an attempt to frame how I envision the purpose of education – all citations below
Literacy and Language
Education begins with dialogue mediated through the word, or logos. Ed begins with the word. You must speak it (and preferably write it) to be a part of society – the public/private communion of language users. Our ability to enter into dialogue is the fundamental aspect of Ed. See Freire in POtO:
As we attempt to analyze dialogue as a human phenomenon, we discover something which is the essence of dialogue itself: the word. But the word is more than just an instrument which makes dialogue possible; accordingly, we must seek its constitutive elements. Within the word we find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is sacrificed— even in part— the other immediately suffers. There is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis. Thus, to speak a true word is to transform the world.
So, what does it mean to ‘speak a true word’ as praxis? It’s this movement between the action and the reflection. And to deny the right to speak (to express your word) or to deny the right to hear (to imbibe true words) is dehumanizing.
Human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men and women transform the world. To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming. Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.
But while to say the true word— which is work, which is praxis— is to transform the world, saying that word is not the privilege of some few persons, but the right of everyone. Consequently, no one can say a true word alone— nor can she say it for another, in a prescriptive act which robs others of their words.
So this ‘who gets to utter their word’ becomes about power, those who can speak and those who can’t. Those who oppressed and those who are oppressed, define/prescribe/create and those who passively consume.
And so here I think is where modern education is failing its constituents. It isn’t encouraging students to speak their own word in action/reflection. Modern ed silences students by imposing language instead of encouraging a problem solving populace. And through that imposition, we encourage a perversion of both action and reflection as isolated from each other. Reflection alone is alienated verbalism, stuck useless in a classroom. A sort of passivity. Action alone is an alienated activism – work without history or context. Imposing both in isolation from each other dehumanizes.
Which brings us to two of the major critiques of education today. First, we have too much critical reflection with too little action, a systematic devaluation of the “humanities” with a public push for action in the form of technicians. We need more STEM and less Art. Second – we have folks saying we’re focused too much on imposing competency and adaptability – creating a vacuous horde of skill-mongerers who can’t and won’t critically reflect on, say, Fascist/Authoritarian politics.
So… for me, true education begins with a shift from imposition to problem-solving and a problem solving forged in an oscillation between true reflection and true action – a sort of praxis.
Imposition vs. Problem-posing
Cause before we can push action/reflection, we need to look at how we enforce it. An imposition of action/reflection delegitimizes it. Schools resembling prisons. Rote memory exercises. Banking model education. Lecturer speaking to masses silently consuming.
Problem-posing education subverts this consumptive model, empowers the learner. Start by establishing a question, a problem. Then organize and solve it. Find the skills necessary to attack it. Use the skills creatively. Encourage problems relevant to the contextualized lives of the learners themselves.
Praxis as Problem Solving – Action/reflection
Critical thinking (Reflection)
Problem solving requires reflection as critical thinking. To solve a problem – to even establish a problem – you must be able to critically consider a realm of contingent, historical, and communal problems. These are the questions of humanists: why do we do what we do? Who are doing it for? What are the alternatives? What is the good life? Is this the good life? What can be changed? Who has the power to change it? What is power? What is change? And on and on and on.
In oscillation with a problem solving critical thinking, individuals need the skills to address the problems they establish, continuing to ask the how’s and whys. We need folks who know how to manage electricity.
But if folks who manage electricity aren’t critically reflecting on that act, then their action becomes a rote motion, devoid of meaning or purpose. They’re merely doing that thing they’re supposed to do. And that ‘supposed to’ comes from those with power on high. It is an act to do silently, passively, and obediently.
Problem-posing praxis. That’s what I think. And I believe that life is available to all. And that education can foster it. But ed must resist its authoritarian impulses, its tendency towards oppression and abuse, its domination of youth. Instead, it must foster subversive problem-solvers, critical of their own work.
Or something like that. (;
- Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New rev. 20th-Anniversary ed. New York: Continuum, 1993. Print.
- Rorty, Richard. “Education as Socialization and as Individualization.” Philosophy and Social Hope. New York: Penguin Books, 1999. WorldCat Discovery Service. Web. 10 May 2016.