The Deconstructed Classroom

Articles

The Deconstructed Classroom

Part One: The Text(s)

In order to get to North Eugene Alternative High School, one must walk a long hallway through the regular school, which most everyone simply calls “North.” At the time of day when NEAHS is about to begin, North’s classes are ending, and the halls are generally stuffed with people. The hallway I usually take passes by the gym, and I often walk through crowds of athletes, some of whom are stretching on the floor and must be stepped over, some of whom simply walk toward me as a wall five or six people across so that, in order to pass, I must step aside. As when I was in high school, the athletes represent a kind of elite society at North and tend to live in a rather rarified atmosphere. This is literally true, in a way, since whenever there is a home basketball game the heat is shut off throughout the school at 3:00 to chill the air in time to make it more comfortable for the basketball players and fans. The result of this is to render the air in the room at NEAHS almost unbearably frigid, and, until the end of basketball season, most of the students and teachers wear layers of sweaters and coats three days a week. Nearly all of the students at NEAHS arrive there well before regular school ends, partly, some have told me, to avoid walking through the athletic gauntlet.

The alternative school is at the very back of the building. Many alternative schools are squeezed into unused spaces, and often these spaces exist in the less desirable areas of a regular school. However, NEAHS’s space is quite nice, even though it is at the back of the school, and even though the back of anyplace, like a bus, is loaded with connotations of low social status. When Peter, my husband and the principal of North, and his assistant principals were first trying to find a place to situate the alternative school, he was frustrated: He had found a large enough room, but it was being used as storage space for the sets and props from the senior parties of the past 25 years, and the parents who had hosted all of those parties were appalled at the idea of moving the stuff. They felt they owned that space. I always wondered if they would have kicked up such a fuss if, instead of an alternative school, International High School needed a room.

In any case, the common room at NEAHS is large and comfortably furnished with mismatched couches arranged in a circle. The couches were donated, and they are outdated and unstylish, big, cushy and covered in velvet or plaid. The other furniture — like Amy, the head teacher’s, desk — is second-hand. However, every classroom at North is full of worn, outdated things, as are most classrooms across Oregon. Most children, privileged or not, spend six hours a day in rooms much shabbier than NEAHS; such is the state of modern public education. In a small side room, there is a foosball table that kids play with at break times, along with a great stash of art supplies that are used for the large number of projects the students do in their classes. On a tiny budget, Amy has splurged on paper, pens, glue, etc. but can’t afford a vacuum. Consequently, the walls of the school are plastered with posters, collages, and paintings, and the floors are filthy. I have never quite worked out why the regular school janitors don’t clean up NEAHS. Perhaps it is simply that the classes are held during janitorial work hours. Amy and the kids keep it pretty tidy aside from the floor.

The students who attend the school have, for a variety of reasons, failed to succeed in a regular high school. Very few of them were kicked out, though that is the impression most people have. Some of the kids must work during the day to help support themselves or their families. Some of them are very quiet and disappear in large classes, failing to thrive through lack of attention. A few kids have personality or learning quirks that caused regular teachers and students to misunderstand and dislike them. Some kids come from broken or abusive homes, but many have caring parents who have struggled to support them and have, at times, fought valiantly for them against social and educational biases.

I knew most of the kids in my physics course, which began in January, since the previous September, when I taught them reading and writing skills. They had a diverse range of personalities and interests, but one commonality that most of them shared was low economic status. I talked casually on a number of occasions to them and their parents about their lives and experiences. These conversations, along with my own observations and experiences at the school, have given me a glimpse into what it is like to be “underprivileged” in a society that holds in contempt those who struggle economically.

