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Reading meaning into texts.

 What can we see or acquire but what we are?
 You have observed a skillful man reading Virgil.
 Well, that author is a thousand books to a
 thousand persons. Take the book into your two
 hands and read your eyes out, you will never
 find what I find.
 Ralph Waldo Emerson
 (in Gilman, 1965, p. 51)

* A recurrent thread in debates with those who adhere to mechanistic assumptions is that only views epistemologically different from theirs are seen as ideological" or dogmatic," never their own. Their approach to inquity, as Dixon and Carnine claim, is "empirical," and produces "reliable data" even while admitting the limitations still caused by "primitive and inadequate measures." Given their (incorrect) view that "reliable data" do exist (they don't; one can train others to see the same, but that is a different matter), their problems are presumably only methodological. It is a view that includes the meaning that its own subjectivity is objective. Gersten's opinion that "holistic approaches are not data based" (as if there is only one valid concept of data) also exemplifies this view. Griffin (1988, p. 13) calls such a view a "sacred" science badly in need of "desacralization."

The ideological basis of mechanistic thought for the study of human behavior has been extensively critiqued and extends to the contemporary versions Dixon and Carnine adhere to. The critiques reflect insights from the history of science, feminist scholarship, critical pedagogy, critical pragmatism and from the "return" to interpretation (see e.g., Griffin, 1988; Keller, 1985; Lather, 1991; Skrtic, 1991; Winkler, 1985). The question is of course: whose definition of "experience" (the root meaning of "empiricism") and of "data" are we using? Gersten thinks that the time is "perfect" for inquiry combining beliefs from direct instruction and holistic traditions-by whose definitions of experience, inquiry, and criteria? See Edelsky (1990) for a similar question in relation to a similar proposal with regard to reading research.

Why do Dixon and Carnine insist we need to reduce multiple views of educational reality? Exploration of likenesses is not the same as reduction to sameness as Dixon and Carnine think. The view I represented emerges in pan from the concern that established research practices reduce natural complexity and diversity to forced simplicity and sameness.

Gersten observes "lower performing students" actively engaged in whole language classes in "collaborative and meaningful learning experiences-analyzing stories, evaluating characters, or freely critiquing each others' writing style. In these cases, the results are exhilarating.

I doubt that a diet consisting solely of teacher-directed DI [direct instruction] will ever accomplish this" (p. 466). Perhaps I was not so far off in analyzing why the DI movement is informed by assumptions that cannot handle complexity nor personal meaning making. Or should I conclude that Gersten's observation of "exhilarating" results must be an illusion, since "holistic approaches are not data based"? Also, how do I make sense out of his reference to research (e.g., Delpit, 1988) suggesting that holistic-oriented approaches can be "'disasters' for many minority students," a finding with "direct relevance for special education" (which is a misinterpretation of the cited research) in the light of his own observation? What do "evidence ... .. data," and "empiricism" mean? How do various definitions of these concepts relate to human meaning making? Our differences in answering these questions mean we disagree on the meaning of "error" and the need to avoid student-generated ideas in teaching what Gersten calls "technical knowledge" (in his example, teaching information about oceanography). In the world of holistic education, there can never be avoidance of student-generated ideas.

To "mandate" holistic education does not mean it takes place. Gersten's description of "holistic instruction" as mandated in a California setting is anything bitt holistic. The shift toward holism (a philosophy of life and learning that involves the entire person) may be fostered but cannot be mandated.

Von Bertalanffy (1968), whose work I referred to in my article, is quoted, using selected phrases, by Dixon and Carnine as follows:
 Von Bertalanffy refers to [the expression: the
 whole is more than the sum of the parts] as
 "somewhat mystical. " He goes on to say, "If...
 .we know the total parts contained in a system,
 and the relations between them, the behaviour
 of the system may be derived from the behaviour
 of the parts " (p. 55).

