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Philosophically, this perspective began to enter into general intellectual discussion after Immanuel Kant published his Critique of Pure Reason in In that work, Kant asserted that human beings never actually know objects that they perceive in the world as objects in-and-of-themselves; they know only what their limited senses give them of the objects in the world.
Therefore, their perception of reality ultimately is a subjective reality and not an absolute reality. There also developed the idea that an understanding of the world is relative to the perspective of the observer, which became an important tenet of postmodernism. The positivists further assert that their scientific approach to reality is equally valid in logic, epistemology, and ethics, without reference to theology or metaphysics or other mystical disciplines Positivism.
At the same time, the story also brings into question some of the more extreme applications of postmodernist practice. In an interview with Kevin Breen, Baxter states that many people fabricate stories and make false statements to elementary students without ever getting caught. Baxter then compares this situation to the way the American public in the s and early s was deceived by politicians, especially Presidents Lyndon B.
Johnson and Richard Nixon, about U. Are mathematical facts absolute, or are they, in some ways at least, relative? On the morning of her first day as a substitute teacher in a fourth-grade classroom in Michigan, befuddled by the lesson plan that the regular teacher has laid out, Miss Ferenczi, asks a student, John Wazny, to stand up at his seat and recite the multiplication tables for six.
In higher mathematics numbers are The only thing a number does is contain a certain amount of something. Think of water. A cup is not the only way to measure a certain amount of water, is it?
In this way, Baxter establishes the theme of substitute, or relative, realities that Miss Ferenczi presents to her students. Apart from the disconnect between the effect of substitute facts upon the human mind versus their effect upon potted plants, this carefully raised question is addressed more to positivism itself, with all its assumptions, than to the elementary school students, with their limited experience.
Germ theory, for example, was a substitute fact in medicine when it originated, but eventually it became a mainstream tenet a fact in medical practice. The idea that witchcraft is superstition was a substitute fact in ethics and law when it originated, but today accusations of witchcraft no longer are taken seriously as fact in the American legal system. The narrator, Tommy, who earlier had experienced difficulty in spelling balcony trying first balconie , then balconey , and finally balkony , spent five minutes looking up the word in a dictionary at home.
Thus, the title of the story itself derives from a substitute spelling, which, according to the dictionary consulted by the narrator, also is valid. Nevertheless, during her instruction, Miss Ferenczi sometimes does become oddly extreme in some of her assertions, even as her introduction of alternative approaches to reality stimulates questioning and investigative interest, at least in the narrator.
Our age [that of the European Enlightenment] is the age of criticism, to which everything must be subjected. The sacredness of religion, and the authority of legislation, are by many regarded as grounds of exemption from examination of this tribunal. But, if they are exempted, they become the subjects of just suspicion, and cannot lay claim to sincere respect, which reason accords only to that which has stood the test of a free and public examination.
According to Kant, constant questioning of facts is necessary in acquiring non-mathematical synthetic knowledge. Hibler and his colleagues, the regular teachers at the grade school, tend to follow the dogmatic approach in their instruction.
This is a problem inherent among followers of positivism: a fact, once determined, is considered to be a fact universally, without regard to the varying perspectives of other observers. Mantei said that our assignment would be to memorize these lists for the next day, when Mr. Hibler, returns, six times eleven will be sixty-six again, you can rest assured.
And it will be that for the rest of your lives in Five Oaks. Too bad, eh? Her deep disappointment is made apparent by her rhetoric: the majority of the students will be bound henceforth by dogmatic teachers to unquestioning, unwavering faith in facts, and there is a possibility that, with the exception of their days with her, they will never again open their minds to critical, skeptical thinking about what constitutes knowledge.
Like Kant, Miss Ferenczi assumes that skepticism and critical thinking are desirable, and for her they are desirable even at an early age. The morning event in which the substitute teacher attempts to make her students aware of substitute mathematical facts is the first in which she insinuates her relativistic view into the regular curricular material. She will be granted only a few days to continue. There was a great tattling of words for the fewness of the ideas. By referring to the verbal interaction among the other teachers in this way, she indicates her attitude toward the monotony that her colleagues share in their intellectual lives.
She considers her time spent attempting to instill a skeptical spirit among her students, even in matters of diet—the stuffed fig and smoked sturgeon that she had packed as her lunch in contrast to their sloppy joes and peaches in heavy syrup supplied by the school—to be a valid substitute for an hour of exchanging platitudes with colleagues. It is in such instances as this that Miss Ferenczi perhaps stretches the credibility of her substitute facts to the breaking point.
