
critique in the section entitled, "General Remarks on Transcendental Aesthetic",
We have intended, then, to say that all our intuition is nothing but the
representation of phenomena; that the things which we intuit, are not in
themselves the same as our representations of them in intuition, nor are
their relations in themselves so constituted as they appear to us; [Kant,
The representations that our intuition yields from engagement with empirical
datum are distinct from the things we engage with through the senses. The relations
of the things we construct representations of, the empirical phenomena, are
different than how they appear to us. For even the representation generated in the
intuition is to be thought of as subjective, as an impression of the appearance of
phenomena in experience processed through individual subjectivity. So it is not so
much that the senses are suspect or discounted but that they cannot be viewed as
leading us toward any distinct particular form of objective knowledge. The
relationship of the representation to the object is transcendental to Kant, or that
which lies beyond the scope of sense experience and of phenomenology, not
aesthetic in the sense of Baumgarten's attempt to create a system that believed the
confused and dark perceptions that characterize perceptual engagement are a kind
of knowledge. For Kant what can be known of the world can only be known from the
subjective position; nothing in the world calls out its character to us and we do not,
as we will see in the work of Merleau-Ponty, intertwine with the world to generate
meaning. All phenomena cease without the one perceiving and this prevents us from
ever knowing anything in-itself. However, this does not discount for Kant that the
representations that comprise a judgment are empirical and thus aesthetic. "The
empirical is aesthetic and the judgment pronounced by their means is logical."
(Kant, 1952) This aspect of Kant's broad project is essential to our recovery of the
aesthetic as a discipline concerned with aesthetic perception and the significance of
sensory experience to cognition. Even Kant himself begins in the realm of the
sensory datum as the substrate to any logical judgments that are formed. His quest
in the third critique to understand the origin and function of judgments of the
beautiful and the sublime and their connection to subjective and objective
understanding, still finds its root in the things of experience. However, unlike
Baumgarten, this sensual experience, while foundational, does not contribute to the
development of reason. The aesthetic, particularly art for Kant, does not show us
truth. Rather, it exposes something of the universality of the subjective condition
and how, when it comes to aesthetic judgments, we can only know things within
It is in the work of Kant that we find aesthetics shift from a study of sensual
perception to the study of art, beauty and judgment. (Hammermeister, 2002) This
move away from Baumgarten's conception of the aesthetic as a systematic study of
the relevance of sensual perception and how it leads us to a kind of knowing as
equally valuable as logic in the development of reason, is the root of current
perspectives on aesthetic education.
It will, undoubtedly, feel strange to many who read my project to find little
mention of the significant literature that exists on contemporary aesthetic
education. After all Eliot Eisner, Maxine Greene, Ralph Smith, Donald Arnstine, and
Harry Broudy (to name only a handful) have been seeking to articulate the nature of
aesthetic education for many years. While I hold their work and the work of other
scholars of art education in great esteem my concern with aesthetic education is not
to be confused with a concern for articulating its role in art education. I feel that
other scholars are undertaking this well and rigorously. My preoccupation with
aesthetic education grows out of the desire to articulate it as a gnoseology or way of
knowing that yields a particular kind of knowledge. This encompasses, yet is not
limited to, our relationship to the art object. My understanding of aesthetics as a
discipline related to perception and embodiment finds its roots in Alexander
Gottleib Baumgarten and most recently in the work of theorists of environmental
aesthetics such as Arnold Berleant, theorists of the body, Richard Shusterman and
theorists of the nature of the aesthetic in the everyday such as Yuriko Saito and Arto
Haapala. A handful of individuals in educational philosophy discuss the nature of
aesthetic education beyond the art object. Joseph Kupfer in his work, Experience as
Art, along with the work of David Granger and David T. Hansen provide important
contemporary visions of the aesthetic in school. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, John
Dewey, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jane Addams and Johann Von Goethe will provide
the backdrop to my philosophical conceptions of the aesthetic in subsequent
The first chapter of Experience as Art: Aesthetics in Everyday Life by Joseph Kupfer is
entitled "Educating Aesthetically". While the rest of the chapters in this significant
book explore aesthetics in terms of violence, sexuality, sports and death, the first
chapter makes an admirable attempt to explain how the aesthetic might function in
the daily experience of school. Kupfer wrote this book in 1983 and, while it is clear
that his thoughts underlie much of the current discourse on everyday aesthetics and
even somaesthetics, to my knowledge there is little written since the publication of
this text regarding his notion of educating aesthetically or on the nature of aesthetic
education beyond the art object. Where I believe Kupfer makes a mistake and where
I take my departure from his work, is that he fails to spend time articulating the
significance of sensitive perception to an aesthetic education and to clearly identify
the curriculum of teaching and learning as the locus or seat of the embodied
encounter that comprises the substrate for the development of ideas.
Kupfer does mention perception as central to aesthetic experience when he
Aesthetic experience also takes us beyond our ordinary perception of things.
It forces us deeper into ourselves in an attempt to gain a fuller view of the
world. A good question is also aesthetic in quite literally composing the
student's thought. (Kupfer, 1983]
Kupfer, along with many other aestheticians, characterizes aesthetic experience as
capable of taking us beyond the ordinary; it heightens our experience to the degree
that it alters our view of things. While I agree with Kupfer in that aesthetic
experience may allow us to gain a fuller view of the world, I will seek to deepen and
clarify the relationship of sensitive perception to embodied experience and how
these ideas grant us a vision of aesthetic education. While aesthetic experience may
"take us beyond our ordinary perception of things" it is precisely sensitive
perception that opens us to the beautiful stellate character of knowing. I
acknowledge that this is a complex phenomenon and will attempt to clarify the
conceptual relationship between sensitive perception, embodied experience,
knowledge and the aesthetic particularly how this relationship is progressive and
helical in character. I will also seek to explain why clarifying such a conceptual
relationship is important to conceiving equitable education.
Kupfer divides the chapter where he explores the nature of aesthetic education in
school into an examination of Plato's midwife analogy, the significance of love in the
cultivation of an aesthetic education, the relation of information and technique or
skill acquisition to aesthetic education, and the role of discussion as cultivating
comprehensive thinking. There are a number of points that Kupfer makes that will
assist in conceptualizing my project so while I intend to credit Kupfer with
providing a significant foundation for inquiry into the nature of aesthetic education
in school I will also spend some time distinguishing myself from his project as a
means of illuminating my inquiry.
The second contemporary source that discusses aesthetic education beyond the art
object is David Granger's Dewey, Pirsig and the Art of Living. Granger calls for the
realization of an aesthetic education, one that moves students beyond the point of
recognition and into perception. Often these terms are used interchangeably.
However, in this inquiry recognition is understood as the preliminary identification
of phenomena while perception is understood as the embodied encounter that
arises after identification. Perception is understood here as the moment when it
becomes possible to not only identify a phenomena i.e. call a cat a cat, but to be able
to discern within the phenomena the conceptual possibilities of catness, and the
particular, embodied experience of it. Sensitive perception is the movement deeply
inside a concept, the acknowledgement of the conceptual life of the phenomena in
all its relations, connections and specificity in the multisensorial world.
Granger's work is foundational to this inquiry because he places the cultivation of
perception as a primary objective of education and one that can only be cultivated
through an attention to the aesthetic attributes of our daily endeavors. Through an
examination of Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Granger seeks to
give us an example of how the repair and attentiveness to a motorcycle may teach
one about the aesthetic dimension of the everyday. His work is significant to this
inquiry because it marks a contemporary departure in educational theory from the
aesthetic as a form of art education to the aesthetic as an education in the
perception of the phenomena of life. While his work does not explicitly delve into
the phenomenology of educational objects and experiences as Kupfer's does it
provides an important building block from which to conceptualize the nature of an
aesthetic education.
The final contemporary source that pinpoints the aesthetic in the more general
endeavor of school is David Hansen's, A Poetics of Teaching. In this essay he
identifies the significance of realizing three dimensions of life in teaching and
learning, the moral, the intellectual, and the aesthetic, in order to cultivate a poetics
of teaching. Hansen describes the aesthetic dimension as materializing when a
teacher is moved by the gestures, and frustrations expressed in student learning. He
describes the ability of a teacher to read the expressive aesthetic inherent in
interpersonal relationships as pedagogical perception. Hansen's work, like Kupfer's
and Granger's, points toward the need for a clearer explication of perception and its
relationship to aesthetic education in school.
Perhaps the most significant scholar who will underlie my project of articulating
aesthetic education is Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In his essay, Eye and Mind, he
generates significant concepts for the grounding of this inquiry. His discussions of
perception as embodied will be particularly important to defining aesthetic
education beyond the art object. Also, his insights concerning the body as the seat of
knowing in the Phenomenology of Perception will be central to illuminating the
possibility of cultivating the embodied aesthetic in the curriculum of schools.
Through his work I feel we may gain significant insight into how, through
attentiveness to the interrelation of the sensory and conceptual, we go beyond
recognizing, categorizing and classifying and find, build and create our way inside
the concepts and phenomena of experience. For Merleau-Ponty we come to know
the world not solely through the object, or the body or the mind but because of their
dynamic and natural interrelations. These interrelations, which arise through
embodied experience, form our perceptions.
This dynamic view of knowing comprises the most significant foundation for
conceiving aesthetic education beyond art. It is not merely enough to identify what
objects/things in the world are statically, we must also know how they are as
temporal entities in relation to experience. Merleau-Ponty offers us a number of
examples of how the interplay of the body and ideas contribute to understanding.
Linda Singer in "Merleau-Ponty on the Concept of Style" considers this quote from
the Phenomenology of Perception:
Everything appears to us through a medium to which it lends its own
fundamental quality; this piece of wood is neither a collection of colors and
tactile data nor even their total Gestalt but something from which there
emanates a woody essence; these "sense data" modulate a certain theme or
illustrate a certain style which is the wood itself and which creates round this
piece of wood and the perception I have of it a horizon of significance.
(Merleau-Ponty, 1993)
The materiality of the world we engage matters significantly to the perceptions we
form. To be inattentive to the very fabric that surrounds, holds and transmits
knowledge is to disregard our temporal material world as pedagogical. Wood not
only communicates to us that this is wood it also communicates and connects to a
deeper conceptual significance; of the cultural value, or poetic meaning of wood, to
its place as a conduit between subjective and objective knowing. Pauline Von
Bonsdorff articulates such a conception in "Building and the Naturally Unplanned,"
(2005) when she says,
One of the parallels of the wooden house and the human body has to do with time,
the influence of which is perceptible in a building made of natural materials.
There is much to take care of in a wooden house, which suggests that the wooden
culture glorifies processes and dynamic continuity rather than a single complete
The materiality of the things and the environments we learn and live within have as
much to say to us pedagogically as the worksheets and tests we administer in
schools on a daily basis. Things such as wooden chairs or rows of desks have a
"horizon of significance" that inform our perceptions of the learning that occurs in
them and because of them. These examples show us, as Dewey believes, that
experience is an embodied endeavor and that "the first great consideration is that
life goes on in an environment; not merely in it but because of it, through interaction
with it." (Dewey, 1934)
The work of John Dewey, particularly Art as Experience, will comprise another
significant cornerstone of this project. Although Merleau-Ponty is characterized as a
phenomenologist and Dewey as a pragmatist, I believe their theories, considered
together, hold significant implications for the cultivation of sensitive perception in
schools. I am particularly interested in exploring how Dewey's understanding of
subject-matter as progressive corresponds to Merleau-Ponty's characterization of
perception as ongoing, helical and embodied. Importantly both Dewey and MerleauPonty cite the body or embodied experience as central to aesthetic experience and
the cultivation of sensitive perception.
Like Merleau-Ponty and Dewey, Johann von Goethe sought to articulate how
a certain manner of engaging phenomena could lead to knowledge of things that
moved beyond empirical givens. It was in his scientific works, A Theory of Color and
A Morphology of Plants where Goethe articulated delicate empiricism as an effort to
grant scientific inquiry an alterative methodology to what he saw as an
overwhelming emphasis on cause and effect formulas. David Seamon translates
Goethe's definition of delicate empiricism as, "the effort to understand a thing's
meaning through prolonged empathetic looking and seeing grounded in direct
experience". (Seamon, 1998) The effort was to formulate theories of things, such as
colors or plants, while taking into account the particular conditions that confront an
individual when they encounter phenomena. Goethe believed that developing
meaning was equally important to developing theories. He sought, much like
Merleau-Ponty, to perpetually bridge the gap between subjective, sensual
engagement and conceptual ideas. It was not enough for Goethe to identify the
spectrum, its colors and causes, but it was essential to knowing to also understand
the meaning, life and value of color to individuals. This manner of knowing, this
delicate empiricism, is akin to sensitive perception in that it is a manner of attention
that is educed and depends upon a perpetual and embodied interplay between
particular conditions and abstracted concepts. Delicate empiricism and Goethe'
scientific works will, in subsequent chapters, serve to support the illumination of
sensitive perception.
I intend to conduct this inquiry into sensitive perception through the consideration
of a variety of sources and types of educational experiences. These will include
philosophical arguments such as those made by John Dewey, Maurice MerleauPonty, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jane Addams, Johann Von Goethe, and others. I will
also proceed through an examination of numerous examples of how the spaces,
objects and bodies of school, what I understand as the curriculum, may allow for
aesthetic experience to happen and sensitive perception to be cultivated. Because I
will utilize aesthetic philosophy to create a theoretical framework and analyze
practical examples from the field of education to ground my theory, my method will
be a sensitive, interdisciplinary approach; one that seeks to examine aesthetic
education through an interplay between concepts, particular experiences and
conditions. This inquiry strives to articulate the nature of sensitive perception,
which is, as I will show, a particular kind of methodological approach. It is not a
prescriptive approach in the way that some educational methodologies are, it does
however bear certain characteristics that will become apparent through the course
of this inquiry. One such characteristic that I will soon articulate is a way of
approaching and attending to the interplay of the bodies, spaces and things of
learning. For it is the aim of this inquiry, to also show the reader something of how
one may illuminate an abstract concept in education and, sensitively, bring it to
Arguably school can be described as a complex ecology; an environmental organism
within which many things depend upon each other and effect one another. Yet, often
our depictions of school describe discrete endeavors; seventh grade math, 12th
grade AP English or the teacher in her classroom. Often the curriculum is discussed
and created as a thing apart from the school, individuals and communities it is
eventually placed in. A sensitive approach, in my view, is the cultivation of the
interrelation of all aspects of this ecological system; it is the curriculum as it is
enlivened into an embodied and dynamic interaction, an aesthetic experience of the
spaces, bodies and things through which we may move from recognition into
sensitive perception.
In "An Aesthetic (Deweyan) Perspective on Science Learning" authors Mark Girod
and David Wong give a persuasive argument for how aesthetic forms of knowing,
such as narrative, are important to the sciences. Their example provides an essential
foundation into thinking about the nature of aesthetic education beyond the art
classroom. In their work they, like Kupfer, Granger and others, cite the aesthetic as
important to learning for its power to transform perceptions. They say, "Educators
must teach students how to see the world through science ideas before their way of
thinking and speaking conforms to canonical understanding." [Girod and Wong,
2002) In their article they propose narrative as the lens or guiding metaphor that
assists perception in the study of rocks by a group of fourth graders.
Girod and Wong's perspective on aesthetics in science education certainly moves
the learner beyond recognition and into a type of perception through the use of an
aesthetic device such as narrative. Their perspective shows that how a student
experiences subject matter may contribute to what students realize about science.
However strong their example is and rare in terms of the placement of the aesthetic
in science education I feel their examination of the nature of the aesthetic falls short
in that it fails to understand the aesthetic as the whole, embodied experience of the
child studying Geology. Narrative, as an aesthetic form, is just one way to begin to
cultivate an embodied understanding of the curriculum. What I hope to show in my
project is how a subject area can be further enlivened through attentiveness to the
interaction of all elements of the curriculum or the full aesthetic experience involved
in the study of Geology and how sensitive perception of Geology may be cultivated
in the teacher and the student. How is the classroom space or school supportive or
informing of the study of Geology? How does this configuration of tables and chairs
allow for an understanding of geological narratives to be built?
How is the
classroom constructed in order to reflect, enhance or support the narrative
dynamism that is Geology? Have the children felt through their rock story
sufficiently to build an embodied understanding? So while Girod and Wong provide
an important beginning to a conception of aesthetic education in the subject area of
science, I hope to show how aesthetic education may be understood as a larger
ecological force in school, one which requires the fluid interaction of a variety of
elements and I hope to approach this aspect of my project much like Girod and
Wong have; through examples of subject matter.
To say the body is significant in the learning process is to reiterate what many
philosophers and educational scholars have said since the time of Socrates. I do not
aim to give a comprehensive account of the role of the body in how it has shaped our
knowing. There are many philosophers such as Derrida, Lacan and recently the
work of philosopher of education Marjorie O'Loughlin that do this far better than I.
Ironically we find ourselves in an educational climate where it has become
acceptable to ignore the body as evidenced in the elimination of gym and recess
from many schools. In a vision of education that is aesthetic in nature, the body is
central in that it is the locus of embodiment through which we make meaning of our
world. It lies central to a conception of aesthetics as related to the senses and
perception. In his paper, Somaesthetics, Richard Shusterman says, "But surely the
senses belong to the body and are deeply influenced by its condition. Our sensory
perception thus depends upon how the body feels and functions, what it desires,
does and suffers." (Shusterman, 1999) The perceptions we develop of things,
subject-matter, are shaped by the conditions of our bodies at the time they are
undergone. That the body is often sleepy and the mind still after hours of sitting in
the same position is no fault of the student; it is the fault of the teachers,
administrators, and policy makers who have not realized that the placement of the
body may directly shape how the student learns math, science or history. If their
bodies are passive more often than not their minds will be as well. It is obviously not
as simple an equation as this, as there are times for sitting and listening and times
for moving and making. What I hope to show in my project is that attention to the
body is an integral part of envisioning an aesthetic education.
Maria Montessori, Emilia Reggio and many other progressive school models are not
unfamiliar with the role of the classroom environment in the cultivation of the
student. These educational philosophies understand very clearly that the physical
environment powerfully shapes how the child comes to know. Why so often these
ideas fall away in the upper levels of learning remains to be explored. The classroom
or school building is the space where the subject-matter and people engaged in
learning interact, it is the vessel within which sensitive perception may be cultivated
and aesthetic education may be realized.
Arnold Berleant's work on environmental and situational aesthetics is also helpful in
clarifying the nature of aesthetic education in terms of how the space of experience
relates aesthetically to the participant. Berleant points out in "Ideas for a Social
Aesthetic" that, "even if a human environment does not originate specifically with an
artist, it is a culturally constructed context." [Berleant, 2005] This cultural
construction may provide opportunities for sensitive perception to develop or not,
for aesthetic education to happen. As John Dewey reminds us learning happens in
and because of an environment. The space learning occurs in, whether it is the
classroom, the school, the community or the confluence of these environments, is a
significant part of the whole that may be cultivated for sensitive perception.
The division of the school experience into these parts is artificial; yet necessary as a
conceptual exercise to identify where we look to cultivate aesthetic education in
teaching and learning. Drawing out the aesthetic attributes of the spaces, objects
and individuals engaged in the learning endeavor provides a heuristic for
understanding how sensitive perception may be educated. When deliberately
considered the intermingling of school experience, the spaces, bodies and
individuals, open the way for an embodied aesthetic experience to occur and
sensitive perception to flourish. There exists a tremendous amount of literature on
embodiment. I intend to move through an examination of the interaction of these
three elements of the school experience buttressed by ideas from the theorists I
have mentioned as well as other theorists such as Owen Barfield and Jane Addams.
In these writings is found a clear attention to how certain kinds of experience may
appeal to us aesthetically and build within us a particular sort of knowledge, one
that is sensitive and stellate. I acknowledge that proposing to examine these
interactions of school may be daunting but I intend to focus my study through
concrete examples. Through an examination of micro interactions I hope to give my
readers an experience of the macro picture of what the cultivation of sensitive
perception might look like in the daily life of school. I ultimately hope to unify these
claims through Maurice Merleau-Ponty's understanding of perception as related to
embodiment; the condition of knowing that results when the experience of spaces,
objects and people cohere to form an aesthetic whole. Marjorie O'Loughlin describes
Merleau-Ponty's notion of perception well when she says, "For Merleau-Ponty,
perception is always a multisensorial embodied experience." (O'Loughlin 2006)
Understanding perception in this manner is important for this project because it
shifts how we understand perception from a purely visual experience to a fully
embodied one that must be appealed to multisensorially or through the aesthetic
aspects of an experience.
Recently, with the publication of Marjorie O'Loughlin's book Embodiment and
Education: Exploring Creatural Existence, there are a growing number of scholars in
philosophy and education, such as Margaret Macintyre Latta and Gayle Buck, who
are thinking about embodiment in teaching and learning. Their work will, I believe,
provide an important grounding for articulating how the curriculum may be
cultivated to appeal aesthetically, allowing for an embodied experience that
cultivates perception. To my knowledge much of this work, while identifying with
Merleau-Ponty and Dewey's notions of embodied subjectivity, does not delve deeply
into how embodiment may be related to an aesthetic education. They do identify
perception as embodiment but do not, I feel, attend to the education of perception in
the manner I hope to; mainly, that I hope to show that the way to cultivate
perception is through an aesthetic education, one characterized by an embodied
aesthetic, perpetual and helical in character.
Finally, I must acknowledge that this inquiry into the nature of sensitive perception
has a normative component. I will argue that sensitive perception is a way of
knowing that we ought to care about, one that must be cultivated through the
interplay of the curriculum. It is, in many ways, a choice about what kind of knowing
we believe is important, whether sensitive, logical or both. This choice, of methods
for knowing, permeates our educational system. We are always, whether implicitly
or explicitly, making choices about how we want our students to know what kind of
things. Though, it seems we often spend more time thinking about what we want
our students to know then how. This inquiry draws attention to the importance of
how we know but it is, I believe, also a challenge to think about whether or not we
ought to care about knowing things sensitively; whether Goethe's manner of
knowing color is as equally valid or important as Newton's to our present beliefs
about learning. When this manner of knowing is left out, when the curriculum as the
embodied interplay between students, spaces and things, is not purposefully
cultivated, this contributes, I will posit, to a manner of knowledge inequality.
Through the work of Johnathan Kozol, I will explore this relationship between
sensitive perception and knowledge inequality to attempt a practical answer to the
normative question this project raises.
What it means to become sensible, to be knowledgeable about things, is often
equated with rationality. A sensible person is a rational person. Someone who can
make sound decisions based on accepted truths or someone who knows things that
are considered logical and categorically accepted. We laud those people who can
identify things such as what a sonnet is, who all the presidents of the United States
were, or what the human genome is. We believe we are sensible i.e. understand the
world because we know of things, can point to something, explain it and say what it
is. But becoming sensible, according to its root, means something a bit different then
this. Sensibility is a delicacy of feeling that develops understanding derived from
sense encounters. Understanding may very literally be taken to mean, coming to
stand under something, implying a physical orientation to knowledge, an embodied
engagement. What sensibility really is, particularly in terms of an aesthetic
orientation is of concern here. This inquiry is concerned with clarifying the nature of
aesthetic education particularly as it pertains to aisthesis or how we come to know
because of an embodied condition. This embodied condition is how we become
sensible and it is the middle place between the sensual ground and concepts that we
seek to investigate. How our sensual encounters transform into accepted rational
ideas, like what change is or how evolution is possible is of interest here. A certain
manner of perceiving is what allows us to access and develop a relationship to
concepts, objects and other people. This opens them to a kind of meaning distinct
from the rational; that of the aesthetic. The sensitive perception necessary to
aesthetic engagement permits us to become sensible or develop a delicacy of feeling
about the world. Through a discussion of embodiment, Merleau-Ponty's work on
depth and several extended examples we will attempt to make clear the nature of
sensitive perception and the means and methods of its cultivation.
Alexander Baumgarten, in the Aesthetica, identifies the most important means for
reaching the goal of beautiful knowing and the development of the individual into a
felix aestheticus as aisthesis or the cultivation of sensitive perception. The criterion
that we have for the perfection of sensual cognition into beautiful thinking, is the
cultivation of a particular type of perception. If aisthesis, understood as sensitive
perception, lies at the root of how we may achieve aesthetic understanding in the
individual we must be clear on what this sensitive perception is and its relationship
to the embodied experience.
In the Aesthetica, Baumgarten differentiates between a natural aesthetics and an
artificial aesthetics. Natural aesthetics {aesthetica naturalis) is the functioning of a
human beings sense capacity and its development apart from systematic learning.
An artificial aesthetics [artificialis aesthetices) is distinguished from its natural
foundation in that it is the systematic discipline of perfecting sensory cognition.
(Shusterman, 1999) It is perfectionist in that it seeks to develop our sensory
cognition to a degree that moves beyond the refinement of a biological capacity. The
systematic perfection of sensory perception requires that it move beyond the
naturally developed faculties into a conceptual orientation to the world. The
instructional system of an artificial aesthetics is understood as comprised of two
branches; that of practical training, or that which concerns itself with the sensible
root, and theoretical training, or that which is concerned with the abstract and
conceptual. Here we see that aesthetics, as a discipline concerned with sensual
cognition must take seriously the need for an instructional system that seeks to
cultivate the sensitive perception essential to the unification of the sensible and the
conceptual. The need to unify the concrete sensual experience with abstract
theoretical concepts makes clear the necessity of a system of instruction that
exercises the interplay of these two aspects of cognition. We must turn to how we
may understand sensitive perception as the embodied attunement to the interplay
between the sensible root and the conceptual construct.
Richard Schusterman in his work Somaesthetics recognizes the significance of the
education of sensitive perception and attempts to explain a conception of how this is
to happen. He points out that Baumgarten, like his predecessors and
contemporaries, considered the body to be detrimental to the development of any
manner of reasonable knowing. Flesh, as Shusterman points out, is suspect to
Baumgarten. It is possible that this distrust of the body was connected to religious
beliefs of the time or Baumgarten's particular religious background. Flesh, or the
body, was associated with Dionysian indulgence, a manner of sinfulness whose
emotions were to be avoided or controlled. We see evidence of this in philosophers
such as Rousseau where the importance of controlling the passions through the
cultivation of reason is primary. All of Emile's education was an effort to stem the
inflammation of the naturally occurring love for self [amour de soi) into a selfish
regard for self (amour-propre). This unhealthy regard for self views the other as an
instrument for the fulfillment of individual desire. It is fueled by the imagination
"intermingling with the desires and senses." (Rousseau, 1979) The senses and the
desires that they ignite, lead the individual to imagine what is beyond their own
capacity. Rousseau's psychological project saw amour propre as a root for human
inequality and unhappiness. For rather then a careful reasoned analysis of one's
natural abilities and inclinations, inflamed amour propre incites the imagination to
desire things that are beyond one's natural reach. This results in the worst type of
citizen for Rousseau; one who trusts other's ideas and aspirations more then one's
own and "makes the impossible demand that others care for him more then they
care for themselves". (Rousseau, 1979)
The historic tension between the mind and the body or reason and the passions
seen in Rousseau is also present in Baumgarten. However, if Baumgarten believes
aesthetics to be the science of sensory cognition and believes the experience of the
senses is essential to the development of sensitive perception, then it seems
problematic that the body is virtually ignored in his discussion of aesthetics. As
Shusterman says,
But the senses surely belong to the body and are deeply influenced by its condition.
Our sensory perception thus depends on how the body feels and functions, what it
desires, does, and suffers. Yet Baumgarten refuses to include the study and
perfection of the body within his aesthetic program. Of the many fields of knowledge
therein embraced, from theology to ancient myth, there is no mention of anything
like physiology or physiognomy. Of the wide range of aesthetic exercises
Baumgarten envisages, no distinctively bodily exercise is recommended.
(Shusterman, 1999)
In fact, as Shusterman goes on to discuss in the Somaesthetics, Baumgarten explicitly
denounces things such as athletics and views somatic experiences largely as
irrelevant to his project of aesthetics as a science of sensory cognition. Yet despite
Baumgarten's explicit rejection of the body it seems implausible to get from A-B in
this theory. Meaning, in order to value the concrete or sensual experience we must
value the senses and the body wherein the senses are made possible. For to think of
the body as a vehicle or house for the senses is as implausible as thinking the sky is a
flat surface for blue to be painted upon. As Shusterman says, the body is the senses
and the concepts and thoughts that arise are influenced by it. If we believe that this
is plausible, then where does Baumgarten's theory lead us in conceiving of how
sensitive perception is educated? If we seek to recover a notion of the aesthetic that
places sensual cognition and the cultivation of sensitive perception at its core, then
we must, by necessity, expand Baumgarten's theory to encompass the body or
embodied experience. Therefore, embodiment must be acknowledged as essential to
an artificial aesthetics; the system for cultivating sensitive perception in the
Scholars in philosophy and in education have investigated embodiment and its
significance to epistemological and ontological concerns. The body, in multiple
disciplines, is acknowledged as the necessary ground for sense making. George
Lakoff and Mark Johnson in their work on the body articulated the role of
embodiment in Metaphors We Live By. Latta and Buck investigated the significance
of the body in educational practice through an analysis of the work of Maurice
Merleau-Ponty, who is foundational for understanding the role of the body in the
knowledge we develop about the world.
