INTERWOVEN THOUGHTS ON PEDAGOGY AND ACADEMICS: A[(n) almost] PHILOSOPHICAL RUMINATION

“. . . I am happy to tell you that I basically agree with most of what you say. Freire was one of my colleagues at the World Council of Churches, though he was getting out as I was coming in. He was a major force in the Council, so I was, along with my colleagues profoundly influenced by him. I note that your core ideas in education arise from your idea of the human in human beings, particularly the freedom by which they create themselves, and their interaction with a world that either enslaves or liberates them. You move entirely on the level of ideas and principles; what you need is bring your ideas in a dialectical relationship with socio-political reality which Freire did. You are right in putting a very high premium on freedom in education, but in my understanding freedom always takes place in a context of destiny which puts a certain limit to freedom. Too, I agree that there should not be anything that is unquestionable or omnipotent in the educational process–but there is the reality of truth, whatever it might mean or be. For me as a human being, truth should be the bearer of love, justice and peace. Peace be with you.”

~The Rev’d Dr. Levi Vid. Oracion, Internationally Respected Filipino Protestant Theologian

The Philosophy of the Art of Teaching

The art of teaching is facilitative and liberating. It is learner-focused and ideally aims to provide the best opportunity to give release to the most creative expressions of the learner. In the process what is definitely magnified is of course the learner’s humanity because one precise manifestation of humanity is creativity. It is hence appropriate to further assert that teaching is a humanizing art. Corollary to this notion is the idea that if the so-called teaching fails to facilitate, liberate and humanize the learner, such a situation reverses the very ideal of what teaching should actually be. This view is important to be raised because if teaching is too stiffly structured within a very narrow perspective and programmatic scheme, the very essence of releasing the creative in the learner is utterly defeated. In this connection, teaching requires a certain degree of honest-to-goodness dynamicity grounded on the sensitivity of the teacher as far as the changing needs of the time as well as the sensibility to generate enhancements in the programming of materials, activities and resources relevant to the subject matter being taught are concerned. This state of affairs makes teaching responsive not only to personal demands but more so to social and national prospects toward development.

In The Heart of Teaching Issue 84 of the series “Facilitative Teaching — Releasing Control and Empowering Students,” the following statements buttress the present concern:

The facilitative teacher begins by offering students as many resources as possible and imparting information about where everything is and how it is used. Acting as a guide, the facilitative teacher offers practice sessions in whatever skill is being taught, gradually backing off until students conduct their own learning. Studying alone or in groups, students themselves find and determine how the content of what they’re learning is meaningful to them. Research on the human brain shows that imbuing information with personal meaning is essential for retention. Once students are learning on their own, the facilitative teacher actively monitors the process, which may involve a certain amount of noise or even what may appear to be chaos. The facilitative teacher is ever observant, available for questions, and ready to step in if necessary, but remains in the background as much as possible. One important function of the facilitative teacher is to see that everyone is involved in the process, recalling off-task students with a meaningful glance or a non-confrontational question about how things are going.[1]

This state of affairs makes teaching responsive not only to personal demands but more so to social and national prospects toward development. The entirety of these concerns brings us to a realization that teaching is not aimed to domesticate, exploit and indoctrinate the learner for doing so is a contradiction in terms. Genuine teaching that facilitates, liberates and hence empowers the humanity of the learner cannot afford to create an automaton that simply parrots and repeats information deposited in its mental apparatus.

Authentic teaching as the main instrumentality that defines the basically ambiguous notion of education is triumphantly achieved in the person of a learner who confidently stands in life poised to face its light and heavy complexities with creative determination, moral integrity and indomitable courage. “To liberate teaching and for teaching to be liberating, the learner in oneself must be freed.”[2]

In the realization of all these things, one very significant concern must still be dramatically brought out and that is the fact that in teaching where the so-called “teacher” encounters the learner, it must humbly be accepted that on the one hand, the teacher is also a learner and on the other hand the learner is in many ways also a teacher. In this regard, the eminent Brazilian philosopher of education Paulo Freire of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed fame has this to say:

Only insofar as learners become thinking subjects, and recognize that they are as much thinking subjects as are the teachers, is it possible for the learners to become productive subjects of the meaning or knowledge of the object. It is in this dialectic movement that teaching and learning become knowing and reknowing. The learners gradually know what they did not yet know, and the educators reknow what they knew before.[3]

What matters in the whole process of teaching and learning is its dialectical character that inevitably leads to a synthesis of an improved and better level of existence in the context of a world that constantly changes.

