Terminology and Meaning II – What you’re saying is not what I’m feeling

In my previous blog post I introduced the new-to-me culture of inquiry called phenomenology.  As I grappled with the concepts of phenomenological research, I reflected on the results and especially the limits of experiencing with my own consciousness, the lived experience of a person from a disadvantaged minority.   It would deepen my understanding of colonization, and probably alter my classroom practice, if I could “gain direct knowledge of the feelings and images of” an Aboriginal Canadian (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998, p. 96).  But is it even possible to “get behind the most elementary experiences” of Aboriginal life that I as a white Canadian am able to observe, and “look at their inner structure and how the mind makes [the experiences] what they are” (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998, p. 97)?  As I reflected on how to structure such an inquiry, I remembered the book, Black Like Me. John Griffin, a white Texan, medically darkened his skin and lived for several weeks as a black man in the American South of the 1950’s (Griffin & Bonazzi, 2010).  I wondered if this extreme example could illuminate phenomenological inquiry.

Phenomenologogy requires highly subjective data, especially if society’s accepted description is unsatisfactory (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998).  When I speak of “the problem” of racism as a social issue, my mind holds nothing comparable to the experience of those subjected to racism. Griffin began his experiment “in a spirit of scientific detachment” but the experiences of racism and hatred he encountered became “such a profound personal experience, it haunted even my dreams” (Bonazzi, 1997, p. 103). That certainly meets the criteria of subjective data.  But that was not Griffin’s first experience with the world of the disadvantaged.  When a World War II injury left him blind, being the intellectual he was, he documented, and contested the boundaries of the world of the blind until his eyesight mysteriously returned ten years later (Kleege, 2007).  In her journal article, “The Strange Life and Times of John Howard Griffin” Georgina Kleege questions, “in what ways—if at all—did his experience of blindness lead him to write Black Like Me?” (2007, p. 103).  Near the end of his life, Griffin moved into the cell of his late friend Thomas Merton to write Merton’s biography (Griffin, 2010).  In the forward, Robert Bonazzi writes, ” As with all his encounters, Griffin approached the world of Thomas Merton by immersing his own being entirely in its reality…experience was not deformed by intellectual concepts or by the prejudices of ego.” (Griffin, 2010, p. x)  This is as close to the textbook definition of phenomenological technique as I could hope to find.  Although I recognize there are less extreme techniques for exploring experience, Griffin’s practice of entering and returning from the world of the subject he studied has framed my initial understanding of the limits of Phenomenology.

Bentz, V. M., & Shapiro, J. J. (1998). Mindful Inquiry in Social Research. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Bonazzi, R. (1997). Man in the Mirror : John Howard Griffin and the Story of Black Like Me. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Wings Press.
Griffin, J. H. (2010). Follow the Ecstasy: The Hermitage Years of Thomas Merton. San Antonio, TX, USA: Wings Press. Retrieved July 12, 2016 from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/alltitles/docDetail.action?docID=10459068
Griffin, J. H., & Bonazzi, R. (2010). Black Like Me (50th Anniversary ed. edition). New York: Signet.
Kleege, G. (2007). The Strange Life and Times of John Howard Griffin. Raritan, 26(4), 96–112.  Retrieved July 12, 2016 from https://ezproxy.royalroads.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=25122623


If you want a less academic treatment of John Griffin, I recommend this article from the non-peer reviewed Smithsonian Magazine:

Watson, B. (2011, October). Black Like Me, 50 Years Later. Retrieved July 12, 2016, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/black-like-me-50-years-later-74543463/
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Terminology and Meaning – What you heard wasn’t what I was saying

Learning new vocabulary must be part of beginning any new discipline.  It enables a way of speaking to colleagues with precision about ideas and concepts.  In my Introduction to Research course from Royal Roads University I’m finding terms that at first glance seem familiar, but then discover that by adding an “ism” or “ology” suffix or by combining it with another familiar word, it has become the label for a whole new *world of meaning, only peripherally related to my previous understanding of the common meaning of that word.

“Pragmatism” still means doing whatever works but as a research position, the scope of “whatever” is limited to the choice of research methods (Johnson & Christensen, 2014).  Place “research” behind the noun “action” and suddenly you are talking about self-determination, empowerment, and participation in system change (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998), very little of which the uninitiated could extrapolate from the words “action research”.