In Enfleshing Embodiment/Falling into trust with the body's role in teaching and
learning Latta and Buck place a concern with the body in the teaching and learning
environment. They write,
Rather, teaching and learning is about building relationships between self,
others, and subject matter; living in between these entities. In this way the
body-subject is positioned as Merleau-Ponty describes it in an 'intertwining'.
Neither subject nor otherness are bound entities; they intermingle. [Latta &
Buck, 2008)
In the Visible and the Invisible, a manuscript that was unfinished at the time of his
death, Merleau-Ponty includes a chapter entitled: The Intertwining-The Chiasm. Here
Merleau-Ponty articulates the transactional reality that is the body- subject. He
points the way toward how we may fuse the gaps that linger between concrete
embodied understandings and abstract concepts, between as he says, "the flesh and
the idea." While Latta and Buck do an excellent job explaining the nature of
embodiment and its significance to teaching and learning in this article, they do not
go far enough into how Merleau-Ponty sees fleshly embodiment as the point of
accessibility for ideas; the body as indispensible to a manner of conceptual knowing.
Latta and Buck say, "embodied teaching and learning assumes a teacher's relation to
a teaching/learning situation is not that of a thinker to an object of thought." (Latta
& Buck, 2008) I will posit that this is and is not correct. While embodied teaching
and learning is situational and transactional, it must not leave out the transactional
relation that the situation produces in the thinker to develop toward an object of
thought. For an object of thought (a concept) is wrought from a particular embodied
experience, one that through sensitive engagement permits the individual to
perceive the relational nature between concepts and the embodied sensory
encounter. Let us explore how Merleau-Ponty provides a foundation for how
embodied experience becomes the crossing point from which we may create a
correspondence between subjective sensual engagement to objective notions of
concepts; how the sensitive perception necessary for beautiful thinking may be
educated through an attentiveness to the nature of an embodied experience.
What Merleau-Ponty meant when he talked about flesh, about the experience of the
body in the world, is important for an inquiry concerned with education. It is, in my
view, essential for making the claim that attention to the experience of the sensual
field is requisite to the comprehension of an idea. What appears to be self-evident to
being human is not, as we see in many instances of education, made primary. There
are few people that would dispute that we are essentially embodied creatures; that
all of our experience springs from an ability to utilize the sensual capacity of the
body. Yet what is most intimate is also most absent or invisible. We often take our
bodies for granted until something about it ceases to function normally. This is
when we notice it; take account of its marvelous and problematic ability to help us
live in the world. But often we relate to it as a navigational device, something that
enables us to get from here to there, to eat, sleep, shop and read. How little it seems
we reflect on how the treatment of the sensual body shapes what and how we come
to learn concepts considered integral to education. Let us now investigate how
embodied experience is related to a system of aesthetic education, one that
cultivates sensitive perception.
Merleau-Ponty directs us toward how consideration of the body as the chiasm or
crossing over allows mediation of the subjective and the objective. The presence as
flesh and the experience of depth lie at the root of how we may conceive of
embodiment and its place in a system of aesthetic education. It is necessary to make
clear that the sensitive perception essential to beautiful knowing is cultivated
through a system of instruction, one that pays particular attention to the embodied
The particular sort of embodied experience this inquiry attempts to point toward is
that of the cultivation of a depth that permits sensitive perception. Merleau-Ponty's
concept of depth provides a path for how we may understand sensitive perception
and its dependence upon embodied experience. If we revisit for a moment
Baumgarten's vision of beautiful thinking as a stellate form that allows us to know
the particular in the "diversity and complexity of its relations and connections", and
that for Baumgarten, sensitive perception is the means of achieving this goal, we
understand sensitive perception as an attunement to the relational character of
particular sensual experience to concepts. For Merleau-Ponty depth is essential to
perception. It is what allows us access into the thickness that comprises the world.
Depth is here preliminarily understood as that character of sensible things that
allows for intertwining and for the inexhaustible creation of ideas; as an aim of
sensitive perception whose realization is dependent upon an embodied experience.
In his work, The Intertwining-The Chiasm, Merleau-Ponty is concerned with how we
come to know things though perception, how we come to express phenomena as
ideas from the sensible experience of them. Perception for Merleau-Ponty is a
faculty that moves beyond visual givens. It is a manner of sensible abstraction that is
dependent upon an embodied intertwining with the world. Let us begin with the
classic philosophical example of how we come to know red as red. Merleau-Ponty
works with red as a means of communicating how the perception of it is not merely
a quale, but something thicker and deeper. It is important to work through this
example to illuminate exactly how Merleau- Ponty's theory of depth provides the
substrate for how we will conceive of sensitive perception and its cultivation as
linked to embodiment. Merleau-Ponty writes,
We must first understand that this red under my eyes is not, as is always
said, a quale, a pellicle of being without thickness, a message at the same
time indecipherable and evident, which one has or has not received, but of
which, if one has received it, one knows all there is to know, and of which in
the end there is nothing to say. It requires a focusing, however brief; it
emerges from a less precise, more general redness, in which my gaze was
caught, into which it sank, before-as we put it so aptly-fixing it. (MerleauPonty & Ed. Baldwin, 2004)
Red, for Merleau-Ponty, is not to be considered apart from its effects on behavior or
from whatever physical experience has given rise to its identification as red. We do
not see red and know all there is to know about red without delving into its
participations. Meaning, what the red stands in relation to tells us what this red is. It
does not discount the surface of red as a category but believes that it as a concept
stands insofar as it is considered thickly, as having a depth that is accessed through
an attunement to its relations. Its relations are the intertwining of the subject, the
object and the world. The object of attention, a red shawl for instance, is not simply
a quale for Merleau-Ponty. It has a latent thickness that is knowable through a
certain manner of attending, one that arises from how my particular body knows it.
The red of the shawl does not exist for me as a general red thing. It may connect to a
general redness but is, as Merleau-Ponty believes, thicker than that. I know its
particular red because of its wooly existence on my skin, because it is the shawl that
flapped on a pole in a blue autumnal day calling to me of comfort and vitality,
something that my ill mother needed and the shawl subsequently provided. Its
redness is particular while also belonging to an idea of red. The red of this shawl
remains open to the access of others as well as to subsequent experiences. It may,
for another, be a nice red shawl that belongs to me. But it is still understood in terms
of its participations and remains open to perpetual and subsequent perceptions.
Acknowledging that how we come to know things is through their participations
connecting up to general categories places an emphasis on the importance of the
nature of particular experience. Merleau-Ponty describes the outcome of an
encounter of depth developing a constellation just as Baumgarten's notion of
beautiful thinking does; this stellate shape circles back on itself perpetually in a
helical manner. My general category of redness is returned to with each encounter
of a red thing; it is enlarged and re-particularized. The subsequent reds are not the
same as the red shawl but a "strait between exterior horizons and interior
horizons." [Merleau-Ponty & Ed. Baldwin, 2004)Merleau-Ponty writes,
This red is what it is only by connecting up from its place with other reds
about it, with which it forms a constellation, or with other colors it dominates
or that dominate it, that it attracts or that attract it, that it repels or that repel
it. In short it is a certain node in the woof of the simultaneous and
successive....and its red is literally not the same as it appears in one
constellation or in the other, as the pure essence of the Revolution of 1917
precipitates in it.
Our idea of red only becomes such an idea because of its connection to the other
reds that exist around it and because of it. The red of the shawl, how this shawl is
red, is a moment in a perpetual progressiveness that the thickness of the world
permits. There is always further to go inside what things are to us; this diving into
depth perceptually, through an embodied encounter, is, for Merleau-Ponty,
accessible because the surface of things is inexhaustible. Behind the surface of red
there lingers the invisible fabric that is the life of that thing as it intertwines with us
and with the world. I see the red shawl as does my friend and a man passing on the
street. The red shawl exists in that moment simultaneously in the apprehension of
all three, as well as in a general category of red; we do not look at red, we encounter
a thing. This manner of encountering, of apprehending what exists invisibly in the
red shawl requires a manner of perception that is sensitive; highly attuned to the
nature of flesh, to the thickness that permits for depth. It is not that the shawl
signifies red but that the shawl is redness as differently and equally as an apple, as
the earth in North Carolina and that we may be attuned to this nature of its being.
The thickness that permits of depth is, of course, not unique to red. It is for MerleauPonty an emblem of being; a hallmark of experience. The things that we know
through visibility, perception, we meet at the surface of an inexhaustible depth. It is
important to highlight this attribute of the perceptual encounter for this
inexhaustible character is what permits it to be open to visions other than our own.
It is what allows for red to be more than a quale or for a series of objects to become
chaos; it is what permits for development into an idea. We may approach the
concept of the development of an idea from an egocentric view. We may believe that
an idea is the result of a purely subjective encounter. Yet, many brilliant and
innovative thinkers often remark that their ideas are built upon the shoulders of
giants. An idea is held accountable to the multiplicity of ideas that came before it, all
spreading out in multiple directions toward multiple points of subsequent
departure all of which find grounding in a sensual concrete encounter. Though the
idea perpetually recalls and finds its grounding in the sensual concreteness of the
world, this is not a one directional movement. It is plausible that an individual
encounters a concept and must work through to find it in the materiality of sensual
experience. It is to say here that what is to be sought after and valued is the
irrevocable connection between the sensual ground and the conceptual idea, the
subjective and the objective, and that one must not be forsaken for the other.
Sensitive perception, or the attunement to this transactional character of knowing,
is best achieved through attentiveness to the embodied condition.
Before moving into an inquiry as to how the sensitive perception may be cultivated
let us be clear on exactly how Merleau-Ponty sees the body as a chiasm or crossingover; the chair or seat that combines subjective and objective experience. For
understanding the body in this manner is central to the illumination of exactly how
embodied experience can help cultivate the transactional nature of beautiful
The body has an aspect of reversibility for Merleau-Ponty. Meaning, it can touch and
be touched, see and be seen. I can touch my hand while that hand touches something
else or is touched by another; I am subject and object simultaneously. This
reversibility, the turning of the self back into objectness, is how we can, for MerleauPonty, understand the body as the necessary seat for the intertwining of subjective
and objective experience. This character of the body is what prevents a lapse into
simplistic dualistic notions. The acknowledgement of the reversibility of the visible
is what dislocates the subjective and objective from an interior and exterior
opposition. We apprehend the world, Merleau-Ponty argues, through this
intertwining; through a body that crosses over between subjective and objective
existence because it is both. It is possible, in Merleau-Ponty's conception, for the
world to call out to the body and for the body to call out to the world.
This is possible not in the sense of an anthropomorphic orientation; the world is not
the result of our projections upon it. Our carnal or sensual being, as a creature of
depths, is a "variant in a phenomenal texture." [Merleau-Ponty & Ed. Baldwin, 2004)
Our physical being shares in the texture of the world that comprises phenomena; we
intimately come to know what it means to move into things, around them, through
them and outside of them. Meaning, we sense texture because texture is a variant of
existence, we sense light, darkness, and wind for the same reasons; we feel what it is
to move deeply into the world. We are comprised for this phenomenal texture; we
extend out from it, simultaneously an exterior and interior phenomenal mirror
image. The artist, upon encountering the landscape, may often describe it as "calling
out to her". The poet, upon finding the right words, has lent her body to the world in
order to find the resonance that draws forth the words, the sentence evocative of
that lending; that intertwining.
The body, while an object among objects or a subject among subjects is not merely
an object as a rock is. Merleau-Ponty does not attempt to make the human body into
a thing. Rather, he perceives that a fundamental difference of the body in the world
is that it haunts the world and that it cannot remain object nor subject solely; the
body can detach from things, reattach, wander and mingle. The body can envelope
itself and let go, it can see the world and be in the world, it is drawn in and pulled
away from things in experience. What we intermingle with, either gathering toward
us or letting go, creates an adhesion between the perceiver and the perceived; it
attaches to us in our perpetual movement through time. The body and the sensual
intertwining it permits is irrevocably the substrate of ideas; the seat of how we
mediate subjective and objective knowledge. The body, as that which is the senses
and allows for sensitive perception, is the necessary core of an aesthetic education;
an education concerned with a conception of curriculum that allows for the
sensitive perception necessary to the dilation of beautiful knowing.
The nature of our relationship to subject matter, to the things we learn about in
school, lies as a core motivation for this inquiry. Though this inquiry seeks to
expand our notions of aesthetic education beyond that of art education, there is a
reason why art has stood as the home for aesthetic education. Art provides the
clearest example of how we may cultivate a sensitive perception toward the subject
matter at hand. Subject matter is here understood as the objects of study within
traditional core educational disciplines; mathematics, the sciences, language arts,
social studies, physical education, and the arts. This is not to be confused with
curriculum, which is conceived of in this inquiry as the interrelation between spaces
[classrooms), bodies [students, teachers) and things (objects of study, furniture).
To my knowledge there are no other curriculum theorists or educational theorists
who think of curriculum in precisely this manner. As early as John Dewey in his
1929 work, Nature, Life and the Body-Mind theorists of education have spoken of the
importance of the relationship of the body to the environment in the development of
ideas. Furthermore, there are a growing number of scholars who write on
embodiment and within these works a vision of curriculum as existing in the
interplay of students, spaces and things may be inferred. In particular see the
excellent 2004 anthology edited by Liora Bresler entitled, Knowing Bodies, Moving
Minds: Towards Embodied Teaching and Learning. A detailed look at this view of
curriculum and its relationship to the cultivation of sensitive perception will be
undertaken in the subsequent chapter. For now, let us explore how Merleau-Ponty's
conception of paintings grants a preliminary foundation for how we may
understand the dynamic relationship that exists between sensitive perception and
the curriculum as the interplay of bodies, spaces and things.
Painting, for Merleau-Ponty, both the finished work as well as the process of the
painter, provides an entry into why we must consider the participation of the
sensual encounter in the development of knowledge. Merleau-Ponty writes,
The painter "takes the body with him," says Valery. Indeed we cannot
imagine how a mind could paint. It is by lending his body to the world that
the artist changes the world into paintings. To understand these
transubstantiations we must go back to the working, actual body- not the
body as a chunk of space or a bundle of functions but that body which is an
intertwining of vision and movement. (Merleau-Ponty & Ed. Baldwin, 2004)
The painter must take the body with her in the interrogation of the world. A painter
feels her way into subject matter, wades through it in the world in order to make
these experiences into painting. Even abstract painting cannot wholly be created
through mind; the body is requisite for the creation of a painting if not simply for
the holding of the brush. Yet even this holding is particular and is an extension of the
manner of expression the artist is seeking. Brice Marsden creates brushes from
twigs and long sticks because this is the shape needed to evoke the gesture of the
expression he sought; there the articulation is an extension of the means. Many
artists speak of their subject matter as choosing them, as calling out to them. Paul
Klee describes the trees looking at him, speaking to him, their language penetrating
his being and that this was what called to him for their expression in painting.
[Merleau-Ponty & Ed. Baldwin, 2004) This is the primordial echo in the body of the
texture of the world; the intertwining of the senses in the phenomenal environment
from which springs ideas. How the artist turns the world into a painting depends
upon her ability to engage a sensitive perception of the world, one that stems from
embodied encounters. The subject matter that is generated, a painting of trees for
instance, comes from the sensual encounter of one whose apperception is particular
and arises from an ability to penetrate the depth of the world.
This depth, a character of phenomenal experience, meets the painter at the
surface. I first come to know trees as they meet me as shapes rising up in the
landscape. They may call to me or I may call to them, yet their progressive
interrogation becomes a choice. This tree is for you a tree as much as it is for me
however it may become particularized through the nature of my experience with it,
through the sensitive perception that arises because of my phenomenal encounter. I
may make the decision to render it as a simple gesture, or a very detailed hyperrealistic painting. Whatever manner I decide to use stems from an intersubjective
moment with the tree; the tree has called to me to be expressed as I have. My ideas
of trees will always return to a particular sensual root; a climbing tree in my front
yard that had a deep y shaped seat for sitting or the skinny elm that creaked outside
my bedroom window; my idea of trees will always vacillate between my primary
sensible encounters and my expanding conceptual constructs. Yet my concept of
tree will continue to expand in a perpetual manner each subsequent encounter of
trees subject to the sensitive perception that has enabled me to accumulate a
constellation of treeness.
It is noteworthy that many young children draw trees in a similar manner.
They often have two lines for trunks, a bushy top or perhaps long spindly sticks for
branches. It is probable, though not quantifiable here, that children around the
world, though they encounter different trees, have a similar manner of depicting
their trees that would allow another subjectivity to recognize it as a "tree". However,
this does not serve to deemphasize the significance of their encounters of particular
trees, but serves to begin to work through an example of how subjective knowledge
and objective knowledge are intertwined in the crossing over nature of the
embodied. Merleau-Ponty writes,
Things have an internal equivalent in me; they arouse in me a carnal formula
of their presence. Why shouldn't these (correspondences) in their turn give
rise to some [external) visible shape in which anyone would recognize those
motifs which support his own inspection of the world? (Merleau-Ponty &
Ed. Baldwin, 2004)
The shape which I give to a tree is recognizable to others because they arouse an
internal carnal echo within each person founded upon a sensible root. The tree is
connected to a series of motifs which, while somewhat distinct, are not entirely
disassociated from one another. The internal moment that gives rise to some
external visible correspondence is not an experience reserved for painting. We take
our body with us in all encounters whether it grants shape to the visible in the form
of a painting or not. The embodied condition gives us the ability to attune to the
depth that exists in any object of our experience. The body as the senses permits the
sensitive perception of the depths of what we haunt in our intertwining.
In the encounter of the things that comprise traditional subject matter, we
take our bodies with us in our interrogation of them. Painting for Merleau-Ponty
provides the clearest example for a way of knowing that necessitates an
acknowledgement of the embodied condition and its role in the cultivation of the
sensitive perception of depth. The originary or primordial form of the objects of
interrogation, actual texts or the writing of them, historical events, scientific
elements, also arise from an individual lending herself to an interrogation of the
world; from a sensual encounter that finds a certain echo of validity. This primordial
root of the objects that comprise educational study must be revived through an
acknowledgement of how embodiment affects the development of a way of
knowing; the neglect of which shuts out sensitive perception and its aim, that of
beautiful knowing. The inability to perceive subject matter sensitively, to neglect
embodied encounters, may be traced to a particular conception of science that
underlies much of education. Let us be clear on the type of science that may hinder
the sensitive perception of subject matter.
In many instances Merleau-Ponty criticizes science. His conception of science is not
an attempt to malign science qua science. After all, he relied on psychology to assist
him in much of his philosophical work. It is however an attempt to point toward a
particular manner of thinking that may be described as foundationalist, hyperlogical and quantitative. He used painting as a counterpoint; a way to explain a
different sort of knowing. It is this manner of science that, I believe, underlies much
of our thinking in education particularly in terms of subject-matter and stifles the
sensitive perception essential to beautiful knowing.
Merleau-Ponty writes in the first sentence of Eye and Mind that "science manipulates
things and gives up living in them." Science works to create models and then
operates upon these models variations and the only transformations that are
permitted must be in accordance with the established model. This operational
manner of doing science becomes closed and most importantly for Merleau-Ponty
and for our inquiry into the nature of sensitive perception, disassociated from its
participations in the sensible root in the world. This way of doing is shut off from
possible contributions and forgets that the model is at its root, a particular sensual
correspondence that allowed for the creation of a theoretical construct. This is not
to say that the model that is created, such as the Periodic Table of Elements, is
problematic in itself. It is to say that the forgetfulness of its transactional
relationship with the sensible phenomenal encounter is undesirable. Merleau-Ponty
Scientific thinking, a thinking which looks on from above, and thinks of the
object-in-general, must return to the 'there is' which underlies it; to the site,
the soil of the sensible and opened world such as it is in our life and for our
body. (Merleau-Ponty & Ed. Baldwin, 2004)
This scientific thinking that Merleau-Ponty points toward is not, to reiterate, science
as a particular discipline but a way of doing, one that is operational or ignores what
we know of things in their participations and particularities; we may understand it
as a hyper-abstraction, one that ignores its relationship to particular conditions.
This type of scientific thinking believes that we enter the laboratory to understand
the world and that the scientist's knowledge is absolute. It is the kind of thinking
that says x is true while disregarding the correspondence to the mutability of
sensible particularities; it is the kind of thinking that is disembodied. (MerleauPonty & Ed. Baldwin, 2004] Painting is distinct from this because, for MerleauPonty, the painter must perpetually return to an interrogation of the world. While
the painter may create models or methods for depicting this tree in this medium to
communicate this type of light, the painter returns to some sensible site; the painter
returns to the specificity that underlies the formal construct, generating a perpetual
correspondence. The sensible site is never used up, for the attunement to depth, the
sensitive perceiving, is what allows the painter to realize there is further to go in the
world than first surfaces and that this manner of knowing is to be valued.
We may look to many schools to see evidence of this manner of thinking so it is not
necessarily the scientist that is aimed at here but the educator, the policy maker or
the administrator who may have, unknowingly, absorbed this method of thinking.
We enter the school to understand the world and believe that what we acquire there
is often absolute and immutable. Often in school, subject matter is distributed to
students as discrete models, ones that must be understood and recalled according to
clear formulas of understanding. I, as a ninth grader, must be able to identify a
number of different types of rocks, or discuss and write about the characters in
Macbeth. These objects of inquiry are significant yet divorced from their root and
relationship to the sensible soil of a sensual encounter; they are, as things, hyperconceptual their opportunities for sensitive perceiving limited because the
opportunity for an embodied encounter is not made available. To remedy this we
must return to the essential transaction between concepts and their origins, to what
underlies such constructs and we must believe that it is important to do so.
Owen Barfield's account of science understood as positivism may further illuminate
the conception of science that Merleau-Ponty takes issue with and that this inquiry
finds problematic to education. While I do not attempt to engage in a critique of
positivism and its associated relatives such as logical positivism, I will point to
Barfield's notion of positivism as a way to try and think through the
phenomenological presence of a mode of being that privileges the observable and
quantifiable as the only valid form of knowing. Barfield's account of positivism
provides a touchstone for thinking through this construct of knowing within the
confines of this inquiry into sensitive perception.
Barfield points to the advent of the Scientific Revolution as the point at which
humans began to lose the connection between physical causes and their meaning.
He argues that we began to lose access to a certain kind of truth, one that connects
us to the meaning of things beyond physical cause and effect. In its place positivism,
or the systematic interpretation of physical cause and effect through meticulous
observation of the facts of nature, took hold of knowing. This is precisely the kind of
knowing that Merleau-Ponty take issue with when he says, "Science manipulates
things and gives up living in them." It is a form of knowledge not only content with
the analysis of causes but dismissive of the significance of the meaning of those
causal objects. Barfield writes that exclusive emphasis on physical causes results in
a neglect of their meaning. The meaning he refers to is a kind of truth that can be felt
or suggested but not scientifically stated in the sense of demonstrated
experimentally. This is opposed to scientific truth, which he describes as that which
can be demonstrated experimentally through attentiveness to the physical laws of
nature. The felt or suggested meanings of things is what permits us to know the
inner life of the world; that things have meaning to us beyond the reach of that
which is validated through experimentation. Anything that is beyond the reach of
the senses, or that which is provable through a stringent adherence to what is
observable runs antithetical to scientifically established fact. There is, according to
Barfield and Merleau-Ponty, more meaning in the world than that which can be
demonstrated according to a particular kind of scientific investigation. What we see
in Barfield's commentary is that knowing the inside of things, their meaning apart
from the observable, empirical sensory experience must be revalued. The idea that
nature has an inside which cannot be weighed or measured, a third space between
purely empirical knowing and the concepts we construct from them, may be
recovered through the cultivation of a particular manner of perception; one that
unifies the sensible soil of the particular to the abstract construct of the objective in
a perpetual and progressive relationship.
In his discussion in Meaning, Language and Imagination, Barfield uses Goethe, the
well known poet and lesser known scientist, as an example of an individual who
understood the need of science to reconnect to the potential meaning that nature
holds. Goethe, Barfield writes, was convinced that the scientific method made
popular during the scientific revolution was not the only possible method of
investigation into the world.
(Barfield) He felt that the scientific method was
inadequate for revealing the idea that nature has an inside that must be revealed
through a particular manner of perception. The manner of perception that Barfield
describes Goethe as pointing to in The Metamorphosis of Plants, is, I believe, the type
of sensitive perception that this inquiry seeks to articulate as significant to an
aesthetic education. Barfield writes,
Goethe claimed that this side of nature, too, was perceptible, not indeed to
the untrained sense, but to a perceptive faculty trained by systematic
practice to participate in those creative thoughts. (Barfield)
This perceptive faculty is trained to know the inside meaning of nature, the
meanings that lie distinct from the actual nature of things, accessible because of the
type of depth that Merleau-Ponty directs us toward. This perceptive faculty, this
sensitive perceiving, is what permits us to come to know the relationship of the
details to the whole. We may understand the actual empirical function of gravity,
but what its meaning is, its connection to a larger whole, remains inaccessible
without the stellate construction of knowing that sensitive perception elicits.
According to Barfield, Goethe believed the scientist needed to train herself to
perceive qualities in order to know how those qualities contribute to an objective
unifying idea. The perception of these qualities, arising from direct observation of
phenomena with an attunement to the connection of these qualities to a particular
sort of meaning is what is aimed at. Goethe believed that the contemplation of the
outward qualities of things would allow for his imagination to penetrate to the
producing activity. (Barfield] Goethe used a morphological observation of plants to
demonstrate his method for achieving a knowing based on a perception that
acknowledged the individual embodied engagement.
What Goethe's ideas may show us is that science, understood in a positivist and
materialist sense, closes us from knowing the meaning of things in the world. He
believed that a particular manner of perception, one connected to a penetrating
observation, held the potential for permitting access to meaning; a type of meaning
that Barfield laments as disappearing from the human relationship to the world.
This penetrating observation is, I believe, similar to the depth that Merleau-Ponty
described in his essays on painting. Merleau-Ponty, like Goethe, described
knowledge of the world that moved into surfaces, beyond the visual givens. This
access to the depth of the world, through a sensitive perceiving, permits us to know
a texture of the world; one not only of smoothness, roughness or roundness but also
of the metaphysical sensibility that glimmers within. Embodiment, the attunement
to the relationship of the self to the lived world, to its intertwining, is where we may
find the nascent flickering of sensitive perception.
The objects of subject matter are often, in school, presented in such a scientific
manner, as abstract things divorced from their participations and particular
sensible root to the student. This is, more than anything, a problem of perception.
We fail to set forth the conditions that allow for sensitive perception, we fail to
permit the thing as concept to be a transactional conduit from ourselves to the
sensual soil from whence it originated. Elizabeth Kolbert in her article, "Annals of
Education" describes watching second graders go through a series of exercises using
the method of Direct Instruction. She observes,
"Find lesson seventy-eight," Stiles (the teacher) told the class. "Touch column
one. Word one is 'seagulls.' What word? He snapped his fingers.
"Seagulls!" the students answered, in unison.
"Seagulls are birds that are seen in and around the ocean," Stiles went on,
"They are sometimes called gulls. Word two is 'elevator'. What word? He
snapped his fingers again.
"Elevator!" (Gross, 2002)
Sabine Gross, who uses this example to discuss the significance of embodiment to
education, correctly identifies the problem with this scenario when she says that the
lack of sensory attachment to seagulls or clouds or elevators inhibits students from
truly knowing what a seagull or an elevator is. The seagull, cloud or elevator
becomes a hyper-abstraction, what it is as a particular thing in their phenomenal
encounters is not a valuable part of the lesson nor is the cultivation of their powers
of perception to such a phenomenal encounter. While the learner may be able to
identify seagulls or classify types of clouds they do not really know the meaning of
these things. Seagulls or clouds or elevators remain remote and opaque, closed off
from a sensitive perception that allows for blossoming into a web of stellate
participations; into beautiful knowing. I know from what the teacher told me that a
Seagull is a bird that is found in and around the ocean. However, I could, based on
this description confuse them with a Sandpiper, an Osprey, or an Egret. A Seagull is
ornery, aggressive and intelligent. I know them as Jonathan Livingston or as the
birds that steal food from right out of your hands on the ferry ride to Martha's
Vineyard. When I think the word 'Seagull", I hear their high-pitched cackle in my
head. The word 'Seagull' apart from my participations, from my transactional
interrogation, remains mute, superficial and meaningless. I know how to spell it, but
I do not know what it is and why it, as a thing of lived experience, should matter.
