A Pedagogical Imperative of Pedagogical Imperatives. Lewis Gordon

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  • 7/28/2019 A Pedagogical Imperative of Pedagogical Imperatives. Lewis Gordon.


    Thresholdswww.cedu.niu.edu/lepf/foundations/thresholds/Thresholds in Education Foundat ion Board of Directors 2010Dr. Kerry BurchDr. Joseph FlynnMr. Todd LathamDr. Teresa WasongaExecutive EditorCharles HowellAssistant Executive EditorPatricia KeeIssue EditorLeslie A. SassoneManaging EditorMarilyn J. JustusDesignerGerardo Rivera

    Aim and Scope: Thresholds in Education is dedicated to the exploration of new education inquiries, theories,viewpoints, and program innovation. Our intent is to explore fresh ideas and viewpoints that may become thepathways to the future. We intend for Thresholds in Education to provide a forum for new ideas and practices.Subscription Information: Subscription rates are as follows: one year, $30.00; two years, $55.00. For foreignsubscriptions, add $6.00 per year. Send to Editor, Thresholds in Education, LEPF Dept., Northern IllinoisUniversity, DeKalb, IL 60115. Telephone 815/753-9359 or fax 815/753-8750.Advertising Rates: 1 page $200; half-page $11 0; classified ads: up to 50 words $8.00, 51-100 words $15.00.Address: Managing Editor, Thresholds in Education, LEPF Dept., Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115.Thresholds is entered as Third Class Mail at the Post Office in DeKalb, Illinois under permit number [email protected] 2010, Thresholds in Education Foundation. All rights reserved. Thresholds is published quarterly inSpring, Summer, Fall and Winter. ISSN 01969541.Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the editorial board of Thresholds or theCollege of Education, Northern Illinois University.

  • 7/28/2019 A Pedagogical Imperative of Pedagogical Imperatives. Lewis Gordon.


    A Pedagogical Imperative of PedagogicalImperativesLewis R. Gordon - Temple University

    Let me begin by saying how honored Iam to be a recipient of the James and HelenMerritt Distinguished Service Award forContributions to the Philosophy of Education.Thank you, members of the selectioncommittee, for publicly announcing suchrecognition of my work, and thank you toJames and Helen Merritt for founding thisaward. A travesty in the academy has beenthe derision of critical thought, of reflection,in the study of education, especially withregard to its significance for the cultivation ofcitizenship and human well-being. To chooseto honor those whose life work is devoted tothinking, to those activities that transformthe human animal into the human beingthrough a transition from sign to symbol, tochoose such in times where nothing is morefeared in our nation's political life than aninformed public, is an act that goes beyondintelligence to the realm of wisdom.

    As Dr. Linda O'Neill, a member of thecommittee, would attest, our correspondenceafter notification of my selection reveals myprofound gratitude for being acknowledged


    for what brought me to the academy in thefirst place. The story is as follows. I wasworking as a professional musician, playingdrums and sometimes piano, before goingto college. My decision to go to collegewas personal, not

    absorb the pressure of a heart beat anmore abstract matters such as whethewould be a pure Being if all material thand all energy ceased.

    Yes, I was an oddacademic. I wantedto spend more timewith my girlfriend.Playing jazz, blues,funk, and being inthe orchestra pit forsome off-Broadwaytheater meant

    Good faith is not the opposite I did not realize tof bad faith. What is needed is however, becauseattention to the critical norms how absorbed I wof evidence, of criteria bywhich good judgment comesabout.

    with such mattersToday, such interewould seem evenodd in virtue of malso being Black.

    performing on many long nights, and sincethe income was low, spending many longdays in minimum-wage jobs.At first, I enrolled in many of my girlfriend'sclasses, but the experience reminded me ofhow much I loved to write. I had devotedmuch time to writing in my childhood. Thatenergy was spent on genres ranging fromshort stories to novellas, and on exploratoryessays on matters such as how blood vessels

    stereotype would have it, there were,continue to be, too many distractionsthe lives of Black children, especially thliving, as I had, in the "inner city," namthe Bronx, that should have made suchabsorption impossible. But I should admy own experiences varied because, braised by my young mother who was ataking care of my brothers and extendrelatives, my family moved a lot. I canof only one home in which I have lived



  • 7/28/2019 A Pedagogical Imperative of Pedagogical Imperatives. Lewis Gordon.