Another such term is “phenomenology”.  The dictionary’s simple definition of phenomenon fits my common understanding of the word I use for UFO sightings or religious ecstasies.  The popular definition however, is inadequate for understanding the research philosophy of phenomenology. The dictionary also lists a “Full Definition of PHENOMENON:” which gets closer to the heart of phenomenology, “an object or aspect known through the senses rather than by thought or intuition” (retrieved July 13, 2016 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/phenomenon) .

I usually prefer logical explanation over feeling, (feel free to apply a gender-stereotype label) but phenomenology with its emphasis on experiencing first hand instead of accepting society’s normal categorization of a phenomenon (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998) seemed so far out there I was drawn into trying to understand it.  In a future blog post I will enlist the concept of racism to scratch more deeply into the surface of this unusual philosophy of research.


Bentz, V. M., & Shapiro, J. J. (1998). Mindful Inquiry in Social Research. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Definition of PHENOMENON. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/phenomenon
Johnson, R. B., & Christensen, L. (2014). Educational research: Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed approaches (5th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.


*In a non-academic moment I speculate that the masses where language evolved apparently had no need to speak of such esoteric matters.  When academics began pushing the boundaries of thought, having no ready vocabulary to express themselves, they appropriated common words and repurposed them.  In some sense they were the early adopters of the web.2.0 mantra, “reuse, remix, and redistribute”.

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Back to School

I was tempted to call this “What Was I Thinking: Part II”.
I’ve enrolled in grad school – well, a 1-year graduate diploma program actually.

Royal Roads University has a flexible admissions policy that let me squeak into their blended Graduate Diploma in Learning and Technology  program even though don’t have an undergrad degree.  The two-week residency portion starts July 18.
Victoria, British Columbia here I come!

Hatley Castle front entrance Aug 2006

Royal Roads University, Hatley Castle – By en:User:Merrykisses (Uploaded to en: October 9 2006) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The rest of the year-long program is online. Niggling at the back of my mind is the fact that DipLAT is the first year of a Masters program, but we’ll see how the first year goes before entertaining any grandiose thoughts. Now I’ll find out if all that stuff I listed as experience and qualifications on my resume will actually cut the mustard when it comes to learning how to do Academic writing and research. Already I’m looking back at all the missed opportunities to blog or post or comment on my Rhizomatic Learning Network because I told myself I was too busy to write well.  That practice would have been so valuable had I engaged each time I had the urge to participate.

Obviously I’m going to have to learn a more formal way of expressing myself. I’m writing this BEFORE tackling the course blogging assignment, so it’s my one last chance at being as deliberately off-the cuff and informal as possible for me – and reference absolutely no sources.

My first two courses are learning theory and intro to research. It’s the research I dread – always avoided it where possible in the past (because lazy).  I keep telling myself to take a deep breath and enjoy the ride – you’ll learn citation and reading soulless research papers as you go. But sometimes I’m not listening.  So far the online pre-residency portion of the program has me both hopeful and fearful. It’s tremendously interesting, but I’m nowhere nearly as articulate as some of the more experienced members of my cohort. It will take some effort at self-awareness not to mask my insecurity with comedy. Caught myself at it earlier this week in the chat on a live introductory session – was getting great responses from the instructor – but deliberately backed off when I realized it was mainly superficial. (Sigh), so much to learn besides course content.

I may be tapping into the Rhizo community when I’m feeling particularly lost – even though I can’t see when I’ll have time to lurk there very much for the next 15 months.

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Adaptive Challenges

I keep promising myself, “I’ll do it tomorrow. “

I suspect blogging for me must be something like dieting or giving up smoking or maybe meditating is for some people. Or like any of the  other good things we want to do but dread the effort. Forgive me #DigiWriMo for I have transgressed. It has been four days since my last blog post.

Cynefin Framework as of 1st June 2014

By Snowded (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0

Today, no, tonight the idea of complexity is on my mind. This morning Bonnie Stewart spoke to a group of educators at our college. She asked what problems we encounter as educators living in an age of abundance. A number of people spoke up stating various things they encountered. Bonnie then went on to point out that each of the problems we mentioned are complex problems, not merely simple, or even complicated.
She reviewed the Cynefin framework with us, showing there needs to be a different approach to solving problems in the different domains. Bonnie then introduced what was a new concept to me, Heifetz’s technical problems versus adaptive challenges. This suddenly made a lot of sense, confirmed some vague ideas that were rattling around in my mind. I suddenly realized how will this fit with a rather complex issue I am facing as a member of a board of an organization in which I serve. It was born home to me how easy and tempting it is, and how unproductive it is, to treat adaptive challenges as though they were merely technical problems – as though they could be solved by authority or by an expert.  It helped me to realize, being someone who likes to play it rather safe, that the radical, outside the box solution our board was taking was not only the correct, but the necessary process in this case.

