“Each of us is all the sums he has not counted: subtract us into the nakedness and night again, and you shall see begin in Crete four thousand years ago the love that ended yesterday in Texas.”
― Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel
One of the various assignments for the course that I chose to follow up on is the Week 1 Challenge, which is as follows:
Use cheating as a weapon. How can you use the idea of cheating as a tool to take apart the structures that you work in? What does it say about learning? About power? About how you see teaching?
Although I may not answer these questions directly, my intention is to hint at some responses within this blog.
“Cheating” is defined in different ways but for the purpose of this blog, I would like to use the following definition as it applies best to the field of education. Cheating is to break a rule or law usually to gain an advantage at something. Did I get that right? It really doesn’t sound that horrible except for the breaking a rule or law part, right?
For some unknown and perhaps innately rhizomatic reason, the idea of cheating then lead me to recall an idea and a song from my studies and experiences. The idea comes from the 12 century scholar Bernard of Chartres who is quoted as saying, “We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than them, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.” (Wikipedia) Apparently, this was an accepted way of looking at the world, learning and one’s work during the time and perhaps to a certain extent even today. Like modern day cheating, one sought out advantages by using the work and advancements of others to build upon his/her own thoughts, ideas, or positions. However, there is no mention of breaking laws or rules. In addition this manuscript shows no ill will or usurping of the giant’s status:
Furthermore, both the dwarf and the giant appear to be looking ahead almost collaboratively at a portion of the text (knowledge). Here David is clearly not battling nor stealing from Goliath, but note that the dwarf is able to see a bit further than the eye level of the giant. This idea that one can see further than those that came before and because of them as well is central to Bernard’s idea.
For the most part within the world that we live and work, the word “cheating” has enormously negative connotations ranging from infidelity to using performance enhancers to win races as well as cheating on tests. There are abundant and clearly defined rules and laws in our societies that define and prohibit cheating, and there is a case to be made that we need many of them.
However, my questions are as follows, if we remove some of the rules and laws about cheating within the realm of education and learning, are we not freeing up space and time to work collaboratively? Can we then take the opportunity to acknowledge the giant in others and allow them to guide us? At the same time, can we acknowledge the giant in ourselves and offer up our unique gifts to others? Are collaboration and cheating sometimes just two sides of the same coin? If so can we find ways to flip the golden coin from time to time within an educational setting?
On that note, I’ll leave you with the song which I mentioned earlier from one of my favourite bands in the late 80’s from my college town, Athens, Georgia. “The King of Bird” by REM is about standing on the shoulders of giants and that often futile angst that one feels trying find his/her own way or “mean idea” in a culture that values uniqueness and individuality. However, like the wise ancient Greek chorus of antiquity, the chorus in this particular song always comes back with “Standing on the shoulders of giants…” because we simply and always are building on past experience, living in symbiosis and rhizomatically woven together.