Through such a manner of teaching, one that is operational and opaque things
remain as surface; by communicating them in such a manner they are sealed off
from their phenomenal existence as a thing of depth, as a thing that holds the
possibility of perceiving such depth through sensitive perception.
A skeptic may say that the teacher is attempting to get the students to learn
vocabulary words and is not seeking in his lesson to introduce them to concepts nor
should he care about educating perception. But a word is a concept evocative of a
correspondence with the world. It is not to say that even vocabulary must become
an inquiry into origins but it is to say that there must be a perception on the part of
the teacher that teaching vocabulary in such a manner stifles the development of the
sensitive perception essential to the flourishing of beautiful knowing. As
Shusterman says, our sensory perceptions depend on how the body feels and
functions. If the body is asked to do little in relation to the concepts at hand then the
sensory perceptions, the transactional substrate of our conceptual knowing, is
disconnected and arbitrary. The way a child is taught to relate to words and
concepts, to the things that are representative of occurances in the world, must be
thought of as significant to the type of knower that child becomes. If we are content
to develop children who know the world as surfaces, who discount their particular
correspondences to things, and who, because of their inability to perceive the
relationship of their particular sensible experiences to the development of concepts,
cannot see the world as open to contribution, we should be satisfied with methods
of instruction such as the drill and kill style Kolbert described in her article. We
must believe that developing a depth of meaning about the world is important to
education. Without this belief, that this manner of knowing is valuable to humanity,
there is little point to cultivating sensitive perception.
The question of how this way of perceiving may be educed becomes primary. We
must investigate the means of how to educate the sensitive perception to encounter
the depth that leads to beautiful knowing. Do we gaze upon a thing, encounter it
with the fullness of our bodily capacity and thus see in the manner that MerleauPonty directs us toward? Merleau-Ponty writes of the gaze,
The look, we said, envelopes, palpates, espouses the visible things. As though
it were in relation of pre-established harmony with them, as though it knew
them before knowing them, it moves in its own way with its abrupt and
imperious style, and yet the views taken are not desultory-1 do not look at a
chaos, but at things-so that one cannot say if it is the look or if it is the things
that command. What is this prepossession of the visible, this art of
interrogating it according to its own wishes, this inspired exegesis?
(Merleau-Ponty & Ed. Baldwin, 2004]
Things, for Merleau-Ponty, call out to us; have a preferred manner of interrogation if
you will. As he says we do not look at chaos we participate with things that are
evocative of chaos. However, our identification of a room as chaotic, or an idea as
chaotic arrives because of an idea we have about what orderliness is and the ability
to sensitively attend to the qualities of things. We know chaos because it is a felt
encounter, one that evokes in us a sense of chaos. The identification of chaos does
not erupt spontaneously; what we know of chaos has arrived in us due to the
interrelation of sensual encounters, cultural constructions and personal feelings.
Things feel chaotic to me when they are out of place. Their place has been
predetermined by me and may be utterly arbitrary to someone else.
One may enter my bedroom and not notice that the perfume bottles are all facing
opposite directions while I may notice and feel their contribution to a mild sense of
chaos. However, if I were to say to my friend "these bottles look chaotic to me" they
may disagree but they will know what I mean by chaos. I am not sure if, for me, it is
the bottles perceived disarray that calls out chaos to me or if within me I carry some
sensitivity to such chaotic arrangement; most likely it is a correspondence of the
two. Whatever it may be, something about my sensible experience with the bottles
allows me to understand qualities of chaos. I may the next day witness a fatal car
accident and my conception of chaos will be enlarged, the disarray of the bottles still
seeming to be chaotic to me but a small sort in relation to the new expansion of the
concept that I have encountered in the car accident. My knowledge of the concept of
chaos, of how it enlarges and corresponds to experience is due to my sensitive
perceiving of the interrelation and compatibility of these encounters to my
While this example may seem prosaic, the intention is to show that there is
something very important about the correspondence of the individual to the
material environment in the construction and development of ideas; that I
understand an idea or concept to be progressive and open to change, alteration and
growth is built through an interrelationship. This 'becoming sensible" or building of
knowledge is arrived at because I take my body with me in the construction of what
I know of chaos, or of red, or of trees; my interrelation dependent upon an
embodied condition. I cannot sit and try as a small child to envision all the possible
manifestations of chaos or of red or of trees but I must go out and live through them
and because of them, my web of knowing spreading out and turning back on itself
because of my ability to participate in them. While there is a quality of naturalism to
sensitive perception there is, as Baumgarten believed, a certain artificial aesthetics,
or as Goethe believed a systematic practice, necessary for the individual to attune to
the world in this way. This shifting of perception through a systematic cultivation is
a new way of seeing; one that attends to the intertwining of the individual, the
subject matter and the concept.
This manner of attending is one that can, through certain pedagogical conditions, be
cultivated. A teacher can show her students how to attend to the things that
comprise what we understand as subject matter. She can herself perceive her
discipline sensitively. Cultivating sensibility toward things as a progressive
interrelation of primary occurrences and concepts is an initial step. Students and
teachers must interrogate subject matter with awareness that the relationship to it
is always a rediscovery of its meaning. Realizing the depth inherent in the world as
well as the perpetual change that characterizes organic life, allows one to know that
there is always further to go in knowing the seagull or red. This may arise in the
student from an attunement to the embodied relationship to things, of the individual
to the material environment, or to the process of intertwining within the world that
makes the perception of depth possible. In Art as Experience John Dewey writes that
"the first great consideration is that life goes on in an environment; not merely in it
but because of it, through interaction with it." (Dewey, 1934) The way to cultivate
sensitive perception in the individual is through attentiveness to how we allow the
student to intertwine with or come to know the subject matter; how we allow
subject matter to be an instance of depth which sensitive perception may plumb. We
cannot merely tell the student that the study of Geology or American history has a
sensual ground, a correspondent depth that has given concepts their shape, for this
becomes yet another surface. We must allow the student to perceive within the
thing all of its participations and progressiveness through a material relationship;
one that encourages use of the whole self in its interrogations and opens the subject
matter to its life as a thing of depth.
To understand a bit more how this can happen, let us return to a few examples. In
the essay Cezanne's Doubt Merleau-Ponty investigates Cezanne's painting as an
example of the process of interrogating depth. It was entitled thus because from
many journals and commentaries by friends of Cezanne it is clear that he may not
have had a clear idea as to why he was compelled to paint what he painted in the
manner that he did. What is clear is that Cezanne wanted to return to the
phenomena of the primordial world, he wanted to, Merleau-Ponty writes, "confront
science with the nature from which they came." (Merleau-Ponty & Ed. Baldwin,
2004) He sought to remain faithful to phenomena in his interrogations of the world;
perspective was important only insofar as it was a lived perspective not one derived
from previously established rules set forth prior to his own subjective encounter of
the landscape. One could say that he attempts to open the individual to the depth
inherent in the landscape through a true attending to the phenomenal world. He did
not seek to cast out a notion of perspective or of painting but come to it, reveal the
subject at hand, through his progressive encounter with it. Cezanne, in his
interrogations, was fully within the landscape. He did not look at it, he looked with it
and sought to render this in his paintings. He wanted to, Merleau-Ponty describes,
paint the "inexhaustible reality full of reserves" of the thing encountered. In order to
understand how we get from Cezanne back to the classroom we must agree that
painting is a method of interrogation, of inquiry into the world, as equally valid as
the scientific method. It can, like Goethe's criticism of the scientific method, leave
out the type of perception that disconnects from the meaning of phenomena apart
from the measurable and demonstrable. We must, if we are to cultivate the sensitive
perception foundational for beautiful knowing, concern ourselves with a method of
interrogation of subject matter that, like Cezanne, seeks to remain faithful to
phenomena and the notion that we do not look at things as an outsider, but with
things and because of things. This method must expose the meaning of things as
progressive and open. Cezanne never felt as if he had exhausted the landscape or
paintings ability to communicate this inexhaustible depth. We may, from such a
methodology, learn to feel that a seagull is not exhausted because we have learned
to spell it or learned that its habitat is by the ocean. We may know that red is
perpetual because of my own and others perpetuity and that it can and will, if we
permit, continue to expand. We may come to realize that English or History or
Mathematics are constructs, abstracts comprised of primordial interrogations of the
world that may be revived and rediscovered continually. How we come to these
abstractions, the methodology we select to elicit understanding, impacts if we may
come to perceive things sensitively or not. Let us turn to an analysis of a curricular
guide in social studies to further understand this nature of sensitive perception.
The curricular guide for 9/10 Global History and Geography in the Rhinebeck
Central School District outlines clearly the knowledge, concepts, questions and
techniques for instructing students in social studies. Rhinebeck Central School
District is a small district in upstate New York. It is ranked among the top 100 public
schools in the state. Classes are often smaller than thirty students and the
population is largely white and middle class. This district follows state standards
closely while maintaining a relatively creative and flexible environment for teachers.
The curriculum guide they have posted on their district website is keeping with New
York state standards for 9/10 global history and geography. While we will not delve
into an exhaustive analysis of where and how we may cultivate sensitive perception
in existing subject matter and schools, we will work with a preliminary example to
be furthered in the following chapter. This example is intended to concretize our
understanding of the nature of sensitive perception, its dependence on embodiment
and its place in teaching and learning.
The curricular guide is organized into six categories; Essential Knowledge/Skills,
Concept/Theme, Vocabulary, Connections and Guiding Questions, Suggested
Classroom Ideas and Suggested Assessment Ideas. All the categories correspond to
the high school standards for social studies in New York State. There is also a
category for suggested duration. Here is an example of a page from the guide
intended for use in the first days of class:
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While it is likely true that there are many good students and teachers' working with
this guide, its use is merely as a heuristic or model for how to think of existing
curriculum in terms of sensitive perception. It is likely that many teachers already
perceive their curriculum sensitively but do not call it this nor see its relationship to
aesthetic education. The part of this example that is most compelling to this inquiry
is the category "concepts/themes". For a lesson that has a suggested time frame of
two days, eighty minutes in most traditional high schools, ten concepts are listed.
These concepts, change for example, are intended to frame the lesson; their
comprehension is part of the inquiry goal. Students are expected upon assessment
to be able to explain, for instance, the nature of change. It is probable that a student,
given such parameters, will be able to give a very good explanation for what the
nature of change is. However, we must ask ourselves if an explanation is all that we
require of the student. In other words, has the student understood the meaning of
change, how it is a dynamic force of experience? As Merleau-Ponty and Barfield
point out, the meaning of things apart from their definitions or place as an empirical,
testable thing is significant to knowing in the world. If, in this particular lesson, the
objective is to get students to understand something about the ten concepts listed,
we must examine the nature of that understanding.
Under suggested assessment ideas it says, "In a paragraph answer the following
question: What is the nature of change?" A curriculum that cultivates sensitive
knowing and aims toward beautiful knowing does not discount this question.
However it would seek to address how change is both a concept and a thing of
experience, how it is both particular and objective because of the individual and
classroom community encountering the concept. Let us revisit for a moment the
discussion of red. Merleau-Ponty says that the red of the tiles of rooftops or the red
of a dress are punctuations in a field of red things; each red is connected yet distinct.
Let us think of change in the same manner, that the changes of seasons or the
changes of a president are punctuations in a field of change. While each may hold a
quality that is similar, their definition is tethered to a real experience had by real
people who shape the meaning of change in those instances. The qualities of change
have come about because of a particular correspondence with the world. In the
cultivation of sensitive perception, students are granted the opportunity to attend to
an event so as learn to identify what change is as it grows out from a particular
experience, from particular correspondences. As with red, my understanding of it
cannot nor should be detached from my red shawl, or the red of the earth in Puerto
Rico or of an apple, from my progressive relationship to particular correspondences.
Knowing change, its qualities and events in a progressive manner arises temporally,
through cultivation over time. If state standards have determined that change, like
interdependence or diversity, are essential concepts to the study of global history
they must be built cumulatively in the sensibility of the individual. My conception of
red alters because my relationship to it shifts over time. My understanding of
change will alter as well because my relationship to it shifts as I grow in experience
and capability. However, I may not grow to understand how change alters through
time if the conditions are not set by which I come to know change as temporally
related. While there are qualities of change that may remain constant despite its
temporality, this constancy can only be meaningful through a progressive
relationship to the sensible soil that grants the concept its various particularities
and manifestations; its stellate form. This progressive condition supports the
encounter of change or red as a thing of depth. Therefore two conditions that we
must seek to cultivate to engender sensitive perception are progressiveness and
depth. For both, an approach that acknowledges embodiment is essential.
Progressive conditions, or methods, acknowledge the self as temporal, shaped
through time. The access of depth requires that the interrogator, or inquirer, takes
the body with her in the pursuit of knowledge; that she be allowed to wade into the
thickness of a thing rather than look upon its surface. So the question in an
assessment concerned with sensitive perception and beautiful knowing may ask,
how do you know change in the various events we have studied? How is it different
and similar in them? How do you know what change is? Or can change, change?
Shaping the curriculum to support an embodied engagement, one that is progressive
and deep, is how we begin to cultivate sensitive perception. When our whole self as
a relational perpetuity is allowed participation we may come to know things as
living generative things. Change, as a concept apart from an embodied engagement,
may be understood on the surface as a thing divorced from its participations; from
the factors that grant it qualities, life and regeneration. We learn to know what it is
to look at change, not what it is to inhabit it. Making learning more "hands on" is not
quite what is meant here. Tactile, kinesthetic learning are important to enlivening
the concepts and ideas of curriculum, particularly to one concerned with aesthetic
education. What I aim to articulate here is how we may cultivate a relationship to
the things of subject matter that, while the teacher may lay the conditiohs for its
cultivation, the student learns to carry this manner of perceiving with them. That
sensitive perception blossoms into beautiful knowing as a form of understanding is
at aim here. A learning situation that acknowledges embodiment as essential to
cultivating sensitive perception is cognizant that the student takes their body with
them in the interrogation of concepts and events such as change or diversity. The
approach or methodology we choose for a subject teaches a student as much about
it as the content we want them to know; it is, in fact, considered here a powerful
manner of content. Meaning, if we decide that an embodied engagement in not
important, an engagement that permits the relationship of the whole self to the
subject at hand, then we say something very clearly about the methods of knowing
that are valued. The manner of knowing that I am arguing for, a sensitive
engagement that because it is embodied, is transactional and progressive,
communicates to the student that habitation, meaning and particularity are valuable
aspects of education.
In our brief glance at a section of a curricular guide it is my hope that we have begun
to see that the cultivation of the sensitive perception foundational for beautiful
knowing is not a re-invention of existing curriculum rather a way to perceive the
things that we consider important in education in a manner that we may have not
before. Sensitive perception, as that way of engaging the world dependent upon
embodiment, has a form, shape and qualities. It is progressive, stellate and fleshly; it
requires an understanding on the part of the teacher that things are what they are
because of their participations and correspondences. Sensitive perception, as I hope
has been made clear in this discussion, is what permits for knowing the meaning of
things beyond their surfaces. The examination of a curricular example is a
preliminary step in conceptualizing the instruction of sensitive perception. Let us
turn to how the curriculum, understood as the interrelation of bodies, spaces and
things may be constructed to facilitate an aesthetic education that educes sensitive
perception into beautiful knowing.
In this inquiry curriculum is conceived of as the interplay between the students,
school buildings and subject matter or the bodies, spaces and things of learning. It is
essential to the education of sensitive perception to conceive of curriculum as a
transactional embodied phenomenon. A system for educing the sensitive perception
necessary to beautiful knowing requires a particular learning environment one that
considers the interplay of embodied encounters. We must turn to an examination of
how this interplay occurs in terms of the existing school and subject matter and
how, as teachers and administrators, we may design learning experiences that
educate the sensitive perception necessary to beautiful knowing. In an effort to
illuminate sensitive perception in educational practice, we will examine a number of
philosophical and educational examples to show how we may, in existing
classrooms, concern ourselves with sensitive perception and the manner of knowing
it may elicit.
In an effort to continue to describe the nature of sensitive perception and the type of
education necessary to its development, we will first turn to Rousseau's Emile. In the
Emile, Rousseau sets out a number of examples or sensible encounters as a way to
educate his pupil. These encounters have also been described as orchestrated
spectacles and therapeutic experiments. This inquiry will utilize these encounters as
moments where we may see how learning that cultivates sensitive perception is a
perpetual movement between sense experience and intellectual idea. We will then
look to Twenty Years at Hull-House by Jane Addams, for additional examples of how
Addams, in her quest to attach meaning to the alienated experience of immigrant
laborers, sought to cultivate a type of sensitive perception through the connection of
the immediacy of sense encounter to a narrative of history. The work of Maria
Montessori will serve as a counterpoint to existing educational environments,
offering us a place of departure for what an aesthetic education, a system for
educing sensitive perception, may look like in practice. Lastly, we will return to the
work of Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, in particular his Color Theory, to analyze how
we may think of science in terms of sensitive perception. Finally, this inquiry will
attempt, through the discussion of the selected examples mentioned above, seek to
clarify how an educational experience may be shaped to provide an interplay of the
bodies, spaces and things of learning necessary to the cultivation of sensitive
Rousseau's Emile is a multilayered text. It is argued that this work was Rousseau's
attempt to illuminate how man may be educated into a creature free from the
inflamed passions, or amor propre, that he saw as a threat to reason. What is of
particular interest to this project is Rousseau's descriptions of Emile's education,
and how it is rooted in the recognition that sense experience is a necessary
foundation for intellectual ideas. It is my intention that Rousseau's experiments or
sensible encounters will provide us with some examples of how and why the
cultivation of sensible knowledge and intellectual knowledge is a progressive
interplay between bodies, spaces and things. So while the aim of this project and
Rousseau's may not be the same, his examples may provide us with a picture of how
and why such an education is significant to a project concerned with sensitive
In book III of the Emile Rousseau points toward an education that finds its basis in
attention to the phenomenal world. We may even understand the manner of
education that Rousseau outlines as developmental in its scope; one that
acknowledges that sensible experience is essential to the development of
intellectual ideas or as he describes them, "representations." Rousseau writes,
But since the intellectual world is still unknown to us, our thought does not
go farther than our eyes, and our understanding is extended only along with
the space it measures. Let us transform our sensations into ideas but not leap
all of a sudden from objects of sense to intellectual objects. In the first
operations of the mind let the senses always be its guide. (Rousseau & Trans.
Bloom, 1979)
Here is evidenced a call for an attentiveness to the perceptual world and an
acknowledgement of its place in the construction of intellectual thought. As
Merleau-Ponty believes, the phenomenal perceptual encounter is the locus for the
representations we create and name as facts. The student must learn to read the
world prior to reading books, which are, for Rousseau, intellectual objects
constructed from the phenomenal encounters of particular individuals. Books are
filled with the ideas and perspectives of other people. If the young Emile is not
taught how to first read the world and subsequently be able to refer back to his
primary phenomenal experiences once he encounters intellectual objects he will
not, according to Rousseau, be able to trust his own reason. This reading Rousseau
speaks of is a manner of perceptual engagement, one that allows the individual to
find within the acquisition of intellectual knowledge, a sensual correspondence in
the world; a manner of sensitive perception. Through a series of examples or
experiments, Rousseau grants us a glimpse of how he envisions such pedagogy. Let
us now turn to an analysis of three of these sensible encounters to better glean from
them an understanding of how sensitive perception may be cultivated through
attentiveness to the body, spaces and things of experience.
In book III Rousseau offers a description of how to instruct Emile in the study of
geography and cosmography. He tells us again that we should allow the student to
discover science not by way of representations such as maps and globes but by way
of attentiveness to the phenomena of nature. It is not only a discovery of the
functioning of nature that Rousseau articulates as of value to the pupil, but also a
sense of the stellate beauty of the world and its meaning to the individual student.
He describes the instruction in cosmography as a foray into the world. The teacher
is to sit with the child and observe the rising sun, drawing attention to particular
events yet not telling why they occur nor giving an opinion of them. Rousseau
On this occasion, after having contemplated the rising sun with him, after
having made him notice the mountains and the other neighboring objects in
that direction, after having let him chat about it at his ease, keep quiet for a
few moments, like a man who dreams, and then say to him, "I was thinking
that yesterday evening the sun set here and that this morning it rose there.
How is that possible?"
Rousseau believes that the student must begin to think about how the sun rises and
sets, an inquiry based upon participation in the event and the exercise of his own
sensibility. It is important to Rousseau that this introduction to Copernican
astronomy is based upon the lived or embodied encounter of the sunrise and sunset.
We cannot remember the first time we saw the sunrise or the sunset. Though many
of us may be able to remember the first time it made an impact upon us beyond a
clinical observation. Rather, the sunrise and sunset most certainly never begins as a
clinical observation devoid of sensible participations. My recollections of sunrises
and sunsets participate in the sensual field within which they occurred. These
participations necessarily should shape my realization of the Copernican character
of the world. I remember the first time I realized that the sun was illuminating the
other side of the earth while I lay in bed in the darkness. The full moon flooded my
bedroom and my mother said to me that it must be a beautiful day on the other side
of the world. In that moment I understood something of the simultaneity of nature,
its progressive character as well as that the earth was round and spinning. It is not
only that the student comes to understand how the sun rises and sets, but that this
setting and this rising is tied to an actual engagement in the sensible world.
Rousseau, by asking Emile to observe the phenomenal world and to begin to
construct conclusions on why such things occur, is acknowledging that Copernicus
and Galileo derived their intellectual ideas from sensible encounters. Through such
an instruction Emile will be able to recall, with assured self-reliance, how he knows
that the sun rises and sets because the earth is a rotating, spherical object. Rousseau
acknowledges that while a student may begin to perceive objects and not yet know
"the relations linking them; he cannot not yet hear the sweet harmony of their
concord." (Rousseau & Trans. Bloom, 1979) He sees that this is a progressive
experience and that the perception of concord in events is desirable. The student
does not, after the day on the hill observing the rising and the setting sun, exclaim
suddenly the principles of Copernican astronomy and why such a method of inquiry
is significant to her. Rather, subsequent experiences become invaluable for
deepening the students understanding of such principles so that when the student is
introduced to Copernican principles she may attach her perceptions to a primary
experience. The comprehension of the relations linking the perceived object, the
realization of the intellectual multiplicity inherent in an object or event, correlates
with our aim toward beautiful knowing. This deepening and circling back upon
primary encounters is the helical nature of sensitive perception. It returns
perpetually to primary notions through subsequent encounters, expanding and
deepening our understanding of an object. As Rousseau says, "the first observation
leads to all others." (Rousseau & Trans. Bloom, 1979] In the case of cultivating
sensitive perception the first observation must lead to all others yet all others must
always connect back to first observations.
Important to this first experiment in cosmography is that Emile feels through the
use of all his senses what he is to be attentive to. Rousseau describes in detail how
Emile is to attend to the setting and rising sun through participation in the
environment wherein the event occurs. This participation is an acutely embodied
encounter. Rousseau describes the importance of the air, the selection of a suitable
location for viewing, the moment when the sun begins to illuminate the world as
well as the chirping of the birds. No aspect of the experience is discounted or
arbitrary. Rousseau writes of the sunrise, "The conjunction of these objects brings to
the senses an impression of freshness which seems to penetrate to the soul. So
great, so fair, so delicious a spectacle leaves no one cold." The intertwining of the
body in the space of nature is essential to knowing the object of study: that of the
sunset and sunrise. The type of knowing that Rousseau seeks to inculcate in Emile is
one that is founded in an interplay that necessitates participation by the body in the
spaces of experience; one which allows the student to feel for the meaning of the
idea, for the senses to incite a desire to know. This feeling for the meaning of the
object is instantiated through a realization on the part of the teacher that a primary
encounter must be one that is immersive; engaged through the use of the entire
body in the circumscription of experience.
This circumscription of experience, wherein the body may encounter things, is
articulated within the space that the lesson occurs in. This must not be arbitrary to
the object of inquiry. Rousseau does not take the young Emile into a laboratory to
observe Copernican models of the sun rotating around the earth. He deliberately
takes his student into nature to show Emile the object itself; the way the sun
functions in its participations with the birds, the air, the mountains and him. The
space to learn about the sun rising and setting is, for Rousseau, in the woods.
Clearly, though Rousseau would disagree, the teacher may take the child to a rooftop
in the city to observe the rising and the setting of the sun, or out onto a street
corner. What is important to our inquiry and what Rousseau offers through his
encounters, is to understand that the space where the lesson occurs must not
deprive the student of an opportunity to feel and be attentive to what the thing is in
all its participations. The space of observations, particularly primary ones, must
allow for an intertwining with the phenomena of inquiry for this is how we build
sensitive perception in the learner; how depth is cultivated. Hearing the chirping of
the birds at sunrise and sunset allows the learner to make a connection to the
characteristics of birds and other animals. We do not have to say to a learner in a
classroom; "the sun rises and sets because the earth is round and birds and other
animals wake and rise according to these rhythms." We may, instead, shape the
learning experience so that the individual may uncover such things through an
intertwining in the participatory nature of phenomenal experience.
This manner of attention, a sensitive perceiving, is what is aimed at through such a
method; one that accounts for the pedagogical import of the confluence of the
bodies, spaces and things that comprise learning experiences. Readers of this
inquiry may hear a resonance with experiential education, or constructivist
methods or other models considered progressive and while this inquiry is certainly
compatible with such educational models, what is aimed at here is a manner of
attention, a way of perceiving subject matter that elicits beautiful knowing.
Let us recall for a moment our definition of beautiful knowing. Beautiful knowing
may be understood as knowledge of the particular in the "diversity and complexity
of its relations and connections." (Cassirer, 1951] It is that stellate form that
emerges from the cultivation of sensitive perception. As Rousseau acknowledges, in
the first encounters the learner may not know the relations of the object of study,
not yet hear the "sweet harmony of their concord." (Rousseau & Trans. Bloom,
1979) Through the sensible encounter with the sunrise and the sunset that Emile
experiences, he may, subsequently, come to know what the sunrise and the sunset
are in their complex relations. The primary encounter is but the core from which the
strands of knowledge about cosmography, astronomy or geography may be drawn.
Learning how to sensitively attend to the sunrise and the sunset as a participatory
event, may cultivate in the learner the ability to attend to phenomenal encounters as
part of an inquiry into intellectual representations. Let us now turn to a second
sensible encounter in the Emile to further our investigation into how sensitive
perception may be educed through attention to the body, spaces and things of
Later in book III Rousseau offers to Emile a perceptual experiment; an opportunity
to observe a stick half dipped in water. The stick is fixed in a perpendicular position
and appears, in the water to be broken. Rousseau or the tutor knows the principle of
refraction though does not tell Emile that, "this is a lesson in refraction. Refraction is
the bending of a ray or wave of light or object as it passes from one medium to
another." Instead, Emile is encouraged to examine the stick in the water through the
use of all his senses. He is urged to walk around the stick and notices that the
perceived break shifts with his movement. He looks at the stick in the water from all
angles, stirs the water's surface with his fingers to see what happens and pours
some of the water out, observing that the stick gradually straightens as the glass
empties. If the child still does not see that the stick is not broken but merely bent
from the water, he is encouraged to touch the stick to evaluate that it is not really
bent. Emile is encouraged to form a judgment about the stick based on his sensible
observations. Emile draws upon his sensations and perceptions of the bent stick to
form a judgment as to why it appears bent. As in the encounter with cosmography, it
is not that Emile suddenly says, "It is bent because of refraction!" It is that Emile
uncovers the principle of refraction from his encounter with the stick in the water.
He is called to perceptually, in an embodied sense, attend to a phenomenal
occurrence that is the basis for the intellectual representation that is refraction.
Rousseau has generated an encounter for Emile that yields a core experience in
learning the principles of science through perceptual attentiveness to sensible
phenomena. For Rousseau, this core is the foundation for a particular educational
value that he holds important; self-reliant judgment. Indeed, in Rousseau's
experiments there lies a deeply normative component. While it is significant that
Emile learns principles of science through the use of his perception and judgment,
the lesson is also a foundation for Emile in how to go about discovering a truth or an
idea. Rousseau writes, "The goal is less to teach him a truth than to show him how
he must always go about discovering the truth." [Rousseau & Trans. Bloom, 1979) It
is striking that the way Emile must go about discovering the truth is through
attentiveness to the interplay between his sense encounters, objects and ideas. For a
sound judgment to be made it is essential that Emile sensitively perceive his
encounters; attend to the interplay between sense and idea. The encounter with the
stick provides the primary notion to which Emile may perpetually return to know
principles of refraction and the multiplicity of ideas that will be drawn from it and
importantly, how to know, with self-reliant certitude, such principles.
