Joe Kincheloe's Critical Complex Epistemology/Pedagogy & Multidimensional Critical Complex Bricolage

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Paradis, V. J. (2013). Did Joe Lyons Kincheloe Discover the Golden Chalice for Knowledge Production? The Application of Critical Complex Epistemology and the Multidimensional Critical Complex Bricolage. (Doctoral Dissertation)



 A critical pedagogy that constructs knowledge and formulates action based on eros with its drive to alleviate human suffering serves as a counterpoise to the empire’s positivistic thanatos. (Kincheloe, 2008c, p. 100).



Introduction: Four Major Tasks

            This study both delineates and demonstrates the application of Joe Lyons Kincheloe’s multidimensional critical complex bricolage and critical complex epistemology (Kincheloe, 2001a, 2005a, 2008c; Kincheloe & Berry, 2004). I chose this project because I saw the great hope Kincheloe’s theoretical work provides for a rigorous education and how applying his research process can help solve the numerous social justice problems during this era of rapidly changing paradigms. Kincheloe’s research process provides a means to navigate and transcend the complexity of opposing forces of dualistic paradigms and produce new knowledge that leads to positive change as it is applied in scholarly research, teaching, learning, the workplace, and everyday living.  After four years of research, I am  more convinced than ever, and yet I still have found no examples in the literature that demonstrate the level of rigor and complexity Kincheloe is asking of bricoleurs-as-researchers, aside from his own work. Although his work serves as exemplars, he has not specifically delineated his personal research and writing process. Concurring with Venus Evans-Winters (2011), I believe taking his work forward is “long overdue” (p. 152) and I suspect that Kincheloe had been feeling that way for a very long time; his frustrations are sometimes alluded to in his writings in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Because I feel we are indebted to him for the enormous work and love he put into his legacy, which was devised to benefit everyone, I pushed forward with this research, crossing socio-political borders, knowing I was alienated and that I would be “working alone.” I have sacrificed often during my life, but I was not willing to sacrifice this project to do my best to move his work forward when he tragically and unexpectedly passed away just as I was beginning this research under his mentorship. He vowed that his work would change the world, and being the very humble person he was, I had interpreted that literally and in its fullest profundity.

As I engaged in this research, I soon discovered I was not working alone after all, and I have never been working alone. It seems I could not avoid taking this research to the level of Kincheloe’s (2005a) “fourth dimension of research” (p. 346). The project became complex and multidimensional from the beginning because I could not extract myself from the object and subject of the research. I became “one” with the process and I became one with Joe Kincheloe, himself. This project demonstrates the theory embedded in Kincheloe’s bricolage research process: “The knower and the known are Siamese twins, connected at the point of perception. Thus knowledge is not simply ‘out there’ to be discovered; it is shaped by the human mind in a complex interaction with lived reality” (Kincheloe, 2001b, p. 201). Due to this inextricability, it became impossible to leave out my “lived reality.” Because I’ve had so many profound experiences during this research, I have selected only a few that are representative and relate directly to explicating a process for bricolage. While the phenomenological data collected is voluminous, having been collected for four years, from 2008 to the present, I believe the data I have selected for analysis accurately portray my overall experiences during this research. As I selected examples, a pattern emerged that portrays a profound message. There is far more to reality than we have been led to believe and there is a correspondingly imperative need to further develop Kincheloe’s (2004a) critical science of complexity, one of the purposes he had articulated for his research process, so that we can better understand human experience (p. x).

            This research involved four major tasks. First, the aim was to demonstrate and delineate Kincheloe’s multidimensional critical complex bricolage. As the study progressed, a general process evolved that combined theoretical and methodological formulations presented in several of Kincheloe’s works along with anticipated trends for future qualitative research. This evolving, elastic process has been described in the first part of this chapter and it provided direction for me as I launched into the writing phase. Second, a survey of bricolage research in the literature within various domains was conducted throughout the duration of the study. Comparisons were made to distinguish what Kincheloe was asking of critical bricoleurs that is different from what’s already being done. This was partially accomplished in the literature review, but this chapter extends that analysis by examining a study in the education domain. Re-symbolization of Self: Human Development and Tarot Hermeneutic by Inna Semetsky (2011) was examined because the author has asserted it represents a rigorous bricolage process, citing Kincheloe’s work. Among other disciplines examined, organizational theory was found to have progressed through three distinct evolutionary phases of bricolage and provides additional insight into the process (Kamoche, Cunha & Cunha, 2002).

