Saturday, July 19, 2008

Key Thinkers Lost to Education?

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education explores how key scholars from a range of fields have been essentially written out of their history:
How is it that Freud is not taught in psychology departments, Marx is not taught in economics, and Hegel is hardly taught in philosophy? Instead these masters of Western thought are taught in fields far from their own. Nowadays Freud is found in literature departments, Marx in film studies, and Hegel in German. But have they migrated, or have they been expelled? Perhaps the home fields of Freud, Marx, and Hegel have turned arid. Perhaps those disciplines have come to prize a scientistic ethos that drives away unruly thinkers. Or maybe they simply progress by sloughing off the past.
Can people think of examples of this in education? It's a more complicated issue, since education is an interdisciplinary "field," if it counts as a field at all in the same way as these others.

I would point to an entire group of educators that I'm calling the "personalists" from the 1920s and the 1960s with a vision of psychoanalytically and aesthetically based efforts to release the unique creativity of individuals in communal settings. Essentially the "romantics" of education, like Margaret Naumburg, Caroline Pratt, Paul Goodman, A.S. Neill, and the like. But they certainly aren't on the same level as a Hegel. (Philosophers have forgotten Hegel? Bizarre!)

Others?

23 comments:

Ryan said...

Zig Engelmann comes to mind; Direct Instruction doesn't have nearly the profile it should. Also James Coleman, and perhaps Vygotsky?

Aaron Schutz said...

Missing? Engelmann has been raking in the $$ from the Bush administration. Take a model designed for students with "retardation" and apply it to regular kids. Great idea! And ignore the third grade slump (oh, yeah, they can't actually read, they can only decode. Oops. . . .

CT said...

Although we have a history of philosophy of education course in our program, we don't study educational thinkers nearly enough. Few students have more than the most superficial understanding of the contribution of these people and their ideas and the impact it could have on their professional practice.

Unlocking the Classroom said...

Donald Macedo, in his introduction to Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th Anniversary Edition, 2000), points out that Freire's work is largely left out of United States and Western European education curricula. He mention's that Harvard's graduate course in Literacy Politics and Policies does not even require a study of Freire. A student could graduate from the School of Education without ever reading the work of Freire...

Jason Nolan said...

I was thinking back to when I taught a grad course on the foundations of curriculum. The course has been disbanded as unnecessary. Yes Freire and Illich (I <3 Illich). But I didn't want people to miss Tyler... and even threw in Andreas Capellanus (another personal fav. who had a lasting impact on informal education for hundreds of years (http://www.courses.harvard.edu/~chaucer/special/authors/andreas/de_amore.html)

Craig A. Cunningham said...

I don't think it's that unusual that Freud isn't taught in psychology departments and Marx isn't taught in economics. While both thinkers were clearly seminal in those fields, their thinking is, I think, primarily of historical interest, not psychological or economic as those fields are practiced today. I think it's the same with Hegel, but in a different way... what Hegel took to BE philosophy isn't really valued any more in philosophy departments. It's almost more of a theology than a philosophy.

In terms of education, there are many many thinkers and leaders who were influential in their own day but hardly paid attention to today. I think it's because education doesn't "progress" in the same way that other disciplines do. Why not? Perhaps because most people still think good teaching is a talent one is born with or emerges with hands-on practice rather than something that comes from the serious study of ideas.

In my graduate work, I did a thesis on the history of character education in America from the 1870s through the 1940s. Almost none of the people with major significance in that movement are known today. I was frankly amazed to see how the debates about character education were pretty much the same as they are now, with little or no reference to debates that have gone on in prior generations.

Jason Nolan said...

I just thought of another one: Joseph Lancaster

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Lancaster
Patricia Crain's chapter is great.
Crain, P. (2003). “Children of Media, Children as Media: Optical Telegraphs, Indian Pupils, and Joseph Lancaster’s System for Cultural Replication.” New Media: 1740-1915. Lisa Gitelman and Geoffrey Pingree (eds.). Cambridge, MIT Press. P.p. 61-80.

What makes Lancaster interesting to me is how he used what would now be considered cool tools of learning technologies and pedagogical strategies such as peer to peer learning... but he did it for what are to me offensive reasons. It really gets students thinking about intentionality when they see the techniques that they have been shown as so good being used for such different reasons. :)

Aaron Schutz said...

These comments, especially Craig, got me thinking about some kind of edited book that might be titled "lost histories of key issues in Education". He is right, I think, that education tends to forget its history, perhaps because we don't respect our own past thinking any more than other fields do. And this leads to a continual recreation of the wheel, and a general failure to refer to precursors.

It might have chapters to trace back genealogies of key topics in education, briefly discussing how folks from different eras conceptualized them, and the debates that took place. Each chapter might be quite short, just an introduction to the ideas, with a concluding chronological/topic bibilography for each chapter. The point would not be to exhaustively engage with these ideas (which, inevitably, would only be from one perspective anyway) but instead to provide a place for scholars and grad students to begin when they start engaging in a particular area. One could imagine it having a large number of chapters and bringing together a range of key scholars currently in the field, for whom writing such a brief, not very analytic intro wouldn't be much of a challenge.

Just an idea.

Aaron Schutz said...

