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Relational Ontologies


Barbara Thayer-Bacon

Relational Ontologies uses the metaphor of a fishing net to represent the epistemological and ontological beliefs that we weave together for our children, to give meaning to their experiences and to help sustain them in their lives. The book describes the epistemological threads we use to help determine what we catch up in our net as the warp threads, and our ontological threads as the weft threads. It asks: what kind of fishing nets are we weaving for our children to help them make sense of their experiences? What weft threads are we including and working to strengthen, and what threads are we removing or leaving out? It is important to carefully re/examine these most basic ways of catching up what sustains us in our ocean of infinite experiences, as the threads we weave for our children will determine what they catch up in their nets, until they are old enough to re/weave their own. Relational Ontologies reweaves America’s epistemological and ontological fishing net on a larger scale, turning to indigenous cultures and diverse spiritual beliefs for assistance in reforming American schools.

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Introduction: What Does Ontology Have to Do with Education?


The world of “pure experience,” as William James describes it, is like an infinite Ocean and the fishing nets we create are a metaphor for our ontologies and epistemologies that help us catch up our experiences and give them meaning.1 When children walk into our classrooms, even as preschoolers, they come with an understanding of the universe based on the “net” their parents, extended family members, and caring community use to help them make sense of the world. The world children experience at birth is a booming, buzzing, aromatic world that they learn to sort out and make sense of with the help of their care providers. The metaphor of an infinite Ocean and using fishing nets to catch up what can sustain us in/on this Ocean is one I seek to further develop for this Introduction. I capitalize Ocean to honor and underscore the spiritual quality of what I seek to describe. I will turn to James and others for help in Chapter 1. Here I want to make the case for why a better understanding of ontology matters for us as educators.

The Metaphor

Imagine the world we experience is like a vast Ocean and we are afloat on this Ocean in a boat, like Pi in The Life of Pi,2 able to dive back into the water ← 1 | 2 → and vulnerable to having the Ocean’s waves wash over us whenever a storm develops, always knowing we will eventually sink back...

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