Kincheloe’s recommendations are explicated and synthesized, and examples applying his recommendations have been interspersed throughout this study. An intertextual analysis of Kincheloe’s works helped provide a more complete picture of how to apply his multidimensional critical complex epistemology, ontology and bricolage. These are presented throughout the discussion as they apply. An analysis was also performed on Kincheloe’s definitions of bricolage to provide further illumination and to begin the move away from the one-dimensional metaphors that may contribute to reductionistic research and hamper knowledge production.    

A third element of the study, as mentioned, relates to the inability to separate myself as the researcher from Kincheloe, the subject of the research, or from the process of the research itself. My effort to extract myself so that I might avoid discussion of particular phenomena only served to delay my research; I became stuck in a hermeneutic circle until I acquiesced to depicting the reality I was experiencing. The research process had catapulted me into an intense and rapid spiritual transformation and to higher levels of awareness which radically changed my life and how I view life in general. It appears, based on my experiences during this research that the connection I experience with Kincheloe occurs at higher levels of consciousness. It may be that most of us are simply not aware of this form of connection in our daily experiences until we make a conscious and sustained effort toward attaining higher consciousness. Osahon (2009) provides the following insight in relation to this phenomenon from his African heritage:


Our ancestors taught that spiritual development or progress is possible in degrees through disciplined intellect, adoption of ethical principles and balance in ones life. That one needs to allow disciplined subtle forces to dominate ones physical essence. The secret knowledge the adepts taught was about the mastery of these subtle forces progressively to achieve higher consciousness. (“How to engage the gods,” para. 9)


These connections might also be explained as a manifestation of “entanglement” described in quantum physics, which I will describe in more detail later, but however this phenomenon is explained, the connection and its accompanying “extrasensory experiences” are very real for those of us who experience them (Clegg, 2006; Radin, 2006; Lame Deer, 1992). It appears that as Kincheloe contends throughout his work, “bricolage” as he has conceptualized it can take us to higher levels of cognition, perhaps in incremental steps that build higher levels of conscious connection between people. While I was working with Kincheloe during the early phase of this research I was only semi-aware that we seemed to have a special bond or connection. I did not find that unusual at the time because he had that impact on many people. His death, however, devastated me to the core, which was difficult to explain. It was so extreme that my own mother had commented that I acted like I had lost my husband.

The data collected indicate that Kincheloe and I appeared to have had a telepathic as well as a hidden level (“implicate order”) of communication when we had worked together. This “higher order” connection (soul connection?) may have existed from childhood and throughout our adult lives even though we did not know each other prior to spring, 2008. Our connection continues following his death. Jung’s “collective unconscious” theory in which all knowledge is accessible under certain conditions fails to fully explain my phenomenological experiences (Semetsky, 2011; Weiss, 1988). Gadamer (1975/2004) viewed holding to this view of collective consciousness as “dogmatic” (p. 276). Thus, there are multiple interpretations for the interconnectedness that I have experienced, as will be shown. Each interpretation provides a facet of understanding and there are commonalities among them. Scientists are coming together, concurring that interdisciplinary research will be required in ways that have never happened previously if we are to bring together disparate ideas to gain greater understanding of the complexity of human experience (Mitchell, 2009). Kincheloe (2001a, 2005a, 2008c) thus instructs us to view knowledge as tentative and counsels us to become comfortable with uncertainty. Freeman (2007) sums this up in his discussion of bricolage for policymakers, contending, “Learning begins in uncertainty—but often ends there too; for sometimes different kinds of learning conflict.” (p. 488). He concludes that this uncertainty can debilitate us, can be used destructively, or we can become more conscious for ways to use it creatively and constructively. This research, of course, takes the latter path and demonstrates how uncertainty can be used to help formulate creative solutions for life issues, education, and social injustices.

