Author Interview: Samuel D. Rocha

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Samuel D. Rocha is Assistant Professor in the Department of Education Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Here he discusses his most recent book publication, Folk Phenomenology: Education, Study, and the Human Person (Pickwick, 2015), which reflects his work not only as a philosopher of education but also as a folk artist. You can read more about his work on his personal website.

Questions: Naomi Hodgson

Why did you decide to write Folk Phenomenology: Education, Study, and the Human Person?

Initially, the idea for this project was nothing more than my dissertation topic. To be quite honest, I had only a vague sense of why I was writing it at the time—I was even unsure as to why I was still in graduate school. I wanted to try and offer a conceptual model that could be used as a tool for a descriptive analysis of education. In other words, I felt the need to try and write out a metaphysical sketch and then use that sketch as a measuring stick. The result was underwhelming. I would have abandoned it altogether if not for key mentors that encouraged me to carry on. After editing it in stops and starts for about four years, I finally got a better sense of what I was doing and after another year of editing I had a stronger sense of purpose and direction about it. But the question of why I did it is still unclear to me. I’m not sure why anyone writes anything, really.  And that absent sense of “why” is the perhaps the best way to understand why I wrote it. I wrote it because I was not sure about many things.

What’s the main aim of the book, and why is it important now?

The book has many aims, or many parts of a single aim. Collectively I try to offer a revisionist account of phenomenology where the term ‘phenomenology’ refers to the task of “imagining the real”. The emphasis here is twofold: the imagination and the real. I hope I don’t favour one or the other too much. This sense of phenomenology is then put to work with the purpose of presenting a speculative understanding of education, study, and the human person, individually and as a unitary whole.

I’m not sure if this is any more important now than it always has been and will be, but I do think that today there is a serious lack of speculative work in both philosophy and education—this lack marks an impoverishment in need of an alternative. Perhaps this book will be a small part of a possible alternative.

And what is it that draws you, personally, to this area of research?

My own life and artistic and academic training draw me to this area of research. My sense of most intellectual and artistic projects is that they cannot come entirely from outside of who we are. I think it was Bird (a.k.a. Charlie Parker) who said, “If I haven’t lived it then I can’t blow it out of my horn.” I don’t agree with Bird here in a literal way, but I do see what he was trying to say. I feel the same way about my area of research, and any areas of research. I’m a victim of fate and consequence and so is my work.

What sort of reaction do you hope the book will get?

This is a question of degree for me. How much hope should I reveal here? I hope people read it and listen to the companion album I recorded for it (you can get it on iTunes), too. I think together they offer different facets of what the term ‘folk’ means, a term I am careful to not burden or overdetermine. But most of all I hope this book opens up some space for intellectual work that looks, feels, and sounds like—but most of all yearns for— a work of art. My own work is not mature or impressive in this respect, but it does long for the spirit and life I find in works of art that inspire me across the world of letters and beyond. I’m sceptical of “great books” but I do believe in great works of art. Don Quixote is that for me. A Love Supreme is that for me. Neruda’s poetry is that for me. I guess my greatest hope is that this work will bear fruit: that it will enable me to keep writing and that others may find in it some reason to continue or begin to write.

I now recall Augustine’s line in his Confessions, “Da quod amo; amo enim. Et hoc tu dediste”—“Give what I love; for I love. This too you have given.”

What sort of audience did you have in mind when writing the book?

The most obvious academic audience I had in mind cuts in three directions: philosophers of education, phenomenologists, and reconceptualists in curriculum theory. The first two speak for themselves (since I am a philosopher of education and phenomenologist), but the third is significant because of my conviction that curriculum theory ought to be rooted in the humanities and carries a rich tradition of phenomenological research. Bill Pinar’s foreword speaks to this audience most directly. I also had in mind those interested in religion and theology, growing out of my engagement with the Roman Catholic intellectual tradition. I felt that educators in and out of schools could read it if they can tolerate its dense and idiosyncratic style. But the truest audience I thought of when writing it speaks to its rather idealistic and naïve nature. I wrote it for everyone, for that discarded universal audience one should never write to anymore. I am not exactly proud of this, but I would be lying to say otherwise.

What’s your current project? What’s next?

Aside from various articles and chapters, I’m writing two books on Ivan Illich that should be out this year and the next. The first is an introduction to Illich, written at a very popular and general level; the second looks at theological elements in his work that might illuminate his notion of deschooling and more. After those books I hope to attempt a translation project.

What is philosophy of education and why does it matter?

There are so many strategic and dishonest ways to answer this question. For me it is about not knowing what philosophy or education are, individually or as a pair. I don’t mean this to be cavalier or petulant. Mathematicians have their infinity, astronomers have their cosmos, historians have deep time, poets have the depths of love. Fields of study strike me as important principally because of their mysteries, their unknown knowns—the things they don’t know that they know. Philosophy of education is in many ways a compacted frustration: we do not know or agree to know what philosophy is; we have no idea what education is. Even when we pretend to know we find our language falling short or miscommunicating. This is what philosophy of education is for me: a place of a doubled sense of mystery and urgency. We not only don’t know casually, we tend to feel that we must know in order to act. There is a sense of duty to know something, anything. We cannot leave the mysteries out there for another day, yet when we try to reform or change things we forget too soon what remains beyond the future. This unique predicament is what philosophy of education is and I consider myself blessed to be small part of it.

Read Kevin Froner's review of Folk Phenomenology here.


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