I also realized that we often look for technical solutions to complex issues like unemployment.
Provide more training programs.
Provide more focused training programs.
Provide more intense training programs.
Provide more personal development training programs.

I’m just wrapping up a seven week employment training program. The course materials are excellent. They focus on personal development. They focus on essential skills. They use sector-specific content. The course participants are having a great time, but their focus is on gaining a credential that will be the magic ticket on their resume. They have been conditioned to view unemployment as a technical problem. Taking a course is viewed as one of the solutions that can be applied to that problem.

I took this framework to our board. Tomorrow I think I will take it to my class.
Let’s see what they think about changing values beliefs roles and relationships. Is it somebody else’s duty to value my beliefs to except my values?
See what they think about people who have the problem working to solve it. How much are we depending on someone else to open the way to employment for us?
How patient are they willing to be with taking a long time to experiment, to use trial and error. Will they feel frustrated and give up if they don’t get a job after taking this course?

Dictated to Google Doc on iPhone – minimal editing for links (and a little bit more, but not much)

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Pithy Gems and Lousy Weather

Before I get to complaining and excuses, let me plug a G. K. Chesterton novel I hadn’t discovered before.  Gems like, “…our democracy has only one great flaw; it is not democratic.” and “As mistaken lovers might watch the inevitable sunset of first love, these men watched the sunset of their first hatred.” challenge my own attempts at pithy statements. (Ok maybe those aren’t exactly spectacular, but I’m only starting the book. Besides, I like them.)

It’s knowing these treasures exist that makes any book by Chesterton, which the first few lines will tell you is no penny thriller or pulp sci-fi, worth the concentration required to harvest his ideas. They’re deep. Thoroughly probed in all their obscure nooks. You may not agree with all his conclusions. But the journey is filled with rewards for the effort.  

Oh yes, my new-found treasure is The Ball and the Cross. Public domain. I got my copy from Free-eBooks.net. But I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t also on Gutenberg.org. Have I recently sung the praises of reading on the tiny screen? Jim’s Reason # 38 why eBooks are better than paper: you never lose the page when you fall asleep reading. 

My goal of dictating a mostly unedited post daily for November’s #DigiWriMo ran off the rails early. Until it dissappears, one doesn’t realize how valuable or scarce private time with WiFi can be. It’s just not possible to even HAVE deeper thinking, never mind articulating it carefully when surrounded by people who have their own agenda for you. Add the fatigue of weather-related travel delays and poor connectivity for voice recognition and you’ll understand why I’m pecking this out at forty thousand feet enroute to Saskatoon, a day late to my meetings and two days behind my writing ambitions. 

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Virtual Altar – Real Awe

Aldon Hynes caught my attention with his title, “an altar in cyberspace

I’m trying to imagine what that could be. What first comes to mind is the Old Testament style altar especially a the Levitical altar made of 12 undressed stones. The fact that it was basically a place to burn animal parts kind of overshadows the spiritual reality that it was a place of drawing near to the divine God, of being in awe. So I am trying to imagine a place in cyberspace around which we can experience drawing near. One such altar might be some #DigiWriMo blog posts that are very visual – especially the ones where beautiful scenes from nature might help us draw near. Poetry could be another altar in cyberspace, something that gives us pause, poetry that causes us to reflect. 

Maybe I’m being far too literal here. There is another aspect of altar, the altar of sacrifice. Again drawing from the biblical old testament altar of sacrifice, those who brought sacrifices were expected to bring their very best as a gift to the God they held in awe. The sacrifice was also a material loss to them, something they gave up, or gave away. So now I’m thinking about gifting in cyberspace. Those who share deep thoughts, those who offer up their poems to the readers are making a gift. The readers are unseen but very real. Of course when you offer something up in cyberspace it’s really no loss to you at all. So perhaps it can’t exactly be called a sacrifice. Perhaps the thing that we really sacrifice is keeping to ourselves. If God is in every human, then communion, breaking out of our isolation may be that altar in cyberspace

I think I’m getting lost. Besides, Disqus is getting more and more reluctant about taking my input on the iPhone. I started this as a comment on Alden’s blog post. But I couldn’t seem to get past the login screen on mobile to post the comment, so I put it into my word press app and it has become my #DigiWriMo post for today. 

