|Education and Training|
hen I applied to Teachers College to enter their "computing in education" master's degree program, I submitted as part of my application a proposal of 5 ideas for educational reform. I now remember only 3 of the 5:
Word processing as a tool to facilitate every student becoming more of a philosopher. Use writing on the computer -- aka "word processing" -- as a means to encourage reflective thinking by encouraging revising one's text.
I had discovered this idea in my writing exercise I started in Spring 1981, to formulate my ideas about technological work: The Gift from the Machine. I had been surprised to find that the ease of making revisions with word processing software encouraged me to keep critically revisiting what I had written, to improve and further elaborate it. With hand writing and typing, I always asked myself whether making a revision was really worth all the drudge copying unchanged text. With the word processor, I now found myself asking the opposite question: What more can I find anywhere to improve?
"Numbers that move": Use the APL computer programming language to make mathematics more appealing, because APL brings computations to life (animates them). Instead of the student being tasked to demonstrate that the inert lump on the left side of the equals sign is equal to the inert lump on the right side of the equals sign, the student could use APL to choreograph mathematical dramas.
"Not destined for the trash can": Instead of the student doing exercises (tests, homework, term papers...) the only ultimate teleology of which, beyond the teacher grading them, is to go in a trash can, make assignments be to make things that a student might wish to add to a portfolio illustrating their accomplishments. Since a portfolio is limited in size, the student would, over many years, update and revise its contents, over and over again, thus giving the student an ongoing experience of the organic development of culture. [See also: Quote #225 and Quote #266; But also: fn.120]
In retrospect, I still think these are good ideas, and that the main reason why I did not get any recognition for them or an opportunity to implement them is that I am "only a computer programmer" and not a person with any power. It is also clear to me now that SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), which I learned about in 1997, both more closely integrates items #1 and #3, and would also make them even more powerful: not just useful or even transformative, but hopefully transfigurative of students' and teachers' lives. The portfolio becomes a website (which, of course, is easy to do in 2003...), structured by the student in SGML (not feasible, although we now have "XML" and its adjunctive technologies as a partial and obtuse substitute).
believe that the main thing that education needs to provide to the learner is immersion in experience of peer ("collegial") study, with the aim of inspiring the learner to work to help sustain the situation in which he or she has this experience, leading, among other good things, to the learner increasingly also helping new learners have this experience, too (every learner also a teacher). Dr. François Rabelais (1532-34) described this as: "the proper duty of man" (See quote).
Tests, grades, assignments and other impedimenta/apparatus of traditional schooling are inimical to education, since they teach by example the social practices of taking tests, trying to get good grades, fearing failing, doing things in which one has no real interest, etc. The only role of such things in cultivating capacity to participate in and benefit from participation in collegial peer dialog might be as topics to study along with other misfortunate social relations like being a slave, wage worker, hostage, etc.
Positively, the main thing studied in education should be the educational process itself: the structure, meaning, place in individual and social life (etc.) of collegial peer dialog. And the very best empirical data for this endeavor is the social situation in which the students and teachers are at the very moment in each case here-and-now themselves engaged. The only real reflection is self-reflection: not reflection on other people or even on one's own past, but on the situation in which one finds oneself reflecting. Everything else in the whole wide world is also potential study material, but only as it affects the study space -- not for how the study space might relate to anything external to it (except, of course, as that external relation affects the study space...). Of course we are dealing here with the ambiguous and ambivalent fact of personal human existence, that both (1) I (e.g., you, my reader, as the-I-you-are...) am an entity in the world, which the world buffets around, and (2) the whole world (God, country, Yale, etc.) is an object in my experience, on which I pass judgment (might vs right...).
think training should be as much like education as possible. But training is essentially different from education, too: training is the acquisition of known skills, whereas education is the self-formation of the personality as an ongoing, open-ended reflective exploration of the potential of the human spirit.
"Ideally", everybody would come pre-equipped with mastery of every skill, but that is not the case. Training should try to come as close to that ideal as possible. Skills should be taught as expeditiously as possible, with testing solely for the purpose of fine tuning the instruction to the learner's particular needs and abilities. Acquisition of foreign languages, for instance, should occur most often, effortlessly, through multilingual childrearing of the infant. The objects in our built environment should be as self-explanatory as possible to minimize the need for training.