A fourth and final element to this research is an analysis of an excerpt from Kincheloe’s (2004d) bricolage writings, specifically pages 62–67, relating to symbiotic hermeneutics. I sensed it was very significant when he had specially assigned it to me October 8, 2008, just a couple of months prior to his death and I have not found that he discusses symbiotic hermeneutics in any of his other texts (although, I have not begun to read his extensive body of work). I feel there is some kind of especially important message in the excerpt, thus the last part of this chapter makes up the analysis of that text. This assigned reading consists of three subsections in the book, Rigour and Complexity in Educational Research, and are titled, “Expanding the Concept of Relationship in the Bricolage: Symbiotic Hermeneutics in the Disciplines”; “Einstein as Bricoleur: Symbiotic Hermeneutics and the Discipline of Physics”; and “Indigenous Knowledges and Disciplinarity: Studying Models of Interconnectedness and Difference” (Kincheloe, 2004d, pp. 62–67). At the time he had assigned me this reading, I was experiencing a strange phenomenon that I can only describe as feeling like my unconscious thoughts were breaking through but I did not have control over this occurrence. It had resulted in some socio-political issues on his research networking website over some of my writings and artwork. This is relevant here, because when he had given me this reading assignment, I intuitively knew that it was important on multiple levels. While I discussed this text with him after reading it, I had only used a surface-level interpretation. The deeper analysis of this text provides further support for the interpretations that are presented throughout this study, rendering the interrelationships between the special reading assignment, my phenomenological experiences, and the interpretations I’ve made of them inextricably interwoven. And finally, this study also demonstrates, contrary to the positivistic contention that researchers must remain “objective” throughout their investigations, that highly subjective research produces profound knowledge and compelling understandings of the lived world and can result in personal transformation. The bricolage is not only transformative for the researcher and writer; it can also be transformative for the reader as I have learned from reading Kincheloe’s works.

In conclusion, this chapter consists of interpretations of my personal phenomenological experiences or daily “lived experiences” intertwined with a deeper analysis and application of Kincheloe’s research process. Due to the vast number of experiences and the extensiveness of the data I am only able to present a small sample. These experiences are often presented outside of a chronological context in order to emphasize particular phenomena. It simply is not possible to convey in words the profound significance conducting this research has had on what is now my new “normal” daily life. However, as Kincheloe has recommended, the interpretations are to be considered tentative and open to additional analyses as more data are incorporated and as more knowledge becomes available. Bricolage is always a work in progress. Thus, I emphasize that this dissertation presents interpretations and various perspectives of my research topic and that these by no means represent the only ones. Nevertheless, this dissertation, a “bricolage,” should provide greater understanding and serve as guidance to help new bricoleurs get started.


The Advantages of Qualitative “Data Analysis”


Miles and Huberman (1994) explain the advantages of qualitative data and the inherent power this form of data has for describing experienced reality:


Qualitative data are sexy. They are a source of well-grounded, rich descriptions and explanations of processes in identifiable local contexts. With qualitative data one can preserve chronological flow, see precisely which events led to which consequences, and derive fruitful explanations. Then, too, good qualitative data are more likely to lead to serendipitous findings and to new integrations; they help researchers get beyond initial conceptions and to generate or revise conceptual frameworks. Finally, the findings of qualitative studies have a quality of “undeniability.” Words, especially organized into incidents or stories, have a concrete, vivid, meaningful flavor that often proves far more convincing to a reader—another researcher, a policymaker, a practitioner—than pages of summarized numbers. (p. 1)


This sets a perfect backdrop for my research which includes extensive data that cannot be analyzed in the conventional sense. Nevertheless, as Miles and Huberman (1994) have eloquently expressed, it is the words, stories, and how they are organized that convinces the reader of the truth and plausibility of the interpretations more than would impersonal numbers and intangible calculations that obfuscate the hidden “sexy” dimensions. As Kincheloe (2004e) has summarized, “simply put, bricolage produces empirical research, if empirical research is defined as the production and analysis of data about the world and people’s experience of it” (p. 92). And he clarifies that multidimensional critical complex bricoleurs do not make the mistake of insufficient analysis or leaving out their own relationship to the world.


