It’s been an interesting academic year for conversations about educational matters. Between an online course on models of education, diving into curriculum assessment at the seminary, teaching a course on philosophy of education, consultations with faculty and school administrators about curriculum and learning, leading several teacher workshops, attending a conference for academic deans, and engaging in conversations with parents about their children’s education, three things at least are evident:
(1) education is an important enterprise to a lot of people, (2) education can generate its share of anxiety, and (3) few seem certain about what it’s all about anyway. One renowned educator wrote:
In modern times people’s views about education differ. There is no general agreement about what the young should learn either in relation to moral virtue or to success in life; nor is it clear whether education should be more concerned with training the intellect or the character. Contemporary events have made the problem more difficult, and there is no certainty whether education should be primarily vocational, moral or cultural. People have advocated all three. Moreover there is no agreement as to what sort of education promotes moral virtue.
The author of that observation is Aristotle (Polities VII). Which goes to show that the Preacher was, in some respect, right: there is nothing new under the sun.
We may think it quaint that Aristotle situates his comment in “modern times.” Today people like to situate their observations (about anything and everything) in “postmodern times.” But they are addressing the same perennial questions, and I’ve yet to hear a novel answer or genuinely original response to the questions about the nature of education, learning, teaching, or, of the nature of teacher and learner, for that matter. Postmodernism (whatever that is–it’s a term that dies the death of a thousand qualifications and interpretations) falls in my category of “notions people fall in love with.” There is no end to that list: chi, “the Force,” extra terrestrial intelligent life, missional, emergent, “my pet loves me,” the power of crystals (I could go on but I’d risk offending somebody, if I haven’t already). People who are in love tend to suspend critical thinking, and that’s where the problem lies. I find it uncritical and of little benefit to wrap everything in the blanket of postmodernism as an explanation for anything. I’m afraid that at this point every time I hear someone utter the term I interpret it as shorthand for “at some point I stopped actually thinking about it and just call it pomo because it sounds cool.”
Aristotle’s observation can help us appreciate that the perennial questions of education must be addressed perennially. But they need to be dealt with responsibly and critically if we are ever to figure out what it’s all about anyway: what should be the goal of education? What methods and approaches are appropriate to that end? What is the nature of the learner? Of the teacher? What should comprise the content of the curriculum (explicit, implicit, and null)? What is worth knowing, and what is trivial? How do students learn, and how do you know?
Date posted: Tuesday, March 31st, 2009 12:05 am | Under category: Christian Education, curriculum, philosophy, world view
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