A Year with the Philosophy of Education Reading Network

It has actually been more than a year since I joined this reading network, so it’s maybe time to take stock and reflect on my experience. Here is a list of the books and authors that the group has read. Most (but not all) the links are to my blog posts about my reading. Further details can also be found on the Philosophy of Education Reading Network website.

MonthAuthorBookComment
August 2020Iris MurdochThe Sovereignty of GoodI found out about the group just before their first meeting, so didn’t have time to read the book, although I did find information about the work online.
September 2020Gert BiestaThe Beautiful Risk of EducationThis book was already on my bookshelf
October 2020Mary MidgleyWhat is Philosophy For?I knew of Mary Midgley as she wrote a review of Iain McGilchrist’s book, The Master and His Emissary. I have been thinking about McGilchrist’s work for more than 10 years, but his books are too long to recommend to this group!
November 2020Paulo FreirePedagogy of Hope. Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed

See also Paulo Freire’s questions for educators
This book was already on my bookshelf, as it surely is on many educators’ shelves.
December 2020Richard RortyPhilosophy and Social HopeI knew of Richard Rorty as a friend gave me his book ‘Philosophy as Poetry’
January 2021Hannah ArendtThe Gap Between Past and Future
 
Preface
Chapter 1. Tradition and the Modern Age
Chapter 2. The Concept of History. Ancient and Modern
Chapter 3. What is Authority?
Chapter 4. What is Freedom?
Chapter 5. The Crisis in Education
Chapter 6. The Crisis in Culture
Chapter 7. Truth and Politics
Chapter 8. The Conquest of Space and the Stature of Man
I knew of Hannah Arendt, but had never read her work before. This book was a real eye-opener. It really captured my interest.
February 2021Amélie RortyPhilosophers on Education (Chapters 1-4 and 26-27)The Reading Network helped me access this very big and expensive book. Thank you.
March 2021bell hooksTeaching to TransgressThis book was already on my bookshelf. bell hooks was a legend in education.
April 2021Decolonising Education.
 
In April the theme of the Reading Network was Decolonising Education, with a particular focus on Higher Education. The group read a selection of papers from a special edition of Cultural Studies journal (2007 – Vol 21, Issue 2-3)
I did not read these papers and took a break in April.
May 2021Nel NoddingsA Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education
 
See also. Nel Noddings. A Feminine Approach to Moral Education
This book was already on my bookshelf. It was required reading for a Masters module in 1994/5. I enjoyed it and could relate to it more this second time of reading. Age does have some advantages!
June 2021Simone WeilAn Anthology complied by Siân MilesI didn’t have time to read this book properly but I enjoyed looking into Simone Weil’s background. Quite a tour de force!
July 2021Maxine GreeneReleasing the ImaginationThis book had been on my radar for years and I finally read it. An important text for educators.
August 2021Martin BuberI and ThouThis book had a profound effect on me. The best book of the year for me, together with Hannah Arendt’s book.
September 2021John DeweyExperience and Education
 
See also. John Dewey. Traditional and Progressive Education
Many teachers will be familiar with John Dewey’s work, but it was good be reminded of it
October 2021Paula AllmanRevolutionary Social Transformation. Democratic Hopes, Political Possibilities and Critical EducationI took a break this month and did not read this book
November 2021Josef PieperLeisure the Basis of CultureThis book and author were completely new to me
December 2021John Hattie and Steen LarsenThe Purposes of EducationThis is the only book in the list that has irritated me 🙂

The Philosophy of Education Reading Network meets once a month, on the third Tuesday of the month on Zoom. Details of the zoom call are posted on their website and also on Twitter @PhilofEd. It was set up by two philosophy PhD candidates, Elizabeth O’Brien and Victoria Jamieson. How they have time to organise this and do their PhDs and their jobs, and live their lives, I really don’t know. I couldn’t even have contemplated taking this on, on top of everything else, but as one of the group members (Winnie O’Connell-Wong) has said, engagement with this group means that you end up reading books you would never have come across or got round to reading otherwise.

Every book that I have read so far because of @PhilofEd is not what I would have chosen to read myself, but I have been repeatedly surprised by how good the selection has been so far.

I really appreciate the democratic approach to the organisation of the group. The group is open to anyone who wants to join. If you do join you are not required to be on video or to speak. There is no hierarchy of group members. Each month a speaker is invited (either a group member or someone with expertise related to the text) to introduce the book and raise questions for the group to consider. If you go to the PhilofEd website and click on the images of books read, most of the time this will bring up the list of questions raised for the book. The introduction to the book on Zoom usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes. The group can then discuss those questions or discuss anything else that is of interest. If you want to speak you simply unmute yourself and start to speak when there is a pause. The meeting lasts an hour and rarely runs over, and even then only runs over for administrative purposes. I like this tight time-keeping.

The selection of books to be read is also a very democratic process. Members of the group can suggest texts that they would like to read and discuss. These are then posted on the PhilofEd website. Every three months texts are randomly selected from members’ suggestions, which are numbered. A random number generator software is used to pick 4 trios of books. A poll is then set up on Twitter and members vote for which trio of books they would like to read over the coming three months.

It took me about 10 months to find my voice in this group. I have no background in philosophy, although since I retired I have attended a number of different adult education philosophy courses, but they have been taught courses, led by a tutor, who invites you to speak. Currently I am attending a face-to-face course on Fantastic Female Philosophers, which is being run over a number of months. The Philosophy of Education group is a reading network not a course.

I am also a member of my local U3A (University of the Third Age) philosophy group which meets monthly in Kendal to discuss a wide variety of topics dependent on members’ interests and who is willing to lead a session. The last one I went to in November was on the question ‘What can Covid teach us about Climate Change?’ with reference to the Stoics. Again, these are structured sessions.

The PhilofEd reading network sessions are only very loosely structured. There are some introductory questions, but I am always amazed that often few of them are addressed, if at all. The discussion goes in any direction that members want to take it. This lack of structure can be unnerving, particularly for newcomers who have to take the initiative and grasp the bull by the horns to speak.

Also unnerving can be the silences. Sometimes there are long pauses when no-one speaks. I was very amused in one meeting which was introduced by a Professor of Philosophy, who could not cope with the silence that followed the questions he raised, so he answered all the questions himself. This went down very well with the group because he was very knowledgeable and informative and as we know it is easier to sit back and be told than to have to think for yourself.

I definitely had to take the bull by the horns to speak the first time (and even to put my video on initially). I find it easier if I have seen the questions to be discussed before the meeting so that I have time to think about them. I have never been good at thinking on my feet. Ultimately I realised that particularly in the cases where I had done a very thorough reading of the book, then I could be confident that I might have something of value to contribute.

