Is There a Need for Formal Standards in Teaching
and Researching General Semantics?

What are and what Should be the Qualifications for
Teaching or Researching general semantics?

APR 21, 1979

In analysis of the first question, it appears reasonable to interpret the question "to specify standards as a measurement device for evaluating the performance/attainment of students" as well as "to specify 'qualifications' for teachers".

In my opinion, the purpose of "qualifications" for teachers derives from the "accepted" methods for "preparing" students to demonstrate performance or mastery. I conclude that adequate establishment of teaching "qualifications" derives from the performance objectives for the students. When formal standards for student performance serves as "maps" (of the territory the students must navigate), then, and only then, can we discuss the degree to which various "credentials" contribute toward the facility with which "teachers" assist students toward the mastery of those formulated standards. Furthermore, I contend, and I believe reasonably so, that we must agree upon an adequate formulational map of that which we expect the students to demonstrate mastery. It seems reasonable to me that we should have some affirmative answers to some very common questions.

Since we consider general semantics an "open system of modern applied epistemology" (Bob Pula), HOW we know what we know--in this case the standards--must soundly agree with the methods and insights of general semantics. The methods for creation, maintenance, application and dissemination, etc of formal standards must accord with the insights and principles of general semantics.

At this point, I wish to illustrate my point with some examples at low orders of abstracting. Certain of the formulations of general semantics lead, quite naturally, toward some structure for both the standards as well as the method for development/maintenance of them. One formulation, that of the particular application of the "map-territory" analogy known as the symbol-referent or word-thing relation, suggests some particular aspects of standards.

As part of the "context" of the learning situation, cultural values and individual goals/values, in support and/or in conflict, shape the objectives, goal, etc., (the student's, the teacher's, as well as the resultant [compromise or synthesis] ) of the learning situation. (organism-in-the-environment-as-a whole consideration.)

A natural "bias" of general semantics, that time-binding is a good thing, provides some weight toward the cultural, collective, group, etc., purposes. Students who do not know how a symbol has been used within the group must find out from one who has known the uses of that symbol within the group. This learning must take place first, in order that what is learned by these students may serve as the very means by which their purposes become a part of, get considered by, etc, the group. The smallest group has two members. Time-binding cannot happen without a group.

Briefly, let me go over my view of the general semantics of the teaching situation. In one of the popular characterizations of "symbol", one 'property', 'aspect', etc. of a symbol can be formulated that "what a symbol refers to cannot be inferred solely on the basis of the symbol". Of course, when we consider the "A" of general semantics, "the map is not the territory", or in other terms, the word is not the thing, or the symbol is not the referent, it seems that this aspect is a sound one. When we consider the process of an organism (student) in its environment learning (from a teacher), the student must learn the relationship between the symbol and its referent from someone who uses that symbol to indicate that referent. In short, the student learns the relationship which they did not know from one who did know. In the process, the teacher must communicate with the student in order to find out when the student is using the symbol, must be aware of what referent the student is trying to indicate, and be able to provide the student with an evaluation regarding the student's use of that symbol to indicate that referent. Referents without physical representation, such as concepts, which can only be inferred, pose a special problem (for the student as well as the teacher).


This paper was prepared for my participation as a panel member in the panel discussion of the same title on the same date.
Annotated bibliography of general semantics papers
General Semantics and Related Topics
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