Reason to Believe: Romanticism, Pragmatism, and the Possibility of Teaching

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The pioneering work in the modern period entirely in an analytic mode was the short monograph by C. Hardie, Truth and Fallacy in Educational Theory ; reissued in In his Introduction, Hardie who had studied with C. Broad and I. Richards made it clear that he was putting all his eggs into the ordinary-language-analysis basket:. The Cambridge analytical school, led by Moore, Broad and Wittgenstein, has attempted so to analyse propositions that it will always be apparent whether the disagreement between philosophers is one concerning matters of fact, or is one concerning the use of words, or is, as is frequently the case, a purely emotive one.

It is time, I think, that a similar attitude became common in the field of educational theory. Hardie xix. About a decade after the end of the Second World War the floodgates opened and a stream of work in the analytic mode appeared; the following is merely a sample. Siegel Smith and R. Ennis edited the volume Language and Concepts in Education ; and R.

Archambault edited Philosophical Analysis and Education , consisting of essays by a number of prominent British writers, most notably R. Among the most influential products of APE was the analysis developed by Hirst and Peters and Peters of the concept of education itself. A criminal who has been reformed has changed for the better, and has developed a commitment to the new mode of life if one or other of these conditions does not hold, a speaker of standard English would not say the criminal has been reformed.


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Clearly the analogy with reform breaks down with respect to the knowledge and understanding conditions. The concept of indoctrination was also of great interest to analytic philosophers of education, for, it was argued, getting clear about precisely what constitutes indoctrination also would serve to clarify the border that demarcates it from acceptable educational processes. Thus, whether or not an instructional episode was a case of indoctrination was determined by the content taught, the intention of the instructor, the methods of instruction used, the outcomes of the instruction, or by some combination of these.

Adherents of the different analyses used the same general type of argument to make their case, namely, appeal to normal and aberrant usage. Unfortunately, ordinary language analysis did not lead to unanimity of opinion about where this border was located, and rival analyses of the concept were put forward Snook Scheffler [ 9—10]. After a period of dominance, for a number of important reasons the influence of APE went into decline.

Reason to Believe: Romanticism, Pragmatism, and the Teaching of Writing

First, there were growing criticisms that the work of analytic philosophers of education had become focused upon minutiae and in the main was bereft of practical import. It is worth noting that a article in Time , reprinted in Lucas , had put forward the same criticism of mainstream philosophy. See Mehta Fourth, during the decade of the seventies when these various critiques of analytic philosophy were in the process of eroding its luster, a spate of translations from the Continent stimulated some philosophers of education in Britain and North America to set out in new directions, and to adopt a new style of writing and argumentation.

In more recent years all these trends have continued. APE was and is no longer the center of interest, although, as indicated below, it still retains its voice. As was stressed at the outset, the field of education is huge and contains within it a virtually inexhaustible number of issues that are of philosophical interest. To attempt comprehensive coverage of how philosophers of education have been working within this thicket would be a quixotic task for a large single volume and is out of the question for a solitary encyclopedia entry.


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Nevertheless, a valiant attempt to give an overview was made in A Companion to the Philosophy of Education Curren , which contains more than six-hundred pages divided into forty-five chapters each of which surveys a subfield of work. The following random selection of chapter topics gives a sense of the enormous scope of the field: Sex education, special education, science education, aesthetic education, theories of teaching and learning, religious education, knowledge, truth and learning, cultivating reason, the measurement of learning, multicultural education, education and the politics of identity, education and standards of living, motivation and classroom management, feminism, critical theory, postmodernism, romanticism, the purposes of universities, affirmative action in higher education, and professional education.

The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Education Siegel contains a similarly broad range of articles on among other things the epistemic and moral aims of education, liberal education and its imminent demise, thinking and reasoning, fallibilism and fallibility, indoctrination, authenticity, the development of rationality, Socratic teaching, educating the imagination, caring and empathy in moral education, the limits of moral education, the cultivation of character, values education, curriculum and the value of knowledge, education and democracy, art and education, science education and religious toleration, constructivism and scientific methods, multicultural education, prejudice, authority and the interests of children, and on pragmatist, feminist, and postmodernist approaches to philosophy of education.

Given this enormous range, there is no non-arbitrary way to select a small number of topics for further discussion, nor can the topics that are chosen be pursued in great depth. The issue of what should be taught to students at all levels of education—the issue of curriculum content—obviously is a fundamental one, and it is an extraordinarily difficult one with which to grapple.

