13 SES 16, After Postmodernism In Educational Theory?
We have all been told of the death of grand narratives. We have been told that the days of asking eternal metaphysical questions in philosophy are long since over. When Wittgenstein’s (1953/2009) famous spade hit bedrock it reminded us that we had better stop wasting our time on lofty questions without answers. Foucault (1970) prompted us to recall Borges’ story of a certain Chinese encyclopedia showing us that there are many ways of ordering the world and that each way changes the rules of the game a little bit. We found that history was contingent and that hierarchies, however firmly built, would all crumble in the end. In its place were the slightly disorienting feeling following the postmodernist’s proclamation of ‘the elusiveness of meaning and knowledge’ (Kirby, 2017). It turned out that the metaphysical questions of old were not so easily abandoned after all. While we might turn a blind eye to them we are still bound to them by our tacit presuppositions and they still tend to lurk in the shadow of our every endeavor to rethink the old. Educational philosophy is in need of a direction as it is always aimed at some kind of change. Metaphysical assumptions can provide us with a direction. If we assume a capacity of free will, education can achieve certain ends, and if we assume that free will is a myth then education needs to abandon certain claims and stake out new paths. Both assumptions may be valid but they will result in very different understandings of what education is and what it can achieve. While the door opened by the postmodern skepticism of eternal truths cannot be closed, it may be that we can benefit from acknowledging our need for addressing our most basic metaphysical assumptions without unlearning the lesson of postmodernism. Like Foucault’s encounter with the Chinese encyclopedia, we might find joy in revisiting the lost traditions of the past without assuming that they can salvage us from the perils of our future. The postmodern doubt not only shook things up, but it helped us see that we always rely on something, whether we know it or not. Rather than tear down the great structure of metaphysics once and for all, it helped reveal that the questions we ask always betray some kind of metaphysical assumption. Seeing this, we can return to the great metaphysical questions a little less innocent than before.
Foucault, M. (1970) The Order of Things (New York, Pantheon Books). Kirby, A. (2017) The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond, Philosophy Now, Issue 121, https://philosophynow.org/issues/58/The_Death_of_Postmodernism_And_Beyond Wittgenstein, L. (1953/2009) Philosophical Investigations (rev. 4th ed.) (Chichester, Wiley-Blackwell).
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
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