So gradually I have overcome the feeling of being a fish out of water and have found the group meetings more enjoyable. The group itself is not at all threatening. Everyone is very welcoming and over time faces and individual modes of expression become familiar. The books that have had the biggest impact on me this past year have been Hannah Arendt’s The Gap Between Past and Future, Nel Noddings’ A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, and Martin Buber’s I and Thou. And I have also noted, that on the whole, I find the female authors’ works resonated with me more. I think that is probably a discussion for another time.

January 2022 will start with an intriguing book which I have started to read – Lines by Tim Ingold. Sometimes it takes me a while to see the relevance of some of these texts for education and so far Tim Ingold’s book falls into that category, but I have only just started it, and maybe by the end it will have become clear.

I was asked today how long I have been participating in the Philosophy of Education Reading Network and when I said more than a year, I was then asked how long I was going to continue. It was these questions that prompted this post. I will continue to read the texts selected by the network for as long as I find them stimulating and thought-provoking, and for as long as my ageing brain can cope with them 🙂

Left and Right Hemisphere Approaches to education

Having returned from the Field & Field conference on Exploring the Divided Brain with Iain McGilchrist, which took place in the Cotswolds, UK, between 2nd and 5th August 2021, I have spent some time reflecting on the workshop I ran, which was billed as follows:

Paradigm shift in education? What can we learn from Iain McGilchrist?

Many educators are concerned with the increasing instrumentalism of our education systems, where students are thought of as future economic assets. There are also concerns about the almost exclusive focus on a ‘back-to-basics’, essentialist approach in our schools. Some are happy with the existing system, others call for more progressive, existentialist approaches, and/or the greater integration of values such as integrity, diversity, inclusivity, and compassion. Iain McGilchrist has said that our current thinking is increasingly dominated by the left hemisphere’s narrowly focussed way of attending to the world. He believes that nothing short of a paradigm shift will bring about the change needed to counter this dominance. 

In this session we will discuss some of the key themes that run through The Master and His Emissary, themes such as two ways of knowing, flow, embodiment, depth and breadth. Could these themes be used to bring about a paradigm shift in education, i.e., a shift towards the right hemisphere’s way of attending to the world? In this workshop, we will explore if and how this could happen.

As always (this is the fifth Field & Field conference I have attended) I found the conference completely exhausting and overwhelming in the content that I now need to process. Knowing this I asked for my workshop to run on the very first day, when I thought I would be more likely to be alert! This has both positive and negative consequences. The positive is that I and others do have more energy at the beginning of the conference (this was important because what I asked participants to do was not easy), the negative is that participants haven’t had the chance to listen to Iain’s lectures and so bring that knowledge to bear on the task.

Overall, I think the workshop went as well as could be expected, given the limited time we had (about an hour and a quarter) and the working space I was allocated, which was called the Piano Lounge. This was effectively the hotel lobby, so we had to compete with a lot of background noise, although the hotel did finally turn off the canned music on request. I assume I was given this space because I had said I would not be using technology (no PowerPoint presentation, just pencil, paper and talk) and there were other workshops using technology. The space wasn’t ideal, but it didn’t come anywhere near my worst experience of an allocated teaching space. Years ago, I was once timetabled to teach one group split into two small rooms at opposite ends of a long corridor. I reckon if you can pull that off you can run a session in any space 🙂

I did wonder what participants would make of the workshop. I knew it would be a challenge. As mentioned in my previous post on this topic, I hoped that we would be able to discuss whether it is possible to apply some of the themes that run though Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and His Emissary (themes relating to a right hemisphere approach to the world), to education.

But first we looked at a scenario (arias-school-experience-200721)  of what a 15 year old girl’s school experience might be like in 2030, if we continue to promote the left hemisphere dominated approach to education that many countries seem to be advocating. I named the girl Aria. To create this scenario, I adapted some work done by Neil Selwyn and colleagues (Neil Selwyn, Luci Pangrazio, Selena Nemorin & Carlo Perrotta (2019): What might the school of 2030 be like? An exercise in social science fiction, Learning, Media and Technology).

The question I asked the group was whether this scenario is realistic. If so how, if not, why not? The general consensus was that it is a recognisable scenario, although maybe not all the facts included in the scenario are found in one school, but rather across different schools. Selwyn et al. include five different vignettes in their paper. I used one because of time constraints,  but my workshop participants agreed that this scenario depicts a left hemisphere approach to education.

The reason for starting with this scenario was that I felt that if participants were to have any chance of reimagining an education experience that aligns more with the right hemisphere in the given time, they might need a story/narrative to help. We could imagine a real child’s experience rather than an abstract concept.

At this point I asked participants to consider what Aria’s school experience might be like if it was based on the themes,

  • Two kinds of knowing
  • Flow and betweenness
  • The ‘Other’
  • Depth and Breadth
  • Embodiment
  • Creativity
  • Qualification

All these themes reflect characteristics of the right hemisphere’s approach to the world. My idea was that participants would work in twos, threes, or fours, to discuss one of the themes and answer the question ‘What would Aria’s school experience be like if it was based on the theme you are working on?’ For each theme I gave participants some text taken from the Master and His Emissary, so that they could focus on what Iain McGilchrist has written about them. No group was given ‘Two Kinds of Knowing’, as I felt that in any discussion of education, no matter what the theme, the left hemisphere’s role should always be remembered. Although we were focussing on the right hemisphere’s way of working, my view is that we should not ignore or demonise the left hemisphere. Instead, we should aim to try and restore some balance.

This is the handout I provided on the themes (the-master-and-his-emissary-key-themes-150821). I wanted the focus to be on lessons from The Master and His Emissary, rather than on educational psychology and philosophy more broadly, although it is possible to see many parallels between some educational philosophers’ work and McGilchrist’s work.

Prior to the event, I tried to answer the question for each of the themes myself, to see whether it was achievable in the time and how hard a task I was setting. A result of this was that, against my better judgement, I decided to provide a worked example ( on the theme of imagination), as a sort of prop (advance organiser), to help people get going. This is the example of how I approached the task – see the-master-and-his-emissary-imagination-120821-1

I was well aware that there are many possible ways to approach this task and of the disadvantages of providing a worked example. I was also aware of the irony of retreating to this left hemisphere approach, but I didn’t want anyone to be defeated by the task and ultimately most participants ignored this example. Only one group produced something similar. Another group decided that a better theme, which would incorporate all these themes, would be health. In fact, each group interpreted the task differently as you would expect.

So, was the workshop a success? One participant told me it was hard. Another how much she had enjoyed it. Another that his group dynamic didn’t work for him. I wonder whether that related to left and right hemisphere approaches. For me, the ideal would have been a longer workshop in a quiet space, or a series of workshops with time to dig deep into this. Nevertheless, there was loads of discussion between the 16 participants, so much so that we ran over by 10 minutes and everyone was fully engaged and fully on task for the entire workshop. If they also went away with new thoughts and questions, for me that counts as a success.

What did intrigue me though is how difficult it is to suppress the left hemisphere. I asked participants to try and think completely outside the box, and not to consider the constraints that would be imposed by the current education system if a more right hemisphere approach was proposed, but it really is difficult to escape the left hemisphere.

