Pedagogy as an undisputed social good (?) - Sonja Grussendorf Media &Comms seminar on keyword “Pedagogy”I had 2 half days to prepare this short talk & on the fly I wrote this abstract, which thefollowing script does not entirely adhere to:Abstract:“Few would deny that education is both an individual and a social good. However,the nature and the implications of its undoubted benefits are hotly contested."(G.Lloyd in: New Keywords, 2005). It seems that no thesis on pedagogy/ education,no modern theory dictionary entry on the topic can fail to state from the outset thateducation is great. This is dogma. Education is an important, noble and most basichuman endeavour with the potential to cure all societal ills, eradicate social inequality- and undoubtedly beneficial. I would like to question the dogma, not simplybecause of a personal tendency towards contrariness, but because of a faith in theHeideggerian assertion that questioning is the piety of thinking, where thinking isnot that which characterises pedagogy, but is done in philosophy. I will touch on thisto some extent, but will above all want to question the value of the word pedagogy,by way of critically assessing its use within the field of Learning Technology”Introduction: my stance on the term pedagogyI have set out the following as a personal narrative, simply because I had very limitedtime and this seemed to me the fastest approach. It is no more than a meanderingstream of thoughts on a set keyword...I’m not entirely sure I even stand by all ofthese thoughts, but here goes…First of all thank you for the opportunity to make me have to think about a keywordthat you would expect to be one of my key professional vocabularies. In reality, it is aword that I avoid using and avoid thinking about, perhaps to the detriment of myprofessional and personal development. I am at home with the more basic terms:education, learning, teaching. I consider „education‟ my broad field of practice, whilethe other two descriptive gerunds give that field of practice active meaning: that‟swhat we do, what we are concerned with doing; i.e. learning technologists are
concerned with how and that others (academics) „do‟ learning and teaching. Butpedagogy is a term which, though familiar, I am not at home with, in the sense that Idon‟t often wish to dwell there: in Heidegger‟s way of speaking this means I do notcare for it.I’m not so untypical in this. As I first started to cobble together these thoughts onpedagogy for today‟s seminar, I knew only two things, 1) that my stance towardspedagogy is predominantly negative and 2) that mine might be consideredrepresentative of my team‟s stance - so I had better checked how they mightapproach the topic.I asked: “If you have 3 minutes, would you do me a favour, and write down the first thing that comes into your head when asked: “what is pedagogy, how do you use the term in your research/ work/ life”. Just vomit it into the email and press send. Anything, just a few sentences, a small paragraph.Anything from the profound to the profane… gobbledegook as welcome as a well-thought out definition. More welcome, since a well- thought out definition, unless your brain is a dictionary, isn‟t really stormy.”My colleagues obliged, and most within the spirit that I had asked for.The first simply posited “It’s interfering with children.”-- If guidance is a form of interference (and it is at least a mode of mediation) thenthis is not as wilfully wrong or tongue in cheek as it was intended. The pedagogue ofantiquity is the slave who walks his master‟s children to school, and there instructsthem, enabling and interfering in their education. The pedagogue of modern times isthe stuffy, dull, pedantic & dogmatic teacher interfering in students‟ ability to be andto become free and creative thinkers.The second answer came less tongue in cheek and more surprisingly personal andidiosyncratic: “Here’s my pedagogical puke: I always think of this book as it‟s one I really enjoy looking at and am still intrigued by: Paul Klee‟s Pedagogical sketchbook – illustrated step by step it takes you through the meaning of
the markings in his work in a very scientific way, its bizarre! I always struggle with how to pronounce it!”The pedagogical sketchbook is certainly remarkable. Despite its name it gives awayvery little, leaving the reader (or potential learner) with no concrete idea what isbeing taught with or in it. PERHAPS this book is an ideal illustration of my thoughtson pedagogy: there‟s something fascinating there, unless there isn‟t, because it is nomore than pretension. I only saw the book for the first time on Monday. From theintroduction this quote struck me: “Each of the four divisions of the Sketchbook has one key-sentence, strewn almost casually - without the pompousness of a theorem - among specific observations.”I have nothing against theorems, but I do like the absence of pompousness.SOMETIMES the use of the word pedagogy carries with it an air of pompousnessor at least of pretension. Or at least one of my colleagues thinks so, as the nextemail arrived and stated: “It means education but in my latest book one author says the term actually applies to childrens learning and adult learning is andragogy or something like that! I sometimes think it’s a word that we use in learning technology when we want to impress someone! I dont like it very much in all honesty!”Which is echoed by another colleague: “I try to avoid using the word because Im still not sure if its pedagoggy or pedagodjy. Ive yet to compose a sentence that could not easily be recast to use "teaching" instead. And I am slightly fearful using it will draw a baying mob of semi-literate Sun readers to string me up outside a Portsmouth boozer.”Ignoring the elitist overtones of that last admission, a certain consensus about
pedagogy emerges. Maybe in Learning Technology we are more at home with theLatin education, the Gothic teaching and the Old German learning; whereas theGreek pedagogy smacks of academic affectation. Or maybe we are simply cautiousin as far as we don‟t want to alienate those we work with: when talking abouteducational technologies from a pedagogical point of view eyes might glaze over,ears get covered. I suggest the switch -off occurs at the moment of shoe-horning intheory when what is at stake is actual practice.I am overstating my case deliberately, in order to give both bulk and credence to myidea that the use of the word pedagogy is not always the most useful in myparticular practice and that it might be used to show off. But I don‟t mean to saythat pedagogy as a term is useless per se, as such, and everywhere and always.Julian‟s paper quite clearly deals with the term as a proper academic concept. Theterm does also have a very definite place in my field. It informs our research and ourthinking about the use (or abuse or danger) of technologies in education. But Iunderstand it as denoting the theoretical underpinning to that thinking, simply,meaning „the study of the art of teaching‟ as opposed to the practice of teaching.So I was surprised that another colleague quite happily stated that “I use pedagogy to mean "teaching, and facilitating learning". And I probably extend that definition in use to mean "teaching, and facilitating learning, effectively". I suppose it really means "the study of teaching and learning" but I seldom use it in that context. However I dislike the use of it as a countable noun - I would never talk about "pedagogies" when I mean "approaches".”I can agree with his dislike of plural pedagogies, in the same way I dislike the use ofmethodology when what is meant is method. But is he justified in defining pedagogyso weakly, equating it quite nonchalantly with “teaching and facilitating learning”?Pedagogy is a discipline and is concerned with philosophical questions, such aswhat is teaching and where does learning take place and how is education asocial good? When it is used as synonymous with the practical teaching andlearning, I suggest something is lost on both sides, namely the useful distinctionbetween practice and theory.
But where has this gotten me so far? Not very far. I haven‟t laid out whatdistinguishes education from pedagogy, but only remarked on how the wordpedagogy on occasion lends an air of pretension, where it is meant to lend anair of authority.I haven‟t actually drawn a clear distinction between education and pedagogy. Othershave done it elsewhere, arguing for example that education is the good of „learningfor its own sake‟ and pedagogy the bad of „instrumental learning‟ –namely akin toindoctrination, related to measurable outcomes, i.e. social engineering typeinstruction (G.Hinchliffe, Education or Pedagogy, Journal of Philosophy of Education,Vol 35, 1, 2001). We are probably all here familiar with these types of debatesaround what is the true nature (and true purpose) of education is, and we know wecan approach the debate from various angles, theoretical, critical, philosophical,economical, moral, and so on. As with any interesting, academic concept, much of itdepends on definition. If I define “pedagogy” to describe the set of ideas andmethods that push and cajole children or students to conform to and engage inparticular social goals then I define it as instrumental. If I define pedagogy as thestudy of the art of teaching I give it a more philosophical status. We might contrasttrue (that is, good) Higher education, which is about fostering analytic skills and lifecompetencies that enable the human to lead a well-rounded full life with lower valuevocational and professional training for example.What it is about is this: “Few would deny that education is both an individual and asocial good” (G. Lloyd, Keywords 2005, p.97) Thequestion then becomes which onedeserves more (or indeed exclusive) support (i.e. funding from the state). Is it asocietal aim or society‟s responsibility to support the development of the individual tobecome a well-rounded person? Or should society only invest in the individual whenit gets something out of the investment by the end? Theoreticians, politicians,philosophers, thinkers etcdisagree over which is the more important value, but allagree that education has value. This implies that what is NOT questioned is thateducation (or learning or whatever one might want to call it) is a social good FULLSTOP.But is it? Why should it be that education is the ne plus ultra? Was it always theultimate social good, or has it merely developed into one for economic reasons?
EM Forster wrote, “As long as learning is connected with earning, as long as certain jobs can only be reached through exams, so long must we take the examination system seriously. If another ladder to employment was contrived, much so- called education would disappear, and no one be a penny the stupider” (Aspects of the novel, 1927)But EM Forster sounds a bit overly worthy, so lest I be accused of pomposity orpretentiousness, let me give you an even better quote by Queen of Crime, AgathaChristie, it‟s from her “They Do it With Mirrors” of 1952: “Of course there‟s a fashion in these things, just like there is in clothes. (My dear, have you seen what Christian Dior is trying to make us wear in the way of skirts?) Where was I? Oh yes, Fashion. Well, there‟s fashion in philanthropy too. It used to be education in Gulbrandsen’s day. But that‟s out of date now. The State has stepped in. Everyone expects education as a matter of right – and doesn‟t think much of it when they get it.”Forster hints at the problem of economic tie-in. Christie hints that the idea ofeducation for all is ideologically motivated. But neither of them question education orpedagogy as a good as such, rather they express a distrust of the moderneducation system, of how education is administered and foisted on all. My problemfor today is, that I have not found a way of questioning education as such, as a socialgood, only that I don‟t like to overly emphasise its importance. So this is where Ihave strayed to: a miserly view of education and of those that praise its über-importance. Just because I feel a profound unease at people who profess theirlifelong love of lifelong learning, doesn‟t mean that lifelong learning isn‟t in itselfsomething to rave about. So again I‟ve arrived nowhere.So what does this all have to do with Heidegger? Well, if I now wanted to be reallypretentious I could start on how what is always at stake is the matter of thinking, andthat neither education nor pedagogy are the realms in which thinking takes place.
The question about the value of education or the importance of pedagogy, thequestion about which of these terms is better or worse – they‟re all not importantquestions at all! The only thing that matters is questioning (and that at least I havestarted to do), and in particular questioning what it means for us to be (and thatmight at some point include to question what it means to be a being which learnsand teaches and seeks knowledge for its own sake).I could do that, but I haven‟t got time, so instead I am going to return to my theme ofpretentiousness by way of an awkward anecdote.In my slightly obsessive Heidegger period I wastrying to figure out if Heidegger wasnot in fact the ideal educational philosopher which would mean I could bring him intomy work and read him as work, rather than as hobby. I‟d thought I‟d finally found adefinitive piece of his thinking on university education, an English transcript, andwanted to find the original German in the Gesamtausgabe (the full work). I asked aphilosophy mailing list for help and in the end I found out that I‟d fallen for a hoax, thetranscript had been made up. And I had paid money for this “definitive text”. I feltvery much like an idiot.Why I am including this now is that I realized later that my desire to bring inHeidegger into my work was not so much because I had really found a way ofbringing Heideggerian thinking into my thinking on education, but that I just wanted itto be so, I wanted to add a little philosophical glamour, to spice my dull presentationsup with a bit of academic pretension, rather than work harder and achieve it throughmy own thinking. I know this was at least partly the case and it goes straight back tomy colleague‟s suspicion about pedagogy (lovely academic Greek word) as a termthat we Learning Technologists like to use when we try to impress. And quite franklyI am now secure enough in my work that I don‟t think I need to anymore.To be fair, although the hoax transcript was not the work of Heidegger, there is adefinitive discussion by Heidegger on education, and it‟s quite simply his entire work.His lectures are not only excellent on philosophical grounds, but exemplary aslectures. His preambles to these lectures (and his letters to friends and lovers) showhow he cared about teaching, about taking his listeners (students, readers) on hispath towards thinking. He often explains how one ought to read texts, what it meansto think… (esp his short text on mindfulness, his “What is philosophy”, even in Being
and Time, there‟s a short section on Descartes that explains really clearly, and verygenerously, why the Meditations contained great if flawed metaphysical thinking!Well worth seeking out for those who are interested in philosophical thinking).Heidegger took thinking seriously and he thought that the task of the philosopherwas to pursue this. He took teaching seriously, which can be seen from his vastcollected volumes, most of which are meticulously and carefully written out lecturenotes which go through canonical philosophical texts step by step. He madephilosophers of the past come alive, not by way of offering biographical andhistorical background noise, but by making their philosophy relevant to themodern reader. For example, hereally dislikedthe distraction of biographical context.It‟s the actual thinking that counts and just knowing about a philosopher‟s life withoutgiving their work the proper attention was anathema to Heidegger. I would suggestthat is an attitude worth bearing in mind. So he wrote for example in his Nietzschelectures that “Whoever does not have the courage and perseverance of thought required to become involved in Nietzsche’s own writings, need not read anything about him either.”And either Arendt or Gadamer reported him introducing a lecture series on Aristotlewith the simple sentence: “Aristotle was born, worked, and died. Now let‟s turn to his work.”(I cannot now recall where I have read this)So how am I going to tie this together in a satisfying way? As promised from theoutset, I won‟t. These are mere meanderings and idle musings on the givenkeyword. But with a final twist, I would like to end in a really pretentious andpompous way, namely with a quote from Seneca which I believe Heidegger wouldhave endorsed. Of course I don‟t read Latin, but I was familiar with the reverse of hisquote, because it‟s used pretentiously (and perversely!) as school mottos all overGermany: “We don‟t learn for school, but for life!” But that is not what Seneca wrote.
He wrote that we do indeed learn for school and not for life. I translated this ratherfreely from a rather free German translation of the original:“We play games. We blunt our thinking with superfluous problems, & such idleanalyses don‟t help us to live well, but at the most they make us sound scholarly.Real wisdom is much more accessible than academic wisdom, it would be so muchbetter if our education taught us common sense! But we waste everything, and wewaste our highest good, namely philosophy, with superfluous questions. We arehopelessly addicted to everything, and that includes an insatiable hunger forscholarliness: we don‟t learn for life, we learn for the sake of the School.”And you may make of this what you will.