The first day of my class, I arrived about twenty minutes early, as I usually do. Amy begins nearly every day with a community building exercise, and I like to be there for that. On this day, a teacher from the regular high school was giving a lecture to deliver information about financial aid. I happen to know this teacher slightly, and I know she is generally a caring and pleasant person. However, as soon as I walked into the room, I could sense that the students had shut down on her. They were all slouched exaggeratedly into the couches, watching her in the middle of the circle with sharp, heavy-lidded eyes, and several of the boys had pulled hoods or baseball caps lower than usual over their foreheads. In short, they looked like a room full of dangerous thugs, and the tension was very thick. I sat quietly in a corner and watched, and soon I began to understand what was happening. The tone of the teacher’s voice was patronizing and even somewhat derisive. She was talking at the kids, not to them, and I wondered if she was nervous, since she was having trouble meeting their eyes and seemed to be talking, literally, over their heads. She was describing ways of finding funds for post-high school education, but never said the word “college.” Instead, she mentioned beauty school, paramedic training and a number of other non-college opportunities. Once, she must have sensed how much the students had pulled away from her because she turned to the one kid whose name she knew, Jack, and asked him how many clients he supposed his case-worker was serving. Jack froze, and she badgered him about it: I could see she was simply trying to personalize her presentation, but Jack clearly felt attacked, and the “case-worker” reference seemed so unnecessarily snide to me that I found myself glaring at her too. The students slipped deeper into dangerous thug mode, though no one said a word or even fidgeted. Their resistance was not active, but passive, and I think that was because the kids didn’t want to give her even a shred of what she was expecting from them, which was, judging by her tone, either drooling idiocy or ominous trouble.

The students at NEAHS are completely aware of their otherness, their alternativeness, and the tendencies of “regular” people to misjudge them for this, to have few positive expectations and many negative ones. Like many other marginalized groups, they understand that they must do twice as much work for half as much recognition. A good example is when we were in one of North’s computer labs. One of the computer’s screen savers had been changed to a picture of a ’60’s protester burning his draft card with “Fuck the War” written across the top. Amy saw it, and, knowing one of her own students had probably loaded it (they had been studying the Vietnam War in the lab the previous day) asked John to take it off. She gently reminded the kids that playing into other people’s stereotypes was probably not productive for them, and that other people would read that gesture as typical of the naughty alternative school students. John not only removed the picture, but found a photograph of roses to load in its place. I found this act a beautiful metaphor for the students’ overall reaction to society’s misjudgments: They expect destruction, so give them beauty instead. At the end of class, we all cleaned up the room very carefully, and one of the kids wryly observed that when alternative students use a room, they have to leave it cleaner than they found it: Twice as much work for half as much recognition.

The first day we were in the computer lab, the kids had the assignment to use specified descriptors to search for websites about black holes. Andrew, Stewart and J.J. are friends and they were working together, sitting right by the door. Andrew is a tall Latino boy with a mustache and a level, somewhat challenging gaze; Stewart has a shaved head, slouches, and mumbles when he talks; J.J. is a thin Asian boy with a great smile, but he’s shy and doesn’t meet people’s eyes very well. They all dress in hooded sweatshirts, baggy pants that fall down, great big shoes, and baseball hats pulled down low. Once that day, a regular school teacher walked in to get something, and I saw her react to the boys. It was only a look she gave them, and maybe by this time I was seeing shadows that weren’t there. However, it made me think of what someone walking by the door might think of Andrew, Stewart and J.J. They were really slumped over and whispering and tittering like they had found some porn site. They were, actually, downloading and printing a picture Stewart had found of two subatomic particles colliding in a bubble chamber. Unfortunately, just as the teacher was leaving, Beverly accidentally cried out, “Shit!” and this time, the teacher frowned and then rolled her eyes at me, as if to say, “Just what I would expect.” I almost called her up that night after school because I wanted to explain why Beverly had slipped and cursed: She had asked Dani to go back to the room and fetch her some paper and, upon realizing that she already had some, felt terrible for sending Dani on an unnecessary errand.

Stewart is a brilliant boy, who grasps things more deeply than most students, but he rarely talks and it is easy to miss this about him. His mother and I had a discussion about Stewart’s background one day while the kids were outside. She told me that until the beginning of ninth grade, Stewart had lived with his father and had gotten into a fair amount of trouble for not attending school. Once he entered high school, he began to get into more trouble, and the school couldn’t get his step-mother and father to respond to their repeated calls. They never called his mom, and when she finally found out, she went to see the principal. There she learned that Stewart was spending two periods a day working with the janitor, mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms, and she was sufficiently angered to pull him out and find a better place for him, which turned out to be NEAHS. I don’t know the principal’s side of the story, but I can say that as a teen I got into the same kinds of trouble that Stewart was in, and it never would have occurred to anyone to suggest that I work with the janitor as a way to solve the problem. Certainly his mother recognized this for what it was, and Stewart is lucky to have someone who believes in him and would never accept the school’s picture of him as a hopeless academic case. However, I wonder how deeply Stewart accepted it, how deeply he may accept it still.