Any thoughts on any of this by any readers of this post, would be most welcome.

Source of image: https://www.ted.com/talks/iain_mcgilchrist_the_divided_brain?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare

John Dewey. Traditional and Progressive Education

The last Philosophy of Education Reading Network’s online discussion was on John Dewey’s book Experience and Education (see also a previous post on this blog). The invited speaker to introduce John Dewey was Professor Deren Boyles of Georgia State University, who not only came across as an expert, but also as a strong proponent of Deweyan education. His most recent book is about Dewey – John Dewey’s Imaginative Vision of Teaching: Combining Theory and Practice.

Dewey wrote his book in 1938 and even then was worried about the state of education. He believed that all worthwhile education is based in experience (not any experience, but quality experience).  Traditional education, that is, the type of education system that believes that children/students are empty vessels to be filled with knowledge emanating from the teacher or text books (what Paulo Freire later described as the banking system of education), clearly doesn’t fit with an educational philosophy based on experiential learning, which requires more freedom, student agency and autonomy. The following paragraph quoted from Dewey’s book explains his concerns.

‘Let me speak first of the advantages which reside in increase of outward freedom. In the first place, without its existence it is practically impossible for a teacher to gain knowledge of the individuals with whom he is concerned. Enforced quiet and acquiescence prevent pupils from disclosing their real natures. They enforce artificial uniformity. They put seeming before being. They place a premium upon preserving the outward appearance of attention, decorum, and obedience. And everyone who is acquainted with schools in which this system prevailed knows that thoughts, imaginations, desires and sly activities ran their own unchecked course behind this façade.’ (p.62)

It seems to me that in the past few years this kind of education, that places a premium upon preserving the outward appearance of attention, decorum and obedience, is becoming more prevalent in the UK, and presumably the same is happening in the US since Professor Boyles described US schools as full of unthinking students being taught by unthinking teachers. No doubt he was exaggerating to make a point, but this was, I think, Dewey’s concern.

Here in the UK, schools that expect strict observance of the rules by pupils are often lauded for the good exam results they achieve. For example, Michaela Community School has adopted a traditional approach to education with an emphasis on discipline. In this school,

“There is a “zero tolerance” policy regarding poor behaviour; a “boot camp” week at the start of the year teaches the children the rules and the consequences of breaking them. A strict uniform code and no group work; children sit in rows and learn by rote, and walk in single file between classrooms. Staff at the school tend to reject most of the accepted wisdoms of the 21st century”.

Similarly John Ferneley College requires pupils “to smile at all times, make continuous eye contact with staff, to not look out of windows, to never turn around (even after hearing a noise from behind), to always sit up straight, to walk in single file at all times, to not pick up stationery unless specifically directed to do so by staff, to learn and respond to a series of whistle commands from staff, to always respond to staff in a sufficiently upbeat manner and to be constantly grateful that they have the privilege to be at the school.”

This is clearly contrary to what Dewey was advocating. But Dewey published his book in 1938. Are his beliefs still worthy of consideration in a modern context? Professor Boyles seemed to think that they are, but I would need to know more about schools such as John Ferneley College and Michaela Community College to judge whether they turn out unthinking students in the mould of unthinking teachers, despite their good exam results.

Are good exam results the aim of education and do children learn better, such that they achieve these results, under a strict discipline regime? Michaela Community School and John Ferneley College appear to think they do, and Dewey certainly did not advocate an ‘anything goes’ approach. He warned against interpreting progressive education as unconstrained and uncritical freedom. His view was that both traditional education and progressive education can and do get it wrong, and that we should be trying to understand what is worthy of being called a good education.

The question of whether a traditional education system serves children better, was also raised in a Radio 4 programme Could Do Better I heard this week. This programme was first aired in 2018 and over the course of 5 short 14 minute episodes, it follows the progress of journalist Lucy Kellaway who changes career at the age of 58, when she starts her training as a maths teacher. She also encourages others to follow her example and change career to become teachers, by setting up Now Teach, a charity that focuses on training secondary school teachers.

Particularly interesting for me in the Radio 4 programme, having just read and discussed John Dewey’s book Experience & Education, is a conversation that Lucy has with another trainee teacher, Basil, presumably of a similar age, who ultimately throws in the towel and gives up on teacher training and the education system (Episode 4)

Here is a transcript of the conversation, starting at 8.55 minutes in the recording.

Lucy: The most difficult thing of all is that I feel pulled in two directions. On one hand I see the great advantages of such rigid discipline. It means that a teacher can start teaching the minute the lesson begins, but on the other I’m finding it really hard to toe the line. In this I’m not alone.

Basil: I do feel regret because the dream is still in me – there were too few bright spots.

[Basil, a former TV Producer, is one of the 46 other people that Lucy lured onto the Now Teach Scheme. He’s been training to be an English teacher at a different school nearby, but now he emails to say he’s dropping out. When Lucy sees him, he has become bruised by a system he doesn’t quite fit into.]

Basil: How in that format do you have the chance to make the children want to learn and understand maths because they relate to you, they’re inspired by your personality – because you see, I think you in the classroom, I would see you as an incredibly inspiring teacher. How much do your pupils know who you are and how much of your personality has been able to motivate and be the engine of your teaching?

Lucy: This is the absolutely central thing and I think it’s part of my egotism that I wanted it to be that way.

Basil: No, it’s not – it’s the reason you’re going into teaching.

Lucy: I thought it was, but you see I feel that actually in the way that it is taught I am less good because of my personality.

Basil: That’s because the system is wrong.

Lucy: It’s not that the system is wrong – it’s because that particular thing doesn’t use what I think I’m good at.

Basil: But it is wrong, because you are a teacher – you need that bit of you and everybody whoever inspired us – we all talked about teachers who inspired us – it was their personalities.

[Like everyone on the Now Teach programme, Basil has had a long and high powered career doing other things. All have been paid to have opinions and to be individualists and it’s that, not their age that seems to be the sticking point.]

Basil: You now go to schools where if every teacher hasn’t bought into the ethos down to the smallest degree you are regarded as undermining the system and fatally undermining your fellow teachers – and this means [undermining] the personalities that were part of the richness and diversity, the pluralism of what schools should be. It’s robot time. And you aren’t a robot.

Lucy: No and I’m very bad at being a robot.

Basil: And you shouldn’t be.

Lucy: That’s sweet and I think it’s partly true, but I think I went into it with what you’ve described as a sort of charisma view of teaching, really that you can just teach through charisma. I’m now much more dubious about that.

Basil: Well, I think you’ve been indoctrinated.

Lucy: Well maybe I’ve been indoctrinated, but equally it’s not about what I tell the class. It’s about how much of that they retain and understanding how that works.