    Lewis R. Gordon & Helen Merritt

    longer than three years, and that occurred inmy recent adult life.Writing, then, functioned as a multitude ofthings that included the ongoing narrativeof life. Reality, in other words, continuedthrough layers of written realizations.Although I never kept a diary, my writingand thinking became one. I even consideredmusic a continuation of writing.So, attending college, where I was expectedto write, and write often, was not a burdenbut an affirmation of something I held dear.

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    I took as many courses as I could andwas eventually invited to participate in anexperimental honors program, the LehmanScholars Program, an offer I almost declinedbut for the director's love for jazz. I heardsome Charlie Parker (i t may have been thecomposition "Confirmation") playing on hisold LP player in his office and struck up aconversation with him on jazz. Two yearslater, I graduated through that programwith the wealth of experience and skills of

    That enthusiasm led to my becoming a NewYork City high school teacher in the 1980sand to my creating The Second ChanceProgram, a resource for in-school truants aLehman High School. Given the challengesraised in teaching such students, theprincipal had told me that a 10% retentionrate would have been sufficient for thesuccess of the program. It was fortunate thI was young, enthusiastic, and na'lve.

    a liberal arts education, which I have not All that enabled me to try things that manytired of sharing and from which I continue to thought would fail, and the results were,learn.


  • 7/28/2019 A Pedagogical Imperative of Pedagogical Imperatives. Lewis Gordon.


    instead, an 85% rate of retention of thosestudents completing high school. I wasasked to write up a study of the program,which I did, but it struck me that therewere several dimensions of my work withthose students that I could not formulatein that report. How does one quantifyand thematize, in my

    dissertation on bad faith and antiblackracism. That work was subsequentlyexpanded and published at a time whenthere was much pressure to examinehuman reality in oversimplified extremes ofstructures without individuals on the onehand and individuals devoid of structural

    realities, negative andlimited understandingof social scientificassessment at the time,that my colleagues and Isucceeded by respectingthe humanity of ourstudents?

    A travesty in theacademy has beenthe derision of critical

    positive, on the other.I characterized theseextremes as forms

    The answers were notavailable to me then. Idecided to explore them

    thought, of reflection, inthe study of education,especially with regard toits significance for thecultivation of citizenshipand human well-being.

    of bad faith. Theyinvolved allegiance tofalse views of reality,the consequence ofwhich was a set of liesabout ourselves. Socialstructures withoutindividuals could only

    in the world of philosophy, at the timethinking that Aristotle's theory of potentialityoffered much fruit for such inquiry. It wasthus the case that problems of philosophyof education and its relation to the humancondition, of what it means to be a humanbeing, were preoccupations of mine from thebeginning of my graduate school career.

    exist where they are not dependent uponthe activities of living people, of creatureswith agency and their day-to-day activities.Individuals without structures wouldhave to have been born "whole," so tospeak. That human beings have to acquirelanguage, a social skill, proves that we aredevelopmental and highly social-dependentcreatures. Both extremes, in other words,collapse under the weight of their owncontradictions.

    is a consciousness that is ashamed ofShame, as we know, is about being sedoing what we would prefer remain hidTo be "seen" calls for the perspective oanother or others. Bad faith, then, is aabout anxiety, and at times fear, of whevidence reveals, for the latter is a speof revelation: It is an uncovering of thawhich unveils additional things. Acts ofdisclosure, of unconcealment, bring thithe fore that call for us to make decisioThey exemplify a concept in philosopheducation that is presented perhaps moften than any other, namely, that of bcritical. The words critic, critique, criteand critical come from the ancient Greword krinein, which means "to choose"to decide." To do this, one must judgmake a judgment. And to make a judgone must be informed, so one must cothe things that will compel one's judgmThus, the related word krites (judge) beverything together with kriterion, whused to make judgments. A striking thabout the Greek origins is how this ununderstanding of judgment and evidenthat which appears and compels seeinneeds to be seen, is connected. Anothword sharing etymological roots withis crisis. But here, the more anxiety-ridimensions of having to choose come

    I offer this autobiographical narrativebecause I see a great deal of commitmentshave come full circle in my receiving thisaward. It was announced to me at a time One of the dimensions of bad faith is that it fore: In a crisis, we face making decisin which I was reflecting

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