How the modern variant on Aristotle’s theory of phronesis originated and why it offers a partial and unhelpful account of teaching expertise
Aristotle’s theory of phronesis has been widely cited by progressive educationalists as supporting their view that teachers and educationalists should be able to determine their own objectives, using their intuitive assessment of their particular classrooms. In my previous post, I explained why this view depends on a misunderstanding of Aristotle’s position. This post completes my rebuttal by examining how the modern account of Aristotle’s phronesis originated and why it offers an unsatisfactory account of teaching expertise.
When educationalists use the theory of phronesis to argue that teachers should determine educational purpose, they misrepresent Aristotle.
My investigation into educational purpose has so far focused on the mistaken assumptions of many progressive educationalists, starting from the position of Professor Gert Biesta at the recent Commons Education Select Committee conference. I cannot complete this first part without addressing the theory of phronesis, which has been widely used, by Professor Biesta among others, to argue that teachers should be left to determine the purposes of their own teaching. In this post, I explain why the modern version of the theory misrepresents Aristotle.
Why many academics think that education is an intrinsic good and why they are wrong
In part four, Professor Biesta and the chicken, I argued that the distinction between aims and purposes that had been made by Gert Biesta and John Dewey was without foundation. In this fifth part of my series on the purpose of education, I explain why the argument over aims and purposes is connected with the view that education is an intrinsic good, why this is the same as saying that education has no purpose at all, and why this view is mistaken.
In part four of my series on educational purpose, I consider Professor Biesta’s distinction between aims and purposes by asking myself why the chicken crossed the road.
In part one of this series, I considered why the House of Commons Education Select Committee’s investigation into the purpose of education has the potential to address some really important problems in our current education theory. I also recounted the question that I put to Professor Biesta and Daisy Christodoulou at the opening panel Q&A. In parts two and three, I explained why I think that the theoretical grounds on which much current education theory is based is fundamentally flawed. Which allows me to return in this part to consider Professor Biesta’s reply to my original challenge.
Part three of my ten-part investigation into the purpose of education, following the inquiry of the House of Commons Select Committee, discusses Thomas Kuhn and the relativism espoused by many modern educationalists
Parts twoand three of my series are looking into why educationalists commonly use “logical positivism” as a “generalized term of abuse”, thereby justifying their widespread hostility to “evidence based practice” and demonstrating a sort of fuzzy relativism based on untestable, private intuition. After discussing what is often seen as the coup de grace for positivism, the work of Thomas Kuhn, I return to the central issue, which is the measurability of our educational objectives, with reference to the question I put at the end of part one to Professor Gert Biesta.
Part two of my ten-part investigation into the purpose of education, following the inquiry of the House of Commons Select Committee, examines logical positivism
Before I address Professor Biesta’s reply to the question I posed at the end of part one, I am going to spend two instalments discussing logical positivism. Even though this requires a bit of a philosophical dive, I think it is justified because without understanding the fundamental argument about logical positivism, the more concrete disagreements about educational purpose will be difficult to untangle. The elephant represents the fact that all the other, non-elephantine occupants of the room are divided between two almost completely incompatible ways of thinking about truth and logic—they follow incommensurable paradigms, in the approved, post-modernist jargon—and without understanding that important fact, it will not be possible to understand why so many people seem to be talking past each other, almost as if speaking different languages.
Part one of a ten-part investigation into the purpose of education, following the inquiry of the House of Commons Select Committee
The Commons Education Select Committee held an interesting conference last Tuesday as part of its investigation into the purpose of education. I believe that the issues that were raised are vitally important for the future of education. The popular consensus among teachers and educationalists is that the purpose of education is either a platitude or a mystery but that, either way, it is not something that teachers should worry about too much. I believe that this assumption is profoundly damaging to our attempts to improve education—but that it is based on a consensus so deeply engrained that addressing the problem is no simple matter. As is the way with all conferences, people have their say, drink their coffee, head for the door, and leave a pile of unsorted opinions and unresolved disagreements all over the carpet. Sorting through this detritus will take some time but, as I have been criticised for writing at excessive length in the past, I will split my reflections into about ten reasonably manageable instalments, aiming to publish two or three a week. This is the first.