Wednesday, July 2, 2008

list of educational philosophers

I am overwhelmed by the amount of names and corresponding philosophies we are studying in EDU 81 (see sidebar for the wiki link). Here is my attempt at organizing my thoughts.

Martin Buber

Martin Buber source


Dan Avnon (1998: 5) comments, 'the reality of "space" that is between persons is the focus of Buber's philosophy'. At its root is the idea that self-perfection is achievable only within relationship with others. Relationship exists in the form of dialogue. Furthermore, self-knowledge is possible only 'if the relation between man and creation is understood to be a dialogical relationship' (Buber quoted by Avnon op cit). Significantly, for Buber dialogue involves all kinds of relation: to self, to other(s) and to all forms of created being. Recognizing this allows us to see that it is 'the conceptual linchpin of his teachings' (Avnon 1998: 6).

Exhibit 2: Buber - three kinds of dialogue

There is genuine dialogue - no matter whether spoken or silent - where each of the participants really has in mind the other or others in their present and particular being and turns to them with the intention of establishing a living mutual relation between himself and them. There is technical dialogue, which is prompted solely by the need of objective understanding. And there is monologue disguised as dialogue, in which two or men, meeting in space, speak each with himself in strangely tortuous and circuitous ways and yet imagine they have escaped the torment of being thrown back on their own resources (Buber 1947: 19)

The meeting involved in genuine dialogue is rare, and is, in a real sense, a meeting of souls. ('The primary word I-Thou can be spoken only with the whole being', Buber 1958: 24). The life of dialogue involves 'the turning towards the other' (Buber 1947: 22). It is not found by seeking, but by grace. In a very real sense we are called to genuine dialogue, rather than actively searching for it. (In a slightly different context, Gadamer talks about us being led by conversation rather than us leading it - see dialogue and conversation).

Technical dialogue is driven by the need to understand something and need not engage the soul. Monologue, a distorted form of dialogue, is what happens most of the time. Words are said, but there is little or no connection.

In his mature work (and in his meetings with others), Buber looked to the role silence plays in dialogue. For example, Aubrey Hodes reports that all his conversations with Buber began in the same way.

He would meet me at the door and lead me into his study. Neither of us spent much time on the usual social preliminaries. Our minds were already on the coming talk. After sitting down there was always a silence - not a tense silence, uneasy as between two people who were not sure of each other, but a silence of expectation. This was not consciously agreed between us. It was a flow of peace and trust forming a prelude to speech. The silence was the silence of communication. (Hodes 1972: 22)

Silence, for Buber, plays a crucial part in dialogue. Indeed, it could be argued that 'attentive silence' is the basis of dialogue (Avnon 1998: 42-3). This is an idea that may seem strange at first sight, but is fundamental to the experience of groups such as the Quakers.

In silence which is active, the Inner Light begins to glow - a tiny spark. For the flame to be kindled and to grow, subtle argument and the clamour of our emotions must be stilled. It is by an attention full of love that we enable the Inner Light to blaze and illuminate our dwelling and to make of our whole being a source from which this Light may shine out.... Speech has no meaning unless there are attentive minds and silent hearts. Silence is the welcoming acceptance of the other. The word born of silence must be received in silence. (Lacourt 1970: 9, 26)

Dialogue, especially where people who are open to an I-You relation, is likely to involve both silence (stillness) and speech. In stillness there is communion. Where a person is able to release themselves to silence, 'unreserved communication streams from him, and the silence bears it to his neighbour' (Buber 1947: 4). In dialogue, a person is present to another (and the other), they are attentive and aware - listening and waiting. In the stillness of this 'in-between world' they may encounter what cannot yet be put into words. One of the significant features about this stillness is that it is generated in dialogue, when people are gathered. It has, therefore, a rather different quality to that which may be experienced through individual meditation. The experience of being out of time and space that this can involve helps to explain how Buber came to see that God could only be approached through an I-You relation. At such a time, as Lacourt notes (above), the (inner) light may begin to glow.

This leads us on to another key notion of Buber's (and not revealed in the 1957 translation of I and Thou) - lev or heart. For Buber, the heart 'is the point of unmediated impressions' (Avnon 1998: 58). Heart is the core, it involves our being, our moral sense and our spirit. To open the heart is allow oneself to see and experience that beyond the immediate. It brings to bear a form of 'silent knowing'. The light that glows is a form of understanding or appreciation that comes before mental interpretation. Buber argues that 'in dialogue as it truly is, the turning toward the other conversant occurs in all truthfulness; that is it is an address of the heart' (Buber quoted in Avnon 1998: 140). Each person participating in such a conversation, 'must be ready in his heart always to say that which is in his heart' (op cit).