Tina is a gorgeous Latina girl who is verbal and analytical. In a regular school, with the right nurturing, she would have been a great debater. She loves to argue about quantum physics theory and pose theories of her own, and I am encouraging her to go on to college and study some kind of science. From her, I learned that she is not able to check out books from the Eugene Public Library unless she pays a $70 fee. This is true for all of the kids who live too far north on River Road. This is a literal instance of the lack of privilege that comes with living on the wrong (poor) side of town: the inability to access, without paying a price, knowledge that is free to everyone else. Consequently, Tina cannot check out the books I recommend to her since she can’t afford the access fee, and a deeper study of quantum theory is denied her.

Part Two: Deconstructing the Text(s)

In the first forty minutes of Boyz ‘n the Hood John Singleton weaves together several disparate events into a myth about his childhood. Each event, such as Trey’s first encounter with the police, is assigned its own significance in such a way that each event (the signified) and the text, action and tone of the scene as created by Singleton’s vision (the signifier) unite to become a sign. Roland Barthes, in Mythologies, describes this level of signification as the “language-object,” a first language that may be spoken of through another system, a “metalanguage” that “wants to see in [signs] only a sum of signs, a global sign, the final term of a first semiological chain.” [1] Barthes defines “myth” as this “second-order semiological system” and describes it as having “a double function: it points out and it notifies, it makes us understand something and it imposes it on us.” [2] When Singleton strings each sign (event + text, action, tone) into a whole represented childhood (a semiological chain), he creates a myth.

In creating scenes in his movie that act as signs, Singleton also leaves out many events, and the spaces that these missing events leave define the existing scenes. In The System and the Speaking Subject, Julia Kristeva states:

… semiotics can show that what lies outside its metalinguistic mode of operation – the ‘remainder’, the ‘waste’ – is what, in the process of the speaking subject, represents the moment in which it is set in action, put on trial, put to death: a heterogeneity with respect to system, operating within the practice and one which is liable, if not seen for what it is, to be reified into a transcendence. [3]

The negative defines the positive, the ground defines the figure. Edward Said speaks of this idea in Orientalism: The West defines itself in terms of its created myth of the Orient as “other” and in doing so creates the myth of itself, using the Orient as the ground in order to define itself as “figure.” [4] The scenes John Singleton chose not to include further define the myth of the remembered childhood that he is creating by existing as “other,” that is, not part of the myth.

As I wrote the first section of this article, I was conscious of creating my own myth through both the “scenes” (signs) I chose to include and through those I chose to leave out. This myth revolves around a word that has great significance to me: “outsider.” I painted a scene in the first paragraph of that section of the “athletic gauntlet” that one must walk past in order to reach the school as a means of further defining “outsider,” since, to me, athletes are, in high school settings, the perfect embodiment of “insiders.” I chose not to include other encounters I often had in the North hallways, such as when I would run into my friend Javier, the director of the bilingual education program, or when I would pass a group of “skater” kids who were always polite and stepped aside for me. These encounters would not display enough “otherness” to define my myth; in fact, they involve “outsiders,” so I didn’t bring them up.

As well, I pointed out in the second paragraph the fact that the alternative school is at the back of the building, knowing that the “back” of anyplace is a culture-wide sign connoting marginalization, or outsider-ness, usually in terms of a dominant culture (those in the “front”) and often in terms of class: Lower class citizens end up in the “back of the bus,” having abortions in “back alleys,” taking the “back stairs,” so that, along with signifying “outsider-ness,” the “back” of a place also signifies a shame that occurs when one is economically challenged (lower class) in a capitalist/consumer driven society. I know that in pointing out the placement of the school I was further defining my term, “outsider,” as a sign, as a part of my myth. The back of a place is significant as such only because there is a front; an outsider is significant as such only because there are insiders. Jaques Derrida, in DiffĂ©rence, cites Saussere (it’s a deferred quote):

