Harmony and hope as pedagogies for 2018

This week’s OLDaily, the online newsletter published by Stephen Downes, includes a discussion about ‘a pedagogy of harmony’. In his commentary on Matthias Melcher’s post, Stephen Downes writes:

Maybe nothing will come out of the idea of the ‘pedagogy of harmony’, or maybe I have at last found a worthy response to the idea of the pedagogy of the oppressed and even the pedagogy of hope. In any case, Matthias Melcher has teased out one fascinating strand, the idea that our expectations make the difference between whether we are in harmony with the world or whether things sound a note of dissonance. It comes from an example offered by Laura Ritchie. Here’s what she says:  “The relationships of the notes, the ratios and intervals found within the natural harmonic series have not changed over the years, but the capabilities of reproducing the notes on manmade instruments has… What has also changed is our tolerance for adding new ideas to the conception of harmony.” As we grow as individuals, as we grow as a society, we can become harmonious in new ways, by changing (and improving) our expectations.  (Stephen Downes, Dec 21, 2017)


Stephen Downes’ idea of the pedagogy of harmony, Laura Ritchie’s explanation of the relationship of musical notes, the ratio and intervals found within the natural harmonic series, and Matthias’s/Stephen’s response that our expectations make the difference between whether we are in harmony with the world or whether things sound a note of difference, have all caught my attention for different reasons.

I’m not sure whether I fully understand Stephen’s idea of a ‘pedagogy of harmony’. The idea stems from Stephen’s experience of Mastodon, a calmer, slower, quieter alternative to Twitter as a social media platform. There he has written: ‘What is a ‘pedagogy of harmony’? I’m not exactly sure, but it combines a feeling of well-being and comfort and inclusion’ , which is how he experiences Mastodon.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines harmony as:

  • The combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce a pleasing effect.
  • The quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole.
  • The state of being in agreement or concord.

But, if we agree with this definition, would we want this all the time? My immediate thought was, ‘Don’t we need dissonance to be able to recognise harmony?’ and in terms of pedagogy  ‘Don’t we need dissonance to maintain interest and attention?’

Kevin Hodgson in his response to Laura Ritchie’s post has created a video in which he has written:

Some of us revel in the juxtaposition of dissonances. We are disturbances on the surfaces of one another’s waters.

Perhaps it is more than ‘revel’, more a need for cognitive dissonance to enable learning.

Another question that occurred to me is ‘Can one person’s harmony be another person’s dissonance?’ This question is sparked off by my participation in Dr Matthew Nicholl’s Ancient Rome MOOC. In Week 3 of this course we are introduced to the music of Ancient Rome, in particular the music created by aulos players.

It is clear from the discussion forum posts that this music is not to everyone’s taste. For some it creates a sense of ‘well-being’, for others it does not. Laura’s comment that “What has also changed is our tolerance for adding new ideas to the conception of harmony” makes sense to me, but it must also mean that our understanding of harmony as an idea is a moving feast.

But I like this comment from Stephen: ‘As we grow as individuals, as we grow as a society, we can become harmonious in new ways, by changing (and improving) our expectations’, which was sparked by Matthias’ idea ‘that our expectations make the difference between whether we are in harmony with the world of whether things sound a note of dissonance.’ These ideas fit with those I have been learning about in a wonderfully enjoyable face-to-face course I have just completed – An Introduction to Philosophical Literature, run by Darren Harper. Over the past couple of months we have read and discussed:

  • Week 1: Introduction and Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
  • Week 2: The Trial by Franz Kafka
  • Week 3: Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Week 4: The Outsider by Albert Camus
  • Week 5: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
  • Week 6: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

All these books are essentially about searching for meaning in life. Can we find meaning and if so what is the meaning of life, or is life essentially meaningless? This week, the last week of the course, when discussing Kundera’s wonderful book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, we were asked:  if we knew that our life would repeat itself over and over again, without the possibility of correcting or changing anything, what would we do/change from this moment on to ensure that the repeated life would be bearable. This may not make sense to anyone else, but for me it speaks to both Stephen and Matthias’ ideas and suggests that I must revisit Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Hope, a pedagogy that believes in the possibility that things can change. Perhaps harmony alone is not enough as a pedagogy.

Both harmony and hope seem like fitting topics for reflection at the end of 2017.

Here’s wishing anyone who visits this post, Season’s Greeting and Best Wishes for 2018.

4 thoughts on “Harmony and hope as pedagogies for 2018

  1. Lisa M Lane December 24, 2017 / 4:28 pm

    Just some thoughts, having read only this and none of your sources except the novels.

    It seems possible that harmony is individual. If some people hear a piece of music as pleasing and harmonious, but others hear it as dissonant, then each individual could have their own spectrum, and the spectrum itself is influenced by their expectations, and those expectations could be created by their own personal combination of culture and experience.

    I agree that harmony may not be static. I tend to seek positions on a spectrum, and distrust extremes. Is harmony an extreme, the opposite of dissonance, or is is a reconciliation, a medium, a combination of notes that feel to us they are combined correctly? If the latter, a pedagogy of harmony may include dissonance, as something to push against if nothing else. And even within a single life, that which seems dissonant one year may seem harmonious later. Learning itself may be like this. A person may be uncomfortable with a new point of view when they are less secure, but later seek out new points of view to deliberately challenge that security.

    And, much larger, perhaps there is no meaning “of life”, but rather meaning as part of the individual life. Kundera’s question implies the ability to know in the repeated life what is going to happen, since you lived it before. If we knew that, we might not so much as change things as change our expectations and our contentedness about what will happen – create our own harmony of perspective rather than changing what we actually do.

  2. jennymackness January 3, 2018 / 9:45 am

    Thank you Lisa for your thoughtful comments. I agree that harmony is individual. I also see harmony as a reconciliation, a medium, a combination of notes that feel to us they are combined correctly. I see dissonance not so much included in harmony as necessary for harmony to be experienced and yes, I would agree that harmony is not static.

    Your views seem to accord in large part with the response to this post from Stephen Downes –


    particularly his third point where he writes:

    There is a specific feeling I have from time to time when everything is right in the world. I was once asked, what is the meaning of life? I said, it is to find those moments of harmony. I then described walking down a street by a school in the fall in Edmonton (to be precise, right here: https://www.google.ca/maps/@53.5197171,-113.5005885,19z?hl=en ) and watching the kids play. It was a moment of perfect calm. It wasn’t nothing; I am full of thoughts. It was more like a perfect state of flow. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

    Here he is describing an individual experience, which others walking down the same street at the same time may not have experienced as harmony, although I can completely understand what he means.

    This reminds me that in our course in the final session the discussion moved to what we mean by happiness. One of the participants asked: If we had to list right now 5 things that make us happy, what would we list. So the tutor suggested we all do this. Interestingly, there and then I was not able to put anything on my list. I realized that happiness (and harmony) are ephemeral and cannot be fixed by a list. As one of the participants said it’s a bit like beauty, you know it when you see/experience it, but you can’t describe it. There’s a lot more to think about here, but I think it relates to harmony.

    And I really like the last paragraph of your comment. It would have been great to have you in our class 🙂

  3. E January 15, 2018 / 6:18 am

    Just discovering the concept today; I love the parallels and interplay of hope, philosophy and music.

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