Buber recognized that the social and political implications of his thought were profound - and his courage in expressing these led to him be viewed by many within Israel as treacherous (it meant, for example, he looked to some form of reconciliation with Germans earlier than many of his peers, and he argued that Israel should not be an exclusively Jewish State - indeed, he looked to a time when the nation state might be obsolete). He saw political activity as a means of transforming the relationships of 'Man and Man'. However, this was not just a case of working for justice and economic advancement, it was also a way of bringing about spiritual transformation. He sought to create dialogical community - a third way between individualism and collectivism.

On the far side of the subjective, on this side of the objective, on the narrow ridge where I and Thou meet, there is the realm of 'between'. This reality, whose disclosure has begun in our time, shows the way, leading beyond individualism and collectivism and collectivism, for the life of future generations. Here the genuine third alternative is indicated, the knowledge of which will help to bring about the genuine person again and to establish genuine community. (Buber 1949)

Here I want to look at community as the realm of the 'between' (Beziehung - often translated into English as 'relation') and the institutional arrangements that flow from Buber's vision - community as association.

Relation or 'the between' is a result, at the personal level of 'of the opening of the person to dialogue' (Avnon 1998: 149). When 'man meets man', when one human being turns to another human being as another, the possibility of relation arises. Individuals will move between I-It and I-You relations (and back again). The quality of life in a community or society will depend on the extent to which I-You relations exist. The combination of open inter-subjective dialogue with 'a dialogue between man and man and man and God' allows a common discourse to develop and crystallize - and it is this that is essential for holding a society together and sustaining cultural creativity' (Eisenstadt 1992: 11).

Reading Buber, it seems that such processes do not appear spontaneously. True community does not just arise out of people having feelings for one another (although this may be involved). Rather, it comes about through:

first, their taking their stand in living mutual relation with a living Centre, and second, their being in living mutual relation with one another. The second has its source in the first, but is not given when the first alone is given. Living mutual relation includes feelings, but does not originate with them. The community is built up out of living mutual relation, but the builder is the living effective Centre. (Buber 1957: 65)

Buber appears to be arguing here that at the heart of communities are special people - the builders. They are the living, active centre. They live the dialogical life. Builders both express and symbolize relation, and in some sense animate community. There are some parallels here with the role of informal educators who are part of local networks. However, in contrast with that role, builders take on a significant leadership role.

Two important questions arise from this. First, when Buber talks about builders does he mean a single person as the active, living Centre, or a group of people? If it is the former then there is some tension with his emphasis on co-operative effort and 'pluralistic socialism', for example in Paths to Utopia. Over-reliance on the vision and activities of a single person can both problematic in practical terms (what happens when that person is unavailable or withdraws, for example), and be a threat to democratic activity. It can all too easily foster dependence and even a disposition towards authoritarianism. However, there are some counterbalances. This exemplary individual is only exemplary for as long as they live the dialogical life and, presumably Buber thought people would turn away from them as soon as they recognized a shift. (How realistic this is is a matter of some debate.) An alternative reading is that Buber would allow that more than one person could comprise the active, living Centre of community. This line would hold that community depends upon some sort of network or grouping of builders (perhaps expressed in terms of a church, or association, or a more informal set of connections).

A second question here may well be competing or contrasting models of leadership that people draw upon when interpreting Buber's work. Some, more traditional, understandings emphasize the vision and organizing abilities of the individual leader and the creation of a following - and are not desperately dialogical! Other understandings look to the educative and facilitating aspects of leadership. It is the latter, 'shared' view of leadership that would appear to be closest in spirit to Buber's writing - but there still appears to be some confusion here (see Avnon 1998: 155-170 for a discussion of the builder).

Community has to be nurtured. For it to take concrete form convivial institutions are required to sustain and express its presence. Communities characterized by dialogue and relation require particular types of institution. Such institutions need to be dialogical, just and allow room for growth and exploration. In Paths in Utopia we can see Buber drawn to a co-operative and associational organization. In his view a 'structurally rich' society is one in which comprises local communes and trade communes which in turn are part of democratic associations. He recognized that special care had to be taken around the question of ends and means.

