Monday, 18 January 2016

Ctrl Shift Esc (From Applications to Processes)

In the first instalment in this series, I set out the case that the language of educational purpose is an illogical discourse of power which can only have as its consequence the deprofessionalisation of teaching and a narrow concept of education itself. Here, I attempt an Aristotelian definition of education, and explore what this might entail for the purpose of schooling in a modern liberal democracy.

To live in society. To live in a web of communication, a culture of knowledge, traditions and beliefs. Not merely to inhabit such a world but to live in it: To uncover old and to discover new knowledge; to engage in and to engage with its traditions; To feel and to be felt by it. To communicate is not a contestable function of being human (neither beast nor god), but its essence.

To live in society. To be part of a state: a citizen. Citizenship is not a bolt-on, non-compulsory element of a school's curriculum, one of a five- or six-letter acronym. Nor is it a token bullet-point in the framework document of a schools inspectorate. To become a citizen is not a spurious purpose of education, but its very nature.

Education, in Aristotelian terms, is becoming fully a human being, and that is synonymous with becoming a citizen. Citizenship is defined most comprehensively in Aristotle's Politics as follows: "A citizen is both able and willing to rule and be ruled in accordance with a life lived in excellence." (Source) That final word, excellence, is the nexus of the politicisation of education. To define excellence, in accordance with some prejudice or principle, and from there to extol the virtues of a narrow purpose of education, has been the fare of too many. And yet excellence (an aim, a purpose) is secondary in this definition of citizenship to the ability and willingness to govern and be governed.

The King in The Little Prince reminds us that "Accepted authority rests first of all on reason." To rule and to be ruled, to govern and to be governed rests upon the ability and willingness to be authoritative, to communicate persuasively and to be critically receptive of persuasive communication. So, if education is becoming a citizen, and citizenship is the art of persuading and being persuaded, then perhaps an exploration of rhetoric will yield further insights into the characteristics of education.

"Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself." (Source)

As governor and governed, ruler and ruled, a citizen needs to engage with three modes of persuasion: She must be credible, critical of others' credibility, and accepting of others criticisms of her own. She must be knowledgeable, questioning of information presented to her as knowledge, and willing to have her knowledge challenged. Lastly, she must manage her own and others' emotions, while having the resilience not to let hers be manipulated.

Aristotle presents us with three domains of education by way of his definition of the citizen and exposition of rhetoric*:

  1. The first is the sphere of ethos, or the domain of socialisation**. In this domain, education consists of the development of interpersonal skills, by way of which a citizen learns to relate to others ethically.
  2. The second is the sphere of pathos, or the domain of subjectification. In this domain, education consists of the development of intrapersonal attitudes, by way of which a citizen learns to understand herself aesthetically.
  3. The third is the sphere of logos, or the domain of qualification. In this domain, education consists of the development of extrapersonal knowledge, by way of which a citizen learns to reason the world rationally.
If these constitute the fundamental characteristics of education, then it is reasonable to deduct that any education that does not foster all three aspects equally will be found to be deficient, with somewhat predictable consequences for the citizen, or group or class of citizens, for whom this is the case. Whether it is the purpose of school systems to educate (that is to say, to nurture the development of citizens in all three aspects), or merely to qualify (to make accessible a body of knowledge), remains a political decision, and one each citizen must be engaged with.

At the very least, we may come to some conclusions about the nature of citizenship education which may be of service to the Education Select Committee or any other body who erroneously set themselves the task of seeking the purpose of education:
  1. The citizenship curriculum has primacy over all curricula. Indeed, it is the very raison d'etre of all other curricula.
  2. The citizenship curriculum must include explicit knowledge of all three aspects of ourselves as social beings and the principled, value-laden reasons for their prescribed and proscribed uses in a modern liberal democracy.
  3. Any aspect of the citizenship curriculum ignored by schools will be developed, to a greater or lesser extent, more or less comprehensively, in other places, with consequences for individuals and society as a whole.

    Here, I hope to have made a reasoned case for the primacy of citizenship in any attempt to define education and develop a school curriculum. I have outlined an Aristotelian conception of citizenship as the ability to persuade and to be persuaded, and submitted for consideration what this entails for attempts to teach citizenship in schools. 

    The final instalment in the series will set out the only context within which it is acceptable to ask about the purpose of education, and explore what model of schooling might be most conducive to educating citizens, with implications for the role of the teacher. Click on the picture below to access it.

    * Gert Biesta makes allusion to three domains of educational purpose in the essay referenced below. The names of the domains echo exactly the domains of education inferred here from Aristotle. The question at hand is whether they are essential, a priori characteristics or optional, a posteriori purposes.
    ** Biesta, G. Good Education and the Teacher: Reclaiming Educational Professionalism in Evers, J. and Kneyber, R. (2016) Flip The System: Changing Education From The Ground Up, Oxford: Routledge.

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