The conceptual side of value is made up solely of relations and differences with respect to the other terms of language and the same can be said of its material side… Everything that has been said up to this point boils down to this; in language there are only differences. [5]

So what if the alternative school were situated at the front of the school? How would I have included that in my text as it is based on a myth of “outsider-ness”? I would have had the option, of course, of not including the placement description at all. I could also, however, have read the “front” of the school as a signifier for something other than privilege; for instance, I could have read it in terms of Foucault’s panopticon, wherein a power structure keeps the outsiders in prominent view, under surveillance as a means of controlling them. Put in this context, “front” and “back” as constructed signs seem arbitrary.

Both of my texts (the classroom of my experience and the description of it that begins this article) are significant to me in terms of difference: The difference of the class itself (the “material side”) is defined by the people (outsiders created by insiders) and the setting (the back of the school created and connoted by those at the front of the school); the difference of the written text is defined by the events + interpretation (signs) I have described against those I have not described. Pierre Macherey, in A Theory of Literary Production sums up this relationship of difference succinctly:

The speech of the book comes from a certain silence, a matter which it endows with form, a ground on which it traces a figure. Thus, the book is not self-sufficient; it is necessarily accompanied by a certain absence, without which it would not exist. [6]

In my written text as well as in my classroom text, I use society at large to help me define and clarify my myth of outsider-ness. I am interested, therefore, in what happens if I invert the equation; that is, how does society use outsider-ness to define its myth of itself? Society, as a word, signifies togetherness, inclusion, and insider-ness. If one is “antisocial” that signifies that not only is one outside of society, but has chosen to be outside, is “against” (anti) society. Those outside of society, whether as “antisocials” or because they are pushed out through the back by the insiders, are like the wolves that cause society to circle its wagons, to tighten and clarify the definition of insider-ness. Without outsiders, there is no society. This concept could be applied to two of the events I describe in the beginning of this essay: the interaction between the North teacher and the students; and the experience of Stewart getting “hailed” into custodianship by his former school. Victor Villenueva Jr., paraphrasing Althusser, writes in his article “Considerations for American Freireistas:”

“We walk about with a false consciousness, believing as real what has been created by those in charge. False consciousness is then passed on through what Althusser terms ‘interpellation’ an unintentional reproduction that has us occupy certain positions that have already been determined by the needs of the greater system.” [7]

Society must have its outsiders (the lower class, in the case of my students), those who “occupy certain positions” (such as beauticians, paramedics, and janitors) because a capitalist/consumer driven society relies upon this caste system to exist as such.

I believe society signifies its outsiders to be, as Macherey puts it, the “certain absence” without which the “presence” (society itself) would not exist. Society (the insiders) is a “positive” defined by the “negative,” the outsiders. Why, then, do I signify the term “outsider” as a positive one? Because I think of myself as an outsider.

Part Three: Deconstructing the “Deconstruction”

As I was preparing to continue writing Part Two of this article, I was reading Literary Theory, by Terry Eagleton, and I stumbled upon a description of “aporia,” a term I may have heard before but one that didn’t make much of an impression on me. This time it made a great impression, since I had just spent hours writing something I believed was a deconstruction of the first section of the article as well as of my class. In reading and re-reading this particular passage, I realized that I didn’t actually deconstruct anything, even at a very shallow level: Part Two of this paper only describes the construction of both the written and material texts. Eagleton writes, “Derrida’s own typical habit of reading is to seize on some apparently peripheral fragment in the work — a footnote, a recurrent minor term or image, a casual allusion — and work it tenaciously through to the point where it threatens to dismantle the oppositions which govern the text as a whole”. [8] I decided to re-read Part One of my essay with the goal in mind of finding the aporia in that text in order to really deconstruct it. Of course, “real’ deconstruction isn’t possible; there is no stopping point where I could say, “This is now deconstructed.” Derrida, according to Eagleton, “… labels as ‘metaphysical’ any such thought system which depends on an unassailable foundation, a first principle or unimpeachable ground upon which a whole hierarchy of meanings may be constructed.” [9] I will never reach the “first principle” because of the infinite deference described by Derrida. However, if “‘deconstruction’ is the name given to the critical operation by which such oppositions can be partly undermined, or by which they can be shown partly to undermine each other in the process of textual meaning,” [10] then I can certainly dismantle the text to some degree.

