Posts Tagged ‘Education’

The Education Of The Immigrant

January 25, 2014

“Instead, then, of saying either that we tell beginners what words mean, or that we teach them what objects are, I will say: We initiate them, into the relevant forms of life held in language and gathered around the objects and persons of our world. For that to be possible, we must make ourselves exemplary and take responsibility for that assumption of authority; and the initiate must be able to follow us, in however rudimentary a way, naturally (look where our finger points, laugh at what we laugh at, comfort what we comfort, notice what we notice, find alike or remarkable or ordinary what we find alike or remarkable or ordinary, feel pain at what we feel pain at, enjoy the weather or the notion we enjoy, make the sounds we make); and he must want to follow us (care about our approval, like a smile better than a frown, a croon better than a croak, a pat better than a slap). “Teaching” here would mean something like “showing them what we say and do”, and “accepting what they say and do as what we say and do”, etc.; and this will be more than we know, or can say.” (The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy by Stanley Cavell, 1979 Pg. 178)

In his more recent publication (Philosophy The Day After Tomorrow 2005) Cavell begins the like named chapter with
“Such has been my somewhat strained way within the institution of philosophy in our America that I perpetually feel the need to introduce myself intellectually, that is, to provide some sense of the way moments of my work are meant to lead to one another. Call this need my identification with the stranger, even, as Emerson almost says, with the immigrant.” (pg. 111)

Although written at different times, to address different concerns within different contexts, the two quotes are challenging to reconcile. Indeed, the first quote addresses the education of a child, the origins of the extension of language and learning. The second speaks feelings, those of an accomplished philosopher. The first quote could likewise be considered as an accounting of the origin of tribes, of national identity, of the mystery of culture, with its borders, porosity and evolution. The second evokes folks like Said, Auerbach, and Adorno’s “it is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home.” (the stranger or immigrant has a home and is at home, where?) Yet Cavell often references Wittgenstein in terms of philosophy being the education of grownups (soon after our second quote he writes “One of my early characterizations of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations was as a work of instruction. Initially I meant this to emphasize the role of the child in that work, a figure one does not expect to encounter in a major philosophical treatise, let alone in a principal role. Somewhat later I turned the emphasis differently, speaking of philosophy as conceived in Philosophical Investigations as “an education for grownups.”” Pg. 111-112). To a certain extent, and understood generously (based on his reading of Wittgenstein) this “education” of grownups differs not much from that of the child assumed within the first quote. Eventually, the educated must choose to be off on their own, hopefully (for Cavell) in the spirit of Emerson’s Self Reliance. All this begs the question as to the education of the immigrant.

It is all fine and good to say one “identifies” with the immigrant, all while not actually “being” the immigrant, in background, upbringing or survival. The first quote relies on a one to one relationship – teacher/student, mentor/ward, master/apprentice. One could almost say lover/loved as later in Philosophy The Day After Tomorrow he writes “If morals of silence in teaching may be drawn to the effect that the pupil must want to go on alone in taking language to the world, and that what is said must be worth saying, have a point (warning, informing, amusing, promising, questioning, chastising, counting, insisting, beseeching, specifying the location of pain, and so on), then is there some question left as to whether the pupil has to find warning, informing, amusing, promising, counting, beseeching, chastising, and so on themselves to be worth doing?” (Pg. 115). This account assumes the terms of sharing, support, accommodation and endearment that often accompany that of the lover and the beloved. Yet the immigrant mostly finds herself in not exactly that kind of environs. The one to one relationship (with its loyalty and commitment) is for the most part absent, difficult to establish. The “showing them what we say and do” can come from multiple, unrelated origins while a non-existence or direct opposition to “accepting what they say and do as what we say and do” may be the popular cultural response. The immigrant learns by the seat of his pants. Her education comes continuously from disparate sources – others like her, translation of quirky language/cultural differences/similarities, memories or nostalgia stained with the unpronounced certainty that THAT will never be again, keenly lived survival motivations, etc. There is no respite. That is the greatest difference between the education of the immigrant from that of the child/student Cavell recounts from Wittgenstein. There is no point at which “the pupil must want to go on alone” as that is the immigrant’s point of origin, a point from which there is no going back.

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