Counterpoint and my educational values



Counterpoint and Related Terms Used in this Paper

I need to start by explaining the term ‘counterpoint’ and related expressions used in this paper. ‘Counterpoint’ is a musical term denoting the fusion of different voices into a harmonious whole. ‘Voice’ is the 'technical' term given to single strands of melody in a composition, in which no voice is subsumed within the whole, but each one is necessary to the whole and the whole is necessary to the individual voice. Counterpoint is the musical equivalent of holding the one and the many together as Socrates said in his exposition about what constitutes the art of a dialectician. In order to help explain what I mean, if you are reading this on the internet I would invite you to click on the url after the following few paragraphs. If you don’t have the internet, please have a look at the footnote below, which I hope offers some explanation of what I want to say[1].
In the extract, the counterpoint begins at 2 minutes 50 seconds. On the screen you will see the voices represented as coloured bars and you can see how they interweave. There is a symmetry and sense of challenge and resolution. Although the whole integrates, no one voice is lost in the developing of the arguments, yet the resolutions are beautiful. Watch and listen particularly at just after three minutes, when the first voice is heard again and then a new development is forged. You can see on the screen as well as hear how there is argument or exposition, counter-argument, resolution, voices listening to voices, or persistence when a voice needs to influence other voices. Look at the dialogue at four minutes 26. It is a true dialogue in the way in which neither suppresses the other, but in which both have their say and add to the overall impetus, yet retaining at the same time their individuality.
            I believe all of this has been framed by Bach with a sense of purpose, and that purpose manifests itself in his determination to evolve the highest forms that those voices can evolve separately and together, and for those voices to speak with authority and confidence and for those voices to do it beautifully! In educational terms this music represents to me a principled expression of beneficial purposes in the world, of collaboration, of the expectation that voices can work together towards goals which matter, and harmonise eventually into something even better than there was before. It is something that relies on the creativity of individuals and groups. I perceive a link between counterpoint and educational processes.
            In the way I am using it in this paper, an educational counterpoint is a space in which people are learning something worthwhile and to their greatest potential. Learning how to create, facilitate and hold this space becomes the counterpoint of my practice.
            So, after all this preamble, have a look and listen to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue.

The relationship between counterpoint and my educational values

In my thesis (Laidlaw, 1996) I maintained that all the values in my practice were not separable in meaningful ways: that the whole and the parts were one and they were continuously developing dialectically. This sense of the living and evolving values became my original contribution to knowledge. I now believe the notion of counterpoint offers me a way of expressing these ideas more completely. The degree of counterpoint in my practice also indicates my own learning.

i)       Democratic practices

            I am aware that I cannot write about values as if they are static. Values become apparent through our actions. From the beginning of my professional practice I have consciously sought to embed democratic principles within educational processes and have rated the success of a particular series of lessons or teacher-observations to the degree to which democraticprinciples are being encouraged (Laidlaw, 1996). I accept this notion of democracy: ‘Democracy [is] not majority rule: democracy [is] diffusion of power, representation of interests, recognition of minorities’(Calhoun, as cited in Roper 1989, p. 63).
Working out to what degree I was enabling this space and how I could improve it has usually been the stuff of my educational theorising from the beginning of my career – as far as I could say I did any theorising at the beginning of my career. And in this paper I think you will see the degree to which my understanding of democratic practices has developed and become a significant voice in the counterpoint of my professional development. I am claiming that within any counterpoint of my educational life, the enquiry into how I cam improve the value of democracy is always a recurring theme. I place the idea of it here in the paper so that you can bear it in mind in subsequent parts. Within my particular developing value of democracy comes an increasing understanding and integration of what I and others perceive as fairness as well.

ii)      Freedom

I also want to draw your attention to my value of freedom. It is my belief that I try to act in ways that will enhance individuals’ and groups’ freedom. By freedom I don’t mean licence. With freedom come responsibilities, because what we do impinges on others. I believe that individuals and groups have the right to self-determination if this does not infringe the freedoms of others. I also believe responsible freedom encourages creativity and through creativity we fulfil and challenge ourselves.