Nevertheless, Tommy is delighted after school when he finds the word gryphon in the dictionary. Miss Ferenczi has sparked at least his imagination, and prompted him to think about and to seek verification of a fact.
William A. Her indifference to what her son is enthusiastic to discuss reflects her blind acceptance that what is taught dogmatically or unquestioningly by the local educational authorities is universal truth, and blind acceptance of the probability that the instruction follows the axiomatic plan of the modernist education that Harkin defends. However, because the shift from modernism to postmodernism occurred at a time during which relativity theory influencing modernists was competing with quantum theory influencing postmodernists , the period of modernism in education concurred with the period in which positivism prevailed in education, because educational theory lagged behind the science that was influencing the new intellectual developments of the day.
The skepticism recommended by Kant in was set aside by scientific realism and by positivism, but it was being recovered as the insights of postmodernism prevailed over those of positivism. The final result of the implementation of the critical agenda in education implied already by Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason remains unrealized even today, but perhaps it would include a redesign of the power structure inherent in the delivery of an education, making learning more accessible and impartial to discrimination.
He does not advocate reactionism in education; he advocates rather that the modernist project in instruction can lead to progress in the development of knowledge if it is redirected appropriately.
Therefore, inherent in the argument of a relativist is the acceptance of the idea that even relativism cannot establish itself as a universal truth. For this reason, the assumption, until proven otherwise, is that analytic and synthetic knowledge should be taught as knowledge in grade school, but perhaps tempered by the insights of relativism, as relativism offers an approach to instruction that expands critical thinking and opens possibilities for creative endeavors.
In mathematics, on the one hand, people can solve problems and arrive at the same result. In the humanities, on the other hand, and especially in literary and cultural studies, people arrive at multiple interpretations and derive multiple meanings from observing a single object of study Parker, Critical 3. It is for this reason that even synthetically developed mathematics was placed by Kant among the transcendent elements of mind universal truths while other areas of synthetic knowledge were not subjective truths.
Traditional mathematics and higher mathematics coexist and lead to valid formulations. In the humanities, interpretation is an ongoing process by which one does not arrive at absolute conclusions, and there is never one universally acceptable formulation. Nevertheless, postmodernist approaches to education can enhance all fields of study. As Deborah J. Even so, it should be remembered that, even in the sciences, validity does not imply absolute truth value.
Even she goes too far, however, when she implies that there is truth value in at least one of her more extravagant assertions. While introducing the students to Tarot readings, she walks over to Wayne Razmer:.
He picked his five cards, and I could see that the Death card was one of them. Your earthly element will no doubt leap higher, because you seem to be a sweet boy. This card, this nine of swords, tells me of suffering and desolation.
We were all looking at Wayne. It is not really death. Just change. Out of your earthly shape. You are. This is possibly why Baxter names the substitute teacher Miss Ferenczi , which sounds suspiciously similar to the word frenzy , a word that, as postmodernists do, emphasizes that meaning remains forever unstable, and that the post-World War II environment in which we live is characterized by chaos, fragmentation, absurdity, distrust, and skepticism.
Baxter, Charles. Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf, John G. New York: Oxford UP, Bloland, Harland G. Breen, Kevin. Edwards, Richard, and Robin Usher. London: Routledge, Fish, Stanley. New York: St. Gallant, Mary J. Harkin, Joe. Harris, Daryl B. Haynes, Deborah J. Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Pure Reason. Thomas Kingsmill. Kant : Great Books of the Western World , vol. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Parker, Robert D.
Parks, John G. American Short Stories Since Reinsmith, William H. Patricia Waugh. Winans, Molly. Quan Manh Ha, PhD. Jonathan Mark Hoyer graduated with a B. A French-American journal dedicated to short story and other short forms of writing. Contents - Previous document - Next document.
Gryphon: New and Selected Stories
It has since been included in several anthologies, as well as in Baxter's collection. PBS adapted the story for television in Ferenczi, a substitute teacher, arrives in a fourth-grade classroom in rural Five Oaks, Michigan. The children immediately find her both peculiar and intriguing. They have never met her before, and we are told that "[s]he didn't look usual.
Analysis of 'Gryphon' by Charles Baxter
Charles Baxter’s “Gryphon”: A Postmodernist Substitute in a Traditional Classroom