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Interactionism as Synthesis

      Interactionism could be considered as the synthesis of the behaviouristic thesis and the humanistic antithesis. The person is indeed unfolding from the inside out according to a program laid out in the genes, as the humanists say, but they are also being conditioned by their environment from the outside in, as the behaviourists say. Noam Chomsky argues that language unfolds from the inside out because our species has a language-acquisition device (LAD). However, it is important that we learn the particular language being spoken in our environment. Thus, we need a language-acquisition support system (LASS). The focus in this book will be on the dance of the LAD and the LASS and the tune to which they are dancing.

     Interactionism dovetails the primary process of growing from the inside out (humanism) with the secondary process of being acculturated from the outside in (behaviourism). Whereas behaviourism emphasises input information and humanism stored information, interactionism emphasises fedback information. The TOTE unit is a useful model for interactionism. It organises input, stored, and fedback information within a system [MILLER ET AL]. Input information is compared with a desired state in the image (stored information) and behaviour is guided by the discrepancy between input and stored information under the direction of a plan. Another advantage of the model is that it is inspired by the computer, with image corresponding to memory and plan corresponding to programme.

     So here we are all (except for the unfortunate Jesse Presley) ready to lead our various lives.2 We are all members of the same species in essentially the same predicament with essentially the same skills to deal with it. We have all received the conception-day gift of all the wisdom our species has acquired over hundreds of thousands of years of survival in a harsh arena. The interactionist model is a much more powerful model than the behavioristic model for explaining how we have lead such very different lives.

     Stunting factors are present, for some of us, right from birth. Relatives of famous people and royalty have expectations laid on them right from the beginning, which limit their capacity to write their own life script. Consider Princess Elisabeth of Denmark born on the same day as me - 8 May 1935. The successful life for me, as a depression baby, was seen by many as the acquisition of fame and fortune. Horatio Alger acquired HIS fame and fortune by writing and rewriting the story of an obscure and poor boy who became a famous and rich man. Princess Elisabeth was BORN rich and famous. We often hear about smug people who were born on third base and thought they had hit a homer. However, if you are born on third base, you CAN'T hit a homer. To be born rich and famous is a mixed blessing. The script for Elizabeth's life was indeed largely pre-written. Her destiny was to play the role of the princess, with very little freedom in her unique interpretation of the role. Her range of choices was very limited. Born poor and obscure, I was fortunate enough to have a wide range of choices. My choices were not constrained by their (whoever THEY are) expectations.

     We all have had to deal with expectations which prevent us from realising the full human potential. It is interesting to note that expectations with respect to the capacity of the body have changed dramatically in my life-time but not expectations with respect to the capacity of the mind.

     In the 1952 Olympics, Emil Zatopec had won the 5,000 metres, the 10,000 metres, and had entered the marathon, even though he had never run a marathon before. He entered the stadium where he had to make a final lap. As he got halfway around the lap, he staggered and fell as another runner entered the stadium. The crowd roared "ZA ZA ZATOPEC". He stumbled to his feet and staggered on. He fell again and the crowd "picked him up" again until he crossed the finishing line - a winner. Listening to ZA ZA ZATOPEC on the radio, Emil has always been a hero of mine. Fifteen years later, I bumped into one of my students in the Cock and Bull Pub on St. Catherine Street. She said :"Hi, Scot, meet Emil". She was working at the Olympics Pavilion at Expo 67 and Emil Zatopec was a guest there. My hero was a diffident man who was touchingly delighted when I stuttered "ZA ZA ZATOPEC". Rita Currie, the student subsequently told me she had been inspired by him and was participating in marathons. I was impressed that we had come from a time (1952) when only a few "supermen" could run the marathon to a time when young and old, male and female participate in the Boston Marathon. Now, another 40 years later, many "ordinary" people are taking on the even more challenging Triathlon. So our expectations about the capacity of the human body has been transformed within my lifetime. We no longer accept the constraints on the limits of the body.

     The same argument could be made with respect to other heroes of my youth. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were seen as supermen when they reached the top of Mount Everest on 29 May 1953. Now it seems that trips to the top of Mount Everest are just another tourist attraction. Roger Bannister was seen as a superman when he ran the first 4-minute mile on 6 May 1954. Soon after, a number of others broke what seems in retrospect to have been a psychological barrier. Those "superhuman" feats were all accomplished, as you notice, in the early 1950s. Fifty years later, they are all recognised as well within the capacity of the human body.

     There should be a similar lifting of the limitations on the capacity of the human mind. However, we remain on the side-lines chanting EIN EIN EINSTEIN (actually we wouldn't even be chanting, since we have no idea what Einstein achieved and hence hold the applause and the aspiration to emulate him.) There has not been a corresponding shift in perception in which we recognise that we all have the potential to be an Einstein. The mystique persists. The operating manual is an attempt to destroy the mystique by revealing the technique. We can not only emulate Einstein, we can far surpass him.

     We have all received the conception-day gift of all the wisdom of our species, which includes memory to store information and speech to transmit information. However this first generation of media (Memory and Speech) is adequate only for a hunter-gatherer society. As we have moved into an agricultural society, an industrial society, and now an information society, we have had to extend our nervous system by inventing media to store and transmit information outside our bodies. In the second generation (Print and Film), we store information outside our body; in the third generation (Telephone and Television), we transmit information outside our body, and in the fourth generation (Multimedia and Internet), we both store and transmit information outside our body.

     Little can be done with the unaided brain. I can multiply two one-digit numbers in my head only because I have memorised the multiplication tables. If required to multiply two two-digit numbers, I reach for pencil and paper. Einstein knew this. He said his pencil is smarter than he is. Einstein did well with only this second generation; we can do so much more with all four generations of media.

     A larger vision of the purpose of education which I find helpful is that education is the process in which a person acquires the operating manual for our species. When I got my car, I got an operating manual; when I got my computer, I got an operating manual; when I got my brain (the most complex and mysterious system in the universe), there was no manual. I kept waiting for it - thinking it had been issued by another department and got lost by Canada Post. Halfway through my life, I realised that it was a do-it-yourself job. So I've been writing my own operating manual. It is based on the assumption that a brain is a brain is a brain. The difference between Margaret Mead and Albert Einstein (or whoever you think has most fully realised the human potential) and you and I is that they acquired a better operating manual. The various members of my karass acquired different parts of the operating manual. We should not be browbeaten into believing that we don't have access to it.

Return to the Table of Contents       Continue to Chapter 2.1

2   I almost wrote "lined up at the starting gate" However, this is not a race. None of us are in any hurry to cross that finishing line. Indeed, as self-appointed scribe for this group, I reserve the right to be last over that line so that I can record our story.