As in the encounter with the sunrise and sunset, Emile must come to these
judgments through observations that are derived from sense encounters with
phenomena. His comprehension of refraction is not sought through representations
such as diagrams and illustrations, but through an engagement with things. He
needs his body, its mobility, its sense of touch, and sight. His perceptual apparatus is
essential to determine not just that sight may be deceiving, but that there is more to
sight than initial sensory data may yield. Rousseau, or the tutor, permits Emile's
investigation into the phenomenal world, allowing Emile to participate in an
experience with the object of inquiry. Through careful questioning, and considered
guidance, the tutor lays the fragile foundation for the progressive development of
sensitive perception; a perception which leads toward the realization of the
connections of this primary encounter to larger, more complex abstract ideas and
principles. For contemporary students this engagement with refraction may lead
toward perceiving this principle in other matters, such as how light transmits
through fiber optics leading toward an understanding of the function of digital
technologies. But for Rousseau, these encounters point the way toward the notion
that in education we should direct the student toward intellectual independence,
toward self-reliance and trust in her own judgments. To do this the learner must
learn how to trust the embodied experience and the deductions one derives from
This knowledge value, that it is most important to show a learner how to go about
for herself discovering concepts or the way in which ideas have come about, adds a
normative component to our inquiry. It may be a point of confusion at this stage in
the inquiry to articulate what sensitive perception and beautiful knowing have to do
with the type of values we hold as important in education. As this inquiry
progresses, the normative dimension of this approach to education will become,
increasingly apparent. What Rousseau has to show us in his sensible encounters is
that the way to inculcate ideas, whether moral or intellectual is through the
interplay of the self with things and spaces; through the embodied participation
with those phenomenal experiences that serve as the gateways to representations.
Rousseau believes you cannot say to a child, "do not cheat because it is bad," or
"avoid ignorance" just as much as you cannot say "the sun rises and sets because the
earth is round." To know is to perceive through the use of one's embodied nature in
its interplay with deductive judgment. Rousseau clearly values that education
means leading the learner toward the freedom of intellectual self-reliance and
shapes his education accordingly. Too often we say this is the aim of education, yet if
the cultivation of sensitive perception, that beautiful knowing that opens the child to
the multiplicity, interconnectedness and transparency that exists within the objects
of learning, is not cultivated, we are not seeking to uphold the value of self-reliant
reason. Let us turn to one last example from Rousseau to show how the cultivation
of sensitive perception is significant to the development of particular normative
values regarding education.
In book II Rousseau offers the very young Emile a sensible encounter in planting a
garden. The tutor assists the young Emile in planting and caring for a small plot of
beans. Every day they water it and the tutor explains that this belongs to Emile. He
allows Emile to feel a strong sense of ownership over the beans. One day they arrive
and someone has torn up his beans. Emile is upset and feels, what Rousseau
describes, as a "first sentiment of injustice." (Rousseau & Trans. Bloom, 1979) The
child grieves for the loss of not only the beans, but the sense of ownership he has
developed. It becomes clear that Robert, the gardener, has plowed up Emile's beans
because they interfere with the growing of his melons, which were planted first. It
becomes clear that the tutor has constructed such an occurrence, inflicted Emile
with a sense of loss and injustice, purposefully.
Rousseau explains that he has attempted to inculcate Emile with a primary notion:
the idea of property and its origins in the right of the first occupant by labor.
Rousseau sees this notion related to the idea that our first duties are to ourselves.
We understand justice as what it does to us, what is owed us; for Rousseau, the best
way to instruct the young child in this is to lay the foundation for this representation
through a sensible experience. Again, the encounter that the tutor creates for Emile
is an embodied engagement. The space of the encounter is selected carefully; it is
not arbitrary to the object of instruction that is aimed at. The body matters as it digs
in the dirt, waters the ground and cares for the beans. The whole self of Emile is
permitted to intertwine in the encounter. The participation of multiple people is
important for the instruction to happen; Rousseau, Emile and the gardener are all
essential to the lesson that is sought after. Rousseau does not believe that it is
possible to explain to the child an idea such as justice or the right to property; the
child must come to his senses. Emile must feel that something has been taken by the
act of plowing up his beans in order to root within him a primary sensibility
regarding property and justice. He learns a sense for justice through feeling the
injustice of a loss of his property; he learns to sensitively perceive such ideas.
As in the lesson on cosmography and refraction, the lesson on the right to property
and justice is stellate in character. It begins from a primary core encounter of
planting beans. From this is pulled a strand on care, ownership and cultivation. We
may imagine that a strand on photosynthesis and horticulture may also be pulled.
Rousseau shapes the encounter so that the right to property by first ownership is
felt, pulled from the cultivation of beans. A sense for justice and injustice is also
pulled from this same core encounter. The simple act of planting some beans yields
a multiplicity of knowing for the learner and a sense of the latent beautiful
multiplicity inherent in a single act. Emile does not point to his beans at the sight of
their destruction and say, "this is injustice for I believe I was here first and have a
right to such beans not being plowed up." It is Rousseau's intention that he feels for
such ideas in a way that is not easily made clinical, cold or remote. It may be said
that the student does not truly know such concepts until she has felt them,
intertwined with them in such a manner so as to insure they may never become
easily dismissed in the experience of another person. But such a discussion on
empathy and how deeply such moral sentiments may be embedded by such
encounters is not a topic to undertake here. Let it suffice that the intellectual idea of
justice or right to property is inculcated through a sensible engagement that may
blossom into a moral sentiment; an engagement that does not end with the beans
encounter but progresses and grows through subsequent encounters, perpetually
circling back upon this primary inculcation. The intention of Rousseau in the beans
encounter is to lay a foundation for the subsequent growth of Emile's knowledge
regarding property and justice. He creates an opportunity from which, Emile may
learn that in a single encounter stellate possibilities of knowing exist and that he
may, because of such primary encounters, trust his own judgment.
Our discussion of Rousseau's sensible encounters or experiments has been an
attempt to show how embodied scenarios, ones that account for the intertwining of
the self, the environment and the object, are essential to the cultivation of the
sensitive perception necessary to beautiful knowing; how sensible experience is
integral to intellectual knowing and that the ability to attend to the interplay of
these constitutes sensitive perception. Central to Rousseau's project in Emile is the
restoration of a sense of wholeness to man and the education or mediation of man's
natural inclination toward inflamed amour propre or self-regard. Rousseau
distinguishes between amour propre and amour de soi, between an unhealthy selfregard and a healthy and natural sense of self-preservation. (Rousseau & Trans.
Bloom, 1979) What is significant about Rousseau's normative or moral project to
this inquiry is that he sought to prevent the inflammation of self-love through
physical or sensible encounters; he sought to inculcate the primary notions
necessary to moral sentiments through embodied encounters. A moral sentiment,
such as what is just or why it is bad to cheat or tell lies, is an intellectual idea; one
which founds itself in a deeply felt human experience. Understood as such, it is yet
another strand that we may pull from core primary inculcations such as the act of
planting beans or observing the sunrise and sunset. Rousseau shows us clearly that
we cannot give children a set of moral maxims to follow; we must inculcate,
sensibly, a foundation from which the moral may progressively take root in the
One may wonder how observing the sunrise and sunset, planting beans or figuring
out why a stick looks bent in water, inculcates primary notions essential to
normative concerns. According to Allan Bloom's interpretation of Emile, Rousseau's
primary concern in writing this text was to offer an inquiry into how man may
become healthily dependent upon others yet morally and intellectually independent
(Rousseau & Trans. Bloom, 1979) Indeed, in each encounter Rousseau seeks to
instill in Emile a lesson in subject matter but also a lesson in how to trust his own
judgment. What unifies the three orchestrated encounters discussed is their aim
toward showing Emile a way to know; a way that trusts his reason through
attunement to primary notions inculcated through experience. Emile becomes
reasoned through cultivating attentiveness to how ideas spring from primary
sensible encounters; what I am calling sensitive perception. As Emile's experience
progresses, the more he begins to see how primary notions develop into the
intellectual ideas that comprise the world; this includes for Rousseau, moral
sentiments such as regard for others and self-reliance. Through such an education
Emile begins to understand how his observations of phenomena are linked to the
beliefs that he holds regarding their causes and that his beliefs are the result of his
own process of inquiry. For Rousseau it is good to trust one's own judgment, have
healthy self-reliance, and feel pity for the plight of others. There is, importantly, a
freedom inherent in the ability to trust one's own thoughts and ideas because you
have felt them, seen their primary root. Rousseau, through the education he offers in
the Emile, shows us the cultivation of a whole person, one whose moral and
intellectual development depends upon the progressive interplay of the bodies,
spaces and things of experience. He shows us that simple acts may comprise the
core of a multiplicity of intellectual ideas and moral values understood. It is my
intention that his encounters offer us a heuristic for how we may shape the
curriculum through the interplay of bodies, spaces and things to cultivate sensitive
perception. Let us now turn to Jane Addams for another example of how to think
about shaping the learner's experience to support the development of sensitive
perception and the beautiful knowing that is its counterpart.
Like Rousseau's Emile, Jane Addams' Twenty Years at Hull House seeks to develop
ideas on education through consideration of the quality of lived experiences. As in
the Emile, Addams' text is littered with examples of education centered upon the
development of the whole person. This vision unfolds at Hull House; one of the most
influential instances in the early 1900's of a settlement house intended to support
new immigrant communities. For the purposes of this inquiry we will examine one
activity in her text that provides insight into the cultivation of sensitive perception,
that of spinning. We will also consider John Dewey's concept of reconstruction, one
that Addams was influenced by, and its role in Addams' conception of education at
the settlement house.
As was shown in the examples from Rousseau, a number of strands may be drawn
from a core, embodied encounter. Attending, or sensitively perceiving, how this core
primary experience connects to subsequent activities, ideas and events becomes the
function of beautiful knowing. This manner of knowing is not linear; it is helical and
progressive perpetually circling back to primary encounters or first experiences. At
Hull- House Addams sought to provide the impoverished immigrant population of
Chicago with food, shelter and education. Addams sought to do this in a holistic
manner and her text is largely a meditation on how to impart to the individuals who
came to Hull-House, a sense of the richness and depth of the world, while still
preserving their own cultural narratives with integrity. She sought to meet the
people she worked with on their grounds, not imposing her belief system upon them
but rather supporting them to realize the connections between their old lives in
their native countries and their new lives in Chicago; she sought to grant a unity to
the fragmented multiplicity of their experience. Addams writes,
It seemed to me that Hull-House ought to be able to devise some educational
enterprise, which should build a bridge between European and American
experiences in such wise as to give them both more meaning and a sense of
relation. I meditated that perhaps the power to see life as a whole, is more
needed in the immigrant quarter of a large city than anywhere else...
(Addams, 1990]
She recognized that the experience of the immigrant, and in particular their
children, was largely alienated from a homeland, from a sense of history, and
through factory work that had no connection to a larger meaning. One day Addams
observes an elderly woman sitting on the steps of a tenement with a distaff (a staff
on which wool is wrapped for spinning) and realizes that connecting this old form of
industry brought from home countries to the newer factory work undertaken in
America, could alleviate in young people the sense of alienation and fragmentation
she observed. She thought that by bringing to the fore the root, the primary core of
the industry they were now engaged in, would allow them to perceive transparently
where their current labor was derived and permit individuals to be able to
reconstruct their experience. Addams writes,
If these young people could actually see that the complicated machinery of
the factory had been evolved from simple tools, they might at least make a
beginning towards that education which Dr. Dewey defines as a 'continuing
reconstruction of experience." They might also lay a foundation for reverence
of the past which Goethe declares to be the basis of all sound progress.
(Addams, 1990)
Reconstruction is a central concept for John Dewey and corresponds to sensitive
perception in ways that will be articulated in subsequent chapters. Dewey described
reconstruction as a manner of education; one that seeks for every experience to
deepen and expand previously held notions. It is the reorganization of old
experience by way of new encounters, which adds, incrementally, to the increased
perception of the connections and continuities of activities in which we engage.
(Dewey, 1916] Addams sought to allow the immigrants she worked with to
reconstruct their current experience working in factories through the ability to
perceive within that work its relationship to older, more primary forms of spinning.
She sought to instill in them a sensitive perception of their daily and alienated work:
this sensitive perception cultivated by the experience of the different varieties of
spinning and their connection to a larger history and primary root.
Addams set up a room in Hull-House where she could invite her neighbors who
"possessed the old craft" (Addams, 1990] to work as living examples. She was able
to place the different methods and tools of spinning into historic sequence and
"connect the whole with the present method of factory spinning." (Addams, 1990]
She then proceeded to do the same thing with weaving, then adding lectures on
industrial history. She describes the rooms as filled with women from different
countries, all engaged in various types of weaving and spinning. What resulted in
Hull-House was a living museum, one that granted a perceptual embodied unity to
the fragmented and alienated labor of factory textile work. Addams began from a
simple primary act; a woman holding her distaff and was able to draw from it
historical, intellectual and moral instruction. Her concern for creating such a
progressive connection between the act of sewing, spinning and weaving with
industrialized work was to grant the people she served with a sense of dignity and
legacy in their daily toil. Her aim was to nourish them with a conceptual wholeness
so that the immigrant worker, in her daily toil, might perceive the historical,
intellectual and cultural merit of her labor. Through her own ability to sensitively
perceive the activity of spinning, she was able to cultivate an education that gave
this to the people she served, thus shaping their primary experiences into a
potential to glimpse a beautiful knowledge of their work. The ability of Jane Addams
to perceive how important it was to imbue factory work with a moral, intellectual
and spiritual significance through connecting it to its primary root of spinning is an
example of a teacher engaging sensitive perception. Before beginning our inquiry
into how the teacher learns to sensitively perceive subject matter, let us further
examine some examples whereby the bodies, spaces and things of experience are
shaped so as to cultivate sensitive perception.
Maria Montessori is a clear example of an educator whose educational philosophy
accounted for all aspects of the learning environment. From the classroom
environment, to the way children are spoken to, Montessori sought to create an
educational experience that understood the pedagogical import of everything the
child encountered. In her text, The Montessori Method, Montessori outlines in
precise detail her method of education. What is significant to this inquiry is how
clearly she, like Rousseau and Addams, sees sense education as the way to
intellectual education. Montessori's method offers a systematic example of how
significant the interplay between sense encounters and intellectual ideas is to the
education of the child. It is from her practical examples that we may continue to
glean an understanding of how sensitive perception is educed through an
attunement to the interplay of the bodies, spaces and things that comprise learning.
The environment and the child's relationship to it are paramount in Montessori
education. Montessori's text is highly specific and includes many details on how to
shape the child's experience. It is not the intention of this inquiry into Montessori to
offer a critique of her scientific pedagogy or concept of auto-education, but rather to
show how, in the philosophy of a widely influential educator, consideration of the
environment was essential to the inculcation of intellectual ideas. It is not unusual in
many classrooms today for the teacher to consider the classroom environment. How
the arrangement of desks encourages or discourages collaborative learning is
commonly paid attention to in schools today. However, what I propose is that the
environment must be an expression of both educational ideals and the primordial
encounters that give various disciplines their name and methods. How a science
classroom is pedagogical to the methods and experiences of its discipline or how an
English language arts classroom is pedagogical to the methods and experiences of
its discipline is what is aimed at. Sensitive perception, or the ability to attend to the
interplay between primary sense encounters and intellectual ideas, is cultivated by
means of an environment that shapes such an attunement to the world; the
knowledge of the progressive interplay between the thing as experienced and the
resulting abstract theory. This way of knowing is cultivated, in part, through careful
attention to the communicative power of the environment.
In many kindergarten and first-grade classrooms today we take for granted that the
furniture is the proper size for tiny bodies. That they may easily move and
manipulate through their own environment because chairs are the proper size and
there are stations of inquiry to move between have become common hallmarks of
good early childhood education. However, as we take this for granted we may have
forgotten one of the foundational concepts that lead Montessori to encourage such
an approach. A fundamental idea for Montessori was that education should support
"the liberty of the pupils in their spontaneous manifestations." (Montessori, 1964)
The environment needed to teach the child liberty thus permitting them to
understand that learning is mutable through their participation. Spontaneous
manifestations of liberty did not imply a lack of order or discipline.
Montessori describes the importance of having an open-air space attached to
the classroom so that the children could easily go in and out all day. Later in the text
she, like Rousseau, describes the importance of the care of a garden in this outdoor
space as a way to understand growth and change. She eliminates any stationary
chairs or desks and replaces them with wide, light tables in a variety of sizes. The
tables can seat many children or one child. The chairs are wooden and small enough
for a child to sit comfortably and move on her own if she chooses. Montessori
carefully considers a spot for everything, including the chalk. There is art on the
walls that she feels represents the progress of humanity, in particular women, and
the great art of the time. There are aquariums for living things as well as potted
plants. There is an organic and flexible quality to the environment that supports her
stated aim of educating the liberty and spontaneity of her pupils. Everything that
comprises the environment of the child is deliberate and chosen through the
consideration of its pedagogical import.
Montessori describes the importance of inculcating the child with a sense of liberty
through the ability to manipulate her own environment while simultaneously
offering opportunities to be accountable by allowing the child take responsibility for
it, as in a home. If a child knocks over a chair, she may correct the mistake herself
thus, for Montessori, learning responsibility for her own movements and her
environment. Similarly, by placing a stool at a sink the child may climb up and wash
her hands on her own, without needing to be lifted up by an adult. This interaction
with the things that comprise the space of learning is, for Montessori, the first
introduction to the education of the senses.
Our engagement with our environment profoundly shapes what we may think about
the world. If the child learns in an environment that is largely immobile by her own
efforts it may follow that she understands learning to be an immutable engagement.
When the environment encourages passive participation at all times, this may,
although not always, inculcate in the child passivity and apathy toward the learning
process. If active inquiry and problem solving is what we desire from our students,
then we must shape our environments, the spaces within which inquiry occurs, to
be expressive of such ideals. The sensual engagement of the child as she learns, in
order to develop sensitive perception and beautiful knowing, must support and
reinforce both the abstract ideas of the subject matter at hand and the methodology
for understanding it. Deliberately shaping the environment to instruct the learner
in how to know Science or English as progressive phenomena is essential to
sensitive perception. Montessori saw the deliberate consideration of the
environment as conditional for educating the senses. Like Dewey, she understood
that learning happens through and because of the relationship of the individual to
an environment.
Montessori's approach to the education of the senses was, in many ways, clinical.
She offers detailed instruction on how to educate each sense byway of their
expressive phenomenological manifestations. Hearing was refined through
exercises in how to discriminate sound, vision was to be educated through exercises
looking at dimension, form and color, and the education of what she calls the "baric
sense" or the ability to discern weight was refined by holding and reflecting on the
heaviness or lightness of a variety of objects. She also outlines how to educate the
sense of taste and touch and even offers a lesson on silence. Careful instruction
through tactile experience allowed the child to encounter the primary objects
foundational to abstract ideas. Montessori writes," The directress must intervene to
lead the child from sensation to ideas-from the concrete to the abstract, and to the
association of ideas." (Montessori, 1964) This intervention comes in the form of
exercises in feeling different weights, looking at various colors and hearing a variety
of sounds. Montessori describes exercises where the child is able to relate touch and
sight in a manner that enables her to understand how a solid object becomes a plane
and then a line; how a concrete form passes into an abstract idea, that of a contour
of a plane figure. Here we can see the foundations for what the child will later be
told is mathematics or painting; the concept is the reverberation of embodied
intertwining with things. The child is led into the phenomena of the world by way of
her body and in that movement finds a correspondence with a category of knowing;
one derived from a sensitive attentiveness to things.
The introduction of subject matter for Montessori is primarily done through sense
exercises that eventually, in subsequent grade levels, morphs into what she
describes as intellectual instruction. This is accompanied by what Montessori
describes as exercises of practical life where the student learns how to clear the
table, brush their teeth, or care for plants and animals. Taking such a methodological
view of intellectual development as distinct from sense development may become
easily reified. Sensitive perception, as has been defined, is not the development of
the senses as independent capacities but rather the cultivation of opportunities that
utilize the self as embodied; moments that allow the learner to intertwine with the
world as a way toward the beautiful apprehension of concepts. Montessori provides
an example for how important shaping a learning experience that is expressive of
the intellectual ideals aimed at is to the education of the child. The intellectual life of
the child, the exposure to abstract concepts and thoughts, begins early in life and
cannot be parsed out from their emotional, spiritual or moral development. There is
not a point at which we can say a child's intellectual life begins; we can, for the
purposes of theoretical inquiry, separate capacities so as to better understand their
development. Soon after a child realizes the sky is blue, she begins to wonder why it
is. But this wonder begins through the perceptual engagement with phenomena and
offers an opportunity from which we may build the ability to sensitively perceive
why blueness is an attribute of sky, how color arises and changes in our lived
environment or how a poem springs from the contemplation of blue. Montessori
shapes the educational environment to evoke in the child the values and ideas she
holds significant about the subject matter. This deliberate attentiveness to the
environment as a conduit to the shape of knowing is what, as educators, we must
become sensitive to.
As Rousseau's work illuminates, we must not tell the child what justice or
cosmography are, instead we must allow opportunities for the child to sense
[observe, touch, feel with their whole body] what these ideas are in their primordial
manifestations; we must not supplant theory where the experience of phenomena
should be. If we claim to desire active inquirers, then we must understand how to
construct an environment in Science or English, which instructs in such intellectual
dispositions. If we do not desire such educational dispositions for all children, if we
deny some children access to the interplay between the primary sense encounter
and concepts inculcated through curricular attunement then we must ask ourselves
why we do not value such an education for certain children. Furthermore, as
educators we must examine why attentiveness to the learning environment and its
relationship to intellectual aims often become irrelevant after elementary school.
Why, as the student ages, do we frequently move away and forget the primary sense
encounters that we so joyfully embraced for the young child? The assumption that
the older child does not need perpetual engagement with primary sense encounters
because the subject matter is more intellectual and less sensual denies the nature of
human experience as necessarily embodied. Indeed, it potentially severs for the
student the essential connection between first notions and advanced concepts.
Even if a solid sense education has been established for the learner, the opportunity
to return again and again, to perpetually circle back to perceive in new encounters
the connection to that originary root, is essential and what sensitive perception
permits the learner to do. We should not seek to set up middle school and high
school in the same manner as good elementary schools, but rather we must ask
ourselves how to create that progressive, helical relationship in the upper grades
with the education in the lower grades. How may we create opportunities for the
learner in 10th grade to look upon an encounter in a field planting beans as a child as
a root to her conception of justice? And how may we continue to deepen that
conception of justice with opportunities for the learner to know it through
embodied experience and not as a representation or a model they are presented
with. These are questions that an education that cares for sensitive perception must
ask itself. We must, much as Addams sought to do for the immigrants of Hull-House,
restore to the student access to the primary foundations of learning; those
embodied encounters that give rise to intellectual representations.
Montessori and Rousseau sought to lay a foundation and a method that connected
the sense encounter to the intellectual idea through awareness of the deliberate
cultivation of the interplay between the student, the environment and the subject
matter. The challenge of education is to make deliberate that which, as Montessori
points to, must happen with spontaneous liberty and to allow the student, in an
artificial environment, access to the relationship between the primordial and the
representation or the thing and the idea. We can never say with assurance that the
careful shaping of the curriculum will educe sensitive perception, indeed we must
move away from such desires of certitude in education. All we may hope to
accomplish by seeking to shape the curriculum to express the ideals and methods of
the subject matter at hand is the creation of an opening, an opportunity in which
sensitive perception may arise in the learner.
Goethe, although known primarily as a great artist, created a considerable body of
work on science. His approach to science is described by some as phenomenological
and did not, during his time, reach the degree of recognition as his art. Goethe's
work offers this inquiry an example for how to sensitively perceive the sciences.
Goethe's scientific investigation into color and plants, his morphology, identifies
perception as essential to knowing in science. This approach to perception is
progressive, delicate and attends to the primary encounter of an object. Goethe's
approach to science may further develop a picture of how to shape the curriculum
to support the cultivation of sensitive perception.
Goethe's created his Theory of Color as an escape from Newton's theory of the
spectrum. Newton's famous experiment with a prism showed that light was
responsible for the color spectrum; that light was, in a sense, color. Goethe's work
on color offers us a fundamentally different way of approaching experimentation in
the sciences. His was an approach that relied on the refinement of individual
perception through direct experience. Fredrick Amrine writes,
It was partly for this reason that Goethe was so adamantly opposed to
Newton's experimentum crucis, arguing that a single experiment proves
nothing. Equally important was his fundamentally different notion of
scientific experimentation. For Goethe, the experiment is not like a single
practical syllogism but rather like artistic practice directed towards the
refinement of one's perception over time. (Amrine, 1998)
Goethe's method relies upon the progressive development of perception through
the experiential relationship between the inquirer and the subject matter. Goethe
believed that he could provide a method of knowing colors that arose from
prolonged looking in the context of direct experience. This is the difference between
learning Newton's experiment as definitions of color as opposed to perceiving the
fact that light is color in the world. Coming to know color, as light variations that our
eye perceives through the phenomenal object is different then learning that light is
color through an experiment with a prism or as a clever acronym such as Roy G. Biv.
Though a prism distills for us the fact of nature it is, in a Goethean view, a mediation
of experience by an instrument rather than the eye directly apprehending the thing.
While Goethe's method does not seek to make Newton's irrelevant, he does aim to
show us that we may also understand the fact of color through its appearance to us
in experience outside of a laboratory; that our own perceptual encounters have a
kind of validity. Like Merleau-Ponty who believes that we perceive things through
what they stand in relation to, Goethe sought to show that engaging with
phenomena under varying conditions could lead to a kind of theory, albeit a theory
distinct from what we understand as scientific theory. He conducted experiments
where he observed color under their experiential conditions, blue far away and up
close, or how it conducts itself next to yellow or what it becomes in varying levels of
A good example of Goethe's understanding of color as progressive, evolving through
the interplay of the phenomena and the viewer, is Claude Monet's Rouen Cathedral
series. Monet sought to express the changing nature of color and form due to light
in the thirty canvases he painted of the cathedral. They were painted at a various
times of day, from the same vantage point. The startling result is that the form of the
cathedral seems to change. Monet attended to his engagement with phenomena in
order to express something of the nature of color; that it is mutable and dependent
upon the interaction of the perceiver with the environmental conditions. Similarly,
Goethe came to understand color as a non-static entity, as arising from "the tension
between light and dark." (Amrine, 1998) He came to understand that color is
metamorphic; a phenomena that alters and develops and is dependent upon
conditions and perception. He sought in his Theory of Color not to tell the learner
what color is, but to give them the experience of the metamorphic participatory
character of color. He sought to do this through the refinement of perception or an
ability to carefully attend to the phenomenal characteristics of color and how they
coalesced into a theoretical principle. This theoretical principle he described as
delicate empiricism.
The delicate empiricism of color shares a kinship with our notion of sensitive
perception. David Seamon defines Goethe's delicate empiricism as, "the effort to
understand a thing's meaning through prolonged empathetic looking and seeing
grounded in direct experience". (Seamon, 1998) Perception, the engagement with a
thing through the senses, is primary to delicate empiricism. For Goethe theoretical
knowledge arises, not through maxims or conceptual models but rather through the
interrogative gaze. We cannot, to achieve accurate understanding, know the theory
and then seek its application in phenomenal experience. According to Goethe's way
of doing science, we gain knowledge through phenomenal interrogation and the
acknowledgement of its play through our particular lens. Like sensitive perception,
the delicate empiricism necessary to his scientific method, does not seek to isolate
the thing from the representation but to generate interplay between them through
the perceptual progression of the individual. His aim is ultimately to enable the
individual to attend to color with a delicacy that yields conceptual understanding of
what color is as a phenomenon of experience and to avoid imposing an intellectual
structure upon color that is not really there. Seamon writes quoting Goethe,
Goethe emphasized that perhaps the greatest danger in the transition from
seeing to interpreting is the tendency of the mind to impose an intellectual
structure that is not really present in the thing itself. 'How difficult it
refrain from replacing the thing with its sign, to keep the object alive before
us instead of killing it with the word.' [Seamon, 1998)
Like sensitive perception, delicate empiricism supports the notion that one grasps
intellectual ideas only insofar as we are able to accurately perceive their foundation
in experienced phenomena. Sensitive perception, like delicate empiricism, seeks to
keep the thing (color in this instance) alive for the learner and integrate its existence
with the models and representations we have become so dependent upon in
Goethe's delicate empiricism is, like sensitive perception, characterized by
temporality or a relationship to phenomena, such as color, over time. He urges us to
engage in a prolonged looking, a looking that implies a progressive and sustained
relationship with the objects of experience.