Forgetting What We Know About Research

During the four years I have been researching and writing this dissertation I had also been observing my colleagues’ struggles with their own educational research. The topics they selected were more complex than standard methodologies will address and they were often intuitively aware of this. Thus, they became stymied and frustrated when the required paradigms, formulas and templates wouldn’t work. One of my friends very patiently made every change her dissertation mentor suggested through multiple iterations. This ended up deconstructing and reducing her project to the point the entire proposal fell apart and she had to start over. She needed to minimally take a phenomenological approach but bricolage would have been the best choice for addressing the complexity of her topic. Her mentor was pushing for positivistic research. Finally, after wasting more than two years and the money it cost for tuition she was “allowed” to seek a different mentor. This is beneficial for a corporate, for-profit university in the short term, but it wreaks havoc on students and their lives, and it will not contribute to the university’s long term mission. The short-range vision operating these days just baffles me. I truly feel like I’ve been implanted on some strange planet.

Thus, often new researchers begin their research feeling impassioned but end up feeling discouraged and disillusioned, most of them not making it through the final gates at all. Those who finish often communicate their immense relief that the painful process is over. This is disheartening during an era in which research and knowledge production is more essential than ever before and dissertation research should be the beginning, not the ending of new scholars’ research. With the rapidly changing paradigms, a topic I address within this dissertation, the knowledge reconstruction task ahead is incalculable and will require that we are all researchers—bricoleurs—as Kincheloe has reiterated throughout his work.

Because of the complexity of the research required for this task of new knowledge construction, I have become more cognizant than ever of the need to learn how to apply Kincheloe’s multidimensional critical complex bricolage. This research process addresses complexity and the multiple interrelationships inherent to educational and social issues as well as to everyday life issues. It also grants researchers greater freedom to explore their interests deeply before zeroing in on specific research questions, which in the end provides them with a more informed foundation upon which to identify critical issues and develop solutions. Freedom in the early stages of bricolage research process is important because “Level 3” questions that transcend the need for certainty, the very types of questions that ultimately lead to actions for personal and social transformation emerge from deep exploration (Kincheloe, 2003a, p. 153). As I have learned from using the multidimensional critical complex bricolage as the process and the topic of my research, it has increased my passion, interest, and motivation. I am not of the mindset that I will be thankful this process is over. It is truly just the exciting beginning.

The multidimensional critical complex bricolage is a pleasant contrast to positivistic methods in which researchers must know their very narrow research questions beforehand and must make hypotheses relative to the outcome. Even qualitative research is often conducted using narrowly defined linear approaches that tend to create reductionistic knowledge that is not widely applicable (Kincheloe, 2003a, 2008c). Thus, with traditional approaches, an understanding of the multiple dimensions of the social and educational phenomena under study and how they interrelate become obfuscated. Researchers often fail to see how their actions or their “findings” may cause harm to the people they ostensibly are trying to help, (Kincheloe, 2008b, 2008c). Realistically, it is impossible to consider all interrelationships, but according to Kincheloe, we must examine as many as practical. He reminds us that Einstein had decreed that the more perspectives we consider, the stronger our theory. Based on examining Kincheloe’s theories, they seem impenetrable for that reason and his work is multipurpose as a result.

Positivism, however, has its uses for computational and other purposes (Collins & Collins, 2004; Gall, Gall & Borg, 2003; Creswell, 2008). Kincheloe has repeatedly stated that he has never abandoned empiricism or science, and he has thoroughly contextualized the issues with positivism (Kincheloe, 2001a, 2005a, 2008c). Many people have misconceptions about his work and what he recommends judging by his explanation for feeling it necessary to devise the term FIDUROD and thoroughly describe its debilitating attributes in order to bypass arguments over positivism. As discussed in the Literature Review, FIDUROD is an acronym for traditional, reductionistic forms of knowledge production. I will be using the acronym throughout this chapter. As indicated previously, the letters stand for Formal, Intractable, Decontextualized, Universalistic, Reductionistic, and One Dimensional. Kincheloe (2008c) has developed and fully explicated FIDUROD in his last book, Knowledge and Critical Pedagogy: An Introduction. Contrary to the misconceptions that he was leaving science behind, Kincheloe (2004a) was striving for a science of complexity that will embrace multidimensionality, the reality that currently extends beyond many people’s perceptions, and, in particular, those who are constrained by Western worldviews. Until researchers have a better understanding of what it means to be complex, multidimensional beings, they will miss the mark with their research. Reality cannot be adequately described until it is better perceived in its multidimensional aspects; however, it is always a process which is one reason research results are regarded as tentative and evolving. This study introduces multidimensionality from an experiential perspective as well as in practical applications, demonstrating how it can be useful for research.

