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I trained as a primary school teacher in New Zealand in the late 60s/early 70s. I taught for four years before starting my family (simultaneously with spending a year in the UK in 1974, during which I met Jack Whitehead, Jean McNiff, Moira Laidlaw and Marie Huxtable, amongst others).

I have always had a passion for education.I believe this was brought about by my parents' commitment to all of their eight children receiving the best education possible, despite the relatively low income they had as farmers breaking in 'virgin' land in New Zealand immediately post-war. They demonstrated considerable self-sacrifice to encourage our education, including sending the first five of us to boarding schools because there was then no secondary education accessible where we lived. All the local kids went to boarding schools. While I originally trained as a primary school teacher, I transitioned after a break to have my children, to polytechnic, and later university, staff development positions. These enabled me to develop my particular interest in supporting new teachers in areas as diverse as mechanical engineering, nursing, business and the arts. Observing reflective practice as a fundamental aspect of good teaching in my institutions, I developed and offered an action research module when the polytechnic I worked in gained degree granting status in the early 1990s and staff expressed fear of research. It was not such a big step from reflective practice in their classrooms, to systematic investigation and publication of this via action research.

Doctoral study and UK visit

I began a PhD investigating the effectiveness of this approach in helping to develop the polytechnic's fledgling research culture, and furthered that through a three month British Council fellowship to the UK in 1994, where I again met Jack, Moira, Jean and Marie. I read a copy of Jack's 1993 book "The Growth of Educational Knowledge"[1] and encountered the idea of the self as a living contradiction. The PhD was conferred in 1999 (thesis stored at http://fergs.org/pip/ along with evidence and listing of comparatively recent publications) and I moved to university work, subsequently working in a Maori university (Te Wananga o Aotearoa) as their research manager.

I am a living contradiction

In that context I found myself, as I had occasionally throughout my academic life, experiencing contradictions between what I claimed to value and how I was working out those values in practice. I claim to value social justice and equity, and seek to promote equally the research protocols and practices of indigenous researchers alongside those of more mainstream, traditionally Western, researchers[2]. This has sometimes caused tensions, not least when I led the Wananga, with support from indigenous managers, into a research assessment exercise that some Maori saw as antithetical to traditional Maori ways of doing and promoting research - see my most recent published paper in EJOLTS link. Hence the question below.

Pip's question

How and why do we discover ourselves as living contradictions?

... and EJOLTS

I have been involved with EJOLTS as a reviewer and member of the Development team for much of the life of the journal. My PhD thesis, which explored the use of action research as a means of helping to develop a research culture in a New Zealand polytechnic, was not an LET thesis but my thinking has been developed and stimulated by Living Educational Theory writing.

As I explained above, one aspect that particularly provoked me to thought is the notion of the self as a living contradiction. In the Bible, in Romans 7:15, Paul comments that “I don’t do the good I want to do, but instead do the evil that I don’t want to do”. For him to say that took a degree of insight, but often I find that I don’t recognise when my practice has strayed from ‘the good I want to do’ and instead is having iniquitous side-effects for others, of which I may be completely unaware. This can make my practice at variance to my claimed values.

I suspect this is a common phenomenon for many practitioners. It led me to write a paper, with my husband, that explored the idea "Can the goldfish see the water?" as we both considered whether and how our practice might be culture-bound, and prevent our seeing other interpretations of situations that others hold, instead of judging them by our own contextualised perceptions.[3]

When I worked for an indigenous university in New Zealand in 2003-5, at one point I found myself completely blind-sided by the comment by my immediate manager that I had introduced ‘viruses without vaccines’ into the institution. This was a dual reference to the British consciously or otherwise providing pox-ridden blankets to indigenous Americans, who succumbed in their thousands to disease. He likened this to my introduction into the institution, in conjunction with indigenous managers, of a research assessment exercise that didn’t smoothly fit with indigenous ways of knowing, and recording knowledge.

... and further questions

While this was a painful situation, it made me wonder how I and any other practitioner may discover previously unrecognised discrepancies between desire to do work that contributes to the flourishing of humanity, and any inadvertent sabotaging of this work.

  • Am I, and are other interested practitioners, open to discovering such discrepancies?
  • How/do practitioners welcome this kind of insight?
  • How do I, and other practitioners joining in this conversation, expand practice to be more self-aware and to synchronise practice with intentions?
  • How do I, and how have other EJOLTS writers, share/d this self-exploration so that others may be aware “there’s a hole in the sidewalk’ as Portia Nelson described it, so that others may not fall down their own holes?

These are the kinds of questions that I would like to explore, with others, in this tenth anniversary edition.

Additional thoughts:

I would like, here, to express my appreciation for the open reviewing process of EJOLTS, as I did in the foreword to the 2015 June edition [4] .To me, it is democratic, humanitarian, inclusive and broadening of perspectives, both those of the submitting author/s and of reviewers. I have learned such a lot from reading EJOLTS papers from many parts of the globe, where practitioners, often with searing honesty, have reported on their own recognition of being living contradictions, and how they then seek to improve their practice. Just a couple of such examples are here: [5] from the US/Scotland, and here: [6] from Croatia.

I would warmly encourage those reading this wiki to investigate papers published in EJOLTS, and to judge for themselves whether and how authors recognise themselves as living contradictions, and when they do, how they seek to improve their practice. I suspect it will be a lifelong challenge to all those of us who teach. In the past three years, I was privileged to live and work in Ireland, in staff development at Dublin City University. That was my most recent 'perception challenge' as I came to realise that the directness valued by most Kiwis in their speech and interactions can be seen as 'bold' (not a compliment in Ireland!) and challenging to students and fellow staff who value a more circumspect way of communicating. This directness can, however, have plus sides, as in conjunction with four Irish women who already had a thriving writing and blogging community, we set up NEARI - the Network for Educational Action Research in Ireland. [7]. It has been a joy to me to see the Network continuing to grow and thrive since I returned to New Zealand in April 2017 and I credit my fellow instigators and those who have 'caught the vision' for continuing this work.

Pip Bruce Ferguson, Tauranga, New Zealand


Bruce Ferguson, P. (2015) Who am I who teaches? In Educational Journal of Living Theories, Vol 8, Issue 1, June, pp. 49-66. Retrieved 11 February 2018 from http://ejolts.net/node/245

Bruce Ferguson, P. (2015) Foreword: Developing Community through the Open Reviewing Process. In Educational Journal of Living Theories, Vol. 8, Issue 1, June, pp. i-iv. Retrieved 11 February 2018 from http://ejolts.net/node/258

Bruce Ferguson, P. (2010). Developing a Research Culture in a Polytechnic: An Action Research Case Study. Thesis submitted for degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of Waikato. Available at http://fergs.org/pip/

Bruce Ferguson, P. (2008) Increasing Inclusion in Educational Research in New Zealand. In Research Intelligence, March, Vol. 102, pp. 24 – 25. Available at: http://www.actionresearch.net/writings/bera/24-25RI102.pdf.

Ferguson, B. & Bruce Ferguson, P. (2010) Can the Goldfish See the Water? A Critical Analysis of ‘Good Intentions’ in Cross-Cultural Practice. Paper presented at Action Learning, Action Research Association Conference, Melbourne, September 6 – 9. Retrieved 11 February 2018 from https://researchcommons.waikato.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10289/6656/cangoldfish2010.pdf?sequence=1

Whitehead, J. (1993) The Growth of Educational Knowledge. Retrieved 11 February 2018 from http://wvvrw.actionresearch.net/writings/bk93/0con.pdf