Goethe, in his pursuit of articulating a way of doing science, sought to move the
inquirer away from a dependence upon instruments. He sought to educate the
human powers of perception to become the most exact instrument. (Seamon, 1998)
We may think of instruments not only as microscopes, prisms or telescopes but also
as theories divorced from their root in the experienced phenomena; those
intellectual apparatus we place upon the phenomenal encounter. Goethe believed
these separated the individual from their perceptual relationship to the object of
study; from the embodied encounter essential to a delicate empiricism. He writes,
It is a calamity that the use of experiment has severed nature from man, so
that he is content to understand nature merely through what artificial
instruments reveal and by so doing even restricts her achievements.
Microscopes and telescopes, in actual fact, confuse man's innate clarity of
mind. (Goethe, 1971)
Primary for Goethe is the kind of relationship the individual holds toward the object
of experience; that an "intimate and first hand encounter" arises between the
individual and the thing studied. (Seamon, 1998) This is where we find the meaning
of a thing; through its interplay with ourselves, as a thing of theory and a thing of
sensibility. It seems that for Goethe instruments intercede in this primary encounter
of things, preventing the student from knowing a meaning beyond that of an axiom,
a rule or a set of terminology. For Goethe an affirmation of knowledge is not that a
student may recite and identify all the colors of the spectrum, but rather that the
student knows of color as it appears in its participations and particular conditions. If
a student knew that color was a deep phenomenon, that its definitions could be
revisited and that meaning is mutable, then, perhaps Goethe would acknowledge
that the student knows something. Subsequently Goethe's aim through his Theory of
Color was not to offer facts or hypotheses but to show a way to know color, a way
that relied upon the relationship of the individual perceiver to the object through a
progressive experience.
This manner of perception, one that is progressive, delicate, and primary leads the
student to a type of beautiful knowing, the knowledge of color in its multiplicity and
connections yet also in its abstract and singular quality. Rudolph Steiner describes
the triumph of Goethe's theories lying not in the discovery of single facts but in the
"magnificent thought-structure of a totality of mutually interpenetrating formative
forces which proceeds from this discovery and determines out of itself the details."
(Steiner, 1950) Goethe, in his scientific inquiries into color, plants and animals gives
us an example of an experiment in knowing that progressively, through a trust in
and perceptual attunement to the experience of the thing, yields a thought structure.
Perhaps most fundamental to his studies is that he gives us an example of this
thought structure through process his delicate and sensitive perception of color. His
method, while offering to us a way to investigate color, shows us that we may make
our own investigation through the cultivation of a perception that is delicate and
sensitive to the interplay of the individual in the experience of things. This manner
of knowing phenomenon bequeaths to us conceptual knowledge that is open,
generative and stellate. Goethe believed that the investigation of phenomenon
through a particular perception could lead to universal principles, or archetypes of
phenomenon; that the multiplicity of particular engagements could lead to the
development of abstract concepts.
While there is much more to say about Goethe's scientific theories and their
potential to illuminate sensitive perception, perhaps it is best expressed by a letter
he wrote to Josef Carl Stieler. Let us look at this last example of how to think of
sensitive perception before turning to a final summation of how Goethe's,
Rousseau's, Addams and Montessori's ideas contribute to the shaping of curriculum
in the classroom for sensitive perception. Goethe writes referring to his color
The mathematician/optician I gladly forgive for not wishing to know
anything about this. Their interest in the matter is purely negative. After
getting rid of color through their valued lenses, they no longer continue to
ask if there are in this world painters, dyers, someone who observes the
atmosphere and the colorful world with the freedom of a physicist, or a
pretty girl adorning herself according to her complexion. They do not bother
with this, really because for the astronomers the honor of having opened the
road to the double stars is significant enough. In contrast, we reserve the
right to marvel at color's occurrences and meanings, to admire and, if
possible, to uncover color's secrets. (Goethe, 1971)
Goethe, like Merleau-Ponty, does not hold science in contempt. Rather, he seeks to
move away from a particular way of doing science, one that has characterized much
of education. It is, as I have discussed in previous chapters, a way characterized by a
dominance of reification, generalizations, and quantification. The desire to classify,
to isolate the thing of inquiry from its participations and existence as a thing of
experience, and to rely on instruments in the sense of alien methodology, to instruct
students characterizes much of the education that our teachers and students find
themselves confronted by.
What the examples of Rousseau, Addams, Montessori and Goethe show us is
that there is a pedagogically sound way to return the things of inquiry to their
existence as phenomenon of experience. They show us that it is only through
shaping the curriculum as a progressive encounter, one that perpetually moves
between the primary sense experience of the individual and the abstract idea, that
the student may engage with the things of learning sensitively. Teaching to perceive
sensitively requires the teacher to shape an environment that permits the
embodied, experiential investigation of phenomena; it requires that school be a
progressive, helical encounter between students, teachers, subject matter and
environment; it requires that the teacher learn to sensitively perceive her subject
matter. This way of learning, a way that supports the movement of sensitive
perception into beautiful knowing, requires a change most importantly in the way
we view the curriculum. This places the teacher and her relationship to the
curriculum as primary to the cultivation of an education in sensitive perception.
Claude Monet's thirty paintings of the Rouen Cathedral teach us, if we attend to
them closely, something about the nature of perception. They instruct the viewer in
how the individual comes to know a thing through a temporal embodied
engagement. Monet made two hundred sketches and drawings of his encounter with
the Cathedral in addition to the paintings. He gazed at the sensible site over and
over in an effort to accurately communicate to the viewer his phenomenal
encounter. If we were to have the opportunity to look at the thirty paintings and the
two hundred studies alongside the Cathedral, we might glimpse how the
representation and the phenomena correspond to generate meaning. We would, it is
hoped, glimpse something of Monet's pedagogy. Monet challenges himself and the
viewer to keep looking until we can remember how we have come to know the
Cathedral and when we think we know all there is to know, he, through his own
effort, challenges us to go further.
It is not much different in the experience of the teacher concerned with sensitive
perception. The teacher must challenge herself and the student to continue
perceiving to move further into the object of inquiry. It is clear that the teacher, like
Monet, must know the path from the phenomena to the idea well. She must be able
to perceive sensitively the subject matter of her teaching in order to know how to
shape the curriculum so as to generate the conditions for further sensitive
perception, for both herself and her students. The teacher must in her own
education remember what contribution perception has made to the idea of truth
that we hold about a thing. Merleau-Ponty writes,
We never cease living in the world of perception, but we go beyond it in
critical thought- almost to the point of forgetting the contribution of
perception to our idea of truth. (Merleau-Ponty & Ed. Baldwin, 2004)
Too often as teachers we forget how we have come to know what we know. We
forget that the subject matter we are asked to present to the student is an
abstraction, a representation constructed from a primordial encounter with the
world. Monet perpetually returned to the site of the original phenomena, as was
required of his method of painting. He must have developed an idea about the
Cathedral but never relied solely on it, instead he perpetually returned to the
sensible site of his idea, to the point at which he experienced its correspondence in
the world.
As teachers we develop a fund of knowledge about our subject matter and the
methods we believe are necessary for communicating to the learner. We are, by the
time we first begin teaching, most likely distant from our subject matter as it is in
phenomenal experience. We have removed ourselves from the sensible site of our
ideas. The teacher, through her education, may learn to perceive the
interrelationship of the subject matter to her primordial encounter with the world.
The perception of this interrelationship may, it is hoped, deepen the meaning of the
subject matter for a thing divorced from its abstract counterpart is as destitute as
the idea when stripped of its sensible site. The sensitive engagement of the teacher
with the curriculum is a perpetual and helical movement-for as her perception
becomes more sensitive- she is enabled to set the conditions for its development in
her students. This engagement with subject matter is never closed, just as Monet
continually returned to the Cathedral and through his painting allowed us to do the
same, so does the teacher engage in a perpetual transaction, one that progressively
deepens and alters the self. Let us now investigate the role and function of sensitive
perception in the life of the teacher in the classroom and in her own education.
Goethe believed that the primary aim of the study of science was not the discovery
of new principles but rather the metamorphosis of the scientist. (Seamon, 1998) The
perceptual attunement to a thing, through an embodied condition, causes the
individual to morph or progressively develop into something different then it was
before. He believes that the outer experience, or the bodily interpenetration with
the environment, alters the inner condition of the individual. This inner condition is
understood as the ideas and feelings that we develop and hold regarding
phenomena. Dewey similarly believed that it was possible, through our commerce
with the world, our transactional engagements, to lose all separation between self,
object and event. The teacher, for the most part, enters into a lifelong engagement
with her subject matter and it is in this relationship that we look for the function of
the teachers' sensitive perception.
The experience of the teacher is temporal and, more naturally helical then other
types of vocations. Typically the teacher begins the school year with the same age
group and is required to teach the same subject matter within the same discrete
modules of time. Some teachers participate in this temporal pattern for forty years.
It is within this temporal pattern that the teacher may engage in a metamorphosis
because she allows the interpenetration of herself with the object and the event
over time. We must examine exactly how this may happen and what it means for
sensitive perception.
As Goethe and Dewey allude to, the individual who progressively develops does so
because she is paying attention in a very particular way. I will argue that she is
sensitively attending to her relationship to the curriculum, which is, if we recall,
comprised of the interplay between the body, the space and the thing. The teacher
perceives the curriculum as a dynamic interplay of which she stands at the center
and it is from her relationship to this curriculum that she begins her teaching. The
teacher, in this sense, dwells in a third position in relation to the subject matter. She
apprehends the thing as it is as a phenomenon of her subjective encounter and as it
is as a representation from which she must construct, for the learner, the conditions
for learning sensitively. The challenge for the teacher is to never rest in either the
thing as phenomena or in the thing as abstraction. She must be cognizant of the
relationship of her phenomenal path to the construction of ideas and shape the
curriculum so as to permit her students to develop their own relationship; one that
is rooted in a sensible personal engagement that opens toward objective
abstraction. It is because of this perpetual movement, this fidelity to setting the
conditions for the subjective access to objectivity that the teacher's own relationship
develops, deepens and changes over time. Because the teacher understands her role
in the curriculum, she may cognize that this is a dynamic transaction that she is a
part of and that she may, if she allows, be changed by.
To sensitively perceive, if we recall, is to apprehend the concrete and the abstract or
the subjective and the objective through an embodied engagement. The refinement
of which leads to moments of beautiful knowing or, as Baumgarten describes:
The grasp of the special, the particular, in the diversity and complexity of its
relations and connections. Abundance, magnitude, richness of being, and
liveliness should be preserved in their respective specificity, and we must
avoid conceptual reduction and concentration. (Gross, 2002)
The teacher who sensitively attends to her curriculum is participating in a perpetual
transaction between particulars and their relations and connections to a larger
multiplicity. Let us return for a moment to Monet and his Rouen Cathedral. We may
speculate that Monet returned again and again to the Cathedral, painting over and
over again the same structure in an effort to convey something that he felt could not
be conveyed by a single canvas. Each subsequent visit and painting must have
changed something in him; something of the way in which he perceived or he would
not have come back to paint again. As the series developed, so did Monet's
knowledge of the cathedral, of light, of color and of his own project as a painter. We
may surmise that every one of Monet's Cathedrals educated his perception, refined
it to see more deeply then he had before. The resulting two hundred and thirty
works that remain of Monet's Rouen Cathedral are a testament to how his sensitive
engagement yielded a manner of self-education.
Let us, for a moment, further extend our analogy with Monet's Rouen Cathedral to
the teachers work with the curriculum to clarify how sensitive perception for the
teacher is a process of self-education. In order to do this we must be clear on what
the subject matter of the teacher is. The subject matter of the teacher is not only an
area of study like math, philosophy or literature; it is the relationship of the student
to the objects of inquiry or the relationship of the student to things that comprise
math, philosophy or literature. This relationship is comprised of participations and
the teacher must learn to see the objects of her inquiry in their participations. We
may understand the participations of the Cathedral as the time of day, the colors and
the light as they played with Monet's gaze. In a previous chapter we discussed the
color red and Merleau-Ponty's idea that red is knowable to us not only as a category,
but also through its participations. The red of a shawl is an entirely different red
then the red of a laser beam, yet they share the same general category of red. The
object of inquiry for a teacher finds its participations in its interplay with the
student and the space. The teacher stands as a point of mediation between the
participations of a thing, the space and the students. She is, because of her sensitive
attention, able to cultivate the conditions for the student knowing the thing as it
stands in its participations and as it is in its abstraction. Furthermore, every
encounter of a student with a thing is an opportunity for a teacher to deepen her
own perception. The object of inquiry remains open because the teacher permits the
entrance and contribution to it by each student. She retains her ability to know the
thing in its abstract manifestations but does not close the multiple points of access
to the subjective and sensible engagement. Insofar as the teacher is presented with
newcomers to the object of inquiry does she deepen and make more sensitive her
perception. The student is, for the teacher, the sensible site that she must return to.
The Cathedral was altered by the light playing upon its surface during different
times of day and was perceived and rendered by Monet. The object of inquiry is
altered by the student's play in, around, or through it as shaped by the teacher. It is
to this that the teacher learns to become sensitive and it is by this that she is
It is in the student relations that she must turn for deepening the
sensitive attunement to her object of inquiry. Now that we have understood a little
about how sensitive perception functions for the teacher, let us turn to an
exploration of how the teacher may set the conditions for its cultivation.
Education, the practice of teaching in a school environment, may be understood as
an artificial endeavor. Children come to school to learn about the world through
representations that are provided by their teacher. They go to the classroom, as the
scientist goes to her laboratory, to examine models not necessarily have sensible
encounters with primary things. As discussed in previous chapters, this conception
of science is not science per se but a manner of scientific determinism that has
pervaded the field of education.
Problematic to the cultivation of sensitive
perception is that we seek to enable students to know the relationship between the
sensible encounter and the intellectual representation through deliberately shaped
training and education. If education is indeed this artificial endeavor, we are left
with the problem as to how to resuscitate in education a transaction between the
thing as phenomena and the thing as representation; the teacher is left to
understand how to keep the thing alive.
As discussed in previous chapters Goethe's approach to science stressed "an
intimate firsthand encounter between student and thing studied." (Seamon, 1998]
Goethe believed that experiential contact was essential to understanding and that
the type of perception necessary to knowing a thing itself, what he described as
delicate empiricism, required training. (Seamon, 1998) This delicate empiricism is
akin to sensitive perception in that it seeks to know the fact as it has become so
through the experiential encounter of phenomena. It supports the notion that
intellectual ideas are knowable only insofar as we are able to accurately perceive
their foundation as phenomena of experience. Goethe cautions us against taking the
intellectual fact apart from its phenomenal existence. Seamon recapitulates,
Goethe emphasized that perhaps the greatest danger in the transition from
seeing to interpreting is the tendency of the mind to impose an intellectual
structure that is not really present in the thing itself: "How difficult it
refrain from replacing the thing with its sign, to keep the object alive before
us instead of killing it with the word (Seamon, 1998).
If we believe that it is valuable to educate perception to be sensitive, to apprehend
the thing in its connections and participations, then how, as educators, are we to
enable what Goethe directs us toward? To make the education of sensitive
perception plausible, we must attend to the environments and subject matter that
are at hand. We must, as educators, learn to sensitively perceive ourselves what sort
of intellectual structure we have imposed upon the thing that we seek to teach our
students. We look at the artifices and representations we have constructed in order
to understand how, in an artificial environment, to allow the student to perceive
where phenomena ends and abstract structures begin.
Keeping the thing alive may sound like an odd thing to the practice of schooling. A
geology teacher may be reading this thinking that keeping rocks alive, her object of
inquiry in that field, is a ridiculous concept. Again, like the curriculum we must be
clear on what is meant by the object of inquiry. Certainly for the geologist it is rocks,
and for the historian it is events but, I will argue, it is more then that. The object of
inquiry is the thing and the manner of perceiving those particular things.
Perception, if we recall from Merleau-Ponty, is embodied. Every thing that
comprises an area of study or what is also called a discipline is blanketed by an
embodied encounter that has become method. These intellectual constructs have
become the invisible apparatus through which we examine a thing. The challenge to
the teacher is to uncover those constructs to reveal the thing as well as the ways of
knowing the thing; to perceive in the thing what it is as a phenomenal encounter
and how we have constructed theoretical apparatus' in order to know it.
For example, if I am to teach a lesson about the Rouen Cathedral, I am teaching
students to understand it as a Monet or as a method of knowing that we have
identified as Impressionist. I am also teaching the students how form and color alter
depending on the light. I am teaching them how to look at the world in a particular
way according to the thing, which is, in this case, a painting of a cathedral by Monet.
Another example from painting lest I am accused of only employing semirepresentational ones is the work of Helen Frankenthaler. Her paintings are often
classified as abstract expressionist or closely akin to color field paintings. An
abstract painter or artist is not further from a sensible site then a representational
one because the sensible site is, for them, always at hand. The abstract painter or
artist finds as their primary phenomenal encounter the encounter with the form of
their discipline. It is from the immediate play of the individual relationship with
artistic form that their method is found. If I am to teach a lesson on Helen
Frankenthaler I am also teaching students to recognize a method of knowing and to
understand how her paintings enable us to perhaps know more about the limits of a
All this is to say that we must think, in terms of sensitive perception, of the object of
inquiry as a multilayered aspect of experience. Keeping the thing alive does not only
mean bringing in rocks, or taking field trips or dressing up and reenacting historical
events. While these are necessary to help enliven our experience and grant access to
the phenomenal embodied character of things, they are, without their transparent
connection to the intellectual apparatus' that blanket them, bereft of their full
educative potential. To open the object of inquiry to sensitive perception the teacher
keeps the thing alive by making transparent the thing as it is in relation to the
methods of knowing the thing. She permits the student to access the thing inside its
conceptual apparatus, attending to what the thing calls out to perception or the
embodied encounter. The thing is kept alive because we are permitted to see
according to it; it calls out to us a correspondence apart from the apparatus that has
been created to enable us to know it. Again, let us visit some examples to grant this
concept greater distinctiveness.
I must at this juncture acknowledge my limitations. I cannot purport to know all the
methods and apparatus' that blanket the respective disciplines. Perhaps this is why I
turn to painting; it is familiar to me, its methods apparent. I can only hope to offer
the teacher of literature, science, math, physical education, art, music or history a
way of thinking about their curriculum, a way of thinking founded in orienting their
perception sensitively. It is with this disclaimer that I attempt to broach examples
from disciplines that are remote to me. As I mentioned before in order to keep the
thing alive the student must be permitted to visit the object of inquiry as it is apart
from and because of method.
The scientist in the study of geology is focused on rocks and soil. To enliven the
thing this teacher may take her students out into the field to look at the outcropping
of a particular hill or where perhaps part of the earth has been washed away,
exposing multiple layers of sediment. The untrained eye does not necessarily know
they are looking at thousands of years. They may, like me, see beautiful patterns of
variegated earth in many colors. What they are looking at, though, is time. Rather,
they are looking with the earth and the rocks at time. The thing calls this out to us.
The pattern of time is etched this way in many places in nature; we may see it with
the rings of tree stumps, with the sharpness of a mountain, with the layers of rock or
with the lined face of an old woman. It is important to remember that we do not look
at things only, we see with them. A geologist has found, in the construction of her
field, a way of excavating time to explain the development of certain geographical
features and phenomenal manifestations. The classification of igneous and the
qualities that we are trained to use to identify it as such are distinct from the thing
as it is phenomenally. The rock or the earth becomes alive when a student is
enabled to sensitively perceive it not only as a classification from which the qualities
of phenomena are properly identified but also as an expression of time or as a
manner of human engagement in the world. The student cannot be told that these
qualities mean igneous because, this means nothing to the student. It only begins to
mean when the student may investigate for herself and find in herself a
correspondence. The student cannot be told that geology is significant because it
gives us a record of time, a way of understanding temporality, materiality and
natural phenomenon; she must see it, perceive its resonance in the thing as
encountered by her. Insofar as she begins to attend to the thing and find its
resonance in the concepts she learns does her perception become sensitive.
The teacher facilitates this by, as I have said, keeping the thing alive. The teacher
does not bury the thing to be studied, whether it is rocks or poetry, beneath layers
of methods, which make the thing more and more remote. Rather, she pulls the
thing apart from the classifications and approaches. She permits the student to
attend to the thing and the existence of the thing as the result of a method of
I am not suggesting that we do not tell the student of geology what an igneous rock
is or the qualities that permit us to classify it as such. What I am suggesting is that
the teacher keeps the thing alive, an igneous rock in this case, by allowing the
students the opportunity to uncover this fact through their own perceptual powers.
The methodological and theoretical tools available to the geologist are the result of
the creation, over time, of a field of study. For the geologist making a new discovery
is a process of an embodied perceptual encounter converging with acquired
theoretical tools and historical disciplinary knowledge effortlessly; their powers of
attention are acute and highly sensitive to this intersection. For the student the
work of learning geology or poetry is a perpetual process of new discoveries. What
differs significantly from the teacher or expert is that the student is newly
encountering both the thing and the method for knowing the thing. The teacher
concerned about the cultivation of sensitive perception facilitates the observational
powers of the student both to the thing and its methods. She permits the student to
encounter and observe the thing as it is as a phenomenal given. This is not to say
that the student sits and stares at a rock for hours and is expected to suddenly
declare, "That is an igneous rock!" Rather, the student is given particular tools
important to geological observation and study but not given the results of these
observations. The student is granted the opportunity to find the answers and
methods through their own powers of perception; they learn to connect the thing to
the classification or intellectual apparatus and that these are ultimately, the result of
creative, sensitive engagement with the world.
This is all, in many ways, dependent upon the way the teacher approaches her
subject matter. How she perceives the things that comprise her discipline and the
relationship of the student to it is essential; how sensitively she engages what she is
to teach. Perceiving the thing as it is in relation to the theoretical constructs and
methodologies is paramount to a teacher concerned with setting the conditions for
sensitive perception.
The formal education of the teacher must, as it has most likely become clear, be
itself a process of developing and refining sensitive perception. For if the teacher is
to set conditions for such a faculty to develop, they must themselves have
knowledge of it. If they are to promote the flourishing of beautiful knowing, they
must themselves have glimpsed this beauty. The teacher learns in her education to
know objects of inquiry sensitively and have a preliminary sense of the beautiful
knowledge that is its full expression. Her education does not end when her teacher
education program ends, rather the sensitive education of the teacher has only just
begun when she first enters the classroom as a teacher.
There are several elements important to the formal education of the teacher that we
shall examine. First, the education of the teacher for sensitive perception must not
occur artificially; because her curriculum is comprised of the dynamic interplay with
students, things and spaces, there should be the opportunity to engage this dynamic
in order to understand sensitive perception and its function in the practice of
teaching. The teacher, if we are concerned with sensitive perception, needs access to
the student, the classroom and her object of inquiry. Second, the teacher learns,
through primary encounters and recollections to sensitively perceive the objects
that comprise her discipline and recognize its relationship to intellectual methods as
an open, perpetual and helical endeavor.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty tells us that our understanding of phenomena develops
through our fleshly engagement with them and their settings or participations. We
cannot know things as they are in themselves; we can know because of what things
stand in relation to. The process of becoming a teacher, of formal training in
education, stands in relation to the actual activity of teaching. Too often it stands
apart from the activity that it purports to educate the student into. Teacher
education must, in an effort to cultivate sensitive perception in the prospective
teacher, become an embodied perceptual encounter; one that understands the thing
(teaching) through its correspondence to its participations. The correspondences of
teaching are, precisely, the curriculum understood as that interplay between bodies,
spaces and things. The student-teacher learns to understand the practice of teaching
sensitively through the embodied perceptual encounter of the actual thing.
It is an
oddity of our field that the student-teacher, in many but not all instances, learns to
be a teacher without spending much time in a classroom. Often they do not enter a
real classroom or see it in action until it is time for them to student teach which is
often at the end of their study. Again, this is not the case for all teacher education
programs. There are many teacher education programs that have the studentteacher experience the classroom quite early in their education. These programs set
up an opportunity for the student to acquire an education through the theory and
the practice of teaching. Yet in both instances of teacher education, it is precisely the
type of seeing that the student-teacher engages while exposed to the classroom that
is of concern here. The student-teacher, in her education, learns to look at the
practice of teaching with attunement to the embodied encounter so as to build a
sensible site that she may then return to perpetually in her construction of
knowledge about the curriculum of teaching. Her observations of the curriculum of
teaching are embodied from the first moment; she learns to listen to the pitch and
tenor of the teacher and the students, to feel the hardness of chairs, to smell the
space, and to notice how the thing that is studied corresponds or does not
correspond to the methods the teacher selects and the shape of the environment. In
short, she learns to perceive the shape of the curriculum through primary
observations of the actual interplay of students, teachers, things, and the classroom
She is not told beforehand through theories, best practices, or case studies what
teaching is; she may go and look for herself to begin her process of knowing.
Theories, best practices and case studies are not irrelevant to teaching; they are, of
course, quite necessary in conjunction to the development of the student-teacher's
own sensibility toward the embodied activity. Just as Emile observed the bent stick
in the water in an effort to begin to understand the principle of refraction through
his own embodied observations and reason, so does the student- teacher go to the
school and the classroom to, through her own embodied observations and reason,
understand the category that we call teaching. My readers may be thinking that of
course they will understand that it is teaching for this is self-evident; the teacher in
the school teaches so necessarily the observer will know it is teaching. Again, like
curriculum, I urge my readers to look more closely at what we mean by teaching.
Teaching, like refraction or an igneous rock, is a definition, a category built from a
particular phenomenal experience. When do we know that teaching is going on and
that the thing we are observing is teaching? It cannot simply be that there is
someone in a building that we call school standing at the front of a classroom full of
children. So to know what teaching is the student-teacher needs to wade out into
that interplay that is the curriculum to sensitively perceive what is teaching. The
student-teacher is unlike Emile seeing a stick bent by water for the first time
because they have seen teaching before. They must make an effort to suspend some
of what they believe teaching to be in order to begin to see the activity we call
teaching. It is not the aim that they suspend all their preconceptions about what
teaching is; it is inevitable to retain something of what we believe and have
experienced in our perceptions. For every person who seeks to become a teacher
has once been a student of a teacher. Monet already knew what a cathedral was
when he first began looking at the Rouen Cathedral; it was not the first time he had
ever seen one. It was perhaps because of what he believed a cathedral to be, as a
form, which caused him to see something unexpected in how the form changed with
the light. Or, it may be argued, that not until Monet began his study of the cathedral
did he really begin to see it. To continue with our faithful analogy, Monet sought the
sensible site, the actual cathedral, as the foundation of his inquiry.
Just as Monet returned to the cathedral, so does the student-teacher go to the
sensible site of the classroom to refine her sensitive perception of teaching. She
must be permitted to return to this sensible site again and again as she builds a
familiarity with the methods, ideas and modes of teaching a particular discipline.
This process, a kind of interplay between theory and practice, finds its root in seeing
sensitively or delicately as Goethe might say. As discussed in a previous chapter,
Goethe's delicate empiricism - the effort to comprehend the meaning of a thing
through seeing grounded in direct experience (Seamon, 1998)- is analogous to
sensitive perception in that it insists on a fidelity to the thing as it is in phenomenal
experience. The knowing that emerges from such an educational process is founded
deeply and seeks to bring the idea in line with what has been witnessed and felt.
Seamon says regarding Goethe's delicate empiricism, "As one learns to see more
clearly, he or she also learns to see more deeply. One becomes more at home with
the phenomenon, understanding it with greater empathy, concern and respect."
(Seamon, 1998) Sensitive perception develops because the student-teacher returns
perpetually to the sensible site of the curriculum, in an effort to formulate her
conceptions of teaching. This is accomplished temporally, through effort and
practice and through the interplay of ideas with lived encounters. Each time the
student-teacher returns to the sensible site she becomes attuned to the changes that
occur in the students, in the teachers and in the environment because of what they
may be studying or the mood of the children that day. As Monet observed, the light
altering the color and form of the cathedral depended on the time of day, the
weather or the time of year. Like Monet so does the student-teacher attend to the
conditions that give shape to the curriculum. This cannot be done unless there is an
opportunity to perceive the thing- the phenomena we describe as teaching- in an
embodied and sensible manner.
