This essay is an extended version of the talk I gave at the Bryanston Education Summit, on 6 June 2018. I must admit that at nearly 15,000 words, it is no quick read. But I hope you will be prepared to take the time to look at it, first, because I think you will find many of the arguments that it contains to be original and perhaps surprising; and second, because I believe that in presenting a carefully argued case against many of our current orthodoxies about assessment, it suggests how we need to move in a radical new direction in our search for solutions to our current problems with assessment.
In my previous post, Pedagogical romanticism, the ninth in my series on educational purpose, I proposed that our current model of education provision, which relies heavily on the intuition of autonomous teachers, was failing to manage the scale of modern education. But the alternative to the intuition of the human teacher is some sort of systematic pedagogy, which is commonly thought to be defeated by the complexity and unpredictability of the classroom. In this part I respond.
Why trusting to the intuition (aka “professional judgement”) of individual teachers is wrong but wromantic*
Having explained in part eight that the failure of criterion