Wednesday, July 7, 2010

on thought and language

Today in my education research class we watched Amanda Baggs's video piece "In My Language." If anyone is reading, definitely watch the video for your own reactions before you read mine:

Baggs is a woman who has been diagnosed with low-functioning autism. What I find so fascinating about this video is the process of gauging my initial reactions to it and having them completely confirmed and deconstructed by the second half of the video, the half that is in my language. As I watched the video, my instant reaction was that it resembled a contemporary video art installation. This reaction very obviously arises from my own personal experiences and biases, but even when I tried to describe her actions to myself in what I thought of as more neutral language--for example, she is feeling household items (not she "likes" to)--even those descriptions ascribed intentionality and purpose from my language to actions that she herself describes (in my language) as "having no purpose" or as "reacting to her environment."

Our research prof asked us this question: How do I enable myself to be open to other ways of knowing? As someone who considers myself a progressive, I think that I am often complacent, even in my diligence, to do exactly this. What the Baggs video shows me is how difficult it is to know in ways other than your ways. I was not able to "describe" or even *perceive* Baggs's actions outside my own language. This is an instructive lesson when we're thinking so much about being "culturally responsive teachers," about which more later.

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