It cannot be determined here what exactly the student-teacher will come to see in
her observations of a classroom or a school; determining a laundry list of what
should be seen would defeat the purpose of seeking a phenomenal engagement. I
can only, here, describe some of the things that might be seen, or how a studentteacher interested in cultivating sensitive perception toward her practice might
begin to look. Recently I had the good fortune to observe a first and second grade
mixed classroom, Bill and Rachel's classroom, in a private school. I will briefly
describe some of the things I saw so as to tether our conversation, about how the
student-teacher begins to see and cultivate sensitive perception in her, to a
phenomenal encounter.
When I enter Bill and Rachel's 1 st -2nd grade classroom, it is morning. The students
seem to be having a free choice time prior to their morning meeting. Some children
are playing Connect-Four, playing a computer game, reading in the loft area or
singing the song together about the Titanic that the class is learning. The children
are free to move from activity to activity as they choose. The classroom is divided
into designated areas. There is a meeting area with risers, three rectangular tables
with chairs, a block corner, an easel, a turtle in a tank, and a science corner, a large
wipe board with 100 days of words written on it, a loft and a computer area. There
is also a door that leads outside to the courtyard. The children do not take much
notice of me as there is a parent observing her child for a little while also. They look
over but do not engage me in conversation until later in the day. Rachel calls the
students over for their morning meeting and they all come to sit on the risers as
they go through attendance and what they will be having for lunch that day.
One of the students, Mia, is called up for her show and tell time. Mia places three
empty plastic cups on the table, along with a bottle of water, a bottle of oil and a box
of food coloring. She quietly tells the class she will be doing an experiment for them.
The children are very attentive. Bill sits next to Mia and only speaks to reiterate
what Mia has said because she speaks very softly. Mia proceeds to fill one cup with
water. Then she places a few drops of food coloring into the water. The children
watch as the color diffuses in the water. Mia says, "The color likes the water so it is
mixing with it." The children seem very interested and excited. The she pours oil in
the second cup. She places a few drops of red food coloring in the oil. The children
get excited when they see that the color does not diffuse but stays in separate small
balls in the oil even when Mia stirs the mixture with a toothpick. Mia says, "The
coloring doesn't like the oil so it stays away from it." Mia tells the class that she will
pour oil and water into the third cup. Bill asks the students to make a prediction
about what will happen when she does this. A number of hands shoot up
immediately. One little boy says that the oil will lie on top of the water. A little girl
says they will stay away from each other. Mia pours the water in first, and then the
oil and the children excitedly wiggle closer to see that the prediction of their
classmates is true. Then as Mia is about to drop food coloring into the oil/water
mixture, Bill asks what they think will happen to the food coloring based on what
happened in the other two cups. Some children say the coloring will stay separate
and others say it will mix like in the first cup. Mia drops the red food coloring in and
we see that it balls in the top layer of oil and stays there. The children ooh and aahh
and seem very engaged in the experiment. They give their classmate their full
attention. Bill asks the class who would like to try the experiment for themselves
later and every hand shoots up. Bill says he will place the necessary items in the
science corner for students to try on their own later.
Mia then passes around milk plastic that she has made at home with her mom from
a process of cooking milk and vinegar. The children touch it and some don't because
they say they are allergic to milk. Bill then holds up a plastic pitcher and asks the
children why plastic is important and what about it is bad. A little girl raises her
hand and says that it is bad for the environment. Bill asks her why and she says that
some people burn it and it goes up into the air and that's bad. Another little boy says
that plastic is poisonous because it has lead in it like toys from china. Bill says plastic
does not always have lead in it and that all toys from China are not always
dangerous. The children get very interested in this and begin talking about how if
you play with toys from china you might die and how lead is bad and how
everything is made in china now. Bill allows the conversation to digress from plastic
to lead to china. One little boy says there is lead in lollipops and another little boys
says, he is afraid of lollipops. Bill says not to be afraid of lollipops because it would
be highly unusual for them to have lead in them. The children are getting very
restless. Rachel returns and whispers to Bill. Then Rachel announces that because
they will be leaving in 15 minutes to listen to a music performance they are going to
eat some snack. The children scramble out, get their lunch bags from their cubbies
in the hall and come back into the classroom and sit down at the tables. While the
children are eating Bill asks for their attention and begins to explain that in the
performance they will be listening to woodwind instruments and that woodwinds
have something called a reed. He draws a picture of one on the blackboard. He asks
if anyone knows what a reed is. One little boy raises his hand and says that a reed is
a thin piece of wood that when you blow on it, it makes an up and down sound.
Rachel says, "like a vibration?" and the little boy says, "Yes, like a back and forth
sound." Bill says, "That is a good description." He tells the children that a reed works
with vibration and that it helps make different notes for our ears to hear. The
children are very attentive while they are eating to what Bill is saying. He asks them
how our ears hear music. One little boy says that the sound goes in our ears and
bounces off our eardrum. Bill asks him how we understand different notes like a low
note, which he sings for them, and a high note, which he sings for them. The little
boy says that it bounces off our eardrum differently and then goes into our brain.
Rachel reiterates saying, "Yes, it vibrates off our eardrum and sends a different
signal to our brains." Then it is time to go the musical performance and the students
leave their snacks where they are because Rachel tells them they can clean up when
they come back and we all walk to the central meeting area, to listen to Madera Vox
an ensemble comprised of an Oboe, a Clarinet, a Piano, Drums and a Xylophone. The
children do not walk there in a line but meander along with their teacher and
classmates. The children join the other grades, pre-k-5, and sit on the floor in front
of the musicians. The children are all very attentive to the musicians. Each musician
describes his or her instrument before they begin to play. When they begin to play,
some children stand up and dance around. When they play the yellow submarine, all
the children and teachers stand up to march and clap together. A group of older
students from the middle school pass by and spontaneously join in. After the
performance ends, the children in Bill and Rachel's class return to the classroom
clean up their snacks and go outside for recess before they have reading and math
because Bill and Rachel say it is a beautiful day.
While this is only a small snippet, a brief glimpse into the complex fabric of the
experience of teaching and learning, it offers something fruitful to our discussion on
how teacher education may be an embodied perceptual encounter. This observation
showed me many things about teaching; it showed me that seeing teaching, being in
the midst of it as an embodied encounter, is quite different then reading or talking
about it. This brief encounter, held up against my own teaching experiences, helped
me to remember that teaching is a lived category of experience, one that has as its
participation a deep and rich intellectual life. It also reminded me that because it is a
lived, embodied endeavor it never, ever looks the same but that there are qualities
that help me to know that learning is happening. This snippet reminds me that every
thing in the teaching relationship matters for communicating something educative
to the student. It is a matter of seeing it this way. We teachers must then, like Monet,
learn to be sensitive to the multiplicity of qualities that the form of teaching
contains. The Cathedral, although it remained a cathedral, was altered by the
different light at various times of day so that, in some sense, it really was not the
same cathedral; it opened Monet to a new vision, a multiplicity inherent in a
singular form.
In the case of Bill and Rachel's classroom, we may think of my brief reflection on it
as a sketch in the inquiry into a sensitive comprehension of the practice of teaching
and learning. What is striking about their classroom and my brief time observing it
was that there was not a single moment where I could point and say that is teaching;
it was the interplay of qualities and moments that lead me to know that learning
was occurring. Furthermore, they were learning sensitively through the perpetual
connection of ideas/concepts to sensible embodied encounters. The curriculum, the
teachers, students, objects and environment, gave the students a sensible site to
return to in the cultivation of knowledge about the world; the self and the body as it
inhabits events, principles, ideas through things and space appeared central. Several
qualities seemed to permit such a habitation or sensitive engagement:
responsiveness, deliberateness, perpetuity and freedom.
The moment I walked into Bill and Rachel's classroom it was clear learning was
happening everywhere and they were creating the space and the opportunities for it
to happen. It wasn't that the children were doing multiplication exercises, or seated
at tables working on writing. Rather, it was that no matter what the children were
doing they were engaged in it and engaged in a manner that seemed free and related
to their bodies. When the students and the teachers were eating snack talking about
reeds they were engaged and attentive. When their classmate taught them how to
do a science experiment, they were learning. When they went to watch a musical
performance they were learning. They were not only learning about the wind
instrument or the principles of diffusion, they were also learning how to be together
and inquire into the world through hearing, seeing, touching, tasting; they were
always, as Dewey would say, having an experience as a live creature. These
experiences were embodied, they required use of the whole person to listen, look,
touch, feel and taste. Bill was cognizant of this for on numerous occasions he called
upon them to make use of their selves as embodied learners. When he asked about
what a reed was he connected this thing, a reed, to a broader principle of vibration.
He asked them to describe what they believed it to be and even sung various notes
to help them feel it and think about how sound, vibration and pitch work together.
When the children felt the desire to dance at the music performance they were
permitted, both by their teachers, and by the large open room they sat in. There was
the feeling of teaching as a vibrant, participatory and free activity.
This activity and freedom was neither arbitrary nor careless; it was deliberately
shaped. The classroom furniture was clearly thoughtful to elicit transition,
movement and investigation in the children. It was clear from the organization of
the space that although there was a separate corner for doing science and making
art for instance, they were part of the same space; they coexisted and were
physically present in equal measure. The presence of a living animal, a turtle,
contributed to the feeling that learning here was a lived and natural activity and that
care for animals and the environment was important. The musical performance was
not just for the sake of, but was an opportunity for all the grades to come together,
showing perhaps that learning is a community endeavor. Bill facilitated a discussion
about what woodwind instruments were and how reeds functioned; he sought to
elicit from the students what they may have already known and connected it to their
present experience. The show and tell about plastic moved quickly and fluidly from
how Mia made the actual milk plastic to how plastic can harm the environment;
there was mediation between the thing and its more abstract significance. This
deliberate attention was bestowed not only on planning the lessons but also on the
interactions of the children with each other, with the space and with the thing at
hand in the present moment; the teachers paid attention to the curriculum as a
dynamic and present interaction.
This brief glimpse into a classroom exposed teaching as a transaction between
multiple participants. Teaching, as this instance shows, seems to depend upon the
interaction between teacher, student, space and objects. Mia needed the response
and attention of her classmates to teach them something about the principles of
different substances. She also needed her teacher, Bill, to help communicate what
she was saying to the class. The musical performance depended on the attention and
engagement of all the children. The children needed the space to sit in, move around
in and investigate through. I measure this interaction as successful because of the
level of engagement expressed by the children and the teachers. There were few
moments where Bill and Rachel seemed impatient, or had to cajole their students to
engage. There were virtually no moments where a student was punished,
admonished or yelled at. Rather, there appeared to be an environment of mutual
respect, freedom and patience for one another that were reflected in the classroom.
My readers may be thinking that because this observation was conducted in a
private school classroom it is not applicable or possible in a large public school
classroom. While there may be some truth to the fact that public school teachers are
more constrained, more hurried to "get through" disciplinary areas due to external
pressures, and more under resourced, it is not true that what I observed in Bill's
classroom cannot or does not happen in a public school, in small moments that a
teacher generates because of how she sees her curriculum and her practice. Shaping
a curriculum that is responsive, deliberate, transactional, perpetual and free is
within the reach of any public school teacher; it is how she learns to perceive her
practice and how she cultivates in her own teaching those qualities that she has,
through her sensitive education in embodied encounters and educative theory,
discovered to be important to her approach to teaching. The sensitive education of
the teacher begins in cultivating a relationship to the sensible site of education
through the embodied experience with the thing itself, through sustained and
deliberate looking tied to theoretical inquiry. It is in this manner that the studentteacher may develop sensitive perception toward the endeavor of education. Now
let us think about what the teacher's gaze may yield when sensitively engaged in her
embodied education; let us think about how teaching may become a thick concept
for the student-teacher, one characterized by depth, reversibility, and recollection.
In the course of learning to become a teacher, particularly a teacher concerned with
developing sensitive perception toward her practice, she develops an acute gaze
through her embodied observations and conceptual study of the curricular
interplay, of students and the objects and spaces of learning. She learns to perceive
depth through the reversibility of the body and through examination of her
recollections or funded knowledge. This is not, as stated, a closed process; while the
student-teacher learns to see sensitively this is not a process of learning that ends
when she moves from her role as a student-teacher to a teacher. Rather, as
discussed in a previous section, her cultivation of sensitive perception is a
perpetual, helical and open engagement.
In previous chapters I have engaged the use of examples of people who seemed to
exemplify the sensitive perception of a particular thing: Goethe and his colors,
Addams and her spinning, Merleau-Ponty, the color red and painting, Monet and his
cathedral. In all instances they reached beyond the surface of the thing, beyond the
givens and perceived in the thing a beautiful stellate multiplicity. For all of them
their sensitive engagement was the result of a lived endeavor or attentiveness to the
thing as it is in the world as phenomena and it was through such attentiveness to
the phenomena that they found their way to the theory. As Goethe says, "Search
nothing beyond the phenomena, they themselves are the theory." (Seamon, 1998)
But what is the theory in the phenomena of teaching that the teacher begins to see?
What does the sensitive gaze of the teacher yield? Another way to ask this is, what
does the teacher learn from the sensitive gaze and what occurs as a result of it? The
result of Monet's relationship was paintings, for Merleau-Ponty it was philosophy,
and for Goethe it was poetry and scientific methods. In all instances the sensitive
relationship yielded a metamorphosis in the self, in the way that thing was
perceived, and in the creation of something that enabled their inquiry. The teacher
yields through her sensitive understanding of the practice of teaching methods of
accessing the object of inquiry. Her gaze, her sensitive engagement allows her to
find the methods for her inquiry. She yields to the student the possibility of new
engagements, of pathways toward the moment when subjectivity meets objectivity
again, for the first time. In order for this to happen the student-teacher must not
only seek the embodied encounter of teaching, but also seek for herself that primary
sensible site of the objects of inquiry that comprise the root of her practice.
The student-teacher comes to her education already knowing something not just
about teaching but about the objects that comprise her discipline. She may know a
great deal about English literature, about science, history, sports or automobiles.
What she must recollect in her education is how she has come to know these things
and how they persist in the present world. She must, like she does with the category
of teaching, approach what she knows anew and plumb its depths through seeking
the thing as it is as a phenomenon of experience and as it has manifested as a
theoretical construct in the classroom. Much like Rousseau sent Emile out into the
woods to discover, on his own, how to figure out the direction home from observing
the sun, so must the student-teacher return to the world to rediscover how she has
built a map of knowing to her objects of inquiry.
For example, a student of mine who was studying to become a science teacher
described to me in class one day how the professor of her Methods of Science
Education course assigned them to go out every night for a week to observe the sky.
This assignment was given during the part of the course that studied methods of
teaching astronomy. The student remarked what a good idea this was because it
helped her to remember that at the root of astronomy is learning to read the sky, to
stare, with informed intent and open wonderment, at the cosmos. The professor of
the methods course had required his students to find the sensible site of the study of
astronomy. It seemed to matter to this professor what type of relationship his
students formed with their objects of inquiry. That at the root of a science, like
astronomy, is the cultivation of a relationship with the world. If the student-teacher
found this valuable, as it seems she did, she has uncovered for herself a valuable
pedagogical method for teaching her students astronomy. A teacher who has had
such an education will, most likely, not be content with only showing her students
pictures or drawings of celestial phenomena but understand the value of
encouraging her students to seek out a sensible site for themselves and hold up the
idea against their phenomenal encounters; to form a relationship with the object of
inquiry and participate in its being.
This approach holds true for all the disciplines and the objects that comprise them.
The student-teacher, like the painter, learns the value of embodiment in relation to
theory through the interrogation of the world. The teacher does not teach with the
mind alone, nor does the student learn this way. As Valery says of the painter, "It is
by lending his body to the world that the artist changes the world into paintings."
(Merleau-Ponty & Ed. Baldwin, 2004) The student-teacher is learning to change the
world into education. It is through the interrogation of the thing in her experience,
through her embodied gaze which ever sharpens, that she learns to shape her
curriculum. Just as the painter hones her gaze in the interrogation of her object of
inquiry, whether it is a cathedral, a tree or the form of painting, the student-teacher,
in her preparation, is given the opportunity to listen to the thing, perceive it in all its
participations, so as to understand the shape it is to take in its instruction. Jane
Addams' conception of the need to connect the practice of spinning to the larger
history of spinning arose from attentiveness to the labor of factory workers. She
developed from this attentiveness, a method, and a way to connect the workers to
this larger conceptual history. Addams did this by seeking out all the various forms
of weaving that existed in the immigrant community and placed examples of them in
a living museum in Hull House. Her method of instruction, she realized, was not
through essays or texts on the history of spinning and its connection to present
factory work, but through a lived encounter that workers could engage with in an
embodied manner. She showed them that this conceptual history was rooted in
their bodies. Her method was beautiful because it accounted for the thing, as a
conceptual category, in all its multiplicity and connections.
The student-teacher of history seeks to find history sensitively or on the ground; she
seeks the sensible site of history both as events that represent conceptual patterns
and the larger conceptual idea of what it means to make history. The events that we
study in history can be enlivened through visiting historical sites, reviewing primary
sources or writing and re-enacting a particular event, but history is kept alive
through the access of what history is as a phenomenon in the world. The teacher of
history concerned with sensitive perception must, for example, seek to find the
method of knowing that the Bill of Rights or the Constitution calls out. The shape of
their curriculum, how the Bill of Rights functions in relation to the student and the
classroom environment, is determined from the sensitive gaze of these things. The
Bill of Rights or the Constitution is, like Merleau-Ponty tells us, "punctuations in a
field." He says in relation to the color red,
This red is what it is only by connecting up from its place with other reds
about it, with which it forms a constellation, or with other colors it dominates
or that dominate it, that it attracts or that attract it, that it repels or that repel
it. In short, it is a certain node in the woof of the simultaneous and the
successive. (Merleau-Ponty & Ed. Baldwin, 2004)
What the constellation is that the Bill of Rights or the Constitution belongs to is what
the student-teacher must learn to decipher. The Bill of Rights is what it is only
because of what it stands in relation to, what it participates with. If they are a node
in the simultaneous and successive category we call history, then the studentteacher must learn to determine how and what relationship they hold to other
nodes. Again, she does this because she learns to gaze upon the thing from her
embodied stance, from what the thing is as it exists in relation to her.
Merleau-Ponty reminds us that this stance, this gaze does not occur from looking at,
but rather from looking with. The very fact of our bodies, of their reversibility with
the world, immerses us with things. He says, "I do not see it according to its exterior
envelope; I live in it from the inside; I am immersed in it. After all, the world is all
around me, not in front of me." (Merleau-Ponty & Ed. Baldwin, 2004) The Bill of
Rights or the Constitution is all around us; they are not remote, dead objects nor are
any aspect of history. The student-teacher learns, in her sensitive refinement, to feel
the resonance of this thing as she finds it all around her in the world. It is as this
gaze, this sensitive perception, grows that she increasingly begins to see these
conceptual artifacts called the Civil War, or the Bill or Rights, as woven into the live
fabric of existence. These perceptions are what direct her method, her vision of the
shape of her curriculum.
Her curriculum becomes a thing of depth because this gaze enables her to see the
objects that comprise her subject matter as perpetually open to new discoveries.
She comes to understand that the object of inquiry, as a live thing, is renewed
through its participation with her students and her; that her method is not static
because with every encounter something new may be opened in the life of the object
of inquiry. In this sense, the object of inquiry and the practice of teaching the
curriculum becomes a depth of stellate encounters, a thing of beauty because of the
diversity and multiplicity of its connections and participations.
What the pedagogy of sensitive perception shows us is that the intentional effort on
the part of the teacher is essential to the cultivation of this aesthetic capacity. The
teacher, in her own education, must seek the sensible site of her discipline in an
effort to find this capacity in herself and forge its connections to the theory and
methods she encounters throughout her own education. To many these may seem
too personal an approach to the endeavor of teaching. I will say that teaching is a
deeply personal endeavor and that this fact cannot be discounted. It is not to say
that personal is synonymous with subjective in the derogatory sense nor implies a
lack of rigor. It is to say that only from the stance of personal investment, autonomy
and creativity may good teaching happen. The cultivation of sensitive perception in
the teacher, the creation of a way for herself tethered to best practices and insight, is
what we must seek for all of our teachers and all of our students.
I have in this inquiry spent a great deal of time laying the groundwork for what
sensitive perception is and how it might be cultivated in teachers and in students. I
have attempted to show through narrative examples, analogies to painting and
imaginative leaps into other disciplines the shape that sensitive perception may take
in existing schools and subject matter. I have aimed to show teachers that through
re-envisioning the curriculum as an embodied interplay between students, space
and things they may cultivate sensitive perception in themselves and in their
students regardless of the conditions that exist in their particular schools. I hope
that I have shown that sensitive perception and the embodied perspective it
depends upon, opens students and teachers to a particular way of knowing the
world one that is invaluable to the cultivation of knowledge.
I would now like to address what happens to education when sensitive perception is
not considered. For I believe that what I am naming happens for teachers and
students all the time; the confluence of the students, teachers, classroom, and
objects of inquiry work to grant an experience of the relationship of phenomena to
idea through the construction of an expressive unity that may open one to meaning.
However, there are many instances in our schools where a concern for aesthetics,
not only aesthetics as attributes of the physical environment but aesthetics as
encompassing sensitive knowing, is utterly ignored. This represents a form of
knowledge inequality. I have attempted to show that the cultivation of this manner
of knowing is inseparable from the conscious and deliberate construction of an
embodied encounter that permits the interplay between phenomena and idea. It is
from this foundation that I seek to show how such knowledge inequality may be
fostered through a neglect of the aesthetic import of environmental, corporeal and
methodological aspects of learning.
It is important to understand that the neglect I will point toward does not mean
these schools do not have an aesthetic character. I will argue that they in fact have
carefully selected very particular forms and structures for shaping knowing. The
neglect I speak of is the inability to perceive how the chosen methods, environments
and structures do in fact hold the potential to shape a way of knowing the world.
This way of knowing, I will argue, is characterized by the overly quantitative and
reified character of learning explored in previous chapters. This way of knowing
eschews sensitive perception in that the thing is utterly abstracted, divorced from
its participations and particularities. It is a fixation on numerical ordering,
classification, rank and judgment; it is the school as test. I will examine these
concerns through a discussion of the work of Jonathan Kozol, research on the role of
aesthetics in school design, Johann Von Goethe, Jane Addams, John Dewey, Maurice
Merleau-Ponty and Maxine Greene.
In The Shame of the Nation by Jonathan Kozol he gives the reader innumerable
detailed examples of the inequity that exists in schools today. Of particular interest
to this inquiry are the examples he provides in two chapters: "The Ordering Regime"
and "Excluding Beauty". In both chapters he cites examples that, although he does
not describe them as such, are aesthetic in nature. They reveal that schools often
have an unconscious aesthetic character that shapes daily teaching and learning.
The students, teachers, space and subject matter are always in a dynamic interplay.
What is important is how this interplay has been considered in relation to the types
of learners and teachers we desire; the values we hold to be important about
education. The inequality that arises from such unconsciousness is the result of
failing to sensitively perceive the curriculum. We will rely on Kozol's descriptions of
the school's he visited to support the inquiry into what learning looks like when it
becomes reified and denied its inter-corporeal nature; when it neglects the
cultivation of sensitive perception.
That many public schools are criticized for retaining an industrial model of
education is not a new concept. Rows of desks, bells, and long corridors crammed
with students, and methods of drill instruction commonly characterize these
industrial complexes. These schools can be found all over America, in rural and
urban districts. They are most often the schools with the least amount of money
spent per student and they are overwhelmingly full of low-income populations. This
is not a new or revolutionary observation. They are, most often, the students who
are ordered into a system of passive drilled instruction whose measure of
achievement are numbers on tests. The students in these schools are not the only
ones buried under endless drilling for "success". Scripted curricular programs so as
to insure the "success" of their students often subjugate teachers. My aim in
discussing these issues is, again, a concern for the aesthetic inequality that exists in
these schools. It is not an attack on testing itself but on the methods, structures and
systems that reinforce an industrial and positivist mode of schooling; a mode of
schooling that denies a way of knowing to certain children and teachers. All our
children deserve an education that is deliberate in its cultivation of learning as
generative, open, and perpetual. They deserve an education that opens them to the
richness of the world and the possibilities that are available to them through the
recognition of their own agency. Let us now examine some examples from Kozol's
work to uncover what he describes as the ordering regime, and how it may be
understood as an embodied experience of the test.
Kozol's observations of multiple schools around the country reveal a system of
control that emanates from the physical environment, the language the teacher uses,
and the approach to the object of study and the feeling and tenor of the classroom.
He writes,
These naming exercises and the imposition of an all inclusive system of
control on every form of intellectual activity consumed a vast amount of
teaching time but seemed to be intrinsic to the ethos here: A way of ordering
cognition beyond any effort of this sort I'd seen in the United States before.
(Kozol, 2005)
The curriculum is conceived as a method of ordering cognition but ordering
cognition not in a manner intrinsic to the learner and the teacher but ordering in an
effort to conform to a remote thing that contains information abstracted from their
particular classroom experience; a test. If we think about what a test is as an object
possessing form and content we can, I believe, come upon its aesthetic character.
First we must understand the test as it has come to be in education today in terms of
how it has been shaped by a positivist orientation to science.
As I discussed in a previous chapter, an overly logical positivist approach ensnares
education's conception of science and subsequently much of our thinking on
validity, truth and knowledge. In The Rediscovery of Meaning and Other Essays, Owen
Barfield explains that the root of positivism lies in the exclusive emphasis on the
facts of nature as they are observed through the senses. This manner of knowing
arose through careful observation of the facts of nature and then the analysis of
them in terms of cause and effect regardless of the particularities of the one
participating in the empirical analysis. Barfield argues that there is little connection
between the physical cause of something and its meaning. He offers as an example:
An important physical cause of what I am just now writing is the muscular
pressure of my finger and thumb, but knowing this does not help anyone to
grasp its meaning. Thus, in investigating the phenomena of nature, exclusive
emphasis on physical causes and effects involved a corresponding
inattention to their meaning. (Barfield]
Barfield describes this approach as leading to the belief that two kinds of truth exist:
scientific truth, which is shown through experimentation and intuitive truth, which
is felt but unable to be verified through demonstration. Believing that nothing exists
in the world beyond what can be shown or proven lies at the heart of this manner of
positivism. This emphasis on the empirical may, at first glance, seem amenable to
the discussion of sensitive perception. However, I must emphasize that sensitive
perception, while dependent upon embodied encounters and empirical experience,
relies upon the interplay of what is given through the senses with the ideas and
concepts that exist through participation and recollection; how the meaning beyond
the empirically given is achieved. Attention to what exists for the physical thing as it
participates in a relationship with the world and the self, in a visible and invisible
manner, is what is sought after with sensitive perception. A positivist approach,
such as the one Barfield describes, claims that nothing is meaningful beyond what
can be demonstrated empirically. It is a system that divorces the thing from its life
in the world and reduces it to accumulations of reactions, numbers or guttural
Barfield turns to language and its metaphorical function as an example for how
words or physical manifestations mean more then their physical and sensory
presence. Words often mean more then the objects they point at or the guttural
sounds that comprise them. Words are used to "describe the inside of ourselves,
whether it be a thought or feeling." They represent, for Barfield, an evolution of our
consciousness in that they enable us to be as a "ray of relation", a phenomenal being
that because of our interaction with the physical world we cultivate an inner life
that we seek to give meaning to through language or art; through expression. This
participation or interplay with the world, physical objects and concepts, for Barfield,
like Merleau-Ponty, is how we form meaning. Barfield writes,
Penetration to the meaning of a thing or process, as distinct from the ability
to describe it exactly, involves participation by the knower in the known. The
meaning of what I am writing is not the physical pressure of thumb and
forefinger, or the size of the ink lines with which I form the letters; it is the
concepts expressed in the words I am writing. (Barfield)
Yet, we may understand that the physical pressure, paper and letters are necessary
for the communication of the concept expressed; the meaning lies in the interplay, in
the in-between. We cannot take one away from the other; they are interdependent
in the expression of meaning. Most tests administered in public schools seek to
describe the thing as it is apart from the meaning of what it is through participation
with the individual, the classroom and other concepts or things. It seeks to define
according to pre-established rules; it does not often take into account how things
exist in the in-between. This is not to say that the meaning of things lapse into
relativism but rather that the meaning of things is often filled with a depth that is
greater then what is merely visible; that things such as books, theorems, and even
the practice of teaching may have a multitude of layers of knowing and doing. The
idea that phenomena, particularly the practice of teaching and learning, have an
inside, a life that cannot be quantified, is not reflected in the testing culture. The
participation of things as they stand in relation to other things and individuals does
not come into play in many of the methodologies used in schools. What matters is
that students are able to identify, classify, number and order various bits of things,
things that are isolated from what they are in experience. This system of testing, one
characterized by demonstration and measurement, shapes the classrooms Kozol
observes in his book.
