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Current Issue: Volume 28, No. 16 , Winter Break 2006 - 2007
Previous Issue: Volume 28, No. 15 , Week of December 10, 2006

 

Sharing Socially-Constructed Concepts

Concept Formation

Some things stand out; others are lost in the context.

 

RESOURCES: Community-Building - Visual Sociology - Message-Building
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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: December 26, 2006
Latest Update: January 1, 2007

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Topic of the Week:

Sharing Socially-Constructed Concepts

We learn socially. Our parents respond to our needs and teach us their customs when we are very young. Other relatives join in that socialization as we grow. And eventually our peers bring their unique experiences to what we learn. No one ever tells us who "DaDa" is in a text book. We learn that by trial and error and interpretation of what others tell us model for us.

No one ever sits us down and gives us a textbook definition of "truth," even though our courts would seem to think so when they as us what the difference is between "right" and "wrong." Try writing a definition of "right" and "wrong." You'll see how hard it is to do. Try writing that definition for someone who has been held in Guantanamo for 18 months, and who was picked up and sent there just because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Can you see that his definition of "right" and "wrong" might not fit ours at all at that point in our relatinship to him?

Truth, in other words, is a socially-constructed concept. Our understanding of "truth" depends on the experiences we have had in different contexts that may be unique to us. Our understanding of "truth" may change a little, or a lot, as we have new experiences that add to what we have already learned. The "truth" my parents explained to me may change when a teacher explains the difference between "right" and "wrong," especially if the teacher is focusing on what factors lead us to tell what someone else considers "wrong," or a "lie," or an incorrect interpretation of authority.

Truth, as told to me by someone else, requires that the someone else have interpreted the message correctly. Truth, when it interprets an authority, is always open to alternative interpretations of that authority and to the interpretations that authority made of any source that it interprets. Remember the game, "rumor," where what is rumored changes a little as each one whispers to the next what they think the rumor is? When truth is passed on from one to another, truth is subject to the same misinterpretations and misheard bits of message as "rumor." Sometimes written words help eliminate some of the errors; but communication is rarely, if ever, perfect.

One way to avoid offering misinterpretations and misheard bits of message in sharing our knowledge is to remind those with whom we share that there are other interpretations, other versions, and leave that ambiguity to the further investigation of those who wish to know more. In the classroom, and in governance discourse, we want always to encourage others to learn as many interpretations, or at the very least, the most common interpretations, so that they can decide for themselves. Educators and those who mean to share their learning in the interest of better community action for the community good offer you choices, and understanding of what those choices actually mean, both in the short term, and in the long term, so that you can choose what matches your own set of values effectively in determining community action.

Most of us spend most of our time and almost all our serious discussion time with a limited cricle of people we "know," work with, went to school with, friends, family. That means that we encounter the "truth," as it is interpreted in social contexts that we share. But our communities in America today are diverse. There are truths out there that we do not hear in the contexts we share with our limited circle. Repositionable stickers present a way to bring those many diverse truths to our attention in a community setting. (Repositionable, so as not to deface the property to which they are stuck.) They convey their message visually, making them quick to grasp, and, hopefully, encouraging us to talk about the issues they identify.

 

References:

Announcements:

  • Grades at CSUDH: Check Issue No. 14, Week of December 3, 2006, for any information you need on winding up this semester at CSUDH.

  • Say Thank You to our troops:

    In the process of reviewing new additions to the Snopes site, I discovered the link to The Let's Say Thanks to Our Troops Site. I chose a postcard and message. They did offer to let me write my own, but it was late, and I wanted to post the link for all of you, too. love and peace, jeanne

    Public Art Works for Community-Building:

  • Catalog for Fall 2006 Naked Space Exhibit
    Presented at the American Society of Criminology National Meetings in Los Angeles in November 2006.

    Summaries and Sources

    Notes from jeanne's Reading: "My World and Welcome To It" Index

    • Autism

      Entering the Imaginative World of Children with Autism or Asperger's Site of Dan L. Edmunds,Ed.D.,B.C.S.A. Diagnoses of autism are now so frequent that all of us need some understanding of autism. Many of these children are being main-streamed, so that we will encounter them along with children who do not have the same difficulties with understanding social interaction and meaning. We can all help by helping others understand autism.

      • Reviewing outcomes: Using DIBELS to evaluate a school's core curriculum and system of additional intervention in kindergarten. Good, R. H., Kaminski, R. A., Smith, S., Simmons, D., Kame'enui, E., & Wallin, J. (In press). In S. R. Vaughn & K. L. Briggs (Eds.), Reading in the classroom: Systems for observing teaching and learning. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. This a pdf file of an article on Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS). The DIBELS assessments are intended to provide school-based data to inform instruction and to review school level outcomes. This is advanced material for testing outcomes and suggesting ways to improve the chances of literacy at the start. Although many of you will not be directly involved with this kind of assessment, I think it's important to know what is involved at the school-level assessment so that you can more reasonably work with your own children, grandchildren, relatives. See Research on Reading and Writing Skills: Assessment and Adversarialism.

