Friday, 27 January 2012
Another mystery philosopher of education
All knowledge, including scientific knowledge, is provisional, and always will be. We cannot prove that what we know is true, and it may turn out to be false. The best we can do is justify our preference for one theory rather than another.....of course, we assume the 'truth' of our existing knowledge for practical purposes and are quite ready to do so; but we must be ready for it to be superseded....we cannot be sure that we have the truth: we can, however, systematically eliminate error. the way we eliminate error is by testing.
Of course there have been many people with a sense of unease about the practice of education. most important, there have been many teachers who have either instinctively or after worrying thought tried to organise learning rather than teaching. They have encouraged 'discovery methods', project work and independent learning. But they have been under attack, partly because these methods still sit uneasily in the rest of the system (how, for example, does one examine such work?) and partly because they have been unable to give as coherent an intellectual account of themselves as is claimed by traditional academics. This insecurity is no longer justified. It is the traditional academic practice which needs to be defended.
What we have, in fact, is a continuum of learning, whose logic is the same, from the new-born babe (indeed, from the amoeba) to the research worker on the frontiers of knowledge. Each is engaged in the formulation of problems, in solving them and in testing the solutions. Most people will formulate problems that have been formulated many times before. Their proposed solutions will be familiar; their tests commonplace. But they will learn by this activity. They will not learn better or faster if we parcel up received solutions to problems formulated by others: indeed this is an anti-learning process. Moreover it inhibits the possibility of progress, because it is always possible that someone will formulate a common problem differently, will propose a different solution or a more effective test.
What is important is not a particular fact or even a particular ordered collection of facts, but method. It is method rather than information which gives mastery, and it is method which must be the chief business of education.
The presentation of knowledge as bodies of organised facts is a way of ensuring its unhelpfulness to most people.
Since criticism is of the essence of the method, education must offer opportunities for students to be critical and to use criticism.
Clue: All these quotations come from the same book, published in 1977. They still appear to me to represent a radical critique of the basic assumptions of our entire education system, perhaps even more so now than when they were written. Any ideas? Answers in a day or two.