Implied is that von Bertalanffy agrees that: (a) The expression "The whole is more than the sum of the parts" is "mystical"; that is, I take it, not empirical and not true; (b) The whole is in fact the sum of parts; and (c) The instructional practices I objected to in my article (gaining mastery of isolated externally structured tasks) are supported by his theory (a claim Dixon and Carnine actually make). What von Bertalanffy really said was:
 The meaning of the somewhat mystical expression,
 "the whole is more than the sum of parts"
 is simply that constitutive characteristics are not
 explainable from the characteristics of isolated
 parts. The characteristics of the complex, therefore
 compared to those of the elements, appear
 as "new" or "emergent." If, however, we know
 the total parts contained in a system and the relations
 between them, the behaviour of the system
 may be derived from the behaviour of parts.
 We can also say: While we can conceive of a
 sum as being composed gradually, a system as
 total of parts with its interrelations has to be conceived
 of as being composed instantly. [italics
 added]. (1968, p. 55)

What Dixon and Carnine left out was precisely von Bertalanffy's (1968) explanation of why the whole in living systems is necessarily more than the sum of the parts. To von Bertalanffy, there is nothing mystical about it, it is simple as well as central to his theory. The whole is only the sum of parts in closed systems where relations are "summative" such as in heat (sum of movements of the molecules, see von Bertalanffy, p. 55). Summative parts are the same within and outside the complex (as isolated educational sequentialized tasks are seen to be).

In contrast, parts in constitutive whole-part relations, which characterize all living systems, are dependent on the specific relations within the complex which need to be conceived of as being composed instantly, giving rise to emergent properties of wholeness which are "not resolvable into local events" (von Bertalanffy, 1968, p. 37). Parts only reflect the whole while in the context of the whole. The whole is not "built up" out of parts. Parts are not real by themselves. The distinction between summative and constitutive whole-part relations is crucial to von Bertalanffy's concept of wholeness but missed completely by Dixon and Carnine. It also distinguishes mechanistic from holistic education. Ironically, von Bertalanffy (p. 55) warns about the possibility of mistaking constitutive for summative whole-part relations because of the tendencies of mechanistic thought. His theory explicitly supports a holistic/phenomenological understanding of human behavior (he uses the term organismic revolution; see specifically chapters 8 and 9).

In quoting Bronowski, 1965, pp. 53-54), Dixon and Carnine claim that Bronowski tells the social sciences to use the scientific method. The quote they used was: "if social science studies, as natural science does, what works and what does not, the laws which it traces are likely, they [the righteous] fear, to be very unsavory." Bronowski is merely saying that (not how) social scientists must study human behavior and must not be afraid of what they might find (the possible "unsavory laws"), just as a good natural scientist is not afraid of what she or he might find (pp. 52-54). That is all. The idea that the scientific method is the proper method to be used for the study of human behavior is not found in Bronowski's book. In his many comparisons between science and art and in his occasional reference to the study of society, Bronowski stresses that it is the need to explore that is the same, not the forms the explorations may take (see e.g., p. 72). Even artists' work is empirical to Bronowski in its systematic and detailed use of experience: What various ways of knowing have in common are not the scientific method, but the creative act of the mind. Other references to von Bertalanffy and Bronowski by Dixon and Carnine are likewise interpreted out of context.

Addressing a misinterpretation of my own, Thompson and Gickling are indeed correct that I used curriculum-based assessment (CBA) as the incorrect subject of two sentences thereby misinterpreting what they said. Being able to identify with the indignancy being misquoted can cause, having been misquoted more than once myself, I feel doubly disturbed about my misinterpretation. Going back to the authors' 1985 article, it is not difficult for me to trace how it occurred. Throughout the article, learning is defined as mastery of the existing school curriculum, as if there is only one curriculum in schools: the teacher-directed set of learning tasks of which the authors state, "Fortunately, most children do not need their curriculum modified" (p. 112). There is no advocacy for student-generated curriculum and no attention is paid to personal, social, and cultural meanings of curriculum (the Why of curriculum) in their 1985 article.

What the authors did offer (and where I misinterpreted them) is the flexibility (the How) to change a number of surface variables in the "ordinary materials and methods" Gickling & Thompson, p. 207) so children won't fail so easily, including the pace, the order and number of tasks to be completed, the drill-to-content ratios, and the assignments "to conform to the given sets of criteria" (p. 21 1). These changes make "immediate intervention" possible to increase mastery of materials, which is the way "success and failure are measured" (p. 207). The curriculum changes in terms of specific pieces of the prescribed curriculum, when, and at what pace the learning tasks are addressed, or whether they can be put into a different sequence, but nothing is altered in the nature of the curriculum, only in how mastery can be more easily accomplished. I looked at their article from the How versus Why level, while Gickling and Thompson looked within the How level only (at variations in mastery). While regretting my misinterpretation and recognizing now that the flexibility introduced by Gickling and Thompson is very consequential within the parameters of CBA, it does not alter my discussion on fundamental epistemological assumptions in any way.