Before I had progressed very far with this research, I found I needed to understand and clear subconscious “one dimensional” limitations created by FIDUROD in order to eliminate some of the blinders I had inherited from my religious, educational, political, psychological, and social indoctrination (Kincheloe, 2008c; Iserbyt, 1999; Miller, 2009; Saraydarian, 1993). This seemed necessary in order to better understand the multidimensional reality I began experiencing. I spent a great deal of time researching for that purpose as I engaged with this project, thus, the research took me in many directions simultaneously. Contrary to what people might think, it did not overwhelm me at all; I was actively engaged and interested during the entire process and much like Kincheloe (2008c) expresses, “I have never been so parched for the pure water of transformative information” (p. vii). His last book was his quest for such water; this dissertation is my quest for such water.

            Kincheloe’s (2008c) last book, Knowledge and Critical Pedagogy: An Introduction is a good way to begin the “deprogramming” process, I have discovered, because it highlights the many ways our consciousnesses have been shaped as well as how the process continues on a daily basis, although this is putting it simplistically. Of course, we have control over this to various degrees as Kincheloe describes; it just seems that my mind had been heavily indoctrinated and I was “sound asleep” as a result. The more aware I become of the tactics, the less influence they have over me. Shifting power blocs that cause alignments and strategies to change is the basis for maintaining criticality during the entire research process, and, indeed, as a lifetime endeavor (Kincheloe, 2008c, p. 97). Kincheloe also highlights how we can regain our personal power to make more conscious decisions about what we believe to be true and why. He took to heart Einstein’s admonition that we can’t solve the problems with the same consciousness that created them. Therefore, he has essentially provided a solution to this dilemma by teaching us how we can develop an “epistemic consciousness” (2008c, p. 200). The more we develop this form of consciousness, the more empowered we become, but we must be willing to do the work. The multidimensionality of the critical complex bricolage along with critical complex epistemology guides us with that work as we engage in inquiry.

            Thus, as can be seen, there is “unlearning” to do as a part of the process and Kathleen Berry (2004a) attests to this in relation to the research methodologies that we might wish to use as well: “There is as much an unlearning of the traditional methods of research as there is learning bricolage,” she advises (p. 107). Unlearning traditional methods also involves unlearning traditional ways of thinking because they are tied to the paradigms we’ve bought into. Those of us who have not already learned traditional research methods do have an advantage. I hope that my tackling this project from my low status positioning will give encouragement to many people who feel they do not have the chance to compete in the world of scholarly research. Kincheloe has opened many doors for us. We really don’t need fancy tools, linear instructions, procedures, or “key words and tricky phrases.” More important than traditional scholarly knowledge is an open mind, a holistic world view, love and passion, and the embracing of creativity and natural flow.

Thus, if we have not practiced traditional research methods based on paradigms that render them counterproductive for engaging in multidimensional social and educational research, we may have an advantage learning Kincheloe’s bricolage because we have less to unlearn. As we become more comfortable using an intuitional, flowing and improvisational approach to research combined with intellect (Kincheloe’s “sophisticated cognition”) we can use more complex methods if we need them and we will understand how to adapt them so we don’t fall into the trap created by their tendency toward procedures and reductionism (Kincheloe, 2008b, p. 181). In his book, Teachers as Researchers, Kincheloe (2003a) gets us started by introducing a few important methods in Chapter 11, “The Foundations of Teacher Research: A Sample Syllabus” and he has mapped out ways we can develop our own processes along the journey (pp. 226–254). In the second edition of his social studies book, Getting Beyond the Facts, Kincheloe (2001b) explains why it is important for researchers to focus on the research process over methods or tools:


