Resisting Explaining

Nicole Land thinking with Angélique Sanders, Kassandra Rodriguez Almonte, and Angela Chow

Today we went to a walk with a steamy/sweaty/dripping/raining/foggy quad – it was this unexpected, unfamiliar phenomena where the quad seemed to trap the warm air after a rainstorm, filling the quad with a dense, heavy mist as though it was raining from all directions.

The “rain” caused us and the children who noticed it to stop, to ask “what just happened”, but not necessarily to seek a rational, science-driven water cycle/weather explanation, but to actually wonder: what just happened – what is this incredibly cool thing that this quad place can do, and how do I respond to it?

We thought about words like liveliness and brilliance: attuning to the liveliness and brilliance of this place where we often pay attention to its risks and troubles (needles, strangers, dogs, pollution, air quality). We thought about this alongside wanting to value this moment as just one moment of connecting to place, to the quad; about none of us having a for sure explanation for what happened, but also not wanting to seek an explanation, to capture this moment within a particular meteorological phenomena or technical explanation. To instead think about connectedness, and about how this one morning where this incredibly unique and awe-some thing happened within the quad, and how that is a story we and the children now hold of this place. This makes me think about how often we want to be able to share with children a technical explanation or the ‘fact’ of what happened because we need to make our moments with children perceptible to developmentalism – we need to find a way to slot our experiences into a trajectory of learning outcomes and knowledge acquisition. I don’t want to argue that this is something to resist outright, but something that I want to notice, this habit we’ve inherited of seeking ‘facts’ to apply to make a moment meaningful. Our conversations make me wonder how we resist that, and how some moments demand we resist explaining them away and instead try to attune to what is happening in that moment, to the unique stories of place that we are coming to know without scientific technical explanations. 

Deborah Bird Rose (2017) writes about a longstanding division in Western thought where “on one side, people articulate an ontology of flux, continuity, and connectivity, and on the other side, an ontology of eternal and essential truths. The problem is one of dominance: that abstracted truths judge the world and find it inadequate. Isabelle Stengers, among others, critiques the “imminent triumph of human reason” as the destructive process of “judging the world in the name of the power of theory” (p. 497). This quote makes me think about our conversation, where we might think of trying to explain the steamy/sweaty/dripping/raining/foggy quad away as what Bird Rose calls an eternal or essential truth, or an abstracted truth that judges the world, or the destructive power of judging the world in the name of theory. What do we miss or shut down when we judge the world in the name of the power of theory, of essential truths? What might we create beyond essential truths, in momentary encounters and the situated knowledges (Haraway, 1988) we build with children?

Haraway, D. (1988). Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective. Feminist studies14(3), 575-599.

Rose, D. B. (2017). Connectivity Thinking, Animism, and the Pursuit of Liveliness. Educational Theory67(4), 491-508.

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