      • Speech Act Theory and Changing the Dominant Discourse

        • What is a speech act?

          In the 20th Century there was a turn towards language. In simple terms, as I understand it, that means that we began to realize that language wasn't nearly as simple as it seemed when we learn to speak in our native language. Some of the famous names in this field are Chomsky, Althusser, and others I'll list for you. Mostly, you just want to know that in speaking we can do many things: tell the truth as we see it; fib; persuade another to do what we want, intimidate another, and so on. A speech act is the choice of one of these choices: something that we do, intentionally, or out-of-awareness; an act.

        • The Role of Repositionable Stickers Not up yet. jeanne 12/30/06.

          Using a sticker means agony when you try to later scrape it off of whatever you stuck it to. If you've ever lived with young children, you know the pain of trying to rid walls, mirrors, desks, etc. of old stickers when their interests change. Because our goal is to help build effective communities, we don't want to put up stickers that some poor soul will eventually have to scrape off. And we certainly don't want to smear our community with torn and worn stickers plastered in an unsightly mess wherever we happened to leave them. So we use repositionable stickers. Ones like post-its. That means that when they've been seen and brought social issues to mind and prompted us to meaningful conversations, someone can simply remove them. No pain. Lots of gain.

          That also means that if the issue provoked someone to anger (and that can happen when we share and talk about real social, economic, and political issues,) they won't have to scrape it off to take it down. That's important because we don't want to alienate them. Trust me, they noticed. They are aware of the issue. And that's the first step towards understanding. Better to have them encounter another sticker, knowing that they can remove it easily, than to aggravate them into not listening anymore.

          Using metaphors and rich pictures in university education. Uses icons to permit people to react to their experiences in a Management Informations Systems business course. Pretty primitive icons, but moving in the direction of using the visual. jeanne

        Visual Sociology

        • Think:

          Think Before You Go sticker.

          Think Before You Go

        • Basketball:

          Copy of NYTimes photo by Barton Silverman on Dec. 22, 2006, p. A1.
          Copy of NYTimes photo by Barton Silverman on Dec. 22, 2006, p. A1. The photo we started with.

          Either Way in a Blink

          Variation on Copy of NYTimes photo by Barton Silverman on Dec. 22, 2006, p. A1.
          Variation on a Copy of NYTimes photo by Barton Silverman on Dec. 22, 2006, p. A1,the photo we started with.

          Either Way in a Blink

          A painting by Velma, a student at CSUDH, that inspired us: :

          Velma's Painting for Her Red Room.

          Velma's Painting for Her Red Room

          I can see the outline of a person. Could he be playing basketball? How could we use Velma's pattern and style to create a new basketball image? What if we added a couple of basketballs?

          Velma's Painting with Basketballs.

          Velma's Painting with Basketballs

          I tried to indicate motion by the scribble that defines the basketball - notice that the ball turns into three balls with the motion causing them to overlap. This version of Velma's painting was done with Paint, the software program that comes with Windows. If you use a PC with Windows, you probably have this program on your computer. Play with it. Just save the image you want to work with to one of your files, and then retrieve that image into Paint. Be sure to save your work to a different file, so that you don't wipe out Velma's original.

          The tools I used are the brush, with variations from very narrow lines to wide lines. The spray tool, the one with the long dotted drip - to make big solid orange and pink lines stand out less by covering them over with the speckles of a different color. That's how you tone down a color in a program that has limited colors. Another way is to mix your own colors, but that may not reproduce in other browsers as well as using the spray tool. Enjoy. And if you use a Mac, you'll find a similar tool on that machine.

        References

        • Steven's Portal "A NEW GATEWAY to the common good. It is based on the efforts of real people who are helping and healing the world every day." Nice way to gain a sense of how others are trying to make this a more caring, gentler world. I didn't have time to go through the whole site, but I did discover the I-Wish Project there. November 26, 2006. jeanne

        • I-Wish Project Story of a project that has a mission similar to ours. Differences: it's not asking for learning; it's not on current events; but it is trying to hear what people consider focal points and gains some illocutionary understanding from that speech act. November 26, 2006. jeanne

        SquiggleA Range of Sources on Global Events

        Left/Right Perspectives - Cursor - New York Times - The National Review
        Arts and Letters Daily - The Economist - The Sierra Club - The Guardian
        Wall Street Journal - The Weekly Standard - The Nation
        The Cato Institute (Libertarian) - The Open Society
        BBC NEWS | Americas
        - truthout - Museum of Tolerance, Los Angeles
        Los Angeles Times - Chicago Tribune - La Opinion - The Washington Post
        Cursor's Al Jazeera Archive - Ha'aretz - Palestine Monitor - Palestine Report

        Wikipedia - Web Sources Linked from Dear Habermas

         

         

         

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