iii)    Equality

Linked to the above values is my notion of the equality of all human life. All people, regardless of religion, faith, ethnicity, race, history, geography, language, gender, age, physical or mental abilities, are equal. That this notion is not universally recognised has meant that I have sometimes had to strive for it overtly in my practice. This is not only to enable worthwhile learning about something like English or Psychology, but more importantly to draw attention to the necessity of raising equality as an issue. If I do not treat all my students, colleagues and pupils, as equal then I am violating one of my core values, and the counterpoint is distorted. Experiencing a sense of being respected as an individual, is, I believe, a human right. The degree to which I succeed or fail as I embed this value within my practice is a degree to which I am maintaining a counterpoint of practice.

iv)    A desire for wholeness

In addition I see a desire for wholeness as an important value in my work. I perceive wholeness (which had an original connotation of holiness) to be likened to integrity. I am referring to the healthy unfolding of something/someone towards a goal, which is not necessarily fully understood or planned for, but gains creative momentum as aspects begin to fit together in harmony. In my own educational development and in influencing the educational development of others, I have sought wholeness rather than pieces or fragments. I have sought a degree of symmetry. Integrity also suggests honesty or adhering to certain ethical principles. I believe that developing my values of democracy, love, freedom and equality has integrity because I can show how such integrity has led to improvements in learning something of value. My desire for wholeness is about wanting to cohere particular values within my educational processes. I detail more about my understanding of wholeness and fragmentation later on in the paper.

v)     Love

In his doctoral thesis Finnegan (2000, as cited inCiville 1981, p. 300) states that ‘love enables justice to see rightly’. This is a telling phrase for me. Love is what essentially motivates me to do what I do and guides me towards actions which are conducive to living out the above values more fully. In a review of a previous draft of this paper, Lewis Husain (2008) asked me why I care. I care because I see no other way of creating for myself a worthwhile life. I chose a long time ago to see life as meaningful as opposed to meaningless. As Peck (1978) wrote, love is not so much a feeling as an orientation. It is hard work. It requires dedication and a belief and hope in oneself and the other. Love is what motivates me and keeps me going when it’s tough. Love, for example, has helped me in the creation of this paper, which has been one of the most difficult in my life to write. I do it because I hope it will speak to you and that you may find some inspiration in it. If I choose not to see what I do as meaningful, then I will never create anything worthwhile. In the end I believe that we create ourselves in our own images and I don’t want to be ugly on the inside. If, on the other hand, I believe my life is meaningful, then it requires dedication to see it through. It is love which provides sustenance as well as motivation for the journey.
The pursuit of counterpoint in my educational life requires a balance of the degree of emphasis given to any particular value at any particular time. In educational terms counterpoint is about balancing all the values and beliefs and experiences and insights at any given moment for the benefit of the learners. 

Creating standards of judgement from values

The values I am highlighting of love, democracy, freedom, equality and wholeness for the purposes of any evaluation become my standards of judgement. These standards of judgement help me to frame my educational practice and theorising. I hope that these values can be seen to be emerging clearly in this paper. I believe you will see them manifesting themselves as the standards of judgement you can apply when I:
  1. facilitate individual and collective voices into becoming a meaningful whole, in which individuals voices are neither subordinated to the whole, nor important only in relation to it;
  2. (help to) improve practice and theorising; and
  3. help teachers to develop greater understanding of their social and epistemological contexts in order to fulfil both personal and social values.
I will try to show my students and colleagues speaking for themselves as part of the explanation of my educational influences in my own learning, in the learning of others and in the learning of the social contexts in which the actions take place. (Again, the notion of students speaking for themselves is a democratic one in which I have been aided by reading the work of Dewey (1997[2]), Neill (1960), Rogers (1983) and Foucault (1980).) Now I want to show you where it all began.

[1]        The youtube presentation plays Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, which is a piece of music for organ. The notes are visually represented in colour-coding for the individual voices, and intervals between notes are depicted bars of colour on the screen going up or down. As the music develops you watch its development and interplay of voices in a visual form, and see the weavings of the various voices. It is a visual as well as aural counterpoint.
[2]        Of course Dewey originally wrote his epic book Democracy and Education in 1916.