Education should be free from "instructional objectives", unless one wishes to call exploring the experience of study in an open-ended way, an "instructional objective". Training, however, should always be goal directed: The reasons for trying to reach the goal should be freely agreed to by both teacher and learner, and both student and teacher need to clearly appreciate how every step in the training process contributes to achieving the goal. The learner should understand: "I am doing [whatever] to master [such-and-such] skills, which I need to be able to do [whatever tasks]." If students are to memorize the name of the capital of Missouri or the names of the 10 kings of ancient Assyria, both their teachers and they themselves need to understand what actions which they need to perform in their social world depend on them memorizing these facts. They need further to know why is it not sufficient for them to know how to look up these facts in an encyclopedia (or on the Internet). Etc.
It is important to keep clear that training is not education, not even training to be a cardiac surgeon or computer scientist (etc.): Knowing how to do something, no matter how esoteric, is disjoint from knowing what is worth doing. If degrees are to be given, it is OK to designate proficiency in surgery as an "MD", because one meaning of "doctor" is to heal. But the "PhD", since it does not generally require ability to heal, should conform more closely to the meaning of the words in the title: lover ("philo") of wisdom ("sophy") with particular passion as well as competence to deploy the resources of the disciplinary field in which the degree is awarded to these ends, including inspiring others to do so too ("doctor" -- aka teacher). Most "PhD"s today are at best masters -- or even just journeymen -- of some skill ("MA"/"MS").
[There is the problem of credentialling competence. Social life should be so designed as to minimize the situations requiring credentialling. But when credentialling is needed, certainly multiple-choice tests which probe ability to answer questions about the topic instead of demonstrating competent performance of the skill do not accomplish what is needed.]
don't think the Kantian/Golden Rule answer to this question is good enough: It's not good enough to treat students as we ourselves would like to be treated, because our childrearing and social role modelling may have led us to not expect to be treated very well. We may expect to have to do assignments that have no meaning for us, and only hope that the tests will be "fair".
A better criterion might be that the teacher should imagine the student is the teacher's immediate boss's child and wife both rolled up into one person. Or the student is the school's greatest benefactor him or herself (the person who gave $10,000,000 to build the building in which the class is being held.) -- I.e., a person in a position of power one dares not offend. Another alternative is to imagine the student is a fellow teacher who happens not to know the particular subject you are teaching (e.g., the student is the physics teacher and you are teaching latin, or the student is the Senior cardiac surgeon and you are teaching opthalmology). -- I.e., a colleague whose time one dare not waste. Perhaps these imaginative exercises will begin to help suggest how learners should be treated. If one is a Christian or Jew, one might also try treating each student as if the student was the Messiah, appearing in disguise, to test you.
an we try to sum up the reformation which is needed in education and training? The learner needs to be seen not as an object of instruction or as any other kind of a social inferior, but as a colleague in community. Training others presupposes we have needs. Our needs are great: global hyper-population, pollution, poverty, terrorism, resource depletion, public health menaces like AIDS and tuberculosis, etc. -- and this does not begin to address more "local" problems.... Can we afford the luxury of doing any less than our very best to make every hand be a helping hand, for whose assistance we should be appreciative? Even if we can afford it, we can't afford everything we might want; is (e.g.) making training an "ordeal" where we can watch persons fail, what we want to have instead of some other goods of which we perforce thereby deny ourselves?
In terms of education, on the other hand, each learner needs to be seen as a "stranger"[fn.65] to whom respect for his or her perspctive is shown, and hospitality is offered, and who may contribute new insights to nurture "the conversation we are" (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Reason in the Age of Science, p.xxiii). If we do not cultivate the luxury of hospitable peer space of leisured study, none of our successes in satisfying needs and increasing the space between the wolf and our door, will have accomplished more than enabling us to survive today's problems to "earn" and "win" for ourselves the "opportunity" to struggle against more problems tomorrow.
I wrote in my doctoral "enabling essay" at Teachers College (1985), that conversation which studies itself -- there, I called it: "educating for valuing" -- is both a means and an end of education. My dissertation was also on this topic (Communication: The social matrix of supervision of psychotherapy). What, indeed, could we aspire to or even only imagine, "beyond" a collegial space of social study of and peer conversation about all things? What such proposed [aspired to or merely imagined...] content would not ultimately find its place in our lives as a part of this conversation about and study of all things, which conversation, in that case, would have expanded to encompass "it" [whatever it is...], too?
Learn Pierre Hadot's ideas on philosophy as a way of life.
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23 July 2006CE (2006-07-23 ISO 8601)