Basil: Absolutely true and I completely agree with that. If you don’t find an outlet for you being recognisable Lucy Kellaway, your sense of humour and your warmth, being motivated, the engine to the maths, if you don’t find that, then it will be hopeless and you’ll cry yourself to sleep every night.

For me this discussion raises the dilemma that thinking teachers must face every day. Do they aim to educate children to fit into the system? Do they educate themselves to fit into the system? Or do they challenge the system and aim to educate children to so the same? Is it possible to do both?

And finally, I wonder if Lucy Kellaway’s teacher training programme, Now Teach, includes studying educational philosophers such as John Dewey.

Source of Image: Kansas Historical Society

A Right Hemisphere Approach to Education

In a week’s time, I will be once again in the Cotswolds, UK, attending the Field & Field 4 day conference at which Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and His Emissary. The Divided Brain and the making of the Western World, will be the keynote speaker. This will be the fifth time I have attended this conference (or retreat as the organiser likes to call it). On all prior occasions I have shared my notes from the conference on this blog. They can be found on The Divided Brain page, linked to here.

The last time this conference took place in 2019, I ran an hour long workshop in which we discussed the implications of McGilchrist’s work for education (see https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2019/06/12/coming-to-your-senses-with-iain-mcgilchrist/). For that workshop, I didn’t assume that everyone was familiar with McGilchrist’s book, so we examined and discussed the key characteristics of the left and right hemispheres’ take on the world, how these might affect education, and what changes to education this knowledge might suggest. An hour is nowhere near long enough for this discussion, so we only scratched the surface.

This year, despite the shortage of time once again, I would like to take this discussion further, by focussing on what a right hemisphere approach to education might involve and include. To do this we will first briefly consider the direction that education might take if it continues to be dominated by left hemisphere approaches. We will then spend the rest of the session discussing how some key themes from McGilchrist’s book, related to the right hemisphere’s way of attending to the world, might be implemented in schools. The themes I have selected for discussion are: flow and betweenness; depth and breadth; embodiment; qualification; creativity; the ‘Other’; and two kinds of knowing. There are, of course, many other possible themes, and if participants want to work on an alternative theme, that would be fine with me. I have written about some of these themes on this blog (see The Divided Brain page).

Because of the shortage of time, I will be providing notes to support this activity, but I see this is as a more challenging task than the one we worked on in 2019. It requires escaping from left hemisphere thinking and trying to imagine an alternative approach to education. There will be no one way of doing this, no ‘right’ answer. Hopefully there will be many alternative perspectives. But more than this, my hope is that the session will provoke new ways of thinking, suggest new possibilities for education, or, at the very least, raise questions to take away and think about. McGilchrist has said that we need a paradigm shift, a change of hearts and minds to redress the balance between left and right hemisphere. I will be interested to see whether this sort of activity has the potential to start this process.

John Dewey. Experience and Education (Notes)

This short book by John Dewey (91 pages), written two decades after ‘Democracy and Education’ (Dewey’s most comprehensive statement of his position on educational philosophy), is described on the cover as:

‘The great educational theorist’s most concise statement of his ideas about the needs, the problems, and the possibilities of education – written after his experience with progressive schools and in the light of the criticisms his theories received.’

This book describes in some measure the education system I was working in pre-National Curriculum (in the UK), when education was based more on personal experience (i.e. progressive education) than the transmission of knowledge. Dewey describes the latter as traditional education, which sought to prepare the young for future responsibilities and success in life through the transmission of information and skills that had worked in the past and was static in books or the heads of teachers. Pupils were expected to be docile, receptive and obedient.

For Dewey progressive education opposes traditional education as follows:

‘To imposition from above is opposed expression and cultivation of individuality; to external discipline is opposed free activity; to learning from texts and teachers, learning through experience; to acquisition of isolated skills and techniques by drill, is opposed acquisition of them as means of attaining ends which make direct vital appeal; to preparation of a more or less remote future is opposed making the most of the opportunities of present life; to static aims and materials is opposed acquaintance with a changing world.’ (p.19/20, my bold)

A Wikipedia article has interpreted progressive education as having the following qualities:

  • Emphasis on learning by doing – hands-on projects, expeditionary learning, experiential learning
  • Integrated curriculum focused on thematic units
  • Strong emphasis on problem solving and critical thinking
  • Group work and development of social skills
  • Understanding and action as the goals of learning as opposed to rote knowledge
  • Collaborative and cooperative learning projects
  • Education for social responsibility and democracy
  • Integration of community service and service learning projects into the daily curriculum
  • Selection of subject content by looking forward to ask what skills will be needed in future society
  • De-emphasis on textbooks in favor of varied learning resources
  • Emphasis on lifelong learning and social skills
  • Assessment by evaluation of child’s projects and productions

Would Dewey have approved of this list? He points out that introducing progressive education is not necessarily straightforward and comes with its own problems. Neither traditional, nor progressive education is completely satisfactory. For example, in relation to progressive education, all experiences are not equally educative; some experiences are mis-educative.  Everything depends on the quality of experience. Dewey believed that what was needed was a new philosophy of experience, which references what is to be done and how it is to be done. Dewey thought this a harder task for progressive education than for traditional education.

In Chapter 3, Dewey discusses the criteria of experience that need to be considered to determine whether an experience is educationally worthwhile. He points to two key principles, continuity and interaction. ‘The principle of continuity of experience both takes up something from those which have gone before and modifies in some way the quality of those which come after’ (p.35). Experience must lead to growth, and the direction of growth must be specified. It is the educator’s role to draw on past experiences of experts as well as her own,  to determine the conditions that will lead to worthwhile growth, without engaging in imposition, and to bring about a particular kind of interaction. By interaction, Dewey means the interplay between the objective and internal conditions in an experience, which ‘taken together, or in their interaction, … form what we call a situation’. (p.42)

The principles of continuity and interaction intercept and unite. They are the longitudinal and lateral aspects of experience. ‘An experience is always what it is because of a transaction taking place between an individual and what, at the time, constitutes his environment…’ (p.43). The educator must therefore take account of the learner’s past and possible future experiences, his personal needs, desires and capacities, to select the conditions necessary for growth, such that the learner wants to go on learning.

Central to Dewey’s educational philosophy is that education is essentially a social process (p.58). As such educators must consider community activity, social organisation and social control, i.e. ‘the conduct of the interactions and intercommunications which are the very life of the group as a community’. Social control is normal in group activities, such as games, where rules are understood and applied. Social control in these circumstances is not experienced as restriction of personal freedom. Social organization within progressive education allows for all individuals to make a contribution, but progressive education is not a ‘free-for-all’. One of the most important lessons of life, says Dewey, is that of mutual accommodation and adaptation.

