Intellectual Ancestries and Philosophies of Education

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)


cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by Truthout.org

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?

I’ll start.

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?

Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) and Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) I will not discuss other than to acknowledge their central importance to the way I think.

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?

Share

DISCLAIMER

The views expressed at this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

17 Comments

  1. I won’t try to answer the question by nodding my head towards Educational theorists and researchers because I do not recall any of them I was introduced to during my ‘informative’ years at University. Some of the names you refer to I recognise but that’s about it. I agree with the sentiment acknowledged to Rousseau so perhaps, perhaps that’s were my influence lies.
    I’ve been teaching for 15 years, a mere youngster in teaching life terms but I am influenced mainly by other teachers and more importantly by the children in my class. Children have developed my teaching, they have encouraged me to take risks in my approach, to try things differently. If I were to merely rely on theory I would be still teaching the way I started back in 1996.

    • Carol Masson:

      I especially liked your last sentence about merely relying on theory and the idea that your teaching would not be evolving. Thanks for your candid response to ‘ recognizing the names but that’s about it”. I felt the same way after reading the blog.
      This is the very first blog I have ever read. Wow! I truly felt intellectually inferior after reading the blog. I must confess I read the links so I could make a comment but realize that a sincere realistic response to the blog is just as thought provoking! Thanks again for the insight.

      • Darcy Moore:

        @Kevin Thanks for taking the time to comment at my blog. The purpose behind the post was to explore the ideology that informs my posting and to hopefully have other educators do something similar. As I mentioned, we had no educational philosophy at uni and anything I have read has been discovered post my course. I believe that learning from our students and colleagues is, as you rightly mention, of fundamental importance and a joy. However, I think to take it to the next level it is essential to be more reflective, in a theoretical or ideological sense. Why do we do do what we do kinda thinking? One of the teachers who influenced me was a great advocate of theory and a damn fine practitioner. He wrote publicly and shared his units x work (that many felt would never work in a ‘real’ classroom). They then discovered he worked in one of the most disadvantaged schools in the state and the kids loved the approach.

        @Carol Thanks for taking the time to comment. I hope you found some other posts here that you liked. I often read blogs that have posts I never could have written. I hope you start reading blogs more frequently, they are often cool ways to learn more about teaching and even better, for making contact with other professionals who are willing to share.

        I believe that teaching is inherently intellectual work. We are not clerks and have an important societal role in assisting our communities to progress, mostly through skilful education of children. Philosophy is important and the older I get, the more I think it is fundamental for all citizens to explore it, if we are to extend our civil societies and have flourishing democracies. Teachers are busy people. Often this kind of thinking is challenging and too big but in a whole range of small ways, philosophy can enter classrooms and staffroom conversations quite easily. It does, of course, in many schools but I suspect, as we all get busier that it can be neglected. Teachers are the key.

        Have a Happy New Year!

  2. Hi Darcy, and thanks for all the brain food over the past year!
    As a PE teacher, I must admit the content of lectures and tutorials regarding educational learning theories often passed me by in a haze of hangovers and plans for the next night out (such was the culture of my cohort). That’s not to say that understanding what the optimal conditions for learning were ignored by me – there were a few “lightbulb” moments in those formative pre service times that followed me through teaching till now.
    At the risk of sounding completely naive, I’ll cite Piaget and Skinner as being the first exposure I had to the sort of thinking that influenced my teaching. The Yin and Yang of “the sociological model of development” compared to “radical behaviorism” provoked me to think that the answer lay somewhere in between. These prototypical ideas stay with me still.
    I had role models as teachers that I aspired too as well. John Doyle (AKA Roy Slaven) was my English teacher in Year 9 and showed in a very human and practical way that teaching wasn’t just about facts and one dimensional coverage of concepts. Learning was about living the experience.
    I also think my love of science fiction and the “cyberpunk” genre inspire my teaching to the “what could be” (I’ve always dreamt of a device that integrates everything into an ubiquitous platform) I think this goal has pushed through into my teaching ad thoughts on teaching – why stop at a datestamped point of time in a fluid and flexible near future?
    And now I find the modern, day to day equivalents that have made the thoughts of Piaget and Skinner incarnate are part of my tool box. Games based learning, project based learning, gamification, Edmodo to name a few. I look forward to , not fear, where learning and my work in schools will go in the future.

