Tomoka Toraiwa

From a theoretical perspective, education is often seen as speaking the language of normative discourses and exercising a disciplinary kind of power, regardless of the educator’s intentions and the ideals that he or she attempts to communicate. The educator may unintentionally subscribe to oppressive discourses and practices and do more harm than good to students.

However, from a practical perspective, this approach is seen as out of touch and making little sense. Educators want to see immediate effects in the implementation of practices that aim at boosting test scores, at increasing graduation rates and parity in in terms of gender, race, social class, etc., at reducing the bullying, the suicides, the unemployment rate, and so on. For the practitioner, the theoretical perspective has nothing to say about the issues that they face or to help solve day-to-day educational problems.

Given my theoretical inclination, yet aware of the gap between the theory and the practice, my work addresses the question of what would be involved in developing practices that help students to grow but do not subject their way of being to the existing order of things. My aim, then, is to contribute to the fashioning of educational practices that help shape a way of being in which people do not violate one another. A way in which people are able to live together while opening to one another spaces from which new meanings may come into being. These new meanings do not need to be understood the same way by the one and the other, but they are shared as a consequence of the encounter between the two.

My first reading ever of Irigaray’s work, Sorcerer Love, spoke to me very strongly. Her take on love, which views love as a force that enables a constant becoming without fixed goals, resonated with my hopes and goals as an educational researcher. In her argument, love becomes a force connecting a self and an other without merging them, without erasing their uniqueness. Love actually leads both the one and the other to an expansion of their selves.

Although my work then had no connection with Irigaray’s work, I applied to the seminar hoping to receive some inspiration from her and from the other participants. I joined Professor Irigaray’s seminar in 2011. One of the most influential teachings that I received was about how to live while remaining faithful to one’s own truth. It concerned the question of how to engage with theory. Theory, for her, was not something abstract, detached from one’s own way of being. Irigaray said during the seminar that the thought must remain linked to the person. For me, the entire seminar was an extension of that gesture which conveyed what it meant to live theory. It conveyed what it meant to engage with theory in a truly sincere manner, which would eventually create new ways of relating to self and to other. In this sense, I regarded not only the contents of the seminar but the seminar itself as an educational practice from which I could gain insights about my own personal struggles in the field of education.

Since then, I have been engaging with theory and practice in the ways that I learned from Irigaray during the seminar. Although the struggles are still present, the more serious I become about theory and the more I take theory as a way of being, the more the divide between theory and practice looks like a false split. The real issue is not the divide, but about how one engages one’s self, one’s growth, one’s transformation.  To start thinking about that question one cannot make a separation between theory and practice.

My work after the seminar has included many questions drawn from Irigaray’s work. In September of 2011 I made a presentation comparing Irigaray’s “returning to dwelling” and John Dewey’s “reflective thinking.” In that paper I argue that in order to open the possibility of generating new dimensions of thinking within existing normative discourses both a reflectivity that moves outward towards the external world and a reflectivity that moves inward towards the self are necessary. An article based on the presentation titled “Reflective Thinking and Returning to Dwelling: An Attempt at a Dialogue between John Dewey and Luce Irigaray on the Formation of the Self and its Relation with the Other” is forthcoming in Journal of John Dewey Society in Japan.

 In June of 2013 I made another presentation on Irigaray’s democratic vision as applied to education. In that paper I explore in particular the relevance for education of Irigaray’s concept of “recognition” and its implication to teaching practices that aims at creating a democratic classroom environment. In my present work, I am attempting to translate the theoretical concepts in ways that can be incorporated in classroom practices, always having students be faithful to their own truths as Irigaray has taught me.