I have just read an interview with Tim Adams from the Observer I had saved – my copy. Just note this for perspective when reading the Platform. The interview refers to a discussion with Baggini (The philosopher magazine article) so I looked at that as well – and the transcript. In reading the Baggini transcript I had to stop and write this, it is what I consider my gatekeeper experience with academia.
I wasted my education time at school and uni, because of my lack of zen it was never about genuine learning – just going through hoops to get bits of paper. When I studied for my PGCE it was different, I wanted to be a teacher, I wanted to learn about how people thought teaching should be done, and as I was older – a “mature” student of 25 – it was meaningful. I have already noted that on one of my PGCE dissertations submitted in May 1977 I had the reference ZAMM [Corgi 1976], I am amused by this as was a friend. Overall this was a positive education experience, not plain-sailing but positive.
One learning experience was exam nerves, I still remember them. I cannot recall ever being overly nervous for exams – just healthy nerves. Because I was so interested in teaching I was well prepared for the Summer exams. In the one year course teaching practise had finished by April, and as soon as it finished I was up in the library learning. At university my final term before the B Sc finals was a 8-hour day at the library. I had a table and disciplined myself – 9.30-12.30, 1.45 – 4.45 and 7.00 – 9.00. That was the first time I ever properly studied, and in truth it was too much. When it came to the PGCE finals I started earlier, and decided that if I felt stressed I wouldn’t push myself. I studied, analysed past papers, and felt I was well prepared. The paper was something crazy like 3 essays from 20, and I think I prepared something like 6 topics. I was definitely well prepared …. And nothing of what I chose came up. I freaked. I had no idea what to do. In the end meditation came to the rescue, I breathed, found questions related to what I had learnt, and started work. My friend was invigilating, he was one of the staff who drank in the college bar and I had got to know him; he came to me afterwards and said he had seen me freaking!! This is just to note that exam nerves can happen even if you are prepared.
There was another incident that happened. I did a course on moral education, and the lecturer had decided that there would be a field trip to a youth centre to discuss a porn film with the teenage youth. I didn’t want to do it. At that stage in my life I did not have sila and was having some “success” in sexual relations, but for some reason I could not face going to the youth centre and discussing a porn film with kids. There were two trips and I didn’t attend either. I was later told that the lecturer failed me on the dissertation I wrote, and this meant I would not have qualified as a teacher. At some stage there was a moderation process, and the dissertation was remarked. I have not thought about this in a great detail until now, how different would my life have been if I failed that PGCE and had never been a teacher.
But Baggini really reminded me of what happened later in my life. After teaching for nearly 20 years I was working in Botswana. It was a good school to teach in because the students wanted to learn – and at that time I had lost my teacher mojo. I learned this in a strange way. It was custom and practise for teachers leaving to make a speech at assembly – sounds daunting, doesn’t it? Several teachers complained they didn’t want to do it but when it came to my turn, I pushed myself forward. Maybe I will get into the teacher conflicts I had there but the kids were mostly good to teach. I had not thought much of what I was going to say – winging it, but I found myself saying that teaching the kids there had resurrected my vocation – in student language. I surprised myself in saying that truth, and as I got down I walked past a student who said in a haunting voice “We will miss you” – what a nice experience.
Whilst Botswana is a beautiful place there is not a lot to do especially of you don’t drink – I had stopped by then. I met someone who was studying for an M Ed by distance learning, and I derided him; a couple of years later it seemed a good idea – and it was. I got into it, and have discussed my submissions already in parts. The education institution had a programme with the local teachers, so the tutor was there with them – and made some time for me. As with the PGCE I enjoyed studying this. Their sales pitch was that an M Ed would be awarded for students/teachers who could draw conclusions from their practical experience based on further study. I chose the topics from my professional experience, and they chose the texts that could add to the experience. I can remember hours sat at Shashe dam shaded by the 8 foot reeds reading, thinking and sleeping, then getting home and bashing out inspiration at the keyboard. Years later the M Ed didn’t seem to matter, and some of it time has purloined.
But my “Baggini” experience occurred after I had the M Ed. I had discussed a possible Ph D with my tutor. I don’t know whether he thought I was serious, but one Summer soon after I had finished my M Ed and finished in Botswana - awaiting a contract in Oman I turned up at the college to discuss the Ph D. I don’t think he was prepared for this, and he fobbed me off. He would never have been my Ph D tutor but he had not expected to have to think about it. I was given a few hurdles and showed that I was prepared to jump over them. I was then passed on to a lecturer little more than half my age who told me I needed to study more philosophers before I can use my experience to write a Ph D; he suggested an undergraduate course. I complained to my tutor about this gatekeeper, and eventually a tutor was found.
In retrospect they were trying to burn me out. Firstly the gatekeeping young kid dismissing me with the undergraduate course. Then what happened with the tutor. To their credit they didn’t try to take my money but this tutor did make me engage with some undergrad studies. I accepted this, and there was some slow interchange that led up to a turning point – the point where the gatekeeping burned me out. I wrote something which the tutor was totally dismissive of. And it ended. In the end I didn’t mind because the work at Oman took up more time than in Botswana.
I have no desire to say that what I write for the Ph D was good, it was the same style and approach where they were willing to give me a M Ed. This is why I think there was a gatekeeping approach. Intelligent application of professional experience has got to threaten academics who have never been in the world of work.
Baggini said “From the submissions sent to me at The Philosophers' Magazine, I know independent scholars almost invariably think that their philosophy explains everything…”
And Pirsig countered “I don't receive these submissions and so don't have the skepticism you must acquire from reading so many contributions that are supposed to explain everything. But as I think about this I wonder if, other things being equal, which philosopher is preferable; one who only tries to explain a few things and succeeds or one who tries to explain everything and succeeds. Isn't the purpose of philosophy to explain everything? Which philosopher is best trying to live up to the ideal of his profession?”
My intention with the Ph D was to investigate mind – and this followed from some of the M Ed studies. It seemed that the gatekeepers were pushing me down some minor dirt path when I wanted to investigate “mind”. Yet with mind there is one big academic question that they have no answer for – “what is mind?” Why doesn’t academia have a position on mind? They don’t want one. Each mind-defining chair demands obedience to their dictum on mind, a dictum that is decided by intellect – or the Church of Reason, and there is no desire to resolve differences and achieve concurrence. Yet there is much agreement on mind amongst the non-intellectuals in the world of spirituality. When the Bacon-split categorised knowledge and understanding as spirit and science, his schism was meant to be positive. Over the years science has claimed rights to “knowledge and understanding”, and the spiritual whether it be intuition, insight, zen, creativity and far more have been relegated to non-science, non-knowledge, non-understanding. Whilst the better of the spiritual world to this day continues to work to a concurrent understanding of mind, academia, supposedly the home of mind and its education, makes no attempt at commonality accepting differing definitions and separation as a reality, a fence that need not be crossed.
Using Baggini’s words I might have been attempting “to explain everything of mind” – and failing according to the gatekeepers, but for Pirsig I was trying to live up to the ideal of the profession. I make no assumptions about the quality of what I was doing or what I had achieved but it was Pirsig’s ideal, I take pride in that. For me I will never know because academia, almost by overarching principle, can never reach consensus on mind, and in my view is threatened by attempts to do this using gatekeepers to bar the way. There was money and kudos in the programme of using professional experience as a platform for an M Ed, but there is no desire to allow the world of work to infringe on the lofty towers of academic intellect. This is quite simply the fear of zen, the zen that is at the root of good professionalism – unspoken or not.