03 SES 06 A, Can Educational Knowledge Be Powerful? Part 2
Symposium continued from 03 SES 04 A
There seems to be a growing consensus that the knowledge-base for teaching should be empirical. In addition to the rise of school effectiveness and teacher effectiveness research, teachers are themselves increasingly becoming involved in research, on the assumption that such research will make their teaching better and make them better teachers. Such research is mostly empirical in orientation: it tries out ‘interventions’ in order to see what the ‘impact’ on ‘learning outcomes’ is, and uses bits of theory – often from psychology – to interpret findings and adjust interventions, so that they can reach the targeted outcomes more effectively in the next round. The main problem with this development is that it amounts to a fundamental redefinition of teaching. It redefines the process of teaching by seeing it in terms of interventions and effects, rather than in terms of complex acts of communication. And it redefines the purposes of teaching in terms of the production of a small set of measurable outcomes or specific definitions of progress. The subsequent narrowing of the educational ‘offer’ has caught the attention of policy makers, who are increasingly becoming interested in students’ well-being and socio-emotional development. But these dimensions are predominantly couched in psychological terms as well, and are quickly becoming part of the same logic of effective intervention. In earlier work I have expressed concerns about the disappearance of discussions about the purposes of education (Biesta 2010a) and have indicated problems with the ‘what works’ logic (Biesta 2010b). In this contribution I wish to turn to the question what the knowledge-base of teaching should look like if it is not ‘filled’ with empirical knowledge. I wish to explore, in other words, what the alternative for the turn towards the empirical might be. I take my cue from a little anecdote in Winfred Böhm’s 2017 book on the educational ‘placebo’ effect, in which Confucius, when asked by a new emperor what his priorities should be, argues that the first priority should be that of ‘getting the concepts right.’ I discuss what this may entail for teaching, which concepts should be ‘in place,’ and where they might come from, making a case for educational concepts, rather than concepts emerging from other disciplines. I also (re)turn to Lawrence Stenhouse’s idea of ‘principles of procedure’ (Stenhouse 1975) which, as I will argue, still provides a different, much more educational outlook for teaching than what is currently available.
Biesta, G.J.J. (2010a). Good education in an age of measurement: Ethics, politics, democracy. Boulder, Co: Paradigm Publishers. Biesta, G.J.J. (2010b). Why ‘what works’ still won’t work. From evidence-based education to value-based education. Studies in Philosophy and Education 29(5), 491-503. Böhm, W. (2017). Die pädagogische Placebo-Effekt. Zur Wirksamkeit der Erziehung. Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh. Stenhouse, L. (1975). An introduction to curriculum research and development. London: Heinemann.
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