Martin Buber source

Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire source

Five aspects of Paulo Freire's work have a particular significance for our purposes here. First, his emphasis on dialogue has struck a very strong chord with those concerned with popular and informal education. Given that informal education is a dialogical (or conversational) rather than a curricula form this is hardly surprising. However, Paulo Freire was able to take the discussion on several steps with his insistence that dialogue involves respect. It should not involve one person acting on another, but rather people working with each other. Too much education, Paulo Freire argues, involves 'banking' - the educator making 'deposits' in the educatee.

Second, Paulo Freire was concerned with praxis - action that is informed (and linked to certain values). Dialogue wasn't just about deepening understanding - but was part of making a difference in the world. Dialogue in itself is a co-operative activity involving respect. The process is important and can be seen as enhancing community and building social capital and to leading us to act in ways that make for justice and human flourishing. Informal and popular educators have had a long-standing orientation to action - so the emphasis on change in the world was welcome. But there was a sting in the tail. Paulo Freire argued for informed action and as such provided a useful counter-balance to those who want to diminish theory.

Third, Freire's attention to naming the world has been of great significance to those educators who have traditionally worked with those who do not have a voice, and who are oppressed. The idea of building a 'pedagogy of the oppressed' or a 'pedagogy of hope' and how this may be carried forward has formed a significant impetus to work. An important element of this was his concern with conscientization - developing consciousness, but consciousness that is understood to have the power to transform reality' (Taylor 1993: 52).

Fourth, Paulo Freire's insistence on situating educational activity in the lived experience of participants has opened up a series of possibilities for the way informal educators can approach practice. His concern to look for words that have the possibility of generating new ways of naming and acting in the world when working with people around literacies is a good example of this.

Fifth, a number of informal educators have connected with Paulo Freire's use of metaphors drawn from Christian sources. An example of this is the way in which the divide between teachers and learners can be transcended. In part this is to occur as learners develop their consciousness, but mainly it comes through the 'class suicide' or 'Easter experience' of the teacher.

The educator for liberation has to die as the unilateral educator of the educatees, in order to be born again as the educator-educatee of the educatees-educators. An educator is a person who has to live in the deep significance of Easter. Quoted by Paul Taylor (1993: 53)

Paulo Freire source

John Dewey

John Dewey source

"Drawn from an idealist background by the pragmatist influence of Peirce and James, Dewey became an outstanding exponent of philosophical naturalism. Human thought is understood as practical problem-solving, which proceeds by testing rival hypotheses against experience in order to achieve the "warranted assertability" that grounds coherent action. Dewey The tentative character of scientific inquiry makes Dewey's epistemology thoroughly fallibilistic: he granted that the results of this process are always open to criticism and revision, so that nothing is ever finally and absolutely true.

This approach provides a significant opportunity for progress in morality and education, however. DeweyIn "Logical Conditions of a Scientific Treatment of Morality" (1903), for example, Dewey tried to show how moral precepts develop and function as confirmable hypotheses. Democracy and Education (1916) describes in detail how an ability to respond creatively to continual changes in the natural order vitally provides for individual and community life. Dewey's social theories shaped during his long association with George Herbert Mead. "

Dewey source

David Orr

Orr source


Measured against the agenda of human survival, how might we rethink education? Let me suggest six principles.

First, all education is environmental education. By what is included or excluded we teach students that they are part of or apart from the natural world. To teach economics, for example, without reference to the laws of thermodynamics or those of ecology is to teach a fundamentally important ecological lesson: that physics and ecology have nothing to do with the economy. That just happens to be dead wrong. The same is true throughout all of the curriculum.

A second principle comes from the Greek concept of paideia. The goal of education is not mastery of subject matter, but of one's person. Subject matter is simply the tool. Much as one would use a hammer and chisel to carve a block of marble, one uses ideas and knowledge to forge one's own personhood. For the most part we labor under a confusion of ends and means, thinking that the goal of education is to stuff all kinds of facts, techniques, methods, and information into the student's mind, regardless of how and with what effect it will be used. The Greeks knew better.

