chapter  7
14 Pages

Experience and Integrity: The Historical Individual

Polanyi (1962/1974) wrote that human beings “must inevitably see the universe from a center lying within ourselves and speak about it in terms of a human language shaped by the exigencies of human intercourse” ( p. 3). He is not denying that there is external realism (Searle, 1992), but he is emphasizing the place of the individual in how we view the external world, a rather different vantage point from Adam Smith’s impartial spectator. This argument in his book Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy introduces us to personal knowledge, and it will recur throughout this part III. We begin with experience and the historical individual: It was noted in chapter 2, fi rst, that experiencing something is not just about objects getting in touch with our senses, as if the sudden warmth of the sun on our skin on a spring day was the paradigm of experience. Second, though we can share an experience with others, like watching an eclipse, fl ying across the Atlantic, or being in a house (or a classroom) together in a power outage, few experiences are the same for everyone. Third, “Nobody has . . . an experience without bringing to bear on the raw materials of an encounter with the world the cultural resources that allow him to turn it into an experience” (Ryan on Dewey’s view of experience: 1997, pp. 337-338), a fact that complicates any teaching task. Fourth, our experiences seem private, unverifi able, and, as such, privileged; yet this is not necessarily so —if we are in conversation, in a dialogic space, and we are committed as responsible people to facing up to Belenky and colleagues’ questions, we can examine another person’s experiences with them (and vice versa), but there has to be that space, a characteristic of the epistemological presence in a classroom. Experience, however private, can be shared. Finally, the historical and cultural

identity with which a child has been brought up will in turn infl uence how he or she sees the public knowledge encountered in classrooms. As John Dewey put it, “No one would question that a child in a slum tenement has a different experience from that of a child in a cultured home; that the country lad has a different kind of experience from the city boy, or a boy on the seashore one different from the lad who is brought up on inland prairies” (1997, p. 40).