For educators dieting on a menu of progressive blog posts and viral education videos, it’s enticing to think that we might just be at a tipping point for transforming education.
The Clever Sheep (back in April)
When I read the above sentence from Rodd Lucier I laughed aloud. I have thought about his quip many times since April. I read it as both a very witty line but also a concise and ironically trenchant analysis of the optimism of many in the edublogosphere. There is a long history of educational thinking about transforming education which leads me to this question:
What is the intellectual ancestry of the people who blog and write about educational transformation? How knowingly can they articulate a philosophy of education?
By this, I do not mean (necessarily) who mentored or taught you, although some may have been inspired by a teacher and many in the blogosphere would cite connectivism. I am keen to know what are the (often hidden) swirls and eddies of educational theory, history or experience that have impacted on your belief systems. I suspect much of it is unconscious, as it is for me and too rarely discussed. Feel free to draw the ‘long bow’, in the sense that you are speculating without detailed research. Maybe you posted about this or a similar topic before and can leave a link?
There was virtually no time at university, at least in the formal teaching course I completed 0ver 20 years ago, spent reflecting on philosophies of education. I did like and read Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778) who appeals to the romantic in many, during my time at university. I suspect that Rousseau has more influence on educators (and society) than most realise. If you find yourself nodding along with Sir Ken Robinson, as I do, when he talks about changing the current paradigms, one feels certain Rousseau would approve. Émile is often cited as very influential of educational thinking but his posthumously published book, The Reveries of a Solitary Walker, appealed to me more and I am certain that my love of poetry has had a huge impact on how I see the world. The romantic tradition of ‘walkers’ like Wordsworth and Coleridge, so influenced by Rousseau, especially appeals to me, including the disappointments they felt, after the initial excitement, at the violence of social experiments like the French Revolution. The Romantic Movement has greatly influenced our culture and I am sure many of you can connect the dots (many of them less than pleasant) to the present day. I will also, simplistically say, if only everyone liked poetry and rambling the world would be a better place 😉
I think you know there is a very clear line from Rousseau to the hippie movement and subsequent development of the personal computer and internet/web that influences many of the people likely to read this post. Would you agree that the same people ‘dieting’ on, or creating those progressive posts that Rodd mentioned back in April, are very likely to be heavily influenced by this lineage?
….going to college is not the same as getting an education.
This sentiment from John Dewey (1859-1952) has probably never been more true. I marvel at how clearly he saw many of the challenges of education and his Pedagogic Creed (1897) is a document all teachers should have read (NB I struggle with his final line though). His emphasis on community and our real social lives is important. He railed against de-contextualised teaching and learning. He saw social progress as central business for all of us. He was enlightened. Here’s a brief video about Dewey whose insights still feel remarkably fresh today. When Dewey says in:
…the ideal school we have the reconciliation of the individualistic and the institutional ideals
could anyone disagree that this is both idealistic and pragmatic?
I have read all of James Paul Gee‘s (b.1948) writings, or at least I think I have (you can have a taste of his work here). I admire the trajectory of his thinking and subject-matter, from ‘hard’ linguistics, to what we can learn about assessment from video games. As an English teacher, his thinking about situated learning and discourse analysis has been both stimulating and fundamental to the way I see the world. Gee just has it right and unlike every other ‘thinker’ I mention in this post, I find nothing to criticise.
The writings of Paulo Freire and Henry A Giroux largely describe what I see in our education systems (and society). Disadvantage is institutionalised. I suspect that the vast majority of current Australian teachers are not familiar with either of these thinkers, even those practitioners who successfully assist students to be powerfully critically literate. Freire and Giroux have influenced educators I admire (including Gee) and have assisted the development of theoretical frameworks that support students becoming powerful critical thinkers. They know that politics and education cannot be separated and are inherently advocating improved democracies and an engaged citizenry.
When I sit back and think about ‘teaching’, it seems to me that Giroux and Freire’s thinking is similar to Rousseau’s and Dewey; all posit the fundamental importance of truthfulness between teacher and student. They share a concern that students should be able improve not just their own circumstances but the system we live in too. They believe that all of us need to learn and to be have developed abilities to think critically, especially about the nature of our systems, in order to develop our shared humanity.
Over to you.
Why do you think the way you do about education?