Vertical/unity and Horizontal/change

Ben Schwendener, a musician, composer, teacher of music and composing, began teaching a graduate Seminar on Creativity online May 31.  As director of the Program (Critical & Creative Thinking) I was invited to listen in and even participate as a student.  The project I decided to develop during the course is the Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change.  The posts to follow will show the unfolding of my thinking.

1 June 2011
Vertical/unity and Horizontal/change
My current understanding of Ben’s critique of method is that to work from method is to pursue the horizontal without attention to the vertical unity of elements upon which change flows naturally. An example of this problem might be a curriculum that says topics A-H must be covered, in contrast to identifying the six themes that underlie the subject matter (as proposed by science educator Paul Jablon, Lesley University) or my 4R’s (Respect->Risk->Revelation->Re-engagement) of developing as a collaborator or the many Rs of developing as a Reflective Practitioner during the CCT program of studies. Another way of stating this example is to consider the desired outcome. The student who has taken the required subjects is assumed to be able to draw on the knowledge (subject to an inevitable decay if the knowledge is not used), but a student who appreciates the six themes approach has a coherent, integrated perspective from which to address future areas of learning.

What doesn’t yet fit in this understanding of the Vertical/unity and Horizontal/change are the themes that emerge from Strategic Planning or the Future Ideal Retrospective activities. These themes are the names given to clusters of brainstormed items and, in my teaching, the names should denote movement or change—how this cluster of items speaks to moving us towards the future ideal. I wonder, could these movement-change themes be elements of a vertical unity (even though change, as I understand it, is supposed to be associated with the horizontal)?

  • B.S. 6/14 email: -yes. Consider as ‘Supra-Vertical’ or Formal Elements functioning as active components of the whole.

For the Collaborative, the elements might be the tools and processes used in PBL and the connections made through addressing the PBL scenarios when these tools, processes, and connections produce participants who can take them into new situations. (I call this flexible engagement: “An ideal in which researchers in any knowledge-making situation are able to connect quickly with others who are almost ready—either formally or otherwise—to foster participatory processes and, through the experience such processes provide their participants, contribute to enhancing the capacity of others to do likewise.” [Unruly Complexity (2005, p. 225)].) This is in contrast to thinking of change as referring to any real-world issue contained in the PBL scenario. Although PBL could be designed for a group that is prepared to act, CESPOC stays clear of claiming to convene or be the basis for such groups. Instead, it is learning and developing support for learning that would go into CESPOC’s still-to-be-clarified vertical unity.

(I wonder if this last distinction is like Parker Palmer’s realization that he was a teacher more than a social change activist [Let Your Life Speak, 2000]. His do-ing is to teach clarifying practices that others might use to prepare themselves to do something to change education or, more broadly, society.)


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

14 Responses to Vertical/unity and Horizontal/change

  1. Pingback: Vertical/unity and Horizontal/change « Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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