Wednesday, March 20, 2019

There Is No Truth Without One Another

"Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth." ~Mikail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics

Schools tend to view their role to be the education of individual children, each child there to become their best self. The focus is upon each of them learning a certain set of skills and retaining (however temporarily) a certain body body of trivia with the ideal purpose being that they achieve their highest potential. The degree to which this is achieved can be debated, but for the most part, even the most progressive of schools tend toward the approach that each of us are out there pursuing truth and that it must be done as individuals. This is the theory behind testing, for instance, or grading, or rules that prevent others from talking during "study time." We are, by this theory, self-contained "selfs" who may work and play together at times, but who are, at bottom, stand-alone entities.

But as Russian philosopher Mikail Bakhtin and other see it, the idea of the individual self existing separately from others, is a myth. Indeed, we create truth, both about the world and about ourselves, only through one another. Truth is not something that we acquire or possess as individuals, but rather something we create in dialog with the other people. We see this very clearly in the relationship between a newborn and its parent. And I see it every day as I observe preschoolers playing together, engaging in mutual action and dialog, collaborating, cooperating, competing, as they, together, creating truth through their play with one another. This is why play is the highest form of education: it acknowledges the collective nature of any valid search for truth.

Of course, I care about the individual children I teach, but on a day-to-day basis I find myself focused more upon the entire community and my role in it. As I see the children in their collective pursuit of truth, I can never forget that I, and the other adults, are co-equal creators of this truth, whether we want to be or not. The degree of our engagement or disengagement, the specific words we use, the things that we make available to the children, all of this shapes our collective search for truth. Our values and opinions do not hold more value to this project than those of the children, but they are a part of it. Indeed, we owe truth to the children in our lives, and part of that is truth from our perspective: we owe it to them to make transparent why and who we are. It's likewise essential that we seek to understand their values and opinions and to listen to them without judgement. The goal is not to persuade or convince them, but rather to engage in dialogue about important things, because as Bakhtin says, "truth is born between people."

There is no truth without one another; there is no self. The best education is one that puts this collective pursuit of truth at its center. And that is exactly what play does.

If you or someone you know is interested in joining the Woodland Park Cooperative School (Seattle), we are currently enrolling for the 2019-20 school year. Click here for information. There are still spots available for 2-5 year olds.

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