The characterization of the test and the aesthetic conditions it creates in schools is
not an attempt to demonize neither positivist qualities nor the test as test.
Measurement, appraisal, demonstration, and classification are necessary and
important ways of coming to know the world. What is problematic is when focus on
them eschews other modes of knowing such as sensitive perception whose
experience is not as readily quantifiable. It is, as Merleau-Ponty reminds us
problematic when we seek to manipulate things and give up living in them. This
habitation is what opens the concept or thing to how it has become what it is
beyond recognition. Madeline L'engle, the author of children's literature, sought to
convey to children in one story, A Wind in the Door, not only what Mitochondria are
but what it might feel like to be Mitochondria. Why does it matter what it feels like
to be Mitochondria some might ask? Why is it important to not only recognize
Mitochondria but also perceive it, move inside it? I would argue that it permits us
access to the world, to penetrate to the depths of its feelingness and realize that
being human means something greater then identifying a phenomenon in our body,
pointing to it and saying, that is a Mitochondria and it does x. It opens us to
wonderment, to the stellate possibilities that lie within knowing something in its
relation to us. This habitation, whether it arrives through imaginative leaps or
primary empirical experience, permits us to know of things in their participations
and particularities; how we are and they are through our interrelationships. This
permits the presentation of things as created, generated from the understanding
that there is always further to go that things are not finite and already fixed. A term
or a number or a theory has depth that may be plumbed, rootedness in an origin of
experience and it is by plumbing these depths that a concept or category opens,
becomes transparent and exposes its possibilities for further knowing and creation.
Many years before Kozol observed the culture of drilled instruction in schools John
Dewey wrote in The School and Society of the importance of not presenting ready
made materials to children but rather allowing them to realize a problem of their
own through the experience of subject matter as it is organically. He writes,
It is hardly too much to say that in the traditional education so much stress
has been laid upon the presentation to the child of ready-made materials
(books, object-lessons, teacher's talks, etc.), and the child has been so almost
exclusively held to bare responsibility for reciting upon this ready-made
material, that there has been only accidental occasion and motive for
developing reflective attention.
It is precisely to this issue, teaching and learning as merely a response to readymade materials, which the cultivation of sensitive perception struggles against. It is
tragic to realize that the ordering regime Kozol describes over a hundred years later,
a response to ready-made materials laid upon the student and the teacher, persists
as a mode of education for many. It is evidence that the focus on numeracy and
classification that shapes the identity of students today has not, in many schools,
changed. Kozol observes this positivist relationship between identity and the
manner of instruction in one school. Kozol describes,
Level Fours, please raise your hands, the principal requested at one such
assembly. In front of nearly all their schoolmates, those very few who were
described as "Level Fours" lifted their arms and were accorded dutiful
applause. Level threes, please raise your hands...., the principal went on, and
they too were rewarded with applause. Level twos...., she asked, and they
were given some applause as well. What lesser portion of the applause, one
had to wonder, would be given to the Level ones, who were the children
reading at rock bottom? The Level ones, as it turned out, got no applause at
all. The principal didn't ask the level ones to raise their hands
it was like
the level ones didn't even exist. (Kozol, 2005)
There are many vantage points from which to appraise this scenario. What is
significant to this discussion is that what matters to the student is not what they
have learned or how, what reading is as a richly embodied way of experiencing, but
what category their performance on a set of questions places them in. They have
learned that learning is ascension through classifications. They may recognize
reading, but have they learned to perceive it and move inside it as a form of
experience? What it means to be a level four is, as one student describes to Kozol,
that you are a level four or a level one; that you become a quantifiable entity
divorced from what you have come to mean because of your experience of reading
or history. You as a level one are a nothing as is your process of inquiry.
Furthermore, the self assessment expressed by the student had little to do with
what she felt about reading, how much she read, enjoyed books or wrote but rather
with what score she had attained or what level she had achieved. Her learning
regarding literature, storytelling, poetry and expression was reduced to that of a
classification, a number utterly divorced from the meaning of the discipline it was
set up to assess. It is the root of the lament found in many educational circles that
students today care more about the grade they achieve then the substance of what
they learn. This, I posit, is knowledge inequity at its core and an inequity that stems
from the participation in an empty system of ordering, numeracy and classification
that is enforced through how the curriculum is shaped. A student, by virtue of a
system set up at every turn to reduce learning to a positivist endeavor, comes to
embody these qualities of knowing and comes to embody them through the
methods and language the teacher uses, the structure of the classroom, the type of
learning objects presented. If my observation of Bill's classroom in the previous
chapter serves as an example for how a curriculum may communicate to the student
that learning is open, flexible and generative the opposite is true for the classrooms
Kozol observes. Both are equally aesthetic in that the form and the content of the
teaching and learning transaction communicates qualities of knowing, yet Bill's
classroom may open the student and the teacher to sensitive knowing while the
classrooms Kozol observes in the Shame of the Nation, may likely close them to it.
Importantly, they are not exposed to the thing in all its multiplicity and
participations; the stellate nature of sensitive perception is short circuited by the
presentation of concepts and things as binary, corresponding to a single
The beautiful
knowing that
may emerge
understanding the stellate nature of things such as reading is denied through the
neglect of knowledge values that permit contribution.
In the chapter entitled, "Excluding Beauty", Kozol paints a dire picture of the physical
conditions that children who attend the worst schools in the country endure. He
describes schools infested with rats, overcrowded to the point where the use of
flimsy trailers is required, schools where there are not enough books or consistent
teachers. His descriptions sound as if they came from the time before desegregation
when in fact many of his observations were conducted a little over three years ago.
What is immediately apparent from his descriptions is that the importance of
physical beauty, of deliberate and careful consideration of the pedagogical import of
the environment, is discounted for these children. One cannot imagine a school full
of the children of senators with dirty windows, no recess, art or adequate bathroom
and lunch facilities. One does not imagine the school for their own child as one
without natural sunlight, plants or soft places to sit. Kozol makes a strong case for
why physical aesthetics, beautiful surroundings, matter to education. The children
he speaks to about their schools see the dirt and the rats, they feel the humiliation at
having to wait to use the bathroom for hours. Kozol writes,
The insult to aesthetics, the affront to cleanliness and harmony and
sweetness, are continuing realities as well for children who must go each
morning into morbid-looking buildings in which few adults other than their
teachers would agree to work day after day. (Kozol, 2005)
It is certainly not true that just because a child has a more beautiful environment
that their learning improves. However, as I have sought to show in this inquiry,
there is a correspondence between the inner development of the person and their
interaction with the outer world. The environment communicates clear messages
about values and qualities regarding education. A dirty, decrepit and neglected
school has the likely hood of communicating to students that their thinking does not
matter for dirtiness, decrepitude and neglect are not things we believe to be
valuable. There is the thought that learning may happen despite these conditions
though, as I have attempted to show, the curriculum is the interplay of spaces,
people, and things. It seems no coincidence that learning in these environments is
equated with scores or levels on tests; the school as a live endeavor imbued with
meaning does not matter. The lack of physical beauty may permeate to the inner
workings of how the child understands learning; things are not kept alive, freedom
is not valued, and they, their ideas and thoughts as they have had them in the
encounter of ideas and things, are to be neglected. Space, its qualities, materials and
organization, matters to what students ultimately come to value about learning.
Dewey tells us in Art as Experience that "the first great consideration is that life goes
on in an environment; not merely in it but because of it, through interaction with it."
(Dewey, 1934)Believing that the environment and its role in the curriculum,
deserves careful attention is paramount to the teaching and learning endeavor. An
environment that is responsive to the learning of children and supportive of
teacher's methods, aims and style is amenable to the cultivation of sensitive
perception and the realization of beautiful knowing. The pervasiveness of school
environments that neglect beauty, flexibility, or basic cleanliness shines a spotlight
on the belief that education has less to do with how students feel while they are
engaged in twelve years of schooling and more to do with how well they measure up
to an externally determined standard; it clearly communicates the idea that in this
kind of education what matters is not the experience of the teacher and the student
but rather, the final output. Kozol writes,
Is school for most of them a happy place to be? You do not find the answers
to these questions in reports about achievement levels, scientific methods of
accountability, or structural revisions in the modes of governance.
Documents like these don't speak of happiness. You have to go back to the
schools themselves to find an answer to these questions. You have to sit
down in the little chairs in first and second grade, or on the reading rug with
kindergarten kids, and listen to the things they actually say to one another
and the dialogue between them and their teacher.
In other words, you have to return to the sensible site of teaching, to find its heart;
to find what makes it beautiful or not beautiful or to understand what is needed to
repair the problems we face in education. We must sensitively perceive our schools.
We cannot expect to find these answers from levels, or scores, or from reductions
that lack the inner meaning that Goethe, Barfield and Merleau-Ponty point us
I must acknowledge at this juncture that there are many areas where changes have
been made, where school superintendents are paying attention to the research on
school design that shows that the environment matters tremendously to learning.
There are many teachers who are actively cultivating the inner meaning of
education for their students. The initiatives from corporations such as Target to get
"Great Design" into schools and in countries such as Denmark there is even
legislation that has been passed stating that a consideration for aesthetics in schools
design must be a mandatory part of education. But we must not fall into the trap of
believing that when we have better structures with more technology and better
design that education necessarily becomes better and more meaningful. We
cultivate sensitive perception in our students and ourselves through our perpetual
attention to the interplay of the curriculum. For in the most neglected of places the
one aspect that can make the difference to the experience of the child is the teacher
and her sensitive engagement of her curriculum despite the deficits that may exist in
her particular school. There are teachers that know how to shape their curriculum
to communicate values about learning that move beyond the assignment of levels.
They return to their sensible site, their students interacting with the subject matter
through the environment, to understand what it is they must do next and what their
students need to learn; they are not attending to an abstract category that has been
placed upon them. Kozol describes seeing these classrooms where teachers are
persisting, struggling against a litany of concepts such as "Active Listening",
"Meaningful sentences" or "Problem Posing." The issue is not with these theories or
methodologies but rather with the way they may be implemented by districts or
states in the form of scripts or other controlled forms of delivery. They become the
concept abstracted from its phenomenal existence, from its relation with other
modes of thinking and encountering things. Just as we cannot tell a student what
justice is or red is, we cannot tell a teacher or student to listen actively, to make a
meaningful sentence or to pose a problem. While those are all things that are
important and that children should learn to do, they should learn to do them as the
outgrowths of primary encounters with what these are in experience. A teacher
must be permitted to find a way to shape her curriculum as such so that she arrives
at these ends through the implementation of aims that make these categories
meaningful. We must not forget nor deny our students and teachers access to the
rich experiences that have generated concepts such as active listening or problem
posing. When we eschew the phenomenal encounter of the concept we edge out the
opportunity to sensitively perceive the interrelationships of things and their stellate
possibilities; we edge out beautiful knowing.
It is important to emphasize that the exclusion of beauty from schools does not arise
only from physically decrepit and broken schools but from a curriculum that denies
access to the inner life of teaching and learning through the exclusion of the
sensitive perception of things; through the overemphasis on positivist modes of
educating. Schools that have taken into account what is essential to creating
successful physical learning environments can implement scripted, drilled
instruction; they can as equally as under resourced schools deprive their students of
the beautiful knowing that may arise through the deliberate shaping of a curriculum
conducive to sensitive perception. We must think of the exclusion of beauty not only
in terms of under resourced schools but also in terms of how methods and new
instructional models may deprive teachers and students access to things in their
depth, multiplicity, particularities and connections; we must be cognizant of
excluding beautiful knowing.
The systems of drilled instruction, scripted curriculum guides and high stakes
testing that characterize some of the under resourced schools described by Kozol
may prevent the development of beautiful knowing because they fail to permit the
conditions necessary to cultivate sensitive perception. As I have attempted to show,
the cultivation of sensitive perception depends upon an embodied engagement, one
that is generated through the interplay of a deliberately shaped curriculum. The
neglect of the somatic aspects, one in the trio of factors that comprise the
curriculum, of the self and the classroom contributes to this failure to cultivate
sensitive perception and perpetuates the system of knowledge inequality I am
attempting to point toward. For the body is the senses and, as Richard Schusterman
writes, "the senses surely belong to the body and are deeply influenced by its
condition. Our sensory perception thus depends on how the body feels and
functions, what it desires, does, and suffers." (Shusterman, 1999) An inattention to
the role of the body prevents the embodied encounter of the curriculum and
undermines the cultivation of, as Dewey would describe, a sound mind.
Attentiveness to the condition and treatment of the body as it relates to the aims
and methods of education is primary to developing sensible individuals.
In The School and Society Dewey describes how the school building should be
structured to facilitate the connections between the child and experience outside
the school and between the abstract and the concrete. Dewey understood that the
school environment needed to reinforce the aims and methods of education. He saw
the cultivation of the body as integral to the development of the intellect. He writes,
What we want is to have the child come to school with a whole mind and a
whole body, and leave school with a fuller mind and an even healthier body.
And speaking of the body suggests that, while there is no gymnasium in these
diagrams, the active life carried on in its four corners brings with it constant
physical exercise..."
The diagram Dewey refers to shows the school broken up into four corners
surrounding a library. The corners are described as a shop, dining room, kitchen,
and textile industry. Each corner shows a correspondence to a place or institution in
the child's outside experience, the home, the garden or park, business, the university
or museum. Dewey acknowledges that in every corner, every aspect of the child's
school experience, the use of the body in understanding the subject matter must be
accounted for. The condition of the child in the school must, as closely as possible,
resemble how we experience phenomena in the world so as to ground the abstract
concepts that school presents the child with. The way in which we experience is
always through the use of our bodies in the formulation of understanding. The
condition of the body in the environment, how the curriculum encourages or
discourages full engagement, must not be neglected.
Since the reinvigoration of high stakes testing with the implementation of the No
Child Left Behind Act many schools, such as the ones Kozol describes, have made the
decision to cut recess, gym and the arts; subjects deemed non-essential. They have
been cut so as to provide teachers and schools with more time to prepare for tests.
This is not occurring in all schools and is not considered appropriate for all students.
We must ask ourselves why we believe this is a morally correct strategy for some
students but not all students. However, first it is imperative that we realize that the
elimination of these areas of inquiry from a student's experience of learning
deprives them of the ability to engage somatically or in a truly embodied manner. It
may be argued that we are always engaged in an embodied manner, after all, we
have a body that makes the senses possible and it is required for all activities of life.
My point is that schools perpetually undermine the significance of somatic
engagement and that the elimination of subject areas traditionally associated with
the body merely highlights this misguided belief and denies to populations of
students a way of knowing fundamental to the creation of meaning.
The body seems almost a happenstance condition of education today. It is what
allows a student to sit at a desk and listen to a teacher but the body is not viewed as
the seat or origin for the generation of ideas. We do not think of what the body is or
what it may need for sensibility to emerge or what is communicated to a student
about knowing through sitting for hours responding to directives from the teacher.
We do not seem to believe that the condition of the body imbues the student with a
perception of what learning is or that the body is the point at which the concrete
may cross over or intersect with ideas. If we believed that the presence of sunlight
was fundamental to how well students learned algebra, we would never allow
students to have classes in a converted broom closet. If we believed that cleanliness
mattered to the performance of a child on a test we would never have dirty schools.
If we believed that adequate bathroom facilities, plentiful opportunities to run in
fresh air and play games or to dance, sing and paint boosted levels we would never
believe them to be unessential. But the answer does not lie in proving how these
areas of inquiry contribute to levels or scores. It lies, I posit, in the
acknowledgement that the condition of the body, how it engages in the space, with
the teachers, students and objects of inquiry, is essential to the cultivation of
knowledge values that are sensitive, active, and generative.
These knowledge values are not artificial qualities but rather qualities that extend
from the natural condition of the human individual. It is our condition that we come
to know the world in an embodied manner. All experience arises from the
interaction of a sensory being with an environment populated by things both visible
and invisible. The inattention to this condition, the human as a live creature as
Dewey describes, is what the school's Kozol describes ignores. All experience as
Dewey tells us, occurs through active and alert commerce with the world. The
conditions set forth in an endeavor as artificial as education, must, as much as
possible, mediate the need of the child to be in commerce with the world through
attention to how the seat of ideas and thoughts, the body, powerfully roots knowing.
This commerce with the world, with things and ideas, arises Dewey says from the
interpenetration of "self and the world of objects and events." (Dewey, 1934]The
child who is denied the opportunity to experience for her or himself what something
is as a live entity, a thing that has both a conceptual life and a lived life that arises
through her own aisthetic interaction with it is denied a fundamental part of her
I do not at this juncture desire to delve too deeply into the naturalism of human
nature. My aim, I believe, at pointing us toward this issue is more phenomenological
in that I urge my readers to look at what children are inclined toward and how they
come to know things. Imaginative play, the creation of games, problem solving,
storytelling, exploration and socialization are all things that teachers and parents
can readily, I believe, observe in their children. The process of education is, at its
best, a reconciling of the child's natural inclinations with the aims of what about the
world is deemed essential to introduce them to. The use of the body to dress up,
play pretend, touch, see, feel, hear and taste, experiment, write or paint is essential
to how they learn to orient themselves to the world. As educators we must provide
the child with sensible sites or places that she may return to in order to affirm the
ideas she begins to build about the world; we must treat her as a live creature one
that exists through sensory interactions that perpetually collide with established
norms and ideas. It is through this collision that new ideas are created; because a
new subjectivity has encountered an existing concept and, because of their
particularity, granted to it a new dimension. Galileo, Einstein, O'Keefe and Da Vinci
created or "discovered" what they did because their particular sensibility collided
with the accepted knowledge of the time and generated something new. This ability
to actively contribute to the world through thought and expression is what we
should seek to grant to all children. Cultivating a learning environment that does not
permit the investigation of things in their sensible sites, may deprive the child
access to the experiences that are essential to creating their own method of
knowing; a method that is rooted in accepted truths yet permits the making of a
distinct path. A sensible site is provided to the student through shaping the
curriculum in such a way that it may permit the child to encounter the object of
inquiry through her capacity as a live creature.
Rousseau, in the Emile, has a number of instances where, I believe, he offers a good
example for how such an engagement may arise. As discussed in previous chapters,
Rousseau sought to give Emile a natural education, one that preserved as much as
possible the child's natural inclinations and kept the corrupting force of civilization
at bay until Emile's reason was sufficiently developed. I do not seek to emulate or
critique Rousseau's natural education in this project. His work, however, may assist
in illuminating why the neglect of the embodied condition, cultivating a rootedness
to a sensible site, may hinder the development of reason.
Rousseau believed that above all else a child's education must hold at bay the
corrupting influence of civilization. The process of educating the young child must
begin through drawing out, as much as possible, natural inclinations. Civilization,
such as books, expressed the ideas of other individuals and had the potential to
inflame the imagination of the child with ideas that were not grown from his or her
own inclinations and engagements. Rousseau writes,
Our first masters of philosophy are our feet, our hands, our eyes. To
substitute books for all that is not to teach us to reason. It is to teach us to use
the reason of others. It is to teach us to believe much and never to know
anything. (Rousseau & Trans. Bloom, 1979)
While I greatly respect Rousseau's project and believe there is a great deal to learn
from it, it is not my aim to say that we must prevent the inflammation of the
imagination and amour propre in the child through limiting their access to books or
the ideas of civilization. What I do believe Rousseau's project or method of
education does show for this inquiry is the significance of granting to the child a
sensible rootedness to the ideas and concepts that populate the world. He sought to
give Emile a sensible site to return to in the development of his reason; an
intellectual place rooted in experience that he could reflect upon as the basis for his
knowing. The experiments the tutor creates for Rousseau such as planting the
beans, the magician, the walk in town and getting lost in the woods are all excellent
examples of this and ones that I have discussed in a previous chapter. In these
orchestrations or aesthetic experiments, Rousseau attempts to create for Emile
opportunities wherein he founds his knowledge of an idea through an embodied
experience. Planting the beans in the garden only to find them dug up, roots in Emile
a primary notion of labor, property and justice, one that is felt in the pathway
toward conceptual understanding. It creates a clearing or space within the child that
he may, upon encountering the ideas of others regarding labor, property and justice,
return to it in order to further develop his own understanding. It seeks to take the
sensible site that is the embodied event and internalize it as an intellectual
construct, an expression of an experience, which Emile may return to again and
again in the cultivation of the stellate knowledge of a thing. Significantly in
Rousseau's imaginings or aesthetic experiments for Emile, the foresight and
creativity of the tutor is relied on. A sensible site is granted for Emile to root his
knowing but the tutor has selected it, shaped his engagement with deliberate
Thus we may understand the teacher as the primary means for
permitting the student access to the sensible site of knowing.
What is readily apparent in the schools that Kozol describes is that the teacher, the
objectives and methods she utilizes for teaching are, largely, not the result of her
own interaction and inquiry with her subject matter. Method after method is often
externally determined as the best way to attain certain educational goals and is
distributed to teachers to carry out in their classrooms. Kozol observes,
The pressure this imposes upon teachers to stick closely to the script leaves
many with uncomfortable feelings of theatricality. Teachers tell me that they
feel they're reading lines from a commercial playbook written by an
unnamed author with a gift for keeping to a continuity of theme, and
attempting now and then to pump vitality into the lines by artifacting their
enthusiasm. (Kozol, 2005)
The teacher, in order to shape a curriculum that may cultivate sensitive perception,
must herself perceive the stellate character of her subject matter; she must see the
possibilities of knowing within her objects of inquiry. The primary interaction of the
teacher with her subject matter is required for her to seek out the forms of
instruction that she will utilize in shaping her curriculum. The form and content of
her teaching must arise from the interplay between her own encounter and ideas
coming into contact with accepted methodologies; it cannot be inserted in the midst
of a teaching relationship without regard to the particularities of the environment.
This is to deny the teacher the encounter of the concepts and objects of their inquiry
as a generative engagement, without which the practice of teaching and learning
becomes closed and artificial. It denies the teacher agency over her own intellect in
the construction of ways of knowing objects of inquiry, a condition that may be
directly communicated to her students. This denial obfuscates the expressive
character of teaching.
This encounter of the sensible site of the thing the teacher is attempting to show the
student does not occur in a happenstance manner; it arises as Rousseau points
toward in his imaginings or aesthetic experiments, through foresight and deliberate
intention which is then expressed through a constructed experience. Emile had the
encounter with the beans because the tutor permitted him to mix his labor with
them, feel that they were his and the tutor had the farmer dig them up all to grant
Emile a sensible site for his understanding of property and justice. Many of my own
students upon reading about the beans or the magician feel that the tutor causes
Emile pain and that this would never be permitted or desirable in real education.
While I am inclined to agree with them, that deliberately inflicting pain upon the
child would hardly be permissible in a school today, what the teacher represents in
these scenarios is what we must be attentive to. The tutor understood that the root
of property and justice is the sentiment and experience of a violation of perceived
ownership that is perceived as unfair. In order to become sensible (reasonable]
about the idea of property and justice, Emile needed to have an experience of this
that was rooted in an embodied engagement.
The tutor, in the Emile, engages with his subject matter with foresight; the ability to
see within the object of inquiry the possibilities for knowing that lie latent within it.
They perceive, like Merleau-Ponty describes, the thickness present in the visibility
of a thing. The tutor constructs a sensible site that may root Emile's knowing
through his own attentiveness to how the concepts he seeks to instruct Emile in,
exist in their primary, concrete manifestations. He shapes the curriculum, the
interplay of the student, the environment and the thing, to elicit the sensible
understanding of a concept but this shaping is rooted in his own ability to perceive
within the concept the thickness of knowing; to draw out the pathways toward its
existence in a concrete phenomenal encounter. It is not necessary that an
understanding of property and justice arise only through planting and uprooting
beans. A good teacher, one who can sensitively engage with her subject matter, will
see a variety of ways of granting to their students a sensible root to their reasoning
regarding ideas. This is what we may hope for our teachers; that they are permitted
to perceive their subject matter in their own education in such a way that they may
see the possibilities for knowing that exist and thus be able to express for their
students a sensible root for knowing.
Preventing the teacher from shaping her curriculum through the use of strict
curricular guides, pre-determined goals and other such externally constructed
methods promotes not only a lack of intellectual trust but an inequity because it
deprives the teacher agency and expression in her own practice. The teacher is left
without the ability to shape or express the knowledge that she holds regarding her
own subject matter. Methods such as the ones Kozol describes in his book effectively
short circuit the expression of the educators perceptual encounter. Just as Monet
created the Rouen series as the expression of his engagement with the Cathedral the
teacher also needs a space to express her interaction with her students, her subject
matter and her environment. This expression is the shape of her curriculum. This is
not to say that every teacher in every school need create a curriculum that arises out
of thin air, with no connection to established theories, goals and methods of
teaching. It is not my suggestion that the practice of teaching become relative to the
individual teacher or community, but rather a process a bit akin to Dewey's notion
of reconstruction. Dewey illustrates this concept well in The Child and the
Curriculum when he describes the logical (subject-matter) and psychological (its
relation to the student) aspects of experience in terms of the making of a map and
the use of a map. He writes,
We may compare the difference between the logical and the psychological to
the difference between the notes, which an explorer makes in a new country,
blazing a trail and finding his way along as best he may, and the finished map
that is constructed after the country has been thoroughly explored. The two
are mutually dependent...The map orders individual experiences,
connecting them with one another irrespective of the local and temporal
circumstances and accidents of their original discovery...The map is not a
substitute for a personal experience. The map does not take the place of an
actual journey. The logically formulated material of a science or branch of
learning, of a study, is no substitute for the having of individual experiences.
Teachers, like cartographers, do not, necessarily, begin from nothing. There may be
a guide to show them through an undocumented countryside, much like Lewis and
Clark had, or they may work in clearly delineated territory but find, like Google
Earth has shown us, that there are many angles and perspectives from which we
may see our present maps. The teacher must traverse the territory for herself that
the map has arisen from in order to shape the best route for her students, to know
where there is a fallen tree or a swiftly moving river that the map does not show or
where a particular student may have trouble because they are afraid of water. The
teacher may be provided with maps, but how she decides to traverse that landscape
must be of her own creation and as the result of her own travels. She expresses her
encounter with the map, the interplay between accepted methods and categories,
what Dewey describes as logical, and her own experience of how she has come to
know, through the creation of a particularized view of the landscape, a particular
route for her wanderings. For every teacher and every student, to continue with this
analogy, have the capacity to delineate their own routes on a particular map. They
expand what they know through articulating how they have come to know it. The
route is documented after the exploration, reflected upon as a good one, a scenic one
or one that is not worth traversing again. This is what the teacher comes to express
through her curriculum; an embodied route through subject-matter, one that
permits the student to know the map, choose from various routes or even, perhaps,
create his own. The teacher takes from established methods and discourses, she
does not reinvent the wheel or re-create a discipline. She is granted the choice as to
how to use the tools at her disposal to traverse the landscape and not be consigned
to traveling through the desert when she knows another route that may, for her and
her students, pass through a forest riddled with refreshing streams. Her autonomy
and her freedom are inextricably bound up in the space of her expression.
I do not wish to exhaust my reader with this analogy but merely point out clearly
that the teacher, in order to teach, must be left room for expression, creation and
agency. She must be permitted the space to exercise some manner of
epistemological authority over what she is expected to teach. If she is not, then the
sensitive perception of her subject matter, both the object of inquiry and the
practice of teaching, becomes pointless. For why seek to perceive the interplay
between the thing as concept and the thing as it is concretely, in relation to an
individual perception? There is little point to caring about cultivating in the teacher
a sensitive engagement if her perceptions and expressions are discounted in the
practice of teaching. The creation of a work of art is predicated on an act of
expression; in order for a work of art to manifest it must be expressed, given form
by the artist. A work of art, according to Dewey, becomes a work when it is
expressed and encountered by an audience. The gaze of the teacher, the perceptual
apprehension of her subject matter, whether it is an event in history, a mathematical
theorem or her students learning, elicits a knowing in her, a knowing that may give
rise to how she expresses this encounter, to how she shapes her curriculum.
Denying the teacher this expressive dimension of her apprehension leaves her
practice stripped of its creative merit, renders it mute, silent to the encroaching
positivism that threatens to choke out meaning.