What holistic educators are saying is that organizational matters of both curriculum and assessment need to emerge from the Why (the nature) of the curriculum. The starting point for assessment is not a "set of methodologies" to be "applied" to "a" curriculum. Nor should assessment prescribe the content of the curriculum. Definitely not. Rather, assessment is subservient to the nature, the Why, of the curriculum and emerges with it and from it. It is the separating out the How from the Why that is at the center of the fundamental differences between mechanistic and holistic thought, in all areas of life.

While Thompson and Gickling claim on the one hand that in CBA "there are no a priori standards that are controlled and contrived for the purpose of fitting student to preset goals" (p. 469); they state on the other hand that their methodology is designed to intervene if "failure begins to occur." How could failure begin to occur unless there are a priori standards to be met? As Dickman (1990) pointedly observes, the need to quantify establishes a dynamic that makes the idea of failure concrete.

Thompson and Gickling state "The struggle continues to try to find meaningful ways to apply these concepts [meaning, process, and context], including dynamic strategies for delivering these concepts successfully" (p. 470). From a holistic perspective, meaning, context, and process are not "concepts" to be applied or delivered, not something outside of yourself you "struggle" for or, in Gersten's terms, you "grapple" with. They are ways of living, ways of being with children while doing significant things together, to use Oliver and Gershman's (1989) concept of teaching. One does not have to make a "concerted effort to make every task as contextual as possible" (Thompson & Gickling, p. 470). One only has to grapple and struggle for meaning when there are procedures and methodologies that stand in the way.

Thompson and Gickling's present comments, including their advocacy for the use of portfolios and interviews for assessment, reflect a more open-ended view of curriculum and assessment than did their earlier work. From a holistic understanding of human behavior, however, the question continues to be: portfolios-of what? interviews-in relation to what? Education is grounding the act of learning into student real life meaning. It is not about how to apply or deliver context to predetermined learning tasks. It is a difference in where you start, a difference that can make a world(view) of difference. Ask any youngster.

While field-based professionals in special education (see e.g., Dickman, 1990; Leoni, 1990) directly address the epistemological problems others and I have raised, the academic critics of my article either deny or circle around them. They have not dealt directly with the unfortunate natural science heritage in the study of human behavior, including its obsession with equating quantification and external control over processes with the act of knowing, both in research and in practice. Until these problems are understood, the struggle in our field for authentic meaning will be without end.


Bertalanffy, L., von (1968). General systems theory. New York: George Braziller.

Bronowski, J. (1965). Science and human values. New York: Harper & Row.

Delpit, L. D. (1988). The silenced dialogue: Power and pedagogy in educating other people's children. Harvard Educational Review, 58(3), 280-298.

Dickman, E. (1990). Letter to the editor, Journal of Learning Disabilities, 23(3), 138-140.

Edelsky, C. (1990). Whose agenda is this anyway? A response to McKenna, Robinson, and Miller. Educational Researcher,19(8),.

Gickling, E. E., & Thompson, V. P. (1985). A personal view of curriculum-based assessment. Exceptional Children, 52, 205-218.

Griffin, D. R. (1988). Introduction: The re-enchantment of science. In. D. R. Griffin (Ed.), The reenchantment of science (pp. 1-47). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Gilman, W. H. (Ed.). (1965). Selected writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: New American Library.

Keller, E. F. (1985). Reflections on gender and science. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Lather, P. (1991). Getting Smart. Feminist research and pedagogy with/in the postmodern. New York: Routledge.

Leoni, P. J. (1990). Letter to the editor. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 23(8),458.

Oliver, D., & Gershman, K. W. (1989). Education, modernity, and fractured meaning. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Skrtic, T. M. (1991). Behind special education. A critical analysis of professional culture and school organization. Denver, CO: Love Publishing.

Winkler, K. J. (1985). Questioning the science in social science: Scholars signal a "Turn to interpretation." Chronicle of Higher Education, 30(17), pp. 1-3.


LOUS HESHUSIUS is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education, at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Exceptional Children, Vol. 58, No. 5, pp. 472-475. [C] 1992 The Council for Exceptional Children.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Council for Exceptional Children
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Point/Counterpoint; response to Robert C. Dixon and Douglas W. Carnine, 58 Exceptional Children 461, 1992; Russell Gersten, 58 Exceptional Children 464, 1992; and Verlinda P. Thompson and Edward E. Gickling, 58 Exceptional Children 468, 1992
Author:Heshusius, Lous
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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