The Worth of Humanities in a Postmodern World

I have been asked at times to explain my blog’s by-line:

Research and Practice in Postmodern Learning

and have found it as much as a challenge to do so as it is to define postmodernism itself (BTW, I do like Lyotard’s definition in The Postmodern Condition, “incredulity toward metanarratives”). I enjoy researching and living a life of education in ways that challenge the established worldviews.

Case in point, check out the article in yesterday’s NY Times, In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth. The days of believing:

the critical thinking, civic and historical knowledge and ethical reasoning that the humanities develop have a different purpose: They are prerequisites for personal growth and participation in a free democracy, regardless of career choice

may be nearing an end, especially as these previously unassailable virtues are now being challenged (such as by the economy, which does not generally pay people for having these virtues). The idea that a humanities background may not be considered particularly valuable any more is a postmodern thought. We have always assumed that this value is beyond doubt (right up there with democracy is always the best form of government, free speech is good, and it is a bad idea to sell wine in supermarkets in New York).

Postmodernism as a philosophy of practice is both critical as well as constructivist (I wonder if any of my students are reading this?), and basically challenges established worldviews as frameworks of power imbalance and limited perspective. I like considering this, researching this, practicing this, and trying to introduce this in my teaching to help my students to see the complexities in the teaching and learning process that are often under the surface of clearly articulated objectives, assessment plans, and nodding heads.

BTW, I also believe it is easier to challenge and knock the humanities after having completed two graduate degrees in the humanities and knowing enough about them to know I really know very little. I suppose this is a little postmodern, too . . .

Personal Branding, or Rebranding

I was recently reading a college oriented document about having a “personal brand,” and while it was aimed at undergraduates who may have little real-world experience to point to and may benefit from a personal message upon which to focus and highlight their lives in a concise and engaging way, I was intrigued.

I did not read this as an elevator speech, but rather as the little phrase (or tagline, subtitle, or caption) that appears at the top of most blogs. It includes interests, perhaps a value proposition, an idea of what I am passionate about, interests, and such.

I did some brainstorming, and found these common words (and threads):

  • reflective practice
  • critical thinking
  • assumptions
  • paradigms
  • teaching
  • learning
  • postmodernism
  • constructivism
  • qualitative
  • online
  • community of practice

I wonder if it is time for me to revise mine?

Currently, I am using:

Reflective practice in organizational learning, educational technology, and postmodern society.

and I have been thinking about changing it to something more along the lines of:

Challenging assumptions to promote learning and teaching


Challenging assumptions to construct postmodern learning

Now, it is time for some feedback and help with this. I am oftentimes surprised by who reads my blog, and invite some feedback and thoughts here. I have been tinkering with this idea for about four weeks, and now want to decide and have something new to live with and try out. Thoughts?

Online Communities and the Removal of Distance

I think online communities of practice and even online classes are changing the ways we think about distance. It almost seems, from the perspective of community, that distance no longer exists. Does it matter if I email colleagues who are spread across the globe? Speak with them via Skype whenever and wherever they may be, as long as I get the timezones correct? Has this flattening of our world changed the way we think about people in other cultural contexts, within national identities, and exotic (and not so exotic) locales?

As my work and research begins to more formally be online, do I  have to be concerned with distance at all?

Further to my point here, what does all this mean for where and how communities form and interact? Leigh asked us to consider what online communities are in our FOC08 class, and I have managed to say exactly what they are not–they are not separated by distance.

I started this post before and finished after having a delightful conversation with a colleague in Brazil, Barbara Dieu. We started speaking (via skype text, which is speaking with the fingers) about Second Life and the FOC08 Course, and the next thing I knew is that Bee asked me what interests me and what I want to learn more about. I gushed about Lyotard’s “incredulity toward metanarrative, Mezirow’s transformative learning, Denzin / Lincoln / Guba’s work in qualitative research, Freire, Brookfield, pugs, cities, theories, technology, and Madame Butterfly.

I think that community is in there someplace. Something about openness to ideas and encouragement to grow and learn and become more present. Something about being with others who share a space next to us along the journey, whatever and wherever it may lead.

This conversation would never have happened without the community focus of this course, and how our different interests and experiences helps to inform and realize them. To all this, community adds and supports, and it has an amazing capacity to do all this without regard to distance.

Perhaps communities of practice help realize the Internet’s claim to make the world a smaller place, though one with more individual possibilities?


Aidan Henry recently wrote about how he wanted to learn more about his readers, and I have been thinking about how interesting this idea is. Now, I am not going to pretend I have a lot of readers, and while I do not really track my blogging stats, I do want to use this to partially share something about me right now, especially as I just celebrated my first anniversary of this blog.

Back then, I wrote:

I think silence and voice are elusive concepts that are so intertwined they cannot be seen independently. Silence means others can have a voice, and to have one’s voice means another is silenced.

Is it this simple? Who decides?

So, where am I today?

Well, I am still an instructional designer (though a senior one at this point) and an adjunct instructor (yes, a professor) at NYU Stern. I consult on organizational learning and communication issues more these days. I still conduct research in the fields of human resource development and adult education. I like philosophy, though appreciate it most when it is in an applied context, namely in the areas of political and social postmodern thinking (especially with issues of power and positionality and self-identity). I also really like love technology, primarily in its application to the above-mentioned things I do.

I expect this to further develop over the next year, as even dictionary definitions change over time as new experiences occur. I have certainly had no end of new experiences recently, and expect the same for the foreseeable future. I like to remain active and alive!