It is to this inequality that teacher education and education policy need respond. An
inequality of thought and knowledge that values meaning in the sense that Barfield,
Merleau-Ponty and Dewey point us toward. Teachers, crushed beneath the weight of
standards, assessment, measurement, and scripted best practices need a creative
liberation, one that restores to them their practice as sensitive, creative, systematic,
and rational; policies and education that unite the logical and the aesthetic through
the sensitive apprehension of the practice of teaching, that recognize the expressive
dimension of teaching wrought through the sensitive perception of the constellation
of educational experience.
All education may be understood as an introduction to how to inhabit the world and
how to envision its possibilities. This envisioning of the possible is the seat of
innovation, creativity and hope. For better or for worse the imaginings that arise
within us or do not arise within us may be thought of as the result of the kind of
education we have. Maxine Greene describes the power of the imagination,
particularly in the encounter of a work of art, to expose us to the possible both its
positive and its negative manifestations. A work of art for her is what permits us to
envision what is possible in the limits of knowing; it is that thing that may take us
beyond ourselves and into the sensibility of the other and the social environment.
She writes in reflection of Gyorgy Lukacs, "Lukacs also made the point that the
individual engaging with a work, enjoying it, moving into it, discovers realities that
would otherwise have been inaccessible, new conceptions of man and his
possibilities." It has been my position throughout this inquiry that this sort of
engagement, while not precisely the same as with a work of art, is accessible in the
presence of objects of inquiry such as the things that have been created to comprise
a discipline.
This engagement with a work that she speaks of, be it a documented historical
event, scientific theory or a piece of music, permits one to know the possibilities that
exist because of sensitively perceiving this thing, inhabiting it so that it becomes a
live and open entity. I may come to envision the possibilities that lie within the
thickness of this phenomenon because I have encountered it and you have
encountered it and together we experience it with a meaning slightly different yet
emanating from the same phenomena. I may envision the possibilities of knowing
red because for me red is a shawl and for you it is a roof in Lucca but for both of us it
is the cape of a matador or an apple hanging on the tree in an orchard. This is, I
believe, is what sensitive perception opens us to; the possibilities of knowing that
exist, stellate and beautiful in the mediation of their multiplicity and particular
manifestations. I recognize red but perceive in it its varied, textural and live
character understanding that it is infinitely helical and possible both with me,
because of me and without me. I recognize to live but I perceive to grant myself life.
This exclusion from imagining the possible and granting it expression that sensitive
perception may permit and mere recognition stunts is perhaps the most loathsome
aspect of the kind of education that Kozol describes in his text. It alienates children
from the world, from how to envision its possibilities and contribute to it through
expression, whether artistic, conceptual or other. Because this manner of education
halts at recognition students in such systems of learning may not come to know
learning as an endeavor that depends upon them, that needs their contributions to
continue to breathe life into the variants of existence, the phenomena of ideas. This
is the source of a most profound inequality, one that is rooted in the aesthetic and its
function as a fundament to the knowledge values that shape the educational
experience of our children.
Fundamentally, this investigation into the nature of sensitive perception should be
understood as an effort to illuminate a kind of knowing that belongs to the aesthetic
order. Sensitive perception, I have attempted to show, finds its root in a particular
view of aesthetic theory. This perspective reminds us that aesthetics is a discipline
concerned with approaches to the arts, as well as to all areas of human knowledge. It
is, as Baumgarten reminds us, "a specific manner of grasping reality; grounded in
essentially sensuous, sensitive experience and representation." (Gross 2002) The
manner of perception I have attempted to illuminate exposes the aesthetic as a
gnoseological faculty, a faculty that produces a particular type of knowledge. Kai
Hammermeister in The German Aesthetic Tradition writes,
Baumgarten's aesthetics refers to a theory of sensibility as a gnoseological
faculty, that is, a faculty that produces a certain type of knowledge. Aesthetics
is taken very literally as a defense of the relevance of sensual perception.
This inquiry is a defense of the educational relevance of a particular kind of
perception and the knowledge it may yield. This kind of knowledge is not wholly
empirical or conceptual; it does not privilege evidence over theory or the inverse. It
reveals to the educator the significance of taking the aesthetic seriously in all areas
of teaching and learning. The aesthetic dimension of knowledge and the sensitive
perception necessary to its realization is, like logic, a dimension of phenomenal
experience. This inquiry has sought to show that sensitive perception is integral to
the meaning making that may arise from the engagement of a particular teacher and
student with the legacy of human knowledge. That in fact, a particular sort of
meaning making, one that unites the concrete and the abstract, calls for sensitive
perception. This sensitive perception, as this inquiry has sought to illuminate, asks
the teacher to see that her subject matter is relational, shaped by the progressive
and mutable cultivation of curriculum. In such a vision of education the teacher is
not merely a disinterested clinician, rather, she inhabits her practice, understands
what it means to her and to her students from the inside. While a disinterested,
clinical perspective is needed at times, as is evidence, quantification and
classification, it is not the only kind of perspective teaching and learning needs.
In the vision of education this inquiry has outlined, the teacher learns to
sensitively engage her practice by acknowledging that her discipline is,
fundamentally, a created entity. In this project painting has frequently served to
illuminate the nature of sensitive engagement. Although painting and the arts
provide us with important examples for understanding the nature of sensitive
perception, every teacher need not be a painter. Learning to see an event, a theory
or an idea as the result of interplay between the perceptual experiences of the
individual with the world is the result of cultivating a particular attunement to one's
discipline. This attunement begins by educating the teacher to acknowledge that the
discipline one is taking pedagogical responsibility for is a thing created. In order to
shape a curriculum that opens the subject matter to the student, the teacher needs
to recollect and discover how she knows what she does and how her subject matter
has origins and roots in primary experiences. Ideally every individual who decides
to become a teacher does so out of a desire to work with young people and a deep
interest in a particular subject area, whether it is physical education, mathematics
or art. There is something indistinct and difficult to describe about how an
individual decides that they love something enough to take responsibility for it and
for its place in the experience of young people. For in those moments, these
individuals realize not only that they love this thing but that they love knowing
about this thing and want to show others how to know such things. When they cross
this threshold, the point at which they realize they want to teach, this
acknowledgment of the genealogy and life of their subject matter becomes integral
to shaping a curriculum that sensitively engages themselves and their students.
They need, in order for sensitive perception to develop, to know not only what
comprises their subject matter and the most effective way to learn it, but also how it
has arisen as phenomena in the world and what value it has to them. This kind of
knowing is what enables the teacher to shape a curriculum that communicates to
the student what to know, how to know and reasons for knowing.
As discussed in chapter 3 this process begins as a kind of multifaceted search
for the sensible site of their discipline; a search for their own personal root in their
subject matter and a search for the sensible sites that gave shape to their subject
matter. This sensible site or embodied aesthetic root has disciplinary integrity. Each
discipline is unique and the events and perspectives that have given it its respective
shape remain distinct. Clearly, the teacher in her education is not expected to
unearth the originating moment for mathematics or literature. What searching for
the sensible site means, both for the self and for the subject matter, is an inquiry into
moments or instances where and how things were birthed; recognition of the
encounters and experiences that gave rise to the way of knowing significant to the
discipline. In this process it is likely that the lines between disciplines will become
blurred and indecipherable. For when we begin to examine something such as the
creation of the optic lens, we open pathways of knowing into painting, biology,
technology and astronomy. Much like Rousseau's tutor needed to understand that
ownership, property and justice could be understood through planting beans, so
must the teacher have foresight into how concepts are cultivated through carefully
constructed experiences. The teacher, in this vision of aesthetic education, perceives
her subject matter sensitively so that she cares not only about the ends of teaching
but also how the student will meet the ends. As discussed in chapter 3, the teacher
may need to instruct her students in the phases of the moon or refraction. She may
care that her students understand the phases of the moon as an observable
phenomena and encourage them to go outside to see what it is like to observe this
or she may give them the phases of the moon defined on a piece of paper. The
former communicates that the particular embodied observation by the individual is
significant in the formation of knowledge, while the latter assumes that the
knowledge ought to be handed down objectively, particular experiences aside. A
teacher could, in her design for teaching the phases of the moon, not tell the
students much except that she wanted them to observe the moon over the course of
a few nights at home or simulate the process in the classroom and have them make
hypothesis and draw conclusions from what they observed. What matters in this
kind of teaching scenario is not only that the student learn the phases of the moon,
but also learn what it is like to observe and discover such an event. Without
continuing to develop too many examples at this late stage, let it suffice that within
each discipline there remains space to examine how the curriculum may be shaped
to cultivate sensitive perception and the beautiful knowing that it may lead us
The ways of knowing that constitute validity in schools today stand in
tension with this view of sensitive perception. The aesthetic, I believe, is not viewed
as a way of knowing that grants evidence and empirical validity in the way that we
are accustomed to; this is likely why the aesthetic has been marginalized in
education. It is, as Baumgarten pointed to, comfortable with the confused, the
indistinct, and with the shifting middle place between concepts and particular
experiences. This is why Baumgarten saw aesthetics as a necessary and essential
counterpart to logic: because it could lead us into and away from certitude. If one
could become sensitive toward that which was experienced, apprehend multiple
and shifting connections to larger conceptual structures, then beautiful knowing
could be attained. Beautiful knowing is that manner of thinking that is aware of and
sensitive to the object and all the relations of that object (Gross 2002). It is a
responsive apprehension, one that acknowledges that the meaning of the object,
shifts, morphs and grows depending upon the sensible conditions and participations
that arise. Beautiful knowing is the target that this groundwork into sensitive
perception seeks toward.
Sensitive perception is a way of knowing and in that a kind of methodology. It
is one that takes seriously the epistemological, ontological and normative import of
the aesthetic. It seeks not, as with the tradition of Kantian aesthetics which places
art as outside the cognitive realm, to investigate the aesthetic as something "other"
to the development of knowledge but rather as integral to the cultivation of
knowledge. It attempts to show that sensitive perception, which belongs to the
aesthetic, has epistemic value to the traditional disciplinary areas of teaching and
learning. The aesthetic, in this perspective, is a component of every educational
experience. In this inquiry sensitive perception has emerged as an epistemological
method, a way in which to attune to and uncover meaning making. This method
takes seriously the primary ground of how concepts and ideas are encountered. It
acknowledges the progressive nature of learning a discipline or subject matter and
seeks to perpetually balance the particular encounter of phenomena by the
individual with the accepted, given life of an established concept or idea. This
manner of being, this sensitive methodology, may be deepened and cultivated in the
teacher and in the student through an education that takes seriously that all aspects
of the curriculum serve to inculcate in the individual knowledge of how and why as
much as knowledge of what.
Throughout the chapters of this inquiry into sensitive perception, a number
of examples have been provided to grant the reader a window into the nature of this
gnoseology. From Monet's Rouen Cathedral to Rousseau's bean planting and
observation of the sunrise and sunset, I have attempted to show the reader that
attention to the sensible site and its embodied interplay with established notions, is
where we find sensitive perception. Throughout this inquiry this sensitive
methodology has indirectly illuminated a manner of approaching teacher education
and educational research.
Educational research is increasingly characterized by a dependence upon
evidence-based approaches. This is an approach that relies upon randomized
controlled field trials and exemplifies the kind of dependence on the positivist
approach to science that Goethe was critical of. Gert Biesta writes,
The EBE Network's Manifesto for Evidence Based Education states for
example that education "is too important to allow it to be determined by
unfounded opinion, whether of politicians, teachers, researchers or anyone
else." They call for a culture in "which evidence is valued over opinion" and
argue that any approach to decision making that is not evidence based is prescientific.
This position potentially diminishes the experiences and perspectives of teachers
and students in the classroom. It seeks to make the practice of teaching and learning
a hyper-abstraction and strip from it the multiplicity and particularity that the
experience of teachers and students yields.
Biesta goes on to describe this
orientation as deepening the rift between educational research and educational
practice and characterizes it more specifically as a causal technology. Briefly, he
defines this as the belief that all ends in education are established and we need only
find the best methods for achieving these ends. This orientation can be understood
as fundamentally foundationalist, in that it operates from the position that
knowledge rests upon unalterable ends, and we need only find the most effective
means for achieving them. The problem with this view in education as Biesta sees
and this inquiry into sensitive perception supports is that education is a moral
practice and not a technological project of cause and effect. Biesta writes,
What is needed, in other words, is an acknowledgement of the fact that
education is a moral practice rather than a technical or technological one - a
distinction that dates back to Aristotle's distinction between phronesis
(practical wisdom] and techne [instrumental knowledge). The most
important question of educational professionals is therefore, not about the
effectiveness of their actions but about the potential educational value of
what they do, that is, about the educational desirability of the opportunities
for learning that follow from their actions....
This assessment of value comes through an awareness of the connection of the
teachers' particular practice to broader aims about the purposes and values of
education. While there are certainly technical components to teaching and learning
just as there is skill or craft involved in the creation of a work of fine art, this does
not result in its definition as a work of technology. The kind of view of education
that sees its primary purpose as establishing, through empirical verification, the
most effective methods to fulfill a narrowly delineated end, is akin to what Goethe
took issue with when he criticized Newton's theory of color. Goethe did not object to
Newton's claims about color, he felt that there was meaning and value to color that
was not captured by Newton's disinterested theory. Newton's theory effectively
proved how color came to be but not what it meant or why it was important. Color,
for Goethe, has value in terms of how it, as a category of experience, generates
meaning in our lives. It was for Goethe, possible to know as datum, but the meaning
and value color holds in our lives, was far more significant in his mind.
It is likely that evidence-based education may be hostile to sensitive
perception, an approach that seeks to validate the sensible site of the particular and
connect it to established, verified methods and ideas. It is hoped that this inquiry
into sensitive perception has shown the necessity of this interplay and that the ideas
and "best practices" that we develop about education should emerge out of the
perpetual and progressive interplay of the sensible site of practice with the concepts
and ideas of research. The aesthetic challenges us to take seriously the sensible site
and how, as a result of a particular and embodied interplay, effective methods
necessarily develop, progress and, quite possibly, change. This is not to say that we
cannot be certain of anything in education. Rather, this is to caution against the kind
of research and creation of best practices that assumes against the particular in all
its multiplicity. For, as discussed in chapter 2, red is still red, albeit differently, if it is
a red shawl, a red roof or a red light. This qualitative difference matters, but does
not discount the fact of red. Rather, it expands, enriches and gives life to the
existence of red in the world. This is what makes phenomenal experience, in my
view, quite miraculous; that we are perpetually mediating between the existent
world and ourselves in the construction of meaning. In education, particularly an
education that takes seriously sensitive perception, we must heed the call to
meaning; the impulse that there is more at stake in teaching then finding the most
effective method for a student to achieve a passing mark on a reading test. It matters
that every student read and read well, this is undisputed. But our students are not a
technology, not an iteration that produces desired output. How the student knows
reading, what it means to them and how it roots itself and grows in their lives
matters. Herein, lies the significance of teaching to the normative and ethical
dimensions of our lives: that it matters not only that we know things but also how
we ought to know them.
It is evident from my above remarks that a connection between the
normative and the aesthetic is significant to sensitive perception. Throughout this
inquiry it has, I must acknowledge, lingered in the background. When Rousseau's
tutor constructed and carried out the "experiments" he cared that Emile learned a
concept such as refraction, but he also cared that his student ought to come to know
things in a particular way. How someone comes to know something is based,
whether explicitly or implicitly, on a set of knowledge values, on a belief that
knowing things a certain way is important. When Goethe cared that color should be
exposed not only as bending light, but also as a relational, experiential phenomena,
he believed it was important to know in a particular way; he believed we ought to
know through prolonged, empathetic and cultivated attention to phenomenon. A
thing, Goethe, believed, is best understood through accurate study of the
phenomena in experience. He called this, as discussed in chapter 3, delicate
empiricism. His method of cultivated perception does not search for empirical
evidence in the same manner that evidence-based education seems to. Rather,
Goethe believed that such a method could reveal "affective, qualitative meanings as
well as empirical, sensual content" because the empathetic gaze of the individual
was significant to how one could know something. While evidence-based education
seeks to attend to the empirical, it fails to see depth; the meaning of what the
multiple factors present in the educational experience communicate about teaching
and learning.
There is clearly, a normative component to an evidence-based vision of
education i.e. that one ought to learn or can learn apart from consideration of the
particularities and shifting conditions that experience generates. This was precisely
Goethe's criticism of Newton's methodology for explaining color; that he sought to
exclude as much as possible the influence of conditions.
Since Newton establishes the basis for explaining color phenomena in the
characteristics of light, he attempts in his experiments to exclude as far as
possible the influence of "conditions." Goethe censures these experiments
consistently for their very neglect of conditions [such as size of image,
distance, incidence of light, conditions of brightness, etc.), for it is precisely
these conditions which in his theory are the bases of explanation. (Bohme,
Goethe believed that we ought to value the conditions that affect how we come to
know color whereas Newton believed that this would corrupt his theory. Theirs was
a fundamental disagreement about the normative epistemology of color or how we
ought to come to understand color. This inquiry into sensitive perception is not only
an effort to illuminate a particular way of knowing but also an effort to bring to the
fore a way of knowing we ought to value but often leave out whether intentionally
or unintentionally. It is an inquiry that disagrees with leaving out the conditions of
teaching and learning so that we may create effective methods that draw upon
evidence but not necessarily on the possibility of a shifting and infinite set of
conditions that alter or color those identified methods. Sensitive perception takes
into account the participations and conditions of teaching and learning and how
best practices interplay and shape these practices on the ground. It takes the
epistemological stance that we ought to care about teaching and learning as a
progressive and perpetual endeavor, one that seeks to ripen meaning through the
interplay of enduring theories with the sensible site of the teacher, the student and
the school.
The way of knowing that this inquiry has attempted to locate for the reader has also
been an attempt to sketch, lightly, a vision of education. If we are to conceive of
curriculum in the manner that has been outlined, then, this necessarily shifts how
we conceive of the educational experience. Education, if we are to attend to the
interplay of the bodies, spaces and things and actively shape them to cultivate
sensitive perception, becomes a reconstructive, progressive and helical experience.
As John Dewey believed, education, in order to be successful, needed to be an
endeavor that occurred in transmission with society. It mattered that what the child
learned in school was somehow connected to the world outside the school. It was
the aim of teaching to show the child the conceptual and practical links between
what was learned in school and how it connected to their social and cultural world.
Learning is reconstructive for Dewey in that it perpetually circles back on itself,
connecting, deepening and expanding previously held notions. It would make little
sense to Dewey that many of our schools still deliver information to students in
discrete modules, disconnected from the world outside the school and from each
other. Continuity was important for Dewey; it mattered that the disciplines were
flexible and that knowledge was actively carried over from year to year. This
manner of flexibility between concepts learned in school, the cultural world outside
the school, and the life of the individual student and teacher is amenable to sensitive
perception yet is not to many current methods of education.
While there is often discussion about seeking better and more effective
means for achieving quantifiable results, discussion as to how to conceive subject
matter areas, their teaching methods and their relationship to a changing and
complex world seems minimal in comparison. Criticism that our schools remain
entrenched in an industrialized model of schooling while our society has moved into
a post-industrial, information age is plentiful. What this means to current visions of
education has yet to be fully exploited. Living in a post-industrial information
economy means little to educators if they cannot conceive of how to shape their
learning environments. A part of the issue is, I believe, not that the world has
changed but how we come to understand the world has changed. Our perception of
how we know things has shifted, maybe due to new technologies, maybe due to
evolution. Making a claim to the conditions of this shift is beyond the scope of this
project at this juncture. Sensitive perception encourages us to pay attention to how
conceptual ideas or long established notions shift when in contact with particular
conditions. This is true for educators, their disciplines and their intertwining with
the world. This is perhaps, a tall order for teachers. However, I believe that our
teachers are capable of meeting this challenge.
Teachers in their own education and teaching need to find the thread, the
link between what they know of their own discipline and how it lives in their
current world, in order to circle back to show their students how to construct such a
relationship for themselves. The knowledge they acquire about their subject matter
is akin to a rudder; it is what allows them to navigate a new landscape with tried
and sound tools. The fact of the United States Constitution will always matter, how it
came to be will not, barring any dramatic new historical insights, change. How it
persists and lives within the world today and how we may show students how to
understand the Constitution, likely has and will continue to. This is true for the
practice of teaching. We know that teaching is, like the rudder, something essential
to the practice of education. However, we cannot nor should assume that this role
cannot deepen, grow and expand to grant us a new perspective of the practice of
teaching and learning. For it is our teachers who we must always return to, always
give voice to. For their experience, with their students, with their subject matter and
with the world is where we may, if we allow it, find the sensible site for our
conceptions of education.
The early years of my education occurred in an independent progressive k-12
school. Bill's classroom, which I discussed in Chapter IV, is in this same school. It
was, for me, an environment of freedom, inquiry and creativity where it never felt
like "school". Classrooms had loft spaces, block corners, animals and outdoor space
was readily accessible. We were always engaged in building, making, reflecting as
well as memorizing and classifying. My teachers were known by their first names.
Their classrooms all had some aspect of their personalities. For instance, Gretchen
was a weaver so she had a large loom in the 2nd grade classroom where she would
sometime sit and work during our choice times. Steve and Edna had a large Boa
Constrictor that we fed small, live white mice to during our own lunch period. Each
classroom had a distinct personality and purpose. When I was about to enter 5th
grade, my parents told me that I had to leave my school because we could no longer
afford to send me there. I was to go to the local public elementary school. This was
to be a dramatic change in my perspective on what it meant to get an education.
My first day of public school was an environmental shock. The 5th grade classroom I
was assigned to had rows of desks facing a blackboard. There were no carpets on
the floor, or loft spaces or reading corners or even a door leading to the outside. I
remember immediately feeling suffocated by the space. We were expected to sit at
our desks all day and most of our activities consisted of worksheets and timed tests.
I wish I could say that my subsequent five years of public schooling were different
then this first experience but they were not. They were largely comprised of the
type of ordering regime and control, mentally and physically, that Kozol describes in
his book. I realize that my experience is not representative of all public school
experiences nor is this an attempt to idealize the kind of education that I received in
my primary years. What this experience showed me, something that I have thought
about since that first day of 5th grade many years ago, is that school can be
dramatically different for students and this difference is communicated through all
components of the learning endeavor. These two environments were dramatically
different in every way, from the furniture, to the activities, to the feeling of the
school and subsequently to how we knew things. It made me realize that
educational privilege had a distinct form, an aesthetic all its own that communicates
particular knowledge values.
In my current work with teachers I have often found myself frustrated by the
learning environment where much teacher education happens. Many of my students
have not yet been in the classroom and have not yet played with their subject matter
methods, tested out or experimented with the materiality of their discipline. There
are many ideas on how a good teacher is made. Some institutions believe that an
excellent historian will make a good history teacher or an excellent scientist will
effectively boost the levels of scientific achievement in our schools. This is and is not
correct. Deep and rigorous knowledge of a discipline is essential. However, the
modes and means of how to show a student what the civil war was, is and why it
matters requires a different sort of attentiveness then that of a subject matter
expert. It requires a creative vision, a willingness to play with the various conduits
of knowing that lead a student to grasp the concept, method or thing that is aimed
at. The teacher must not only know her subject matter well but she must perceive
the multiplicity of ways that knowing is achieved, how it may connect to the small,
new person in front of her. The teacher realizes that there is a larger project at stake
then her particular discrete subject matter; she realizes that she is showing her
student something of the nature of knowing. She must not settle for prescriptive
methods that have little to do with the particularity of her gaze and her students but
strive for that middle place, the unification of sensory experience and conceptual
These personal experiences undergird much of my current project and my thinking
on education. They are encounters that, like Monet's cathedral, I return to again and
again in an attempt to express my impressions of it; to make meaning from how this
phenomenal encounter has shaped my ideas on education. I hope that in this inquiry
I have shown that aesthetic education has a central place in our thinking of
curriculum and that we cannot understand it apart from sensitive perception and its
cultivation. My aim has been to show in this inquiry that the shape of knowing, its
beautiful stellate possibilities is what sensitive perception may bequeath to us and
that it is only through attentiveness to the embodied experience of the curriculum
and its correspondence to concepts that it may be realized.
As I stated, this project feels very much like groundwork, an experience from which
I am beginning to understand where there is still work to be done. During the course
of thinking through this inquiry I have come to understand that my future work will
continue to be interdisciplinary and will seek to encompass essays, fieldwork, film
and further curriculum explorations. Using this current work as a foundation, I will
re-evaluate how the various disciplines could become more integrated with one
another if they are to cultivate sensitive perception and beautiful knowing. Finally,
the issue of school design and space has, through my investigation into sensitive
perception, become a central area of future research.
As a painter working in philosophy and social science, I have often thought about
the importance of space. For an artist space and access to materials are essential to
the expression of ideas. Similarly, a scientist relies on specific materials and spaces
to execute experiments and to test hypotheses. Teaching is a discipline that is often
characterized as an art or as a science. It is, I believe, comprised of attributes of both
these ways of knowing. As an art and as a science teaching requires space to test out
and to express ideas. In future research I envision creating a studio/lab where
student teachers can test out and design lesson plans through the manipulation of
space and materials. They would be able to experiment with different types of
furniture, lighting, and classroom configurations in relation to a particular set of
lessons. A student teacher would have an opportunity to physically move through a
prospective set of lessons so as to better understand how the curriculum may
potentially communicate to the child. Such a space would encourage future teachers
and current teachers to envision, imagine and construct how their lessons could
happen. Such a space would permit the teacher or teacher student to become
sensitive to how the materiality of the environment shapes learning.
I am also anxious to explore the idea of recollection and its role in the cultivation of
sensitive knowledge. For the stellate, helical nature of sensitive perception can only
expand and circle back upon itself, reconstruct if you will, if as Dewey says, there is
continuity or what I think of as recollection. I think of this in terms of the tethering
that Socrates describes, a kind of boomerang effect that always snaps back to an
original position or idea. The work of the painter Pierre Bonnard provides the
analogy in painting of the process that I hope to describe. Bonnard has often been
classified as an impressionist painter yet he worked mostly from memory, creating
textured, colorful canvases based on memories of his encounters with objects. His
work will function, I hope, much as Monet's has in this inquiry, to grant a visual
analogy for structures of knowing; how our inter-corporeal mediation of concepts
and phenomena relies upon previous experience. I aim for this thinking to enhance
and deepen this current project on sensitive perception.
Doing this work has helped me to understand that I need analogies, sensible sites if
you will, to describe my thinking on education and that painting and philosophy are
the two areas that I may turn to for support. Painting will continue to provide an
important counterpoint to my thoughts on expression, recollection and knowing.
In connection to refining my project on sensitive perception through thinking about
recollection, I hope to tether this project by beginning to create case studies through
observing classrooms. In this inquiry I relied on a few brief days spent at Bill's
school and the work of Jonathan Kozol. I hope to be able to conduct my own
sustained observations of how curriculum may or may not be shaped for the
cultivation of sensitive perception. I aim to return to the practice of teaching to
understand better how to cultivate an aesthetic education, one that encompasses
sensitive perception.
From this time spent revisiting the sensible site of teaching I hope to create two
projects: the first long-term endeavor that I hope to undertake is making visible the
invisibility of the aesthetic inequality that I attempted to articulate in the last
chapter. I believe that film, like painting, is an expressive form that can make visible
what we cannot otherwise see. Through creating a comparative documentary of two
very distinct types of schools, I hope to reveal that the educational disparity that
plagues our schools, in terms of the resources and the types of knowledge values
that are put forth, stems from an aesthetic position as much as from an ethical one.
The second project that I hope to initiate through working with teachers in their
classrooms is how the disciplines may be re-perceived in order to cultivate sensitive
perception and beautiful knowing. I hope to do this through a detailed re-evaluation
of subject matter working in conjunction with teachers in a variety of disciplines. It
is my aim that this project would use the work I have already done in sensitive
perception to illuminate more deeply beautiful knowing and its significance to
learning. It is my aim to do this re-perceiving with teachers of various disciplines so
as to show how learning may be understood as beautiful. The discipline I would like
to begin with first is science.
Throughout this project a critique of a particular manner of doing science seemed to
arise through the work of Merleau-Ponty, Goethe and as a counterpoint to
aesthetics. I aim to offer a way for cultivating sensitive perception in the science
classroom as well as attempt to illuminate the causal or evidentiary nature of
science that has overshadowed methods of teaching and assessment in education.
I understand that these are ambitious projects. It is my aim in my future work in
philosophy and education to be ambitious about the significance of aesthetics, ethics
and phenomenology to the practice of education, while always remaining faithful to
the sensible site of teaching and learning, to the dynamic and beautiful interplay of
the curriculum.
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