Formal Education as Pragmatic and Transformative: A Challenge to Academic Decadence

Formal or academic education, to be true to its essence in pragmatic terms, should be individually facilitating, socially empowering, politically liberating and culturally challenging. We can envision here individuals whose true education is attested by their productivity, openness and integrity as expressions of their creativity, responsibility and sensitivity in a challenging, complex and changing world. Bruce Kimball, elsewhere in his The Condition of American Liberal Education[4] identifies six points of pragmatism[5] that characterize genuine liberating education:
1. that belief and meaning, even truth itself, are fallible and revisable;
2. that an experimental method of inquiry obtains in all science and reflective
thought;
3. that belief, meaning, and truth depend on the context and the inter-subjective
judgment of the community in which they are formed;
4. that experience is the dynamic interaction of organism and environment,
resulting in a close interrelationship between thought and action;
5. that the purpose of resolving doubts or solving problems is intrinsic to all
thought and inquiry; and
6. that all inquiry and thought are evaluative, and judgments about fact are no
different from judgments about value.

This type of formal education is concrete, functional and progressive not in the way it is viewed in the academe but in its solid, significant and substantial contribution to society in general. This type of education is not defined in terms of academic degrees, transcripts of records and diplomas. This is honest-to-goodness education whose bearers are capable practitioners, performers, professionals (in the larger sense of the word) recognized, relied-on and rewarded not because of high fallutin’ descriptions whereby one speaks of her/himself in the HRD office of a corporate entity but because of how s/he actually performs effectively, efficiently and, at best, effusively at the workplace. This is academic education whose single proof of meaningfulness is shown in pragmatic instance. Academic education is hence pragmatically substantiated.

Formal education as pragmatic education is fundamentally socially relevant. The social relevance of formal education should be a legitimizing factor to give direction to a person’s way of life in spite of the abstractness and artificiality of formal education. The academe that is not a place where current socio-political-economic issues are seriously brought out, discussed and deliberated on defeats the true essence of education in general and obsoletizes academic education in particular. Again, let me quote Freire on this:

To think that such work can be realized when the theoretical context is separated in such a way from the learners’ concrete experiences is only possible for one who judges that the content is taught without reference to and independently from what the learners already know from their experiences prior to entering school…. Content cannot be taught, except in an authoritarian, vanguardist way, as if it was a set of things, pieces of knowledge, that can be superimposed on or juxtaposed to the conscious body of the learners. Teaching, learning, and knowing have nothing to do with this mechanistic practice.

Educators need to know what happens in the world of the children with whom they work. They need to know the universe of their dreams, the language with which they skillfully defend themselves from the aggressiveness of their world, what they know independently of the school, and how they know it.[6]

In the face of this expectation, the academe could only achieve an acceptable level of credibility as a true bailiwick of pragmatic education if the academe is an actual participant not only in the deliberation about but also in taking actions transformative of certain social, political and economic terrains. The academe in this sense is understood as an arena of praxis where education takes place not only by way of classroom theorizing but also of on- and off-campus actions. In the process, it is basically important to focus on consciousness expansion because truly meaningful actions cannot be achieved unless there is consciousness transformation. Formal education reckoned as pragmatic education concretely responds to the implied challenge to Karl Marx’s “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”[7] Hence from consciousness-transformation emanates the energy that pushes worldtransformation.

Based on our understanding of what transformation means and encompasses, it was identified that transformation should be the guiding principle that underpins all educational endeavour. . . .

. . . [E]ducation is essentially about the promotion of personhood and the development of full human potential. While we are confronted by the challenges of different social and educational systems, transformative education may play a big part in helping individuals to become truly human beings. By this, we also mean individuals’ development as whole-persons – the development in all aspects of a human being, including the physical, moral, creative, emotional, intellectual and spiritual; as well as the expression of their potential.[8]

On the other side of this idealized situation of what has been called pragmatic academic education is the reality of an alienating type of education in the context of a society hitched on semi-colonial and semi-feudal presuppositions. The academe is a microcosm of the social realm where it is located and we could almost be certain that the academe short-changes the students and formal education itself as it continues to be insensitive and less-concerned of social realities. Formal education banks on the importance of reflection as a point of entry that leads to action.

However, such could only happen if what is reflected on is not what a generic textbook says but what is experienced in social practice. In fact, textbooks should be products of reflections on social experiences and hence, the teachers and students themselves in an academic location should be the ones to write the textbooks that the next batch of students should use and likewise reflect on in the whole gamut of an uninterrupted dialectics of pragmatic transformative formal education.