Eagleton describes structuralism as a method of operation balanced on the assumption of “binary oppositions,” false dichotomies that define each other in terms of their antitheses. My reading of the texts of both my classroom and the first section of this paper that describes it depends completely on one of these oppositions: outsider / insider. “Such oppositions, in order to hold themselves in place, are sometimes betrayed into inverting or collapsing themselves” [11] through the inclusion of a little stray thread that, when pulled, can unravel the whole argument’s fabric. In my first section, one of the stray threads, or “aporia,” I found concerns one innocent comment about janitors, and when I pulled it, I realized that my reading of not just my experiences at NEAHS, but my whole schema around the word “outsider” began to unravel.

Earlier I wrote, “I have never quite worked out why the regular school janitors don’t clean up NEAHS.” I am not sure why I included this comment, but it is a “recurring minor term” since I bring up janitors again in the context of my story about Stewart, so I decided to look at it more closely. In describing Stewart’s mother’s reaction to his old school’s decision to have him do janitorial work, I wrote that she “was sufficiently angered to pull him out and find a better place for him.” I also state that “Stephen is lucky to have someone who believes in him and would never accept the school’s picture of him as a hopeless academic case.” I have italicized the language that, I believe, successfully dismantles the whole insider / outsider structure I was so sure was “real.” I romanticize the “outside” and deride the “inside,” yet, what am I hoping, really, for Stewart and the other kids? I want them to go to college, the epitome of an “inside” institution. I am distraught if one of my beloved students ends up doing a “low-class” job, like janitorial work. Miguel, who graduated last year, tapes drywall with his dad, and I can’t help but nag him to shoot “higher.” Why else would I teach the kids quantum physics but for the power this kind of “elite” knowledge might give them, currency to the “inside”? I like thinking of myself as an outsider because I dislike the inside / outside structure, or apparatus, of society and I use “outsider-ness” as a way to transcend it, which is nonsensical. My entire reading of the text of my classroom and of myself has been altered now that I have begun to question, to deconstruct, this powerful “binary opposition” upon which I have built so much of my personal myth as a teacher at NEAHS.

Part Four: Deconstructing Reality

I find it very ironic that the curriculum of the class described in this article was quantum physics, upon which all of postmodern thought was (arguably) based. I feel it would be a shame not to include the “text” of physics in this essay as well, especially in terms of Derrida’s “binary oppositions,” since that text so deeply informs the others.

The basis for all of quantum physics and mechanics can be explained quite simply through a description of “the double-slit experiment.” Physicist Richard Feynman describes the double-slit experiment this way: “Any other situation in quantum mechanics, it turns out, can always be explained by saying, “You remember the case of the experiment with the two holes? It’s the same thing’.” [12] Basically, the experiment works like this. There is a “gun” that shoots light at a screen with two small slits cut into it. In back of this screen is a wall sensitive enough to record and make visible a very small amount of light. If you turn the light gun on high, where it is shooting a great deal of light at once, and shine it at the slits, you will see an interference pattern on the wall behind the screen, patterns of light and dark showing where light waves interfere with each other, much like ripples in a pond. Now let’s say you cut down on the amount of light you “shoot” from the gun so far that you are now shooting individual photons, particles of light. If you cover one of the slits and shoot, the wall behind the screen will record a clump of individual particles in a pattern much like bullets would make. The same thing happens if you open that slit and close off the other. This pattern is what you would expect, since you are shooting individual particles, not waves, of light.