Third, I would like to propose that knowledge carries with it the responsibility to see that it is well used in the world. The results of a great deal of contemporary research bear resemblance to those foreshadowed by Mary Shelley: monsters of technology and its byproducts for which no one takes responsibility or is even expected to take responsibility. Whose responsibility is Love Canal? Chernobyl? Ozone depletion? The Valdez oil spill? Each of these tragedies were possible because of knowledge created for which no one was ultimately responsible. This may finally come to be seen for what I think it is: a problem of scale. Knowledge of how to do vast and risky things has far outrun our ability to use it responsibly. Some of it cannot be used responsibly, which is to say safely and to consistently good purposes.

Fourth, we cannot say that we know something until we understand the effects of this knowledge on real people and their communities. I grew up near Youngstown, Ohio, which was largely destroyed by corporate decisions to "disinvest" in the economy of the region. In this case MBAs, educated in the tools of leveraged buyouts, tax breaks, and capital mobility have done what no invading army could do: they destroyed an American city with total impunity on behalf of something called the "bottom line." But the bottom line for society includes other costs, those of unemployment, crime, higher divorce rates, alcoholism, child abuse, lost savings, and wrecked lives. In this instance what was taught in the business schools and economics departments did not include the value of good communities or the human costs of a narrow destructive economic rationality that valued efficiency and economic abstractions above people and community.

My fifth principle follows and is drawn from William Blake. It has to do with the importance of "minute particulars" and the power of examples over words. Students hear about global responsibility while being educated in institutions that often invest their financial weight in the most irresponsible things. The lessons being taught are those of hypocrisy and ultimately despair. Students learn, without anyone ever saying it, that they are helpless to overcome the frightening gap between ideals and reality. What is desperately needed are faculty and administrators who provide role models of integrity, care, thoughtfulness, and institutions that are capable of embodying ideals wholly and completely in all of their operations.

Finally, I would like to propose that the way learning occurs is as important as the content of particular courses. Process is important for learning. Courses taught as lecture courses tend to induce passivity. Indoor classes create the illusion that learning only occurs inside four walls isolated from what students call without apparent irony the "real world." Dissecting frogs in biology classes teaches lessons about nature that no one would verbally profess. Campus architecture is crystallized pedagogy that often reinforces passivity, monologue, domination, and artificiality. My point is simply that students are being taught in various and subtle ways beyond the content of courses.

Orr source

Loris Malaguzzi and Reggio Emilio

The Reggio Teacher

The Reggio teacher is unique because she offers herself to the process of co-construction of knowledge, she releases the traditional roles of a teacher and opens doors to new possibilities. She starts with the use of the child’s own theories, promotes disequilibrium, and helps the child to think about their thinking to facilitate new learning. (Seong Bock Hong 1998).

The Reggio teacher allows the children to:

  1. Ask their own questions, and generate their own hypotheses and to test them.
  2. To explore and generate many possibilities both affirming and contradictory. She welcomes contradictions as a venue for exploring, discussing and debating.
  3. She provides opportunity to use symbolic languages to represent thoughts and hypothesis.
  4. She provides opportunity for the children to communicate their ideas to others.
  5. She offers children, through the process of revisiting the opportunity to reorganize concepts, ideas, thoughts and theories to construct new meaning.
  6. She is a keen observer, documenter, and partner in the learning process.

The teacher, like the parents and children also has rights within this unique system. It is the right of the teachers and workers of each school to contribute to the study and preparation of the conceptual models that define educational content, objectives, and practices. This takes place through open discussion among the staff, with the pedagogical coordinators and parent advisory committees, in harmony with the right of children and families; through cooperation on the choices of methods, didactics, research and observation projects; through a definition of the fields of experience, ongoing teacher self-training and general staff development, cultural initiatives and the tasks of community management. This cooperation also extends to the organization of the environment and the daily workings of the school. (Loris Malaguzzi, Reggio Emilia 1993)

The Environment as the Third Teacher

The educators of Reggio Emilia view the school as a living organism. A place of shared relationships among the children, the teachers, and the parents. The school produces for the adults, but above all for the children, a feeling of belonging in a world that is alive, welcoming and authentic. (Malaguzzi, 1994, p.58)

The layout of the physical space in the schools encourages encounters, communication, and relationships. The arrangement of structures, objects and activities encourages choices, problem solving, and discoveries in the process of learning. In preparing the space, teachers offer the possibility for children to be with the teachers and many of the other children, or with just a few of the children, or even alone. Teachers are aware, however, that children also learn from their peers, especially when they can interact in small groups. Gandini (1993 p.6)

Long Term Projects as Vehicles of Learning

One of the highlights that often first attract educators to the Reggio Approach is its complex long term exploration of projects. Unlike North American predetermined thematic projects, the projects undertaken by Reggio educators may derive from both children’s and teacher’s ideas and interests, thoughts and theories in things worth knowing about. Teachers often work on projects with a small group of children while the rest of the classroom continues to involve itself in other self -selected activities and explorations.