The Academic as a Co-Creator of Knowledge

The academic is much typified as someone who calls the shots in the classroom in the manner that we may describe her/him as an instructor who has in his/her disposal references and other subject or course materials formulated and published by other academics whose assumed authority is a given. In other words, we look at the academic as a parrot whose advantage over the real one is her/his ability to consciously “parrot” what the references/course materials say as if they exude the “supernatural” force of a command. I don’t really have a haunting problem here. The problem that I see is the general situation of the instructor’s inability to rise above the “authoritative” text and, with the strike of the same “supernatural” power, construct a new and fresh dimension where new and fresh notions, hypotheses, and convictions could inaugurate a totally new and fresh way of looking at the phenomena of reality, a completely different way of expressing the creative impulses, an unflinching march of transcendence to terrains where no angels dare to trod.

Let’s not be angels who lack the guts to question “The Unquestionable” and defy “The Omnipotent”. In the academe, the academic should never allow her/himself to be cowed by the profession of the “The Unquestionable” and “The Omnipotent”. They don’t actually exist. They are only creatures of habit and fear, trying to terrorize sanity and logic. They are nothing but bluffers who have no recourse but to run away from the challenges posed by passionate intellect and bold scholarship.

Having no fear at all of the established, the given, and even the contextual, the academic stands alone amid the rarified air of the academe, where the creative destroyer/destructive creator emerges not only triumphant but savoring with exhilaration the interweaving flow of destruction and creativity that substantiates, re-substantiates, and transubstantiates new paradigms of knowledge-making, new knowledge itself, even the passion of the intellect to challenge the paradigms and the catapult that has sent the new paradigms to the mental space of both the dynamic and the dramatic, the dogmatic and the defiant.

The academic creates new knowledge not in the linearity of space-time but in the laterality of a reality that is not eternally there but in the multiplicity of realities continually constructed in a dialectical dance of thesis, antithesis, synthesis/thesis, antithesis, synthesis/thesis, antithesis, synthesis/thesis . . and so on and so forth, ad infinitum–an affirmation and re-affirmation of the Heraclitan presupposition whose anima is further enhanced by the critical spirit of the sensitive and the sensible, by the challenge of defiance, that if turned against this very presupposition itself will only justify endless celebrations to edify the Apollonian and the Dionysian demands of Nietzschean assertiveness.

Let the academic disengage from and transcend the mechanicalities of classroom routines when printed “authorities” and the “authoritative” claims of PhDs, EdDs, DScs, et al, are held high to the point of absolutization and blind deification. The academic as a co-creator of knowledge with fellow academics is a defiant spirit who dares to question and even demolish the “infallible decrees” of hypothesists/theorists who aim to erect flawed monuments out of their dogmatism and arrogant pontifications.

Let the academics share among themselves in the commitment to create knowledge that upsets the intellectual arena so that the dynamic of unhindered/unlimited/unshackled scholarship where studies in the form of theorizing and pragmatization of ideas eternally flow, are accepted and negated, demolished and resurrected in a totally new form and substance regardless of the chaotic interaction, intermingling and interpenetration of non-integrating notions and non-accommodating voices, conflicting passions and non-cooperating convictions.

©Ruel F. Pepa 2008

Endnotes:

[1] The Art of Facilitative Leadership, a videotape produced by PLS and available through the PLS Bookstore (insert link to: http://www.plsbookstore.com) at 800-506-9996.
http://www.plsweb.com/resources/newsletters/hot_archives/84/empowering_students/

[2] Taken from the abstract written for the essay “Liberating Teaching” by Nancy Porter published in the journal Liberal Education, v68 n2 p115-26 Sum 1982.
http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERI CExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ271397 ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ271397

[3] Teachers as Cultural Workers – Letters to Those Who Dare Teach, Translated by Donoldo Macedo, Dale Koike, and Alexandre Oliveira, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 1998, p. 90.

[4] Published by the Ohio State University. Edited by Robert Orrill (1995).

[5] http://www.rollins.edu/colloquy/colloquy1997/philosophy.html

[6] Ibid., p. 72.

[7] Theses on Feuerbach, # XI. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm

[8] “Transformative Education for Human Development” a paper delivered during the 3rd Vittachi International Conference held at Al Akhawayn University , Ifrane, Morocco, 1-5 July 2006 with the theme “Rethinking Educational Change”.
http://www.transformedu.org/Conference/Proceedings/AVisionforTransformativeEducation/tabid/70/Default.aspx

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s