Patrick Higgins, Jr.

Anagnoresis and Peripiteia

In philosophy, reflection on May 9, 2009 at 10:34 pm

In my house, we are huge fans of Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel (we call it “Yucky Jobs”).  I saw his name pop up in my iTunes library the other day in my TED Talks subscription and I wondered what this was going to be about.

Rowe speaks of two elements that arrived in his mind at a moment that no one can likely relate to.  These elements, anagnoresis and peripiteia, which I am sure I once used in a literary analysis back in the day, both deal with Aristotelian tragedy.  Anagnoresis, which is a literary device used to show how the protagonist moves from ignorance to discovery, Rowe used to describe the awakening he had at the moment when he was illuminated by his faulty reasoning, and peripiteia, the point in a tragedy whereby the tragic lead realizes the irony of the moment he or she is in (think Oedipus realizing that his wife is not who he thinks she is), he shows us that there may be a whole string of faulty reasonings that underpin his belief system.

Heady, I know.

The idea that it takes a moment of unexpected clarity or irony to show us our flawed assumptions is scary, in that we could last a long time in our own rut until that moment occurs.  Rowe’s ultimeate discovery is that he feels he should challenge all of his “platitudes.”  For example, in the talk, Rowe points out that if people took the advice and “followed their passion,” we would have a whole lot of economic difficulty within this country.  See this pig farmer’s story. Rather than follow a passion, what if we just “looked and saw which direction everyone else is moving in, and moved the other way.”  What if we just analyzed situations to find where the needs were, and acted upon that?

His ultimate understanding was this:

dirtyjobs

As I watched the talk and gained a new appreciation for Mike and the show, I did what I always end up doing–I related it to my own work.  What if the ideas I hold dear in education, the very things I have been focusing on over the last few years, are wrong?

It made me go back to my notes from BLC last summer.  I’ve mentioned this before, but on the last day of the conference I hadn’t planned on attending Dr. Pedro Noguera‘s keynote, but I ended up there.  Three things I wrote in my notes were triggered by what Rowe talked about:

  • Too often we use this equation: Talking=Teaching.
  • We shouldn’t be asking what does good teaching look like, but rather what does good learning look like.
  • We need to connect the way we teach to the way they learn.

I hadn’t thought about Noguera’s ideas that much lately, and hearing Rowe talk about anagnoresis and peripiteia brought them back.  What is it about education that causes you to lose focus on the big ideas that should be driving you?  I’d like to shift the focus onto student learning; I’d like to be listening to students the way Ryan has been and getting feedback from students on how they learn best, and I’d like to share that information with teachers that will act on it.  These are the types of discoveries that lead to real change.

I am guilty of trying to find out what “good teaching” looks like through my observation of teachers.  Perhaps I should have been looking at what the students were doing.

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