off-track existentialist young-being


June 10, 2011 by Willy Cardoso

Just read this:

Analyzing our autobiographies as learners has important implications for how we teach… the insights and meanings we draw from these deep experiences are likely to have a profound and long-lasting influence… we may think we’re teaching according to a widely accepted curricular or pedagogic model, only to find, on reflection, that the foundations of our practice have been laid in our autobiographies as learners. (Brookfield, 1995: 31 cited in Tennant, M., 2006:132)

Very true! I first realized that when I started to teach at a school that followed a more communicative approach (whatever that really means) instead of a ‘drill ’em to death’ approach; the latter being roughly how I was taught.

And then again many times I have realized that some of my beliefs regarding good practice are based on my autobiography no matter how much I read and study, and get trained up – I think that is what they mean by experiential learning. The interesting thing is that since I haven’t really been able to cease being a learner, my learner autobiography is something on-going and many times non-linear (in the sense that I don’t perceive a step-by-step progression and also that every now and then there is regression); therefore my teaching personality is also an unfinished project.

The act of reflecting over my autobiography is as far as I can see an inevitable instance of relativity, that is, of events that are dependant on psychological, social, and environmental currents and their residue – both the historical event being pondered over and the actual activity of pondering.

This leaves me with the feeling that if I take pieces of my own history as solved, closed cases, I will be denying the value of what I haven’t seen yet – back then and henceforth – and the value of how my future will change my perception of my past, which in turn may dictate my present actions.

Unlike school History, as an orderly subject, I would like my history to be webby and curly, full of loops and some dead-ends. It’s intricate and I’d like it to be insoluble. Not complicated; in fact, I often like things to be fairly simple. Not simpler, simple. Not complicated, yet complex.


3 thoughts on “off-track existentialist young-being

  1. I relate to this post on two levels:
    1) You said:
    “my learner autobiography is something on-going…therefore my teaching personality is also an unfinished project”
    I also feel this way. I want to believe that the time I spend in “blogosphere” reading about teaching comes from my inability to stop being a learner. That has an ongoing influence on my teaching.
    2) You said:
    “some of my beliefs regarding good practice are based on my autobiography”
    Just been exploring some aspects of my education in an open setting on my blog. that’s part one – haven’t finshed wring how it influenced my teaching in a learning center with a fairly open setting (for part two) :

  2. Diarmuid says:

    If you read anything by McNiff and Whitehead, or simply visit the website and spend a little bit of time browsing, you will find ways of writing PhDs and Masters thesises that are essentially writing your autobiography. It’s a fascinating thought.

    Essentially the argument is that good research generates new knowledge that causes change. Whitehead (in particular) argues that by undertaking a critical examination of our practice, we are discovering new things and this brings about change in our lives. He advises checking how this change impacts upon other people so that we can highlight the significance of this new knowledge. He also reminds us that this kind of research is significant because it adds to the growing knowledge base that is challenging the hegemony of positivist-inspired research.

    But to stop it being too much navel-gazing, he also advises that we rigorously examine our current histories and values. Where did we get them? Why do we keep them? This situates our current being in a social, historical and cultural context and allows the reader to draw the necessary inferences about the validity of our findings. If you were brought up benefitting from the largesse of Col. Ghadafi and never suffering any abuses being carried out in his name or on his orders, then the reader will be able to evaluate more critically your view that what is holding you back in life is the fact that you have yet to launch tank attacks on those people who badmouth you. If we fail to recognise each person as a social being, grounded in history and culture, then we risk making everyone looking like self-contained embodiments of experience, all of which are equally valid (which two researchers called Kemmis and Taggart dismiss as a “liberal fallacy.”)

    So, Willy and Naomi, here is your chance to make your penchant for autobiographies into a doctorate. Have a look at Whitehead’s webpage (as above), it might be right up your street(s).

  3. Thanks Diarmuid, you’re turning out a fine advocate of action research and that’s terrific.

    I’m intrigued by this: “how this change impacts upon other people so that we can highlight the significance of this new knowledge” – how can I measure change, or maybe measure is not the right word, but how can I ‘see’ and ‘describe’ change in other people without being positivistic? There might be good ideas out there of course, I’m interested in finding them out. WIthout thinking or researching too much I can already say that it would be a very rich experience if a group of people engaged in “something” together would carry on action research together, that way I think we could ‘see’ better, with many eyes. It would also be very interesting because we’d be including the real ‘social’ in research, i.e. from its point of departure, observation and writing up.

    On the other hand, I’d like to know if we can do action research without (considering) others. Is there an ‘existentialist’ strand of action research? Or would it be mere navel-gazing?

    More fascinating though is:
    “he (Whitehead) also advises that we rigorously examine our current histories and values. Where did we get them? Why do we keep them?”
    This would be quite a journey, and a much more interesting way to learn about history, sociology, philosophy, economy, etc. It’s hard for me to accept how things became so atomized, especially the dichotomy mind x society. A study that would involve my practice and my sociocultural history seems to be the way to go.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

receive new posts by email.

Join 486 other followers


Events 2015

IATEFL Manchester, UK
10 April, 2014
TDSIG PCE: Challenges and Rewards
More info

IATEFL Manchester, UK
12 April, 2015
Talk: Initial teacher training: challenges and innovations in course design

23 March, 2015 - Kragujevac
28 March, 2015 - Belgrade
Theme: Assessment: who is it for?
More info



%d bloggers like this: