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.


#PLENK2010 Networks as Joint Social Spaces: A Foundation for Pedagogy

I. The Pragmatic Philosophy Part

According to Wittgenstein and Bakhtin, words are instruments of meaning, but that meaning is only realized in the context of their use, not from any kind of essence.  (See my previous post for direct quotes and a fuller treatment)  I believe this radical pragmatic concept also applies to logos – understood here as language, conversation, proposition, principle, reason, analogy, etc. . . , and I would include knowledge.  That is, knowledge is only fully understood and becomes meaningful in the context of its use and in its position between speakers.

II. The Biological View

Organisms interact and adapt to their environments through structural coupling (Recurrent interactions leading to a congruence between systems.), with other organisms through social coupling, and with other humans through linguistic coupling in a process of co-ontogenic (co-developmental) coupling (Maturana & Varela). Taking place in social network spaces, it explains our psychic experience as:

. . . the semiotic expression of the contact between the organism and the outside environment.  That is why the inner psyche is not analyzable as a thing but can only be understood and interpreted as a sign. (Volosinov as quoted in Shotter)

Furthermore, this sign is not in the head of an individual, but in the network that is the social space for creating joint expression and experience.  Our psyche is not in us, but is distributed throughout our cultural historical background and in our shared social spaces.

In this way, we are just like words, we develop (ontogeny) and are defined through our associations with others.

Because, who we ‘are’ between ‘us’, determines who and what we are to ‘our world’, (and who) and what ‘our world’ is to us. . . . And who we are to each other is up to us to care about. That is why it matters. (Shotter p. 206)

III. A similar critique of Education

Learning does not have a meaning that can be measured by a certification or a test of its essence, but it can have a use and it can take on meaning through the process of joint action.  Consider this description taken from Steven Johnson’s  Where Good Ideas Come From

  • A new idea is a new network of neurons firing in the brain.
  • But most such ideas are only partial.  They become complete when we work on them jointly with others.
  • The process of linguistic coupling extends and completes our new neuronal networks and joins them with other new neuronal networks.  These semiotic actions, when at their best, can seem mysterious or even divine in their function.

For something seems to be at work in the activities between people.  The activities are not just repetitive, they grow, they develop, they are creative, they make history; . . .  A ‘double divinity’ seems to be hidden in our joint actions; a ‘creator’ and a ‘judges’ that resides in the sensus communes, that is, ‘in’ its shared ways of ‘seeing sense’ and ‘making sense’. (Shotter, p.205)

IV. So – With a Full Understanding of the Importance of Networks and Community;

What Would Education Look Like?

I’ll answer this question by looking at some vision of education in my next post.

Frames for Using Evidence: Actions, Processes and Beliefs

As a follow-up to my last post, there are three frames of reference that are important to my thinking about being evidence-based.

  1. The unit of analysis is action, not thinking.  Evidence-based programs are often focussed on decision-making, but action is a better focal point.  Why is this?  First, focusing on actions helps to make a direct connection from evidence to consequences and outcomes.  Second, Our actions and thinking are closely related.  Actions gets at both thinking and acting.  Neuroscience has recently begun to confirm what psychology (Vygotsky) and philosophy (Wittgenstein) have believed for a while: that cognition is closely tied to muscle control and acting.  That there is a neurological link between doing and thinking.
  2. Evidence-based information is best directed toward practices, processes or programs. Much of the evidence-based literature is directed toward decision-making. and while this is important, many aspects of practice are made up of decision that are organized by repeatable processes, programs or protocols.  The intense effort that is sometimes needed in order to be evidence-based may be more justified in the wider effect sen in focusing on the programs and processes that support everyday decision-making.
  3. The basis for most thoughtful actions is theory or belief. These may range from extensively developed nomothetic theoretical networks to well-founded beliefs, but the relevance of evidence-based information is on it’s effect upon these beliefs and theories that in turn guide decisions and program actions.  There is no such thing as facts without theory or belief.  The role of evidence is to support (or fail to support) the beliefs that underly actions.