Pedagogy v Education

The first chapter in Educating Gen Wifi is a brief summary on the origins of schooling.  I have to admit it was a late edition in the drafting process but in hindsight the chapter is critical.  How many parents or even teachers for that matter have an understanding of the factors that have shaped modern schooling? I find it interesting that we spend 13 years at schooling without ever really getting a lesson in the history of schooling. Why were schools designed like factories and primary schools seen as a vehicle for transmitting social norms?

To understand why schools are as they are is to understand why the prevailing model is ‘out of date’.  Not everyone would find the origins of schooling as interesting as I do but there are many who have been able to succinctly explain this through various analogies like Stephen Heppell’s railways vs cars or Sir Ken Robinson’s industrial vs organic model of schooling. Different analogies but the outcome is the same.

Our ability to re-imagine schooling (including parents) is weakened if we do not understand something of the origins of schooling and why we have diverged from a path of education that is humanising and stresses deep understanding to one that has largely served the needs of the economy.

We ask teachers to critical reflect on their practice but I believe we need to be critically reflecting on the language of schooling.

In June this year, the Hon Barry Jones delivered a brilliant paper to the Australian College of Educators on how creativity fell off the agenda.  Barry Jones is described on Wikipedia as a polymath – he is one of Australia’s most learned politicians, a former high school teacher and lawyer.

In his ACE address, Jones succinctly reasons why creativity has fallen off the agenda by highlighting the distinction between education and pedagogy. Jones admits that pedagogy ‘is one of his least favourite words’ because the ‘pedagogue’ was the ‘slave that escorted
children to school.’

Jones asks what the purpose of education is? Is it instrumental (ie. an emphasis on training and predictable outcomes) or is it Plato-raphaeldevelopmental (ie. focus on imagination, creativity, wisdom, values)?  He writes “the measurement controversy asserts that in education/training/pedagogy the only things of importance can be recorded precisely (while creativity cannot).”

The paper explains that the philosopher Isocrates saw education as a commodity and is therefore associated with the word pedagogy. Plato on the other hand rejected pedagogy and viewed education as ‘the drawing out of individual talents, and encouraging the search for truth, value and meaning in life. In one system, the outcomes are predictable; in the other, they are uncertain.”

In reflecting on our current state of education, Jones writes:

In Australia in 2013, Pedagogy is the overwhelming dominant model but in practice it inevitably leads to self-limitation.  Pedagogues are enthusiasts for measurement and precision and look for certain outcomes.  Educators assume that the most important elements in human life are uncertain and speculative, defying precise calibration.

We talk about the need for a cohesive narrative in education but I wonder whether we actually understand the genesis of old narratives.  Are we pedagogues or educators? Can we be both in today’s world?  Can Plato and Isocrates’ models of education co-exist?

These are the philosophical questions that I hope will generate discussion at schools and among school communities.  Just as Jones’ paper uncovered certain truths for me, it is in the discussions that we will discover new truths and new ideas that will help create a blueprint for 21st century schooling.


6 thoughts on “Pedagogy v Education

  1. Let me contribute a somewhat more contrary view. The truly great driver for education is the desire in parents and in perceptive children to acquire basic knowledge and skill that will improve their economic lot. That’s what drove me – the son of penniless Irish parents. It is what drives millions of aspiring children and youth in China, India and other developing countries. Having opened the doors of the mansion, the lucky recipients of education fall on great treasures – insights, understanding, cultures – far beyond their narrow original goal. But the principal driver remains – economics!

    1. Michael, I agree that the aspiration of parents in Soweto is no different to parents in Sydney or penniless Irish parents. Historically, education has been seen as a commodity to serve economic interests but the world has ‘flattened’ and developed nations are competing in global economies. As Thomas Friedman, Dan Pink or Linda Darling Hammond point out, those who will thrive in today’s world are the students who can think critically, solve problems creatively, work collaboratively and are encouraged to follow their passions and interests in the spirit of entrepreneurship. They are not mutually exclusive but part of a continuum.

  2. A very interesting article and comment. What I see Jones airing is the way we go about our work and what we do. This is why the growth of Challenge Based Learning, Project Based Learning, Blended Learning and other approaches are gaining popularity as it allows creativity to take place and an opportunity to extend the curriculum in ways that students want to explore. Our challenge is to encourage this creativity in the context of the curriculum we work with. The common denominator that allows this to occur is the access to technology where students create new knowledge and share it with others.

  3. The world is filled with old industrial areas that have been transformed into more creative spaces to deliver more sophisticated, relevant and valuable services and experiences to their inhabitants. People are flocking to such places. I suspect many schools will follow this pattern, indeed, I notice some already have.

    The global mismatch between required and available skills is arguably due to an education apparatus that to some extent prepares students for elements of the past century rather than the requirements of the new, though now not so new, century. Many schools are still in the industrial AKA clerical mode (even with hyped ‘1 to 1’ programs and interactive white boards) where students merely follow instructions, answer questions and receive grades, rather than make plans, ask questions, and evaluate outcomes – the latter set being a key to resilience, enterprise and creativity.

    I read that many graduates across the globe experience difficulty in finding work. It has taken some a little longer to fall on great treasures. That’s an economic problem. All power to new places of learning where enterprise and creativity are not just encouraged, they are cultivated and expected.

  4. Nicely put. As a fan of the organic I am horrified when I look at the slavish devotion to testing & “dot points” that I see in some faculties. Very little consideration on the learning, just the “teaching” & the output in numbers. Beautiful to draw from the classics when considering the contemporary. I really enjoyed your reflection.

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