Iain Thomson on thinking the pedagogical truth event
While many late-moderns continue to believe (with Nietzsche) that all meaning comes from us (as the result of our various “value positings”), Heidegger is committed to the more phenomenologically accurate view that, at least with respect to that which most matters to us—the paradigm case being love—what we most care about is in fact not entirely up to us, not simply within our power to control, and this is a crucial part of what makes it so important. Indeed, the primary phenomenological lesson Heidegger drew from art is that when things are approached with openness and respect, they push back against us, making subtle but undeniable claims on us, and we need to learn to acknowledge and respond creatively to these claims if we do not want to deny the source of genuine meaning in the world. For, only meanings which are at least partly independent of us and so not entirely within our control—not simply up to us to bestow and rescind at will—can provide us with the kind of touchstones around which we can build meaningful lives and loves. Heidegger drew this lesson from poetry, but it is profoundly applicable to education, where it helps us understand what I have called the pedagogical truth event.
Heidegger calls such an enduringly meaningful encounter an “event of enowning” (Ereignis). In such momentous events, we find ourselves coming into our own (as world-disclosers) precisely by creatively enabling things to come into their own, just as Michelangelo came into his own as a sculptor by creatively responding to the veins and fissures in that particular piece of marble so as to bring forth his “David”; or as a woodworker comes into her own as a woodworker by responding creatively to the subtle weight, color, and grain of an individual piece of wood in order to make something out of it (or to leave it be); or as, in the pedagogical truth event, a teacher comes into his or her own as a teacher by learning to recognize and cultivate the particular talents and capacities of each individual student, thereby enabling these students to come into their own. In all such cases, a poetic openness to what pushes back against our pre-existing plans and designs helps disclose a texture of inherent meanings, affordances, significations, and solicitations, a texture Heidegger teaches us to discover “all around us”—not only in nature, our workshops, and classrooms but even in our lives as a whole.7 For, we truly learn to “make something” out of our lives not when we try to impose an artificial shape on them but, rather, when we learn to discern and develop creatively that which “pushes back” in all the ways mentioned here, and many more.