In Chapter 5, Dewey considers the nature of freedom. The only freedom of importance for Dewey is the freedom of intelligence, i.e. freedom of observation and judgement, and intellectual and moral freedom. Dewey writes: (p.62)

‘Let me speak first of the advantages which reside in increase of outward freedom. In the first place, without its existence it is practically impossible for a teacher to gain knowledge of the individuals with whom he is concerned. Enforced quiet and acquiescence prevent pupils from disclosing their real natures. They enforce artificial uniformity. They put seeming before being. They place a premium upon preserving the outward appearance of attention, decorum, and obedience. And everyone who is acquainted with schools in which this system prevailed knows that thoughts, imaginations, desires and sly activities ran their own unchecked course behind this façade.’ (p.62)

Increased freedom does not mean that there is no time for quiet reflection. Nor does it mean that there is no self-control. ‘The ideal aim of education is creation of power of self-control.’ But freedom of movement is important for physical and mental health, and intellectual growth. The educator must consider how much freedom and what quality of freedom is needed for growth.

Dewey believed that the learner should be actively involved in determining the purpose of his education in cooperation with the educator. A genuine purpose always starts with an impulse, which if obstructed converts into a desire, and it is up to the educator to see that this is taken advantage of, but also that immediate action is postponed until observation and judgment have intervened, and consequences have been considered. Forming a purpose is therefore a complex intellectual operation, a co-operative enterprise between teacher and learner, which involves 1). Observation of surrounding conditions; 2). Knowledge of what has happened in similar situations in the past; 3). Judgment which puts together what is observed and what is recalled to see what they signify (p.69). Purposeful action requires intelligent activity, as opposed to overemphasis on activity as an end.

In  the penultimate chapter of his book (Chapter 7), Dewey considers progressive organization of subject matter, which, he believed, should all fall within the scope of ordinary life-experience. Not only does the educator have to find the material for learning within experience, but more importantly has to develop this into a fuller, richer and more organized form. As such the educator must first discover learners’ existing experiences and start from there. ‘It thus becomes the office of the educator to select those things within the range of existing experience that have the promise and potentiality of presenting new problems which by stimulating new ways of observation and judgment will expand the area of further experience.’(p.75). Dewey believed that this was harder to do in progressive education than in traditional education, because this ruled out a single course of study, and also because the organized subject-matter of the adult and the specialist cannot provide the starting point. (p.83). A key concern for the educator is connectedness in growth, looking to the past, but even more to the future. ‘…. experiences in order to be educative must lead out into an expanding world of subject-matter…..’ (p.87). To do this educators must be familiar with scientific method. The scientific method, says Dewey, is the only authentic means at our command for getting at the significance of our everyday experiences of the world in which we live.

Dewey finishes his book by reiterating his view that education must be based on experience and that we need a sound philosophy of experience to understand what education is. If progressive education has failed it is because educators have failed to fully understand its standards, aims and methods, and have failed to put the basic principles of progressive education, as described by Dewey in this book, into practice.

‘The educational system must move one way or another, either backward to the intellectual and moral standards of a pre-scientific age or forward to ever greater utilization of scientific method in the development of the possibilities of growing, expanding experience.’(p.89)

But for Dewey the key issue is not of old versus new, or of traditional versus progressive. The key issue is the question of what anything whatever must be to be worthy of the name education.

John Dewey’s Experience & Education, is the book that has been selected to be discussed at the next meeting of the Philosophy of Education Reading Network On Tuesday 21st September on Zoom.  The discussion will be opened by Professor Deron Boyles. Distinguished professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at Georgia State University. In preparation for this discussion, Professor Boyles has posed the following questions:

  • Dewey is addressing two audiences in the book—which ones and why?
  • Dewey’s idea that “means and ends” are conjoint often confuses readers. Why does this confusion exist? Why is it so important to Dewey that means and ends be understood together and not separate?
  • Even educators who express their interest or desire to “be Deweyan” in their teaching often run into problems. Dewey gives a clue at the top of p. 19 when he talks about “devices of art.” What does he mean?

References

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education. Simon and Schuster

International Center for Educators’ Styles. Dewey’s Philosophy on Experience and Education. (This provides a more comprehensive summary of the book, than I have in this post)

Internet Archive. Full Text of Experience and Education – John Dewey. (This is very useful for word searching, such as for the words ‘means and ends’ which Professor Doyle wants us to discuss on Tuesday).

Maxine Greene. Releasing the Imagination. (Notes)

This is the book that has been chosen for discussion by the Philosophy of Education Reading Network on July 20th, which will also be the first anniversary for the group.

The subtitle of the book is Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change, which means that the book could be dipped into, and the chapters read selectively, but I have read it sequentially, starting at the beginning and working through to the end.

In the reading that I have been doing for the Philosophy of Education Reading Network, I have realised that I find it very helpful if I know something about the authors as people, when reading their work. I found this video about the life of Maxine Greene helpful in making the words in her book come alive.

Part 1. Creating Possibilities

The book is written in three parts. The six chapters in the first part, explore how to create possibilities for releasing the imagination. Maxine Greene’s thoughts are addressed to teachers and teacher educators, particularly the latter. In her introduction she writes:

‘…. Imagination is what, above all, makes empathy possible. It is what enables us to cross empty spaces between ourselves and those we teachers have called “other” over the years. If those others are willing to give us clues, we can look in some manner through strangers’ eyes and hear through their ears. That is because, of all our cognitive capacities, imagination is the one that permits us to give credence to alternative realities.’ (p.3)

Greene believes that we must ‘move beyond schooling to the wider domains of education, where there are and must be all kinds of openings to possibility.’ She tells us that the current education system in the US (she was writing in 1995, but her ideas have not dated) has a very narrow focus and fails to see the big picture. It is preoccupied with measurement and accountability. To move beyond this to think about alternative possibilities and of things being otherwise, which takes imagination and empathy. We must ‘cultivate multiple ways of seeing and multiple dialogues in a world where nothing stays the same.’ We want young people to become critical, self-reflective, active learners. We want children to be more than raw materials to be shaped to market demand. We want them to have something to say about the way things might be if they were otherwise. Greene believes that the arts are central in this endeavour; stories, poems, dance performances, concerts, paintings, films, plays.  Also critical to this is the breaking of habit. ‘The difficult task for the teacher is to devise situations in which the young will move from the habitual and the ordinary and consciously undertake a search.’And important too is community, democratic community, characterised by interconnectedness and communion, where people are ‘offered the space in which to discover what they recognize together and appreciate in common; they have to find ways to make inter-subjective sense’.

What is striking about Maxine Greene, is the extent to which she draws on literature to illustrate what she means by releasing the imagination. This is very evident in Chapter 4. Discovering a Pedagogy, where she references the literature of Don DeLillo, Umberto Eco, Joseph Conrad, Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange, Virginia Woolf and Albert Camus and the writing of Habermas, Freire, Arendt, Sartre, Foucault, Merleau-Ponty, Rorty, Gadamer and Bakhtin. Literature can invoke alternative worlds, experiences and perceptions never noted before, and release the imagination, but not just literature. We must enable our children

‘… to have a number of languages to hand and not verbal or mathematical languages alone. Some children may find articulation through imagery; others, through body movement; still others, through musical sound. Mastery of a range of languages is necessary if communication is to take place beyond small enclosures within the culture; without multiple languages, it is extremely difficult to chart the lived landscape, thematizing experience over time.’ P.57

Students and teachers must be empowered to speak in their own voices and develop their own ways of seeing.