  3. I came to teaching as a second career by which time I’ve already got a philosophy in life. It is no surprise that it influenced my philosophy of education. It is existentialist and post-modernist with social justice implications – it is also a composite of multiple philosophers and educational theorists. It is simply this:

    I am being in the world with others

    As teachers (and any adult influencing kids, e.g. parents, aunts/uncles, mentors), we are in a position to help children develop their individuality; not in isolation, but to engender respect for the others around them who are also developing individuals. Balance this with developing relationships and sense of belonging. I do think that one can not really belong unless acknowledged as being an individual.

    This raises a lot of questions. What stops some people (kids and adults) from being truly individual? What are the limits (real, imagined or perceived) to the becoming and be-ing “I”? What stops/helps them relate or see others as individuals? Is the collective more important than the individual or vice versa? and in which contexts?

    I think that making this philosophy real is the biggest challenge of education: past, present and future – so true in classrooms as well as school levels and beyond. I daresay, that’s the biggest challenge of society.

  4. Stu:

    Darcy, thanks for all your food-for-thought posts throughout yet another year. Your blog has developed into a must-visit amazing resource for educators and school administrators all over the world. Congratulations. As for my thoughts on education, firstly, as you know, I’m not a teacher, so I’m not supposed to have any thoughts on education, at least not any that “matter”. ;) – my first job after an engineering degree was in IT in ’84. Ever since then, in order to keep a job in my chosen industry which is constantly changing, I have had to continually focus on my own learning. In ’93, the same year as I joined the education dept, I got on the Internet and have been there ever since. Developing software for schools has given me a direct insight into the goings on in school education and I have struggled to get ICTs integrated into classroom activities over all those years. My software has also developed over the years from basic drill and practise in ’96 with my Talking Times Tables Tester to quizzes in ’98 with Jeopardy, to project-based learning and self-publishing in 2001 with EduWeb and student-response with SRN in 2009. In that time, I’ve seen teachers change and progress, but it’s always only been a small subset of teachers and I feel like I’ve been preaching to the converted for years. I still haven’t worked out how we can get to the rest, despite there being such an amazing array of ICT resources and fellow teachers ready and willing to share. How far away is Rod Lucier’s tipping point really?

  5. Darcy Moore:

    @Jonesy Cheers! You had a great deal as a student with Mr Doyle – how fantastic to have such a talented man teaching the class.

    @Malyn I think we may share similar outlooks and I love your blogs, especially ‘the art’ one.

    @Stu Your support is always appreciated, probably more than you understand. To answer your question, we are nowhere near tipping point! One of the reasons is the refusal of ‘educational leaders’ to engage with technology professionally in Australia. The lack of sharing and participation from anyone ‘above the rank of teacher’ in the online edu-communities is a travesty that I thought would change much more rapidly than it has in the last few years. However, the real issue an attitude towards learning that exists in our communities that is less than what it should be imho. Opportunities exist in 2012 that are quite extraordinary. We can learn whatever we fancy, virtually for free.

    Happy New Year! :)

    • Hi Darcy
      I understand the generalisation which this statement represents and the sad truth, but I think that I can beg to differ with: ‘The lack of sharing and participation from anyone ‘above the rank of teacher’ in the online edu-communities is a travesty that I thought would change much more rapidly than it has in the last few years.’
      Anyone?

      Besides that, I enjoyed the post. For me, a major motivator in looking at ways to engage learners, of any age and ilk, has been in trying to find ways to reconnect situations with innate curiosity, and build capacity to construct meaning. The role of teacher, as the ‘human disruptor’ is a key within this process. I don’t know that this reflects anyone in particular, but it reflects a sense of wanting to make learning a process connected to the authentic aspiration of the learner, and then of seeking to create a view of an horizon of possibility which allows every learner to dream, should they wish.