Positivistic researchers, their opponents argue, focus on rigor (commitment to the established rules for conducting inquiry) of research at the expense of touching the lived world. William James captured this idea almost one hundred years ago when he chided scientists of his day about their excessive love of method. Science, he wrote, “has fallen so deeply in love with method that . . . she has ceased to care of truth by itself at all.” Anticipating one of the central tenets in the critique of instrumental rationality, James argued that scientists pursued their technically verifiable truth with such a vengeance that they forgot their “duty to mankind,” i.e., technical means took precedence over human ends. Human passions, he concluded are more powerful than technical rules, as the heart understands that which reason cannot comprehend. (p. 142)


Thus, Kincheloe has redefined what it means to conduct rigorous research. Methods are important, no doubt, but not at the expense of overlooking the complex process of analyzing interrelationships. The more predetermined structure researchers use the less they will be able to engage in what is a natural, autopoietic learning and knowledge construction process. It is beyond the scope of this dissertation to describe research methods that are available to use or discuss in detail the ones most useful for the bricolage. I had accomplished that in the first draft of this dissertation, demonstrating their use in context, but in order to keep the dissertation from growing too large, the section was deleted. I have, however, highlighted some of the methods within this current writing where doing so is useful for explaining and justifying my approaches. There are many textbooks that cover methods. Most methods will need to be adjusted for new paradigms, but beginning with Kincheloe’s introductory material as provided above and picking up skills naturally during the research process will provide enough knowledge to forge forward. I did not spend inordinate amounts of time studying methods because, as my study will show, I was pulled along and informed by the natural process and a great Master Teacher. It should go without saying that studying Kincheloe’s key work related to the bricolage is a necessity for new bricoleurs. Yet, I encountered studies in which researchers have claimed to use his process and had not referenced his most important works that elucidate the theory behind the process.

In addition, Kincheloe (2004a) recommends spending some time up-front researching and writing about philosophy beyond introductory courses, in preparation for bricolage. I also have found that reading his work helped me understand the worldview that supports his theories more than I had realized once I began the research process. This form of bricolage is intuitive and improvisational so it’s best only to have “ideas” of how processes and methods are approached, rather than great detail, thus allowing “flow” and intuition to help guide the process.  Once the text has been assembled, it is “massaged” repeatedly in order to identify additional connections between the data, to weave in alternative viewpoints, and to establish greater clarity (Kincheloe & Berry, 2004). Kathleen Berry (2004a, 2004b, 2004c) describes this process as threading through the text and emphasizes that it is not a linear process, but rather resembles a “butterfly image of complexity” (p. 113). We may revisit any portion of the text and I have found that the only time I go through the text using a linear process is during the final edits. Taking a linear approach will often result in linear discourse that fails to incorporate complex and unexpected connections and synchronicities.

Kincheloe was certain this dynamic, intuitive, intellectual process could restore passion for learning and research and replace the drudgery of trying to make complicated research fit simplified constructs that require adhering to out-dated research paradigms. Some of my colleagues have described the traditional research process as being as painful as childbirth. It makes me wonder if the purpose behind the devised “intractable” FIDURODian methods and templates required for scholarly research is to prohibit learners from engaging in research and knowledge production at all. It begins to look like another method for molding our consciousnesses to “follow the rules.” Perhaps the intention is good, but the results are proving disastrous, as Kincheloe (2008c) clearly exposes in his work. And while my own research using the bricolage has been a joy the entire “trip” (aside from some FIDURODian tribulations along the way), I empathize with my colleagues. I have been blessed with committee members who have given me total freedom, exactly as Kincheloe had envisioned was necessary. I hope this project opens doors for new scholars who want more freedom to research what they feel passionate about. With freedom and imagination bricoleurs will create a different world than the one we are seeing today.



Paradis, V. J. (2013). Did Joe Lyons Kincheloe Discover the Golden Chalice for Knowledge Production? The Application of Critical Complex Epistemology and the Multidimensional Critical Complex Bricolage. (Doctoral Dissertation)



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Big Deal-Catch Up 
“As a child I wanted so desperately for magic to be real. I would work for hours collecting what I hoped were just the right combination of ingredients to make some type of magic potion that would provide me with special powers….I found such magic in words viewed in a postformal matrix and I observe and practice that magic everyday.” (Kincheloe, 2006, Reading, Writing, Thinking, p. 13)
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