What happens when you shoot one photon at a time at the screen when both slits are open is at the heart of quantum physics. It turns out that, when both slits are open, as you shoot “bullets” of photons, one at a time, you find on the wall behind the screen that they gradually build up an interference pattern identical to the one the “wave” of light created. Cover one slit, shoot again, and the interference pattern disappears. The photon seems to “know” whether one or both slits are open and acts either like a wave or like a particle accordingly. Light is not “either” a wave or a particle; wave / particle as a binary opposition doesn’t exist. The term in quantum physics is “wave / particle duality.” Not only does light exist in a strange this-and-also-that world, the reality of which depends on the experiment; electrons, atoms and even very large molecules behave this way as well. A few weeks ago I found an experiment that shot molecules made of 60 carbon and 48 fluorine atoms (fluorinated “buckyballs,” named, due to their shape, after Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes), very large (relatively) pieces of matter, at the slits and the molecule behaved just as matter-less photons do: They “were” particles or a waves depending upon the experiment. Matter itself has a fuzzy quality, a wavy-ness, under the right conditions. Feynman says it is as though the photon (or other particle) leaves the gun as a particle, travels as a wave that interferes with itself and goes through both holes, and arrives at the screen as a particle. So what happens if you try to “see” how the photon pulls off this neat trick?

Let’s say that you do the same experiment, only this time you place a detector at each of the slits on the screen. If a photon goes through the right slit, the detector on that slit clicks. The same will happen at the left slit if a photon passes through. You are, in effect, set up to “catch” the particle in the act and figure out how it “travels as a wave.” Bizarrely, if you shoot individual photons at both slits when the detectors are on, you no longer get an interference pattern on the wall. Instead, you get a pattern identical to one you would get with actual bullets: two slit-shaped clumps. If you turn off the detectors and shoot, you get the interference pattern once again. There is no way to discuss this except to say that the particle not only “knows” if one or both slits are open; it also “knows” whether or not you are observing which slit it goes through. If you are detecting it, the particle “chooses” (or is forced) to go through one slit, as a bullet would. If you are not, the particle goes through both holes and interferes with itself. John Gribbin, the author of In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat, states that “the world seems to keep all its options, all its probabilities, open for as long as possible. The strangest thing about the standard Copenhagen interpretation of the quantum world is that it is the act of observing a system that forces it to select one of its options, which then becomes real.” [13] Physicists call this situation the “collapse of the wave function”: Through your observation you are forcing a wave of possibilities to “collapse” into a solid reality. A scientist who is “objectively” observing the experiment is actually doing no such thing, since the act of observation interferes with and changes the results: the experimenter is part of the experiment; it is one system, one apparatus. “Object” and “subject” are another false binary opposition.

This little experiment has created a great deal of philosophical squabbling and speculation, but the point of this section of my essay is to try to find a new way to read the text of my class at NEAHS, a way that doesn’t involve the false structure of inside / outside. First of all, applying the principle of wave / particle duality to this construction immediately smears out its edges. Those who are inside and those who are outside look different depending on the “experiment” you are performing.

As well, my own interaction with the students, coming from a particular “we are outsiders” point of view, interferes with and alters their “reality” so that, perhaps as I observe them, as I interpellate them into my vision, they “become” more like outsiders than they are normally. I force them, at some very subtle level, to choose a slit, thereby narrowing their options. Labels in education have always served to hail children into roles, sometimes to their advantage and sometimes not, and the power of the language we use to create and shape, not just describe, educational “reality” is too often completely ignored.

Robert Anton Wilson argues in his book Quantum Psychology that re-shaping the language itself is necessary if we are to re-shape our thoughts and therefore “reality.” He proposes the creation of a new language that he calls “English Prime,” or “E-Prime,” which would eliminate any form of the verb “to be.” [14] This language already exists in a certain form in quantum theory, since one can never really say, “Light is a wave,” or “Matter is made of particles.” Quantum particles don’t have any “is-ness” until they interact with an observer of some kind: until they are observed, they exist only in a realm of possibilities called “a superposition of states.” Physicists were forced to alter their language so that the sentence, “The photon is a particle” became by necessity, “The photon behaves as a particle under certain experimental conditions.” Wilson believes that since the most fundamental reality of our universe, the subatomic world, cannot be discussed in terms of “being” we should adjust our entire language, and therefore our thought structures, accordingly.

Wilson provides a set of examples translating Standard English sentences into “English Prime” (several of the statements concern a description of things and events, but I am most interested here in looking at examples that describe people): Instead of saying, “John is unhappy and grouchy,” one would say “John appears unhappy and grouchy in the office.” Instead of saying, “John is bright and cheerful,” one would say, “John appears bright and cheerful on holiday at the beach.” [15] I find the idea of eliminating the “be” verb to be quite profound and wonder how educational situations and teacher / student interactions would change if all teachers were trained to speak in E-Prime. If we were limited to describing only behaviors as they occur at a particular point in space-time, we would be much closer to capturing the “reality” of another person, and labels would cease to exist.