      Please don’t discount those of us who have been trying for a long time.

      • Darcy Moore:

        @Roger Yes, a generalisation (and you are ‘an exception that proves the rules’) but when Stu asked me if we are reaching ‘tipping point’ my honest response was given. I know of two Australian educators who have a systems position ‘above’ principal who share online. There are a couple of principals who try too but otherwise, it is clearly ‘a travesty’. Would love a list and some links to those who are being open and sharing and in senior leadership positions. :)

        • Hi Darcy. My first sentence acknowledged the issue and the problem. Now you have challenged me to provide lists and links which we both know don’t exist.

          I guess it would be nice, however, to not become invisible simply because one is an exception. Maybe therein lies a part of the problem: just who will join the oddball dancing, or instead turn their glance away to those who sway politely in time?

          • Darcy Moore:

            Roger,

            Well, ‘you begged to differ’ and I figured you must know something I didn’t about participation online in some circles from senior figures. Public servants all around the world blog, use twitter and share ideas online but we have not adopted social media in Australian education to the same extent as other Australian people have in the last 5 years. I think your efforts are more ‘the norm’ for a professional person in 2012 than not. I suggest spamming the various ‘leaders’ with some links ;)

  6. Paul:

    Another good thought Darcy. If nothing else it demands that I get moving on my own blog design and start writing! Of course we are no-where near there – probably no further forward than AS Neill thought in the 1920s of Illich in the 1970s. However, we can at last see the way forward (thoughts of a Churchillian phrase here about the end of the beginning!). I’m intrigued about your roll call of philosophers and spent some time following a few up. I’ve always felt that one big issue in the debate is what education really is- the deep-down philosophical division that makes activity x education and activity y not. This was never well articulated when I was at university (and I can go back a bit further than most). Much of the work ascribed to philosophy here is more a part of pedagogy, of how a learning theory might work.

    Having read Kuhn in his various editions I’m always sceptical about paradigm shifts when what we might actually mean is a slight change in procedure. From my own perspective the one real shift was the Education Act of 1870. After that all we see are rearrangements of the same theme – common schooling followed by academic/technical and back again from grammar schools to academies with no real change of focus but just some political jockeying. Also, I know loads of people like Ken Robinson, but I have never found any reference to him actually ever having taught (granted his PhD is drama education but that’s not the same). I like my theorists to have some field experience!

    Going back to your original point, one of my main influences is the Canadian educator T Barr Greenfield. He was embroiled in a debate in the 1970s about the use of phenomenology in education. I had some time left over after my Masters and spent it looking at theoretical phenomenology and the micro-politics of the debate in Canada (which he lost quite badly even though his points were valid). His approach and the treatment he was meted out stirred me to study what are now two of my main interests outside my subject.

    On a purely practical point, your post reminds me that I need to get some extra theoretical reading in before my new job starts because someone is bound to ask me something on this! Happy New Year.

    • Darcy Moore:

      @Paul Thanks for this thoughtful comment. I will check out Greenfield. The political decisions in the Western World that led to mass public education must have seemed very radical at the time and certainly were a major paradigm shift. Ken Robinson may not have worked in schools but I won’t dis him for that. Here he is in the hands of some students: https://www.radiowaves.co.uk/story/14527/title/InterviewwithSirKenRobinson

      I look forward to your blog as the New Year unfolds :)