In tackling it, care needs to be taken to distinguish between education and schooling—for although education can occur in schools, so can mis-education, and many other things can take place there that are educationally orthogonal such as the provision of free or subsidized lunches and the development of social networks ; and it also must be recognized that education can occur in the home, in libraries and museums, in churches and clubs, in solitary interaction with the public media, and the like. In developing a curriculum whether in a specific subject area, or more broadly as the whole range of offerings in an educational institution or system , a number of difficult decisions need to be made.

Issues such as the proper ordering or sequencing of topics in the chosen subject, the time to be allocated to each topic, the lab work or excursions or projects that are appropriate for particular topics, can all be regarded as technical issues best resolved either by educationists who have a depth of experience with the target age group or by experts in the psychology of learning and the like. Is the justification that is given for teaching Economics in some schools coherent and convincing?

The justifications offered for all such aims have been controversial, and alternative justifications of a single proposed aim can provoke philosophical controversy.

Consider the aim of autonomy. These two formulations are related, for it is arguable that our educational institutions should aim to equip individuals to pursue this good life—although this is not obvious, both because it is not clear that there is one conception of the good or flourishing life that is the good or flourishing life for everyone, and it is not clear that this is a question that should be settled in advance rather than determined by students for themselves.

Thus, for example, if our view of human flourishing includes the capacity to think and act autonomously, then the case can be made that educational institutions—and their curricula—should aim to prepare, or help to prepare, autonomous individuals.

Romanticism Versus Enlightenment - TV Tropes

A rival justification of the aim of autonomy, associated with Kant, champions the educational fostering of autonomy not on the basis of its contribution to human flourishing, but rather the obligation to treat students with respect as persons Scheffler []; Siegel It is also possible to reject the fostering of autonomy as an educational aim Hand Assuming that the aim can be justified, how students should be helped to become autonomous or develop a conception of the good life and pursue it is of course not immediately obvious, and much philosophical ink has been spilled on the general question of how best to determine curriculum content.

One influential line of argument was developed by Paul Hirst, who argued that knowledge is essential for developing and then pursuing a conception of the good life, and because logical analysis shows, he argued, that there are seven basic forms of knowledge, the case can be made that the function of the curriculum is to introduce students to each of these forms Hirst ; see Phillips ch. Scheffler [ —5]. In the closing decades of the twentieth century there were numerous discussions of curriculum theory, particularly from Marxist and postmodern perspectives, that offered the sobering analysis that in many educational systems, including those in Western democracies, the curriculum did indeed reflect and serve the interests of powerful cultural elites.

A closely related question is this: ought educational institutions be designed to further pre-determined social ends, or rather to enable students to competently evaluate all such ends? Scheffler argued that we should opt for the latter: we must. The function of education…is rather to liberate the mind, strengthen its critical powers, [and] inform it with knowledge and the capacity for independent inquiry. Scheffler [ ]. Third, should educational programs at the elementary and secondary levels be made up of a number of disparate offerings, so that individuals with different interests and abilities and affinities for learning can pursue curricula that are suitable?

2. Mill’s Naturalism

Or should every student pursue the same curriculum as far as each is able? The thinking here can be explicated in terms of the analogy of an out-of-control virulent disease, for which there is only one type of medicine available; taking a large dose of this medicine is extremely beneficial, and the hope is that taking only a little—while less effective—is better than taking none at all.

Pragmatic Education: Teacher as Facilitator, Clip 2

Medically, this is dubious, while the educational version—forcing students to work, until they exit the system, on topics that do not interest them and for which they have no facility or motivation—has even less merit. For a critique of Adler and his Paideia Proposal , see Noddings Over time, as they moved up the educational ladder it would become obvious that some had reached the limit imposed upon them by nature, and they would be directed off into appropriate social roles in which they would find fulfillment, for their abilities would match the demands of these roles.

Those who continued on with their education would eventually become members of the ruling class of Guardians. The book spurred a period of ferment in political philosophy that included, among other things, new research on educationally fundamental themes. Fair equality of opportunity entailed that the distribution of education would not put the children of those who currently occupied coveted social positions at any competitive advantage over other, equally talented and motivated children seeking the qualifications for those positions Rawls 72— Its purpose was to prevent socio-economic differences from hardening into social castes that were perpetuated across generations.

