Educational Profile - Ari Najarian

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    Educational Profile - Ari Najarian
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Research & Analytic Framework


      Getting to the point where I could articulate my framework in a formal way has taken several years of study and experience. I feel, though, that while both theory and practice did indeed enhance the end result, it's my own life experiences that have predisposed me to view social interaction in the following way. Several personality-building factors have conspired to instil in me a keen sensitivity to the differences among individuals. Studying anthropological theory enhanced this sensitivity by exposing me to rigorous methods of analysis; in particular, I found in French structuralism (tempered by a degree of post-structural critique) the method best suited to my procedural mind.
      I firmly believe that, in general, effective social interaction requires substantial translation across the life experiences of the agents involved. By being sensitive to the variables or factors (such as age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, religion, etc.) that distinguish individuals from each other, a greater mutual understanding can be achieved. This applies directly to education in two important ways: as a discursive frame and as an agenda for transformation. By the former, I mean to say that effective teaching requires an awareness of the diversity in the classroom; by the latter, I suggest that truly great teaching calls for a challenge and response to these same social categories of difference. For a theoretical and practical extension of the ideas presented below, visit my philosophy & pedagogy page.

Relationship to structuralist & poststructuralist thought

      I should state from the outset that my analytic framework is informed by a basic distinction between the public and private self; that is to say, I make a distinction between the individual as socially constructed by a set of external variables, and the individual qua agent with the capacity to act and reflect. Structuralist theory and method is applied to the socially constructed individual, and post-structural perspectives are invoked towards private individuals.
      This needs to be unpacked. As a researcher or observant in an educational community (or community in general), one set of analytic methods helps define and map-out socially constructed systems and institutions, as well as the external and public dimensions of any given individual therein; another set - post-structuralist methods of analysis - deconstructs, critiques and challenges these social constructions, as well as their projection and internalization by private individuals.
      At this point, those familiar with these two schools of thought may be wondering how it is possible to reconcile them into one coherent framework; after all, post-structuralism emerged as a critique and a response to the rigid and imposing nature of structuralist thought. The two are united through a common unit of analysis, what I term the socially constructed boundary. This construction occupies a central place in my framework, as it serves as the nexus-point between wholly different spheres of analysis: one that focuses on external constructions as objective, detached structures, and another that emphasizes individual, personal experience as the starting point for any form of inquiry.

Unit of analysis

      By the term socially constructed boundary, I mean to denote the divisions between social, institutional, epistemological, ontological and cultural "structures" that are socially constructed by the active projections of individuals, and internalized ex post by society at large. It is important to note that, in contrast with traditional structuralist theory, these "structures" are not immutable, static or objective; furthermore, individuals are not seen as passive actors stripped of agency, but rather as agents actively involved in the production and internalization of these structures - hence, the boundaries I identify are indeed 'socially constructed'.
      These artificially constructed boundaries can be found in all areas of the education system: an SCB exists between the system itself and other state / political institutions, made by the media and reproduced through popular discourse. An SCB may exist between the school and community, inasmuch as members of the community feel that different attitudes, behaviors and practices should be adopted towards each; they exist between academic subjects, maintained by the division of the curriculum into math, science, English, art, etc. Their presence can be seen in the schoolyard, where children in certain grades choose to interact together rather than with those above and below them. In a passive, indirect way, a host of (somewhat arbitrary) categories thus come to direct attitudes, behaviours and performances in the education system, while reproducing themselves through formal and informal discourse-practice.
      Though society at large demarcates these boundaries, this is not to suggest that members from all vantage points will make the same distinctions. It is enough that the majority of actors has an awareness, or sensitivity, to the popular categories by which the education system is mapped; the ways in which they respond to these popular categories provides the basis for my analysis.
      By examining how individuals - be they students, parents, teachers, administrators or politicians - respond to these various distinctions, it becomes possible to reach a deeper understanding of the problems (and strengths) that exist within the current system. To do this, however, entails thoroughly mapping the system as approached popularly, as well as analyzing a variety of personal experiences and narratives: whence the marriage of structuralist and post-structuralist modes of analysis.

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