  7. Michael Burgess:

    Thanks Darcy. I love that your posts to Maang often make me reflect on what I’m doing in my school. Too often I get caught up in the myriad of forms, emails, surveys and requests from the DEC that seem to make up more and more of my role as Principal. Your posts, plus many others, pull me from the administration “heap” and toss me back in to the role I enjoy most – leading learning.
    I enjoyed your exchange with Roger but it made me wonder why “there is a lack of sharing and participation from anyone above the rank of teacher”. Accountability/Fear may be one answer. There are great exchanges within closed environments such as the Principals’ listserve and my own local group of Principals. Time could also be part of the answer….and related to that the uptake of technologies such as smartphones/tablets that would enhance accessibility. Hmmm it has given me something to think about more.
    As for why I think about education the way I do is embedded in my childhood and influenced, like Kevin McLaughlin, by my experiences as a teacher. As for the education theorists and researchers….well I have tended to take bits from various sources that support or develop my own way of looking at education. I don’t adhere to any particular model put forward by someone else.
    My childhood experiences…growing up in the country…the way I learnt…my experiences at school set the foundation for my thinking. I learnt by doing, helping out with jobs, building, exploring etc. In Year 5 (1974) I was part of an “open” classroom arrangement. This was all about co-operative learning, creating, learners having some control over their learning, getting out of the classroom into the real world. (Much of what is contained in the Quality Teaching model….back in the 70s!). It was close to the way I learnt outside school. Then it was back to normal classrooms for the rest of my schooling. This convinced me that there was a better way of doing school and thus has influenced everything I have done as an educator.
    The students, colleagues and Principals I have worked with and my experiences in the classroom have allowed me to modify and adjust my idea of teaching to make it work within the restrictive environment of the education system. I have been lucky enough to have had several Principals who have challenged my thinking and forced me to regularly reflect on what I was doing in the classroom. Now as a Principal I challenge my teachers to think about what they are doing in the classroom (and they challenge me right back). It is these challenges and reflections that continue to influence me much more than any theorists.
    And that is what is great about participating in networks such as Maang because of the diversity of views and the ability to hear the thoughts of others to help test my own thinking.

    • Darcy Moore:

      Michael, I really appreciate you’ve taken the time to write such a thoughtful reflection at my post. I also believe there are many opportunities to extend what happens in classrooms/schools for students and that ‘leaders’ assist in creating ‘permission’ and freedom in the educational environments they nurture. I do suspect (actually, I know it for certain) that ‘theory’ is not well received in Australian schools and this needs to change. There is an irony that places of intellectual striving are thus and I am sure everyone who reads this blog has heard something along the lines, when they were learning to teach in a school during practicum, “this is where you’ll really learn about education”. Of course, that is true to a large extent but the anti-intellectualism behind the sentiment is not good imo. If we thought about the word ‘theory’ as ‘philosophy’ maybe that would partially ameliorate the condition I mention. Anyways, for my money, Australian schools (our communities at large) need more philosophy and discussion about what values inform what we do (and where those values originate). On that note, we await Gonki’s report with great interest and more than a little anxiety about what it may or may not recommend. I hope it will be a Happy New Year!

  8. Callum Iles:

    Hey Darcy,

    A huge thanks for the thoughtful reflection.

    I am embarking on a career in teaching high-school English after a decade of working in business, and value your foundational insights. I will be sure to fill my mind with those great thinkers as I start university.

    I hope you won’t mind if I pop by from time to time for the odd word of wisdom.

    Cal.

  9. I don’t want to drag this brilliant post off-topic, but I try and let my visual culture and music education inform what I do. It gives me a link with pop culture. I also have the luxury of allowing my students to completely inform what I do, how I teach and what they learn. I am lucky enough to be an SLSO, so it’s very intense and personal.

    So my favourite thinkers are Barthes (especially for English), Paul Virilio (for understanding how time, attention span and the internet work together), de Bono (Teach Your Child to Think is brilliant). I am still undergrad Literature so I may have more thoughts when I start my education degree, but so far these guys (they’re almost always guys) have served me well.

    I saw the TED talk with Sir Ken and I have to disagree about his hyperbole (was it?). He said creativity should be compulsory. I am a creative myself but I have to disagree. I squirm every time I have to sit through dance, PE or cooking when I have kids at my school who can’t read or calculate the change from $20. It kills me.

Post a Comment

*
* (will not be published)


4 − one =

Random Posts

LOAD MORE
UA-6171563-2