Archive for the ‘Ontology’ Category

I decided to mess around with making a video for my students as I begin to teach research methods to graduate students. In this course I push ideas such as clarity of thinking, accuracy in both thinking and in how one relies on source material, precision in thought processes, relevance of information to one’s argument, the depth and breadth of one’s investigation of both the relevant literature and the methodological approach one takes as a researcher, the logical development of the argument, the significance of the argument and, finally, whether or not one has been fair to all sides of a given position–this last point is not to argue that one cannot take a stand, rather that one must at the very least acknowledge alternative stances and, if one wishes, pick them apart.

This YouTube video will serve as an introduction to the class in which we discuss issues related to the difference between belief and rigorous research. I sort of like what I made here. I think it serves as a good introduction to the topic, but, then, I am the creator and am a bit biased.

My university is insisting that we all teach using technology to a greater extent in order to look good for an accreditation review upcoming in 2010. So there you have it.

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Seed Newsvine

This week the American Educational Research Association is holding its annual meeting in Chicago. This important conference brings together researchers and teachers from all areas of the spectrum of education and, as such, is one of the more exciting places to be as a professional educator. In this post I am going to summarize some of the more important points I heard today.

David Berliner spoke about the state of education in the United States today as a political space in which the ENDS of education have been taken away from professional educators and the MEANS of education have been corrupted by the reduction of knowing to a single test-score number. As test scores become the ENDS of education, primarily due to NCLB, then the MEANS of education become teaching to the test. When knowledge as an END is replaced by test scores then the only thing worth knowing is “is that going to be on the test?”

Another speaker argued that there is simply too much policy, policy layered upon policy upon policy. Fossilized reforms are something like geological layers as legislators fail to review either old policy prior to passage of new policy or evidence in support of policy legislation in the first place. The result is a web (more like a rabbit warren) of overlapping policies and legislation that boggles even the least capable minds.

Perhaps my favorite speaker argued that we do not live in an age of educational uncertainty. Quite the contrary, NCLB has placed a strangle hold on certainty. Schools are certain as to what programs count and what to teach in order to avoid the degradation of being labeled low performing. The problem is not certainty but faulty logic. NCLB is based on a confused logical structure where knowledge is reduced to test scores, schools are expected to solve social problems, and reading and math instruction are scripted and uniform across irregular contexts. This speaker called not for evidence based teaching as NCLB does, rather he argued that there ought to be EVIDENCE BASED LEGISLATION. I suggested to a colleague sitting next to me that perhaps those that pass the laws ought to be subject to the consequences of their own legislation. Congress ought to be forced to sit for say the 12th grade test. It was also suggested that no legislation be passed that does harm to anyone.

Finally, a speaker argued that education cannot be reduced to a model that corresponds in any way to producing widgets in a factory. By that logic FedX Delivers–Teachers Teach holds supreme. The fact is, however, that teachers do not exist, only teachers in a context exist and only in that context can teachers navigate through the murky waters that make up the classroom. Teaching is not something that can be planned except in broad brush terms if only because the unexpected is bound to happen at any moment of the day. Teachers are not tutor technicians preparing their students for tests. In the end, high stakes testing is blocking effective implementation of curriculum that encourages students to solve problems, to think about difficult problems, to rigorously reflect on ideas and concepts, and to remain curious about the world in which we all live. American educators for years have been critical of the centralization of European and Asian educational systems. The irony is that Europe and Asian nations are becoming decentralized as the United States moves toward a centralized national system of education.

I expect to be NCLB’d out by the end of the week. More to come later.

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Seed Newsvine

Embarrassingly, in the 21st century, in the most scientifically advanced nation the world has ever known, creationists can still persuade politicians, judges and ordinary citizens that evolution is a flawed, poorly supported fantasy. They lobby for creationist ideas such as “intelligent design” to be taught as alternatives to evolution in science classrooms. As this article goes to press, the Ohio Board of Education is debating whether to mandate such a change. Some antievolutionists, such as Philip E. Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Darwin on Trial, admit that they intend for intelligent-design theory to serve as a “wedge” for reopening science classrooms to discussions of God.

Read the whole story at Scientific American. Maybe, just maybe, the science will outweigh the mythology.

What is important to remember in this entire non-debate is that scientific investigation is something quite different that belief or faith. In fact, in St. Thomas Aquinas’ proofs for the existence of God, Aquinas sets forth the a priori that in order to be persuaded by his arguments one must first be a believer, have faith that the word of the Bible is true. If all one intends is to persuade the already persuaded then it seems to me that the argument of intelligent design fails. It persuades only those who believe the literal truth of the Christian bible. For this group of fundamentalists perhaps there is a debate, one that, if evolution is correct, undermines their very belief structure. But for the rest of us, intelligent design is so badly flawed that it is hardly worth the time. Nowhere else but in the United States is there a debate. Nowhere else do people believe that watching The Flintstones is like watching a documentary film. So read on, look at the science; you should find that there is no debate between Darwinian evolutionary science and intelligent design–except among those already persuaded that evolution is the work of Satan himself.

Read the Whole Article | digg story

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Is there a significant difference in making an ontological statement and an epistemological statement. Susan Buck-Morss (2003) presents the following examples of the problem raised. Consider the following statements:

  1. Because the United States does not violate human rights, it is a civilized nation.
  2. Because the United States is a civilized nation, it does not violate human rights.

Statement 1. is an epistemological description allowing for critical judgments about relative truth or falsity. Statement 2. on the other hand, is an ontological description establishing by definition the fact that the United States is civilized. This is not a judgment but, rather, a statement of truth. There is no room for judgment in the predicate because civilized nations do not violate human rights. Since, as a matter of fact, the US is defined as civilized, anything it does is, therefore, the act of a civilized nation.

The epistemological opens the door to critical debate. Stated in another way, Because the US does (or does not) violate human rights, it is not (or is) a civilized nation. Here the relative truth values can be weighed, discussed, debated, or otherwise set to a test to determine the truth or falsity of the statement or its converse or any shaded, nuanced levels in between. Not so with the ontological. The ontological statement is one meant to justify a position, to close, even usurp, debate. By defining the conditions of being as a fact, there is no possibility of refutation. To do so is to be unpatriotic.

The US is not the only nation or group to engage in ontological justification. Here are a few other examples of ontological statements that are meant at their core to justify behavior without substantive debate or discussion :

  1. As a Muslim my struggle is Jihad, a holy struggle; therefore whatever violence I employ must also be holy.
  2. Imperialism is undemocratic however, Israel is a democracy; therefore Israeli occupation of Palestine is not imperialistic but a defense of democracy.
  3. Because I am an American (Iraqi, Israeli, Egyptian, _____________) I am prepared to die for my country (religion, ethnicity, gender, _____________). You can fill in the blanks for whatever requires an ontological justification.

While the change from epistemological to ontological appears to be small—a mere shifting of the subject and predicate of a statement—the result is one that is open to or closed to critical thinking and debate.

My point here is really quite simple. Reasoned discussion always stems from knowing and not from being. Ontological statements define being in terms of a truth statement that is not subject to debate while epistemological statements embrace notions of debate, the weight of evidence, and otherwise thinking about interests being served. Ontological debate is, and can only be, a shouting match. Perhaps it is time to stop shouting.


Buck-Morss, S. (2003). Thinking past terror: Islamism and critical theory on the left. London, UK: Verso.

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