One obvious criticism of fair equality of opportunity is that it does not prohibit an educational distribution that lavished resources on the most talented children while offering minimal opportunities to others. So long as untalented students from wealthy families were assigned opportunities no better than those available to their untalented peers among the poor, no breach of the principle would occur. Even the most moderate egalitarians might find such a distributive regime to be intuitively repugnant.

Romanticism Versus Enlightenment

All citizens must enjoy the same basic liberties, and equal liberty always has moral priority over equal opportunity: the former can never be compromised to advance the latter. Further, inequality in the distribution of income and wealth are permitted only to the degree that it serves the interests of the least advantaged group in society. But even with these qualifications, fair equality of opportunity is arguably less than really fair to anyone. But surely it is relevant, given that a principle of educational justice must be responsive to the full range of educationally important goods.

Suppose we revise our account of the goods included in educational distribution so that aesthetic appreciation, say, and the necessary understanding and virtue for conscientious citizenship count for just as much as job-related skills. An interesting implication of doing so is that the rationale for requiring equality under any just distribution becomes decreasingly clear. That is because job-related skills are positional whereas the other educational goods are not Hollis If you and I both aspire to a career in business management for which we are equally qualified, any increase in your job-related skills is a corresponding disadvantage to me unless I can catch up.

Positional goods have a competitive structure by definition, though the ends of civic or aesthetic education do not fit that structure. If you and I aspire to be good citizens and are equal in civic understanding and virtue, an advance in your civic education is no disadvantage to me. It seems to its practitioners more responsible, more consequential, less open to arbitrariness, whimsicality and rhetoric than other styles of philosophy, and I suspect that it seems so to scientists as well, in so far as it does not seem to them, along with most other philosophy, merely pointless.

At the same time, he has tried to make the differences upon which analytical philosophy attempts to base its superiority and its specificity seem illusory or unimportant. We have some experience of what happens when rhetoric, the power of words, and the cult of personality prevails over reason, logic, and the rules of argumentation.

Rorty is content to find ideas like truth and objectivity useless. But it was not long ago when these ideas were considered, among other things, oppressive and dangerous and when it was deemed necessary for progress to abandon all the rules which allowed the intellectual world to resemble a democratic community. The image I have of this period is indeed rather more like one of a religious confession unified by obligatory belief in a certain number of heroes, saints and revolutionary philosophical discoveries of the day.

He was wrong about the point in contention, but right in principle. They are based on concrete experience of the type of result such principles and maxims would be likely to produce if they really were applied. This goes hand in hand with the idea that, for such authors, philosophy operates on an essentially sub-propositional level, one given by the creation of a new vocabulary. On this level, questions of truth and justification cannot really be asked.

I wonder to what extent Rorty thinks that if one wants to be propositional, one still needs to be argumentative. In any case, Rorty has no objection to the existence of a category of professionals who, as is the case with analytic philosophers, distinguish themselves above all by having at their disposal particularly refined argumentative skills which can be applied to just about any subject. Indeed, he even explicitly emphasizes that such skills are a precious advantage, a resource that democratic societies like ours should take more advantage of.

I readily admit that arguing against a new vocabulary is quite different from trying to argue about propositions made in the terms normally used. The difficulty seems to me to lie in the fact that the failure of philosophers to keep discourse at a sub-propositional level is not due simply to lack of care or thought, as the authors cited by Rorty well show. Indeed, that it is at all possible to accomplish such an endeavor in a consistent and convincing fashion is by no means certain.

Certainly, a moment could occur in philosophy, as it might in any other intellectual endeavor, when it is unreasonable and absurd to want to continue discussion. At this point, demanding that discussion happen at any price only results in making impossible the type of creativity that has always distinguished great philosophers from simple commentators or epigones. But the difficulty here, as always, is in recognizing the point when one should stop. Personally, I think this last option holds the more likely danger, as demonstrated now by the eagerness with which one exempts certain philosophers from providing any reasonable justification at all.

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On the basis of what we have known in France over the last years, however, in some and perhaps even most cases, philosophers seem so little inclined towards discussion and even find it so abnormal that inciting them to go further in that direction would be quite useless. Discussion is a narcissistic exercise, where each person takes turns showing off: quite soon, no one knows what they are talking about.

The real difficulty is determining a problem to which one or another proposition responds. But if one understands the problem someone poses, one has no desire to discuss it with him. Either one presents the same problem, or else one presents another and would rather move forward in this direction. How does discussion take place if there is no common set of problems and why should discussion occur if there is one?

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