Scientists used to believe in “objective” reality. They believed that one could observe an object or event from the “outside” and describe its “truth.” Science used to be based on a construct of binary oppositions: subject / object; inside / outside; truth / falsity; wave / particle. Through quantum theory, science has been forced, using its own tools, to dismantle, or deconstruct, itself. There is no such foundation of oppositions based on the most fundamental, that of object and subject: the subject creates and alters the object because the line separating them doesn’t exist. “Reality” is not outside of us; we create it through our interactions with it. Wilson states: “… the Aristotelian universe assumes an assembly of “things” with “essences” or “spooks” inside them, where the modern scientific (or existential) universe assumes a network of structural relationships.” [16] Gary Zukov, in his book The Dancing Wu Li Masters, describes this metaphorically: Quantum reality is a dance, and there is no way to speak separately about the dancer and the dance — they are one. [17]

I stated earlier that the point of this section of my essay was to explore a new way of reading the text of my classroom now that the “outsider” construct has been dismantled. However, that is perhaps not possible in the way I meant it. If the dance and the dancer cannot be separated, then I as a “reader” of my classroom cannot be separated from it: my “reading,” whatever form it takes, is the text. I cannot really step “outside” of the process in order to deconstruct the text, since that step will then change the whole apparatus: me, the classroom, my reading of the classroom. This is akin to what Derrida calls “contamination.” I will perhaps no longer think of this apparatus in terms of “insider / outsider,” but there are potentially an infinite number of constructs of which I am not aware that affect my teaching and the kids’ learning.

However, this doesn’t mean I will not apply what I have learned through the process of this essay. Eagleton also points out the ultimate futility in trying to step outside of the system of binary constructions altogether, but offers hope:

Such metaphysical thinking, as I have said, cannot be simply eluded: we cannot catapult ourselves beyond this binary habit of thought into an ultra-metaphysical realm. But by a certain way of operating upon texts — whether ‘literary’ or ‘philosophical’ — we may begin to unravel these oppositions a little, demonstrate how one term of an antithesis secretly inheres within the other. [18]

By dismantling one false dichotomy within the structure, I have made a small step toward better awareness of the others that may exist.

Notes

[1] Barthes, Roland. “Mythologies,” from A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, Anthony Easthope and Kate McGowan, eds. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1992, p. 19.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kristeva, Julia. The “System and the Speaking Subject,” from A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, Anthony Easthope and Kate McGowan, eds. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1992, p. 77.

[4] Said, Edward. “Orientalism,” from A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, Anthony Easthope and Kate McGowan, eds. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1992, p. 59.

[5] Derrida, Jacques. “Difference,” from A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, Anthony Easthope and Kate McGowan, eds. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1992, p. 114.

[6] Macherey, Pierre. “A Theory of Literary Production,” from A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, Anthony Easthope and Kate McGowan, eds. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1992, p. 19.

[7] Villenueva, Victor Jr. “Considerations for American Freireistas,” from The Politics of Writing Instruction: Postsecondary, Portsmouth: Boynton Cook Publishers, 1991, p. 624.

[8] Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983, p. 116.

[9] Ibid., p. 114.

[10] Ibid., p. 115.

[11] Ibid., p. 115.

[12] Feynman, Richard. As cited in In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat, New York: Bantam Books, 1984, p. 165.

[13] Gribbin, John. In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat, New York: Bantam Books, 1984, p. 172.

[14] Wilson, Robert Anton. Quantum Psychology, Tempe: New Falcon Publication, 1990, p. 97.

[15] Ibid., p. 99.

[16] Ibid., p. 101.

[17] Zukav, Gary. The Dancing Wu Li Masters, New York: Bantam New Age Books, 1979, p. 16.

[18] Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction, p.115.

Cyndi Tromba has been an English teacher by vocation and a student of physics by avocation for 17 years. She currently teaches theoretical physics to at-risk high school students and works as an editor and writing instructor for the University of Oregon’s College of Education. She lives in Eugene with her husband and two children.