The above idea, or something like it, seems especially important given what seems like the ongoing death of general foundations courses for graduate students. It's almost as if the field of education, which isn't a field, is trying to reconstitute itself into mini-"fields" that disassociate themselves from the breadth of interdisciplinary sources that was actually what made education a vibrant place (to the extent it has been) in the first place.

philip said...

I'm thinking Ralph Waldo Emerson here...

"Aristotle and Plato are reckoned the respective heads of two schools. A wise man will see that Aristotle Platonises. By going one step further back in thought, discordant opinions are reconciled, by being seen to be extremes of one principle, and we can never go so far back as to preclude a still higher vision."

A. G. Rud said...

The idea of an edited book as described by Aaron is a good one. I thought of the book Garrison and I did on "gaps" in the educational conversation a number of years ago. The idea of gaps, lacunae, forgotten figures, and so forth is always of interest to me, so I would enjoy participating.

Jason Nolan said...

lwAn edited book would be ideal. Some friends have a book project "forgotten gems of horror fiction" and the idea was a 2500-3000 word essay + the text. It could be done like that with approximately 3000+ words excerpted from the key texts.

You know, however, it might nicely start with a special edition of the journal Learning Inquiry that I co-edit (http://learninginquiry.info), if anyone wanted to take that on... with the potential to expand it into a book.

krasicki said...

Is Ivan Illich's Deschooling ever mentioned these days? I doubt any of the deschooling literature makes it into the course fare. And what of John Holt, Postman, Weingartner, or Theodore Rozak?

I'm guessing all have been sanitized away.

krasicki

http://region19.blogspot.com

jason Nolan said...

I refuse to teach without Illich.

leonard waks said...

A few comments:

Illich is still somewhat alive in that there is a new Illich SIG in AERA.

Directly to the point, the philosophy of education as a field has been terible about keeping its own ionternal best ideas alive. Who today is even roughly familiar with Paul Komisar or Hugh Petrie?

I have tried to rectify this earlier this year with the publication of a book, LEADERS IN PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION: INTELLECTUAL SELF-PORTRAITS" in which 24 living philosophers of education, almost all retired, lay out their own ideas and how they came to hold them. This was intended as a treasure trove for those wishing to re-approprioate the best ideas in our own field since the 1950s. This can be found at:

https://www.sensepublishers.com/product_info.php?products_id=487&osCsid=09fe78774c35cce2da631c650c900446

Craig A. Cunningham said...

in response to Jason:

ironic, isn't it? :-)


------------

On a more serious note, I would love to contribute to such a book project (digging into the history of American education for the recurrence of certain ideas, or themes). I'll do a chapter on character education!

-Craig

Anonymous said...

Go to econpapers and search on "Marx" and see whether Marx is as forgotten as the Chronicle writer claims.

tjmertz said...

On Aaron's initial edited collection idea as a Grad Student I proposed a similar course based on Merle Curti's, The Social Ideas of American Educators. Each unit took a chapter or chapters from Curti and paired them with readings onrelated contemporary issues. It was for a contest and I didn't win. I still have the draft syllabus somewhere.

krasicki said...

Something else that seems to have disappeared from conversation is school architecture.

A few years ago, the NYTimes I think ran an article about an open school in NE that was being razed.

The article discussed how a shop teacher moved power equipment into a school without walls and essentially destroyed whatever progressive education that could be practiced in the place.

To me this is an equally critical aspect of teaching - maintaining (and even establishing) a learning environment in an age of educational barbarism.

Aaron Schutz said...

I'm not sure who would be interested in editing a book (I wouldn't) but an intersesting start might be a wiki. Something like losteducationdebates.org, with sections on different issues. I was kind of thinking of very short papers--5-6 papers, that laid out the general issues and players, and then a bibliography to follow up. Would be a nice resource for grad ss and others doing lit reviews, and might help prevent the kind of narrowness currently dominant. For education scholars, a focus on topics might be helpful--for example, talking about vouchers without at least some understanding the history of this idea's relationship to radical lefties like Illich and Holt seems problematic. But I'll bet a lot of folks writing on vouchers don't have much understanding of this connection, although I'm just speculating, here.

Richard said...

I think the lack of interest/focus on many of these figures relates to the larger trend toward ahistoricity discussed by Fred Jameson among many. It also appears to me to relate to the push toward empiricism and positivism that base all reality on the observable fact, and thus find little use for theory, except as a caviat that takes up a small portion of much of the research in education today. As mentioned above, the intro by Macedo to Freire's Pedagogy of Freedom talks about a Harvard professor that told a student research older than five years was essentially useless. Attacks on foundations follow a general trend in the social sciences to eschew discussion of the past, lending itself toward the old Santayana warning that those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it. In a broader sense, I think all of these trends relate to the troubling position of positivists in the past and present, that neutrality is both possible and preferrable to research that acknowledge the reality that all knowledge is socially situated.

I think the book idea is great and could have a huge market in foundations classes and beyond.

jason nolan said...

I was talking with my co-editor, and he agreed that we'd like to invite someone to guest edit a special issue (or double issue if there's enough interest) of Learning Inquiry. It would be a good first step towards a book, I'm sure. Any takers?

worldpeace said...

I'm thinking of Aristotle, he is the great one. He was the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality and aesthetics, logic and science, politics and metaphysics

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