Clarifying Concepts in Education and Pedagogy

This post is a preface to my post on Gergory Loewen’s hermeneutic pedagogy.

Much of the empirically based research in education seems fadish.  We must consider that the problem might originate in what Wittgenstein referred to as a conceptual confusion, based on a miss-understanding of how concepts relate to methodology.

‘The existence of the experimental method makes us think that we have the means of solving the problems which trouble us; though problem and method pass one another by.’   In the same way, using the techniques of  mathematical proof cannot solve the fundamental problems of mathematics.  In both cases we must turn back to a deep and sustained examination of the conceptual basis of each discipline. (Wittgenstein and Psychology)

In education today, what is it that we want students to learn, who do we want them to become and what pedagogy do we employ to those ends?  This question is at the conceptual core of education.  To this I have a 3 fold answer.

  1. We want to pass on to the next generation what it means to be a functional person in todays society.  To know the beauty possible in music, the complexity and competing claims in the development of democracy, the depth of self-understanding in Shakespeare, or the ability to evaluate scientific claims.  The beginning of these aims, the first steps, is to be found in the knowledge of facts, theories and disciplinary concepts and languages.  Skills in reading, in numeracy, and in using various discourses.  Histories, common narratives, and cultural traditions.  This is the goal of cultural transmission.  It is not the end, but understanding the culture into which we are immersed is the beginning of any educational journey.
  2. Second, we must do more than “parrot” this knowledge.  We must read not just for comprehension, but to interpret language in multiple way and to understand how it can be directed to different people.  We must have more that the ability to calculate, we must understand how numbers fit a purpose, whether it is making a budget, devising a mathematical proof or evaluating a statistical claim.  We must know more than historical narratives, we must know how they relate to ourselves and to others.  This is extending basic learning and making it function as practical knowledge.
  3. Finally, we must use this knowledge to carve out our own path.  To become the self-reflexive practitioners that are the creative innovators, collaborators, communicators and strategiers; able to solve the problems of  both today and tomorrow.

Once we are conceptually clear on the ontology our students, who we want them to be and to become, then it will be time to address the pedagogy.  How will we make it happen.  This is my corresponding pedagogy.

  1. Direct Instruction monitored for recall of basic facts and knowledge as well as the schema that allow us to efficiently categorize this knowledge base and retrieve it when needed.  (Including both the schematic conceptualizing and the technological scaffolding to enable us to access and find information when it is needed; i.e. Artificial Intelligence)
  2. Performance abilities and project methods that give us the opportunity to engage in practical activity using our knowledge and to be able to participate and be literate in disciplinary discourses.
  3. Opened Ended Projects involving complex problem identification and problem-solving.  The opportunity to demonstrate character and persistence.