Welcoming the other: understanding the responsibility of educators




Molnar, Timothy A.

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This research brings the thought of Emmanuel Levinas into play in attempting to understand the responsibility of a group of educators of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal heritage working amidst the tensions of ethno-cultural difference in an inner city public high school in Western Canada. The concept of ‘welcoming’, that is born in the words of Levinas, and that I further fashion into an interpretation framework while relying on the writings of Jacque Derrida and Sharon Todd, is employed in articulating this research. The research involves exploring: if, how and to what extent the responsibility of these educators might be understood as a welcoming of the Other and; if, how and to what extent the notion of welcoming itself, and particularly the thought of Levinas, might be potentially helpful in understanding the responsibility of educators? This study articulates a philosophical hermeneutic that is an interpretation of participants’ stories developed through a close examination of Levinas’ philosophy aided by insight from Derrida, Todd and other writers. This research articulates how educators revise and reenact their responsibility wherein their success and that of their students involves the establishment of a non-coercive relationship educators believe is fundamental and crucial to any other form of success their schooling context. This study offers examples and insight concerning how educators are interrupted by the difference of others; how educators realize their vulnerability to others and respond to others where their relationships with others change from merely being-with others to a “being-for” the Other; how educators negotiate the difficult tension of being an hôte or a guest in one’s own situation and; how educators receive the gift of learning from the Other or learn what their responsibility demands of them as they seek to serve others in amidst ethno-cultural difference. This research is helpful in offering an alternate way to approach how educators’ understand and enact their responsibility amidst ethno-cultural difference and does this by offering an atypical consideration of what is ethical, where responsibility is reconceived as a welcoming of the Other. In this pursuit insight is offered into the helpfulness and use of Levinas’ philosophy with the suggestion that his writings remain challenging to decipher as well to apply, offering few if any specific guides for action. Despite this, I suggest that Levinas’ philosophy when refashioned as welcoming, relying on scholars such as Derrida and Todd, can be helpful in prompting us as educators to think differently about our responsibility and therefore to perhaps act differently. In this capacity this study is potentially helpful to educators in assuring them that what is ethical is not necessarily defined within the confines of convention, legal codes and rules nor is what is ethical solely determined within such confines, but rather in our attentiveness to others and our attentiveness to our attentiveness, where we realize the welcoming nature of responsibility and what is actually demanded of us in being responsible to the Other.



Levinas, responsibility, Aboriginal, welcoming, found poems, Interruption, Vulnerability, Hospitality, Hôte, Ethics