Greene rejects the idea of a static view of reality. No-one’s picture is complete. Neither is anyone free from the shaping influence of contexts. For this reason she believes it important that we learn to be reflective enough to become aware of how we construct our realities and see multiple perspectives. We must learn to think about our own thinking, and become conscious of our own consciousness. We must ‘notice’ and acknowledge the primacy of perception (Merleau-Ponty).

Part 2. Illuminations and Epiphanies

In this part Greene argues for a view of teaching as for finding openings and a view of curriculum as a search for meaning, saying that ‘the arts in particular can bring to curriculum inquiry visions of perspectives and untapped possibilities’. Again she stresses the importance of literature and metaphor for defamiliarizing experience and seeing alternate perspectives and new possibilities. Literature, she says, has the potential ‘to subvert dualism and reductionism, to make abstract generalizations questionable’. It has the potential to release the imagination.

Not only reading, but writing too is important in releasing the imagination. Through writing and the telling of stories, learners can make connections, create patterns and find meaning. Writing enables us to name alternatives, open ourselves to possibilities and overcome silences. ‘Learning to write is a matter of learning to shatter the silences, of making meaning, of learning to learn.’ We must work together, reading, writing and in dialogue, ‘to unconceal what is hidden, to contextualize what happens to us, to mediate the dialectic that keeps us on edge, that may be keeping us alive’… so that we can read our worlds differently.

Greene reminds us that Virginia Woolf wrote about the shock-receiving capacity that made her a writer, how shocks made her want to explain it. Literature can be a source of these shocks of awareness. For Greene, the shocks, for example, of the inhibiting, demeaning forces, that constricted her freedom, could be explored in writing. But Greene was also very aware of how deeply literacy is involved in relations of power and how ‘many of the alienated or marginalized are made to feel distrustful of their own voices, [and] their own ways of making sense.’ She urges teachers to think of literacy as a social undertaking to be sought in pluralist classrooms.

Art too can be a source of shocks of awareness. ‘…. many forms of art can enable us to see more in our experience, to hear more on normally unheard frequencies, to become conscious of what daily routines have obscured, what habit and convention have suppressed.’ Art is a way of understanding, a way of knowing. As for literature, encounters with art can release the imagination. Indeed, Greene believed that ‘informed encounters with the several arts is the most likely mode of releasing our students’ (or any person’s) imaginative capacity and giving it play.

In the final chapter of Part 2, Greene makes the distinction between art education and aesthetic education saying both are needed. Art education covers the spectrum that includes dance education, music education, the teaching of painting, the other graphic arts and some kinds of writing. By aesthetic education she means ‘the deliberate efforts to foster increasingly informed and involved encounters with art’. Art education and aesthetic education should inform each other. Art should be education for a more informed and imaginative awareness. It should be an education in ‘the kinds of critical transactions that empower students to both resist elitism and objectivism, that allow them to read and to name, to write and to rewrite their own lived world.’

Part 3. Community in the Making

In the final part of her book Greene turns to the question of how teaching can be a social undertaking, how teachers can see and hear all students in all their plurality, multiplicity and diversity, how they can help students to articulate their stories, and how through this teaching for openings, communities attentive to difference and open to the idea of plurality can be developed.  ‘Learning to look through multiple perspectives, young people may be helped to build bridges among themselves; attending to a range of human stories, they may be provoked to heal and to transform’. The arts are central to this. Community development and democratic community is essential for change.

‘The democratic community, always a community in the making, depends not so much on what has been achieved and funded in the past. It is kept alive: it is energized and radiated by an awareness of future possibility.’ p.166  

The world is neither equitable nor fair. Hence the importance of attending to the principles of equity, equality and freedom. Greene asks, ‘How can we reconcile the multiple realities of human lives with shared commitment to communities infused once again with principles?’ She believes that the arts can help students reflect on these principles, question the taken-for-granted, become critical thinkers.

‘Imagination may be our primary means of forming an understanding of what goes on under the heading of “reality”; imagination may be responsible for the very texture of our experience. Once we do away with habitual separations of the subjective from the objective, the inside from the outside, appearances from reality, we might be able to give imagination its proper importance and grasp what it means to place imagination at the core of understanding’. (p.140)

Reference

Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the Imagination. Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change. Jossey-Bass.

Postscript

I don’t feel as though I’ve done Maxine Greene justice in this post, so here are two more references.

A helpful book review was published in 1997 by N. Carlotta Parr in Philosophy of Music Education Review, Fall, 1997, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 108-110; Indiana University Press – https://www.jstor.org/stable/40495432?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

And Eddie Playfair, who is a member of the Philosophy of Education Reading Network, wrote a short introduction to Maxine Greene on his blog in 2014 – https://eddieplayfair.com/2014/06/13/maxine-greene-resisting-one-dimensionality/

The Deceptive Allure of Clarity

You could be forgiven for thinking that a statement such as ‘The deceptive allure of clarity’ must have come straight from the mouth of Iain McGilchrist, author of ‘The Master and His Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World’. McGilchrist would align this statement with the way in which the left hemisphere attends to the world. In his book he explains that we are living in a left hemisphere dominated world. For the left hemisphere, the parts are more important than the whole. The left hemisphere values the known, familiar, certain, distinct, fragmentary, isolated and unchanging. It abstracts ideas from body and context, seeing things as inanimate and representational. In the left hemisphere’s view of the world, quality is replaced by quantity, and unique cases are replaced with categories.

But this statement, ‘The Deceptive Allure of Clarity’, did not come from McGilchrist, but from a Lancaster University online Department of Education Research Seminar that I attended this week, which was presented by Jan McArthur and Joanne Wood. The full title of their talk was ‘Towards Wicked Marking Criteria: the deceptive allure of clarity’, which is what drew me, and many others, in (the session was very well attended). This was how the session was advertised.

In this seminar we consider the dissonance between two major themes in the scholarship of teaching, learning and assessment in higher education: the engagement with complex and structured forms of knowledge and the development of increasingly precise marking criteria for assessment.  We question what is lost when we aim to make assessment a more and more precise practice?  We argue that academic knowledge cannot always be broken into manageable “bits” but often should be evaluated holistically.  Finally we propose that students who perform “badly” in assessments have often not done this by accident or neglect but rather through diligent and conscientious following of implicit messages we send out as teachers, often in the name of clarity.

They started the session by asking the question: ‘What if the pursuit of clarity is part of the problem?’ By this they were making reference to what they called ‘The Monster Rubric’, which is so detailed and atomised that it loses all sense of what it is trying to achieve.