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On Compartmentalization

Unedited (mostly) dictation for DigiWriMo
from-my-mouth-to-the-page writing experiment

I left a comment on someone’s excellent #altCV blog post about our “pathological ability to compartmentalize” (edit essential here – it was Mitra Emad’s Stuff that Matters post)

The blog post focused on how the things that are so important to us especially family related matters – don’t really count at all in our curriculum vitae, on our resumes, in our work life. The “pathological ability…” was part of my reply, not the blog post itself. (since I’m refusing to go back and edit, I have to clarify that here.)

I was thinking about how other societies are more holistic. They don’t seem to compartmentalize things as severely as we try to do.  I’m sure that’s an overstatement but that’s what I was thinking.  In my mind I was speculating about how we might all have a healthier outlook if what mattered at home also mattered at work. If employers were able to adapt their working hours to accommodate the needs of the family instead of “you can’t get ahead if you put your family first” type of attitude.  If instead of valuing cutthroat competitiveness, we value the things that make someone a good mother, a good husband, a good father or grandfather. Or even conversely, if things in the workplace conspired to help someone dysfunctional become better functioning in their roles outside of the workplace.

Then today I had an experience that stood that whole thing on its head. I was desperately wishing that the society in which I lived was better able to compartmentalize. Events that occurred in the community over the Halloween weekend intruded into the classroom in a somewhat destructive way. It could’ve been worse, but it was certainly very uncomfortable. And even as I wanted to exhort people to remember that we talked about workplace skills and leaving home life away from work, I remembered that I had just called that a “pathological ability to compartmentalize”

Yeah, I guess I’m a total hypocrite. I want it both ways. Well no I don’t want it both ways, I simply want the ability to choose one way or the other at my convenience. (oops, I should have dictated a semicolon there instead of a comma to separate those two independent clauses). Is it schizophrenic to be able to compartmentalize sometimes and not other times? Is it idealistic to think that people should learn to compartmentalize for my convenience, but to be holistic when that suits my whim?   Or would arrogance be a better term than idealistic?

Is it even fair to expect that a society that operates by consensus and in a holistic manner, a small community where everybody knows everybody else’s business, and where the motto is often quoted “it takes a whole community to raise a child” – is it fair to expect people from such a society to practice our ideal of leaving your home life outside of the office, outside of the classroom?

The answer is, I don’t know. I do know that I am required to teach that principle as part of a work readiness course. I do know that the dominant society will expect this of people without regard for the holistic nature or lack thereof in their home communities. What I’m not sure of is whether you can more highly develop the ability to compartmentalize without sacrificing holistic ideals.

I think raising this question in class tomorrow might be a good way to address the conflict as well as to review some “western” work skills.  Sure hope it doesn’t blow up in my face.

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DigiWriMo CV (counting valuables)

The things that count may or may not be easy to count

(Dictated with minimal editing – forcing myself into uncomfortable territory for DigiWriMo)

I think it counts I am somewhat of a computer geek although I don’t know how you put a number to it. I believe it help me get into a Royal Roads graduate program even though I don’t have an undergrad degree. (edit: Flexible Admissions)

I think it counts that I’m a grandpa. That’s easy to count. I have five – no I’m going to have six. What’s tricky here is what does it count for? When I changed careers a few years ago, I wondered if being a grandfather might count against me. My supervisor assured me that no I was an excellent candidate for the job BECAUSE I was a grandfather. (OK had to edit that ’cause voice recognition on iPhone doesn’t recognize emphasis.)

I believe it counts that I am a man of faith. I also believe it’s much better for me not to pay too much attention to how other people are counting the degree to which I follow Christ.

I think it counts that I have been married for 40 years. Of course, it goes without saying that that says much more about my wife’s patience than about any good qualities I might try to claim.

I can count the years I have lived in a Northern community. I can count the years that I have been an adult upgrading instructor. I don’t think I can count all the kindhearted people who have made those years count for something.