The Importance of Documentation

Documentation is a key element in the Reggio Approach. Documentation serves many purposes but most of all it is used as a research tool for studying children’s learning processes. Documentation is about what children are doing, learning and grasping, and the product of documentation is a reflection of interactions between teachers and children and among children. Documentation, because it is done on a daily basis, is a medium through which teachers discuss curriculum, keep it fluid and emergent, and develop a rational for its course. It provides a growing theory for daily practice. (Seong Bock Hong 1998 pg 51).

Documenting children’s daily experiences and ongoing projects gives meaning and identity to all that the children do. It is through the documentation that the teachers are able to gain insight into the thoughts of the children, determine further investigation for working on topics, create a history of the work and generate further interest.

Reggio teachers are skilled observers of children. If a teacher observes closely she can see the intelligence on a child’s face. On a daily basis, they collect data via notes, recordings of conversations between children and through video taping of events and activities whether related to project work or just during classroom time. She watches what children are doing and saying and how materials are being used. The documentation is then used to analyze children’s understanding and thoughts-it is revisited by the teachers and children together. This revisiting process provides children with the opportunity to discover their own questions and problems and to determine, together, what the next steps could be. In the process of revisiting, children theories and understanding grows. Also, in the revisiting process they collect more data and information which enhances the work. Documentation of work in progress is made visible on large panels throughout the classroom, thereby keeping the memory of the work vivid and alive.

Seong Bock Hong (p 50-51) summarizes the purpose of documentation as:

  1. The process by which teachers gather information about children’s ideas and their thinking process.
  2. Is done daily so teachers can discuss their curriculum, keep it fluid and emergent and develop rational for its course.
  3. Is data for study.
  4. Facilitates continuity across a given activity, because new activities evolve from earlier experiences.
  5. Offers a research orientation to instruction.
  6. Allows teachers to revisit with children.
  7. Is concrete, active and reflective.
  8. Provides the right amount of support to enable children to perform a task.
  9. Is at the heart of each project or experience.
  10. It serves as a lesson planner.
  11. It defines the teacher as a facilitator.

According to Vygotsky the two primary means of learning occur through social interaction and language. Language greatly enhances humans' ability to engage in social interactions and share their experiences. "The most important fact uncovered through the ... study of thought and speech is that their relationship undergoes many changes."[33] Initially, a child's new knowledge is interpsychological, meaning it is learned through interaction with others, on the social level.[34] Later, this same knowledge becomes intrapsychological, meaning inside the child, and the new knowledge or skill is mastered on an individual level.[35]

The previously mentioned idea of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) is central to Vygotsky's view on how learning takes place. He described this zone as, "the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers."[36] Vygotsky maintained that learning occurs just above the student's current level of competence.[37] It follows then, that the copying student will have a higher performance when working with a more capable student.

The zone of proximal development works in conjunction with the use of scaffolding. "Scaffolding is a six-step approach to assisting learning and development of individuals within their zone of proximal development."[38] Knowledge, skills and prior experiences, which come from an individual's general knowledge, create the foundation of scaffolding for potential development. At this stage, students interact with adults and/or peers to accomplish a task which could possibly not be completed independently. The use of language and shared experience is essential to successfully implementing scaffolding as a learning tool. [39]

Elizabeth Ferm

To go back to what Elizabeth says about the primacy of self-expression: the distinction between the outside and the inside is central to her practical philosophy. At the beginning of her book's first chapter, which -- following Froebel -- is devoted to the role of "Creative Development in Education," she proclaims,

Unless an act is the outcome of an inner necessity it is not creative. If it is not creative it cannot educate. In the degree that a human expresses himself creatively, in that degree he lives. In the degree that man does not reveal himself in his daily life, in that measure he exists as a material thing and he in no way fulfills his destiny as a self-conscious being, self-determining, self-directing and self-revealing.

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