What follows is my reaction to this seminar and should not be attributed to either of the speakers.

It is easy to find examples of these rubrics online, through a simple search for rubric images. For example here is one with an excessive level of granularity. I can’t imagine how much time it must have taken to develop this rubric – time that perhaps could have been better spent in the service of students?

Most institutions use rubrics for marking students work. Why? Well, principally for quality assurance reasons. The institution/tutor has to demonstrate that the marking is fair and equitable. But in reality, my experience is that for experienced tutors/markers, the rubric is not helpful and so they make the rubric fit their marking rather than the other way round. The rubric does not inform the marking. An experienced marker knows that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. An experienced marker knows that complex knowledge can’t be broken down into bits. An experienced marker knows that there are qualities in assignments, which contribute to the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, that simply can’t be measured, but nevertheless contribute to the mark.  An experienced marker can pick up an assignment, flip through it and know straight away roughly what mark it will receive. The marker then reads the assignment carefully to check this initial assessment and give critical feedback. Only finally does the marker make sure (for quality assurance purposes) that the rubric fits the given mark.

We do students a disservice by misleading them into thinking that their achievements can be broken into bits and that each bit is worth a certain percentage. Complex knowledge cannot be defined in these terms. A rubric cannot cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. The rubric should not be so atomised that there is no room for students to move in.  As Iain McGilchrist says:

‘… the gaps in the structure are where the light gets in. If you tighten everything up, then you get total darkness’. (https://youtu.be/0Zld-MX11lA).

If we must have rubrics, then they should be guides rather than prescriptive, and students and staff should be encouraged to move beyond them.

Nature in education and education in Nature

The past year has seen a surge of interest in what has been called ‘reconnecting with Nature’. It is a sign of our times that it has taken a pandemic of global proportions to bring about this surge of interest and greater recognition of the importance of Nature to our lives, health and well-being.

The one thing everyone in the UK has been allowed to do during lockdown has been to exercise once a day outdoors, and many people have spoken/written about how this has helped them to reconnect with Nature for the first time in many years. Last week I attended an online event which explored this need for re-connection.

The event was organised by  Invisible Dust  – “What will our view of nature bring to the future?” in which a panel of speakers explored the following questions:

  • What changes in how we see the natural world could lead to a brighter future?
  • Rather than seeing ourselves as separate from nature, might we see ourselves as a part of it – changing how we see non-human animals and our relationship to the natural world?
  • Can we move forward positively from the COVID-19 pandemic and act to reduce future risks?
  • What can we learn from the indigenous communities that have lived in harmony with nature rather than tried to conquer it?

The panel was made up of a diverse and very interesting group of people, who were all deeply committed to exploring these questions:

Danielle Celermajer, author of Summertime: Reflections on a Vanishing Future

Milka Chepkorir, advocate for indigenous land rights from the Sengwer community.

Usman Haque, artist-architect and creative director at Umbrellium.

Iain McGilchrist, psychiatrist and author of The Master and his Emissary

Hosted by: Jessica Sweidan, founder of Synchronicity Earth and Patron of Nature for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature

The discussion started from the premise that we are now experiencing an ecological crisis in which our relationship with Nature is broken, and this is the root of some of our greatest problems. We are removed from the consequences of our actions and numb to the loss of our connection with Nature, but the paradox is that we, as human beings, have never been more connected, to each other, to other cultures, and to other ways of living.

Whilst panel members were coming from different perspectives, they all agreed that the heart of the problem is that we now think of Nature as something separate from ourselves, an exotic ‘Other’, something we use, something we are different from and superior to. We fail to recognise and acknowledge that there is no line between human beings and Nature. As McGilchrist said, We are Nature and Nature is us; we come out of Nature and we go back into Nature. Nature is not out there around us, but in us; it is something that is always being born. Milka Chepkorir, coming from the indigenous Sengwer community of Kenya, recognised this as a symbiotic relationship, saying that for her people there is no separation between Nature and people, and that we should know that if we harm Nature, then it will harm us. Indigenous people have not lost their connection with Nature, but are having to fight to maintain it. In a rather sad indictment of our education system, Milka said that in order to get her voice heard about this she had to get a recognised academic qualification for which she had to study what she and her people already knew! At one point she said that indigenous people don’t understand why the rest of the world don’t get it. Why don’t non-indigenous communities understand that Nature is in us and we are in Nature? The question of trust was raised in answer to this. How we can become more accepting of other cultures?

All agreed that we have to change the way we think to address the problem of disconnection from Nature. Usman Haque is just starting to work on The Eden Project in London, which aims to ‘rewild’ London; this would also involve ‘rewilding’ people! What an amazing idea! By this he meant that they would try and transform people’s relationships to each other and to non-human systems, and find ways to enable people to make a visible first step, such as growing things to eat, or bee keeping. These small individual steps would hopefully then grow into larger more collective actions.

There was a lot more in this discussion than I have mentioned here, and it is well worth watching the video of the whole event, not least because it is so enjoyable and uplifting to watch.

Of course, changing the ways people think is no easy matter, as Usman Haque mentioned, and it was recognised that education would play a key role in this.

It’s interesting that a brief look at the UK National Curriculum for schools doesn’t mention Nature in the science curriculum, but rather the environment. For example, in Year 1 Pupils should use the local environment throughout the year to explore and answer questions about plants growing in their habitat. McGilchrist does not like the word environment, which he believes reinforces the idea that we humans are somehow separate from the world, and the statement above does seem to emphasise the use of Nature. Pupils throughout school do of course study ecosystems and the interdependence of organisms, but I wonder if there is enough emphasis on our place as humans within Nature rather than separate from it, and I wonder whether a simple change of language, i.e. exchanging the word environment, for the word Nature might kick-start a change in awareness. The language we use is so powerful in influencing the way we attend to the world.

There are of course many projects which are being developed in the hope of helping people to reconnect with Nature. In my local area, there is the Morecambe Bay Curriculum (part of the Eden Project North), which aims to work with local schools to develop a unique educational tool to help unite and inspire the next generation in terms of our natural history and the immense environmental challenges we face as a society. But projects such as these will need to go beyond thinking of Nature as something ‘Other’ if we are to overcome the current ecological crisis. Studying Morecambe Bay or any other aspect of Nature from a distance, or from within a walled classroom, will not foster an understanding of Nature being in us and we being in Nature. Hopefully the Morecambe Bay Curriculum project, and others like it, will involve a lot of hands-on time in Nature. One of the richest educational experiences I have ever had was a week long field trip to Seahouses (North-East England) for my ‘A’ level Biology course.

Source of photo: https://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Europe/United_Kingdom/England/Northumberland/Seahouses/photo199218.htm

This involved days of peering into rock pools, and studying every imaginable aspect of the seashore. It was magical. This experience was more than 50 years ago, but it greatly influenced my relationship with Nature, and I still have the book in which I pressed the seaweeds I collected for identification purposes at that time.

