13 SES 12 B, Public Pedagogy, the University, and the Thing of Education
The aim of this paper is to investigate what education is. What is it in itself, that is, before we start to talk about constructions, learning, didactics, method, etc.? I attempt to answer this question on the basis of a discussion of Martin Heidegger’s so-called philosophy of things, which has had a renaissance in philosophical circles in recent years; when used in relation to most recent pedagogical theory, it turns everything completely upside-down. The main question is: what is education, if we look at it as an independent thing in the world – i.e. as something to be understood independently of social and psychological constructs? The answer I suggest is that education is a radiant ring of interacting and ‘impure’ and perhaps even unusual concepts, such as: habits, imagination, judgment, sympathy, love, courage, authority, openheartedness, emergence, passivity, initiation, plethora, difference, oneness, immortality, plurality, eternity, earth, death, sky and God. The sub-question is what this means in relation to existing pedagogical theory and praxis; the answer: it means everything.
In the introductory section, I argue that a number of characteristics of recent pedagogy are influenced by three far too narrow readings of Immanuel Kant: firstly, by an increasingly and radically forgetting of the significance of what Kant called “das Ding an sich”, the thing in itself, as it exists independently of our perception; secondly, by a tendency towards what I call ‘chartification’ of Kant’s philosophy, i.e. a tendency to understand Kant’s themes as mutually exclusive categories; and, thirdly, by a very sharp division of knowledge and morality. In continuation of this, I will specify how these three tendencies are reinforced through the dominant position of systems theory in Danish pedagogy and argue that today we have ended up in a sort of neo-Kantian cul-de-sac, which is probably – regrettably – a scruffy version of Kant’s great enlightenment project.
Such an introduction may call for a sort of rereading of Kant – an attempt to re-establish and reinstall a more comprehensive understanding of his philosophy of enlightenment within the field of pedagogy. That would by all means be a noble project; however, the perspective of this essay is a different one. In the main part of the essay, I attempt to turn things on their head. This reversal sets out in a realistic and ontological direction, i.e. a movement away from epistemological access to reality towards reality itself – something that has taken place within recent branches of philosophy, especially based on analyses of Heidegger’s lecture from 1950, “Das Ding”, and a number of related texts. It may surprise some that realistic phenomenology can also be traced in the work of the French philosopher Bruno Latour in an article simply called “Thing” (Latour 2007). Hence, it is not the epistemological shortcomings of humans which were the focus of Kant; rather, it is the things as they are in themselves, outside humans and overwhelming humans. It is in this context that I, with a starting point in a summary of Heidegger’s lecture, develop the concept of a radiant ring of pedagogy. The risk entailed by such a method is that the points of view developed may lack any connection to empirical reality – i.e. the reality we experience and live in. Therefore, the essay ends with a ‘return’ to more empirical, everyday forms of pedagogical vocabulary in order to investigate some of the theoretical and empirical consequences.
First, I characterize one dominant current state of educational theory as neo-neo-Kantian, that is, a state of value-free and radical constructivism that leaves behind the world, the content and the normativity of education behind or formalizes educational activities too much. This neo-neo-Kantian approach is based on a pure epistemology. Second, I briefly mention the so-called ontological turn, manifested in the philosophy of respectively Bruno Latour, who talks about a parliament of things, and Graham Harman, who links Latour and Heidegger in his "guerrilla metaphysics". These movements lead to an ontological and metaphysical reversal of the educational philosophy I described in the first step of the argument. Thirdly, I explain the argument in Heidegger's lecture. A “thing” is understood as a fourfold of mortality, eternity, earth and sky, causing the thing to stand on its own and to appear. The thing gathers the elements into its unifying and nestling influence, whereby the thing appears inside and around us. Fourth, I argue that it is possible to comprehend education as such a thingly fourfold. In particular, I apply the philosophy of John Dewey and Hannah Arendt in constructing such a concept. It all culminates in an "Educational ring" where I suggest the following vocabulary for a modern education philosophy: Sky, plurality, difference, appearance, love, death, immortality, swarming, frankness, sympathy, God, eternity, passivity, courage, imagination, earth, judgment, authority, initiation and unity. The word “habit” belongs to the center of the ring. In “habit” we find a stream of experience that is in-habited and re-habited when education gathers, when educations is educationing, when the thing things and the world worlds. Eventually, I argue that a number of theories of education, including progressive education, Marxism, theories of Bildung and curriculum theory, should be considered as a kind of decay, compared to the mirroring of education that I have just described.
In this essay, I have analysed how Kant-inspired philosophy and pedagogy have had a tendency to chartify and to remove itself from reality. This tendency is enhanced in recent Danish pedagogy, which reduces pedagogy and pedagogical science to systems of perception and radical constructivism. Subsequently, I have suggested the exact opposite point of departure: a reading of late Heideggerian philosophy of things. Here, I came across the idea of a radiant ring, where sky, earth, mortals and divinities are united in one standpoint in the world, which is self-sufficient and independent. From this starting point, I outlined the Thing of education in an attempt to find out what it luring about education and pedagogy, and what this luring has to offer. Further, I mentioned how this ring could decay – either to conflicting educational positions or functionalistic and instrumental learning outcomes. Finally, I outlined some of the language games that will come to influence educatinoal philosophy when the student is going to a school that radiates, instead of colliding with a school of decay that leaves nothing but a dull pain. It is clear that this will take us from the chart to the circle as the central analytical figure, that normativity is deeply rooted in the content and structure of the concept of education; and, obviously, that the starting point now will be the thing in itself rather than our possibilities of knowing anything about it. It sounds like this is inconsistent with Kant. I am not so sure, but that is a whole different story.
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