Friday, 27 January 2012

Public Art in Hackney: some examples

Another mystery philosopher of education

Here are some more provocative quotations from yet another mystery thinker about education, another whose work should be better known in my view:

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of our existing knowledge for practical purposes and are quite ready to do so; but we must be ready for it to be superseded....we cannot be sure that we have the truth: we can, however, systematically eliminate error.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.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Mystery educational philosopher

All these quotes are from the same thinker, someone I didn't realise had written about education.  I will shortly be posting a review of the book I discovered them in.  Can you recognise the author?

I may be wrong, and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth.

We do not discover new facts or new effects by copying them, or by inferring them inductively from observation, or by any other method of instruction by the environment.

(Picture by Chris Bradey)

We learn only through trial and error.  Our trials....are always our hypotheses.  They stem from us, not from the external world.  All we learn from the external world is that some of our efforts are mistaken.

The process of learning, of the growth of subjective knowledge, is always fundamentally the same.  It is imaginative criticism.

Institutions for the selection of the outstanding can hardly be devised.  Institutional selection may work quite well for such purposes as Plato had in mind, namely for arresting change.  But it will never work well if we demand more than that, for it will always tend to eliminate initiative and originality, and, more generally, qualities which are unusual and unexpected.  It has been said, only too truly, that Plato was the inventor of both our secondary schools and our universities.  I do not know a better argument for an optimistic view of mankind, no better proof of their indestructible love for truth and decency, of their originality and stubbornness and health, than the fact that this devastating system of education has not utterly ruined them.

There are no subject matters, no branches of learning - or rather, of inquiry: there are only problems, and the urge to solve them.

If I thought of a future, I dreamt of one day founding a school in which young people could learn without boredom, and would be stimulated to pose problems and discuss them; a school in which no unwanted answers to unasked questions would have to be listened to; in which one did not study for the sake of passing examinations.

[If] we produce many competing ideas, and criticise them severely, we may, if we are lucky, get nearer to the truth.  This method is the method of conjectures and refutations: it is the method of taking many risks, by producing many (competing) hypotheses; of making many mistakes; and of trying to correct or eliminate some of these mistakes by a critical discussion of the competing hypotheses.

Does this last one give it away?