The Invisible Dust event panel members were optimistic that people haven’t lost the ability to love and feel connected with Nature. Let’s hope so.

The Crisis in Education: Hannah Arendt

Between Past and Future: The Crisis in Education

The focus of this essay/thinking exercise, Chapter 5 in Hannah Arendt’s book, Between Past and Future, is the crisis of education in America. This she says has become an important factor in politics (incomparably more important than in other countries), because of the difficulty of ‘melting together’ diverse ethnic groups, which can only be accomplished through schooling, so that English, and what it means to be an American, can be learned by all groups. In America education is seen as a political activity to make a better world, but Arendt thinks this is dangerous and that education should be kept separate from politics.

“Education can play no part in politics, because in politics we always have to deal with those who are already educated. Whoever wants to educate adults really wants to act as their guardian and prevent them from political activity [i.e. wants to brainwash them – see Chapter 3, What is Authority?]. Since one cannot educate adults, the word “education” has an evil sound in politics; there is a pretence of education, when the real purpose is coercion without the use of force.”(p.173/4)

Arendt starts this chapter by writing:

“… no great imagination is required to detect the dangers of a constantly progressing decline of elementary standards throughout the entire school system.” (p.170)

She connects the crisis of education to the crisis of authority, which she has written about in Chapter 3 under the title ‘What is Authority?’ and also to the loss of tradition, which she writes about in Chapter 1, ‘Tradition and the Modern Age’.

“The problem of education in the modern world lies in the fact that by its very nature it cannot forgo either authority or tradition, and yet must proceed in a world that is neither structured by authority nor held together by tradition.” (p.191)

“That means, however, that not just teachers and educators, but all of us, in so far as we live in one world together with our children and with young people, must take toward them an attitude radically different from the one we take toward one another. We must decisively divorce the realm of education from the others, most of all from the realm of public, political life, in order to apply to it alone a concept of authority and an attitude toward the past which are appropriate to it but have no general validity and must not claim a general validity in the world of grown-ups.” (p.191/2)

In addition to authority and tradition, Arendt also thinks equality is an important issue in American education. She points out that the UK system of education as meritocracy leads to an oligarchy. This she says contradicts the principle of equality, but, she writes, equality can only be achieved at the cost of teachers’ authority and the progress of gifted students (p.177).

According to Arendt there have been three basic assumptions, all connected to the loss of authority, that have led to the crisis.

  1. That there exists a child’s world in which children are autonomous. Arendt says that children cannot be autonomous, either from the adult world, or from their own group.
  2. Teaching is emancipated from the material to be taught. “A teacher, so it was thought, is a man who can simply teach anything; his training is in teaching, not in the mastery of any particular subject.” (p.179).
  3. You can know and understand only what you have done yourself, and as such, doing is substituted for learning, and the inculcation of skills is considered more important than the normal prerequisites of a standard curriculum.

All of this raises two questions for Arendt.

  • What is the essence of education?
  • What is the true reason for the abandonment of common sense in education? i.e. that we know what we are teaching.

Arendt writes that education is about the world and education is about life.

“Thus the child, the subject of education, has for the educator a double aspect: he is new in the world that is strange to him and he is in the process of becoming, he is a new human being and he is a becoming human being. This double aspect is by no means self-evident and it does not apply to the animal forms of life; it corresponds to a double relationship, the relationship to the world on the one hand and to life on the other.” (p.182)

Educators cannot be non-authoritarian. They must protect the life of the child and protect the humanly built world. Their qualification is to know the world and to take responsibility for it, such that they allow young people to grow into the world and renew and change it, but also such that they protect the world. Education should in some sense be conservative (in the sense of conservation); it should cherish and protect “the child against the world, and the world against the child, the new against the old, and the old against the new.” (p.188)

The essence of education is natality, the fact that human beings are born into the world (p.171). Each new generation grows into an old world, that already exists, and it is the role of teachers to prepare children for the world of the adult, when they will be responsible for changing the world. But children are not just undersized adults. The focus should be on teaching about the world as it is,  in all its plurality, rather than what we want it to be. Children should not be indoctrinated. Education should be both conservative (conserving the world as it is) and revolutionary (allowing for change and the new).

“Education is the point at which we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young would be inevitable.

And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.” (p.193)

References

To write this post I have drawn heavily on the following sources. The freely accessible video presentations and discussions produced by the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College, have been very helpful, thanks to Roger Berkowitz .

  • Arendt, H. (1961). Between Past and Future. Penguin Classics

Source of image: http://souciant.com/2018/02/hannah-arendt-was-here/

Paulo Freire’s questions for educators.

Paulo Freire’ questions for educators.

In my last post in which I shared the notes I made on my reading of Freire’s book Pedagogy of Hope. Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed, I mentioned that at the end of Chapter 4, on p.124, Freire listed the problems and questions that educators and education must always continue to seriously consider, discuss and address. Here is the quote in full.


Source of image: https://al.se.leg.br/iran-destaca-atividades-em-comemoracao-aos-99-anos-de-paulo-freire/

“What seems to me to be unconscionable, however, today as yesterday, would be to conceive—or even worse, to practice—a popular education in which a constant, serious approach were not maintained, antecedently and concomitantly, to problems like: what content to teach, in behalf of what this content is to be taught, in behalf of whom, against what, and against whom.

  • Who selects the content, and how is it taught?
  • What is teaching?
  • What is learning?
  • What manner of relationship obtains between teaching and learning?
  • What is popular knowledge, or knowledge gotten from living experience?
  • Can we discard it as imprecise and confused?
  • How may it be gotten beyond, transcended?
  • What is a teacher?
  • What is the role of a teacher?
  • And what is a student?
  • What is a student’s role?
  • If being a teacher means being superior to the student in some way, does this mean that the teacher must be authoritarian?
  • Is it possible to be democratic and dialogical without ceasing to be a teacher, which is different from being a student?
  • Does dialogue mean irrelevant chitchat whose ideal atmosphere would be to “leave it as it is to see if it’ll work”?
  • Can there be a serious attempt at the reading and writing of the word without a reading of the world?
  • Does the inescapable criticism of a “banking” education mean the educator has nothing to teach and ought not to teach?
  • Is a teacher who does not teach a self-contradiction?
  • What is codification, and what is its role in the framework of a theory of knowledge?
  • How is the “relation between practice and theory” to be understood—and especially, experienced—without the expression becoming trite, empty wordage?
  • How is the “basistic,” voluntaristic temptation to be resisted—and how is the intellectualistic, verbalistic temptation to engage in sheer empty chatter to be overcome?
  • How is one to “work on” the relationship between language and citizenship?”

It is almost 30 years since Freire wrote these words, and more than 50 years since Pedagogy of the Oppressed was first published. Despite this, Freire’s questions remain relevant and still have the power to challenge the current Brazilian government – see Why is the Brazilian Right Afraid of Paulo Freire?