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Oral Tradition and Foucaults Games of Truth
Penulis/Peneliti : Setiono Sugiharto

 

Bidang Penelitian : Linguistik

 

Jurnal : The jakarta Post

 

Volume : Sabtu, 15/1/2011

 

Tahun : 2011

 

The revolutionary idea of uplifting oral (as opposed to literate) tradition as one source of local wisdom in our education ought to be welcomed with alacrity. 

For one thing, amid our fetish with internationally — certified education, the idea shows a growing awareness among local education pundits of the importance of preserving cultural identity or heritage as well as of interrogating any importation of cultural constructs. The idea also offers a refreshing new direction for the development of any educational policy. 

More important than all of these is that any educational practice rooted in local wisdom put learners in an advantageous position. This is to say that learners will become the masters of the self. 

Education is, after all, an activity which can be metaphorically speaking likened to a game of truth — a phrase used by French philosopher Michael Foucault to describe the various forms of knowledge. As a rule of thumb in the game of truth, learners are granted freedom to construct their own views of the world (i.e., knowledge) emanating from their accumulated experience.   

To engage learners in their oral tradition is a stepping stone toward assisting them in becoming active players in the games of truth. However, the knowledge that learners obtain during the exposure to their tradition is by itself a necessary, but insufficient condition for learning. It serves only as a knowledge base, which is of no insignificant appendage, as this knowledge is a precondition for interrogating other forms of knowledge permeating the learners’ traditions.    

For Foucault, to play a game of truth we (teachers) must help learners devise strategies for “problematization”, a sort of strategy resembling that of Cartesian doubt, whose well-known credo is to doubt everything of which we cannot be absolutely certain. 

The knowledge base — the products of the learners’ long interaction with their traditions — manifests itself as a significant “investment”, which eventually paves the way for the learners to apply problematization strategies. 

Socioculturally, the unveiling of oral tradition, 

With learners being the master of their traditions, can counter-balance the influx of Western cultural traits, which are responsible for the perpetuation of cultural hegemony. 
With learners being active players in the game of truth, not as passive spectators, they are poised to challenge, interrogate and even resist hegemonic forces of any cultural determination. 

It should be highlighted that to encourage learners to be active players in a game of truth is not tantamount to teaching them under a critical thinking paradigm. In the game of truth, learners are exhorted to raise their consciousness as critical beings. 

Teaching (e.g., teaching critical thinking), unfortunately, presupposes the miscarriage of thoughts, marginalization and powerlessness —  and as such it belittles the complexity of humanity. 

It must be admitted, the major significant stumbling block to the acknowledgments of oral tradition as precious local wisdom is our excessive fetish about what constitutes scientism. 

S.T. Sulastro wrote recently in Kompas daily that there is an a priori attitude among scientists and researchers alike toward the scientific truth of oral tradition. In essence, they impugn the science-focus of the tradition, seeking instead recognition of universal, pure, and transcendental truth in it, which is hardly possible.    

The spirit of tightly holding a banner bearing the name of “science” shouldn’t surprise us, given the strong influence of the positivist tradition that shapes most our scholars’ attitudes. In research activities, for example, the perpetuation of positivism has been so strong that it often makes novice and even experienced researchers as well as students feel insecure if they attempt to construct knowledge from the very perspectives of their own contexts, interests, and ideologies. 

This feeling of insecurity is further exacerbated by the imposition of rigid empirical lines of inquiry that must be conformed, often to the exclusion of the researchers’ own creativity in the process of knowledge construction. Bad and good scholarship is determined by this absolute criterion. 

Another obstacle in promoting oral tradition is the tendency of our scholars to exalt the superiority of literate culture. This not only perpetuates an unhealthy dichotomy between oral and literate culture, but also assigns a subservient status to the former. 

Oral traditions such as folk tales, legends, and anecdotes, among other things, are clearly the product of our cultural creation rather than any cultural determination, and as such genuinely reflect the way local people live, interact, and behave. They also depict the live experiences of the people who created such a cultural product. 

Studying this particular cultural product requires us to adhere to a method used by positivism-oriented scholars. Such a method is simply uncongenial and even stands in sharp contrast to the notion of knowledge as contextual, personal, bias, value-ridden and contested. 

As local wisdom, oral tradition does offer a great number of pedagogical benefits for learners as well as for the politics and ideology of national education. Nonetheless, its recognition as a possible school subject to be included in the national curriculum requires not only a political will on the part of education authorities, but also an open mind to the dynamism of knowledge.  

Oral tradition does offer a great number of pedagogical benefits for learners as well as for the politics and ideology of national education.


The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia, Jakarta, and chief editor of 
the  Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.
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