I prefer not to try counting the people that I am sometimes tempted to blame when I have a lousy day. I should probably count the people who deserve credit when I have a good day. I can’t say I’ve lost count; to be honest, I never started.

I love to try counting the hilarious and embarrassing mistakes I’ve made in learning a third language. I can’t count the times those mistakes reminded me to be more patient with people who speak imperfect English.

Finally, I think it counts that I have lost count of all the gracious and encouraging people I’ve met online. I would be immeasurably poorer without all of you.

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DigiWriMo Intentions

Dictated Oct 23

So for digital writing month, I plan to write something every day. I will do so by dictating to my iPhone in bits and pieces and stolen moments, between classes, during lunch breaks, even at night in bed and inspiration suddenly hits me. I am going to try to do this with a minimum of editing except for voice recognition errors.

I have a lot of political, philosophical, social, religious, and educational concepts about which I want to write digitally.  For practice tonight, I’m going to reflect on why I seldom actually publish anything I write. I have in my Google drive a piece of writing called reply to Maha. It’s a response I started to make to a blog post that she wrote about being marginalized and being famous on the margins. I haven’t posted the comment on her blog. Part of the reason is that by the time I was done writing it I had no time to go back and edit it and I did not want to post it without looking it over making sure that the grammar is correct, that I said what I actually intended to say, that I didn’t exaggerate my points, that it was carefully nuanced, etc., etc.  I keep telling my students that it’s OK to make mistakes. I tell them if they haven’t made a mistake, they probably haven’t attempted anything worthwhile. Sometime ago Carol Jager (sic) applauded me for that and then asked, “And Jim, do you allow yourself the same freedom?”  No. I realize I don’t. I wonder if I feel that my reputation is too fragile to risk publishing mistakes. There’s really probably no excuse for that. The online community in which I function has been completely supportive. I have no reason to be afraid. I’m very self-conscious that I don’t have the same credentials that many of these people have, but I have plenty of evidence to show That I get nothing but encouragement when I publish something. Of course, at the back of my mind is that niggling thought, yes but all that I published has been very carefully and meticulously edited. And the things that did not meet my editing standards, or the things that I was uncertain about, or felt that I needed more time to edit “later” just did not get published.

So this digital writing month is going to be Jim Stauffer raw. Trying to speed up my writing process by taking some risks that I haven’t allowed myself before. Incomplete sentences, run-on sentences, exaggerated points that have not been carefully nuanced or completely thought out. Possibly even the wild speculations and some political incorrectness. I will not try deliberately to be inflammatory just to get responses. I don’t believe that’s Jenny wine – that’s not me.

(I thought that last line was just too cute to correct the voice recognition.)

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DS106 time-warp

Dad-blasted DS106 #4life, it’s a lifetime addiction.  That’s what it is.  Kept me from vegging out with Netflix on this Canada Day evening.  Deceptive too.  Just record a Dutch fairy tale for the Burgeron Trailer. I’ve been looking at the legend of the wooden shoe.  What’s more Dutch than wooden shoes?  Perfect.  Then I miscued my H2 Zoom recorder. After reading for 20+ minutes with expression and altered voices for the Oak and the gnomes and Trintjes, I discovered that it had NOT recorded. I could just forget it. Yeah, Really.  I could do that.

nat-replay-legend screenshot Ah, but I have Natural Reader, and I have Applian Replay Music.  I can get the computer to read it.  That’ll be geekier for my Bovine County compadres anyhow.  After a few false tries I found correct input setting (simply can’t just record from speakers, not cool enough – has to be from the system audio) and we’re away.

But of course, I can’t leave it just like that. Oh no. I have Audacity.  I can still alter the Oak and the gnomes and Trintjes’s voices.  Pitch, speed, flanging.  So much fun.  flangingAnd screen shots, oh yes, gotta show off.  Document it.  Ah well, might as well edit the mp3 tag info while I’m at it, and add some artwork from the web page.  OOPS, messed up the timing on the flanging somehow.  Gotta fix that in the audacity project then export it again.  Now edit the tag info again.  Ok, now just blog it and post it to the dropbox and to Soundcloud.

Hey, where did the time go?  Dratted DS106.  Yep.  It’s an addiction.  And I don’t want a cure.  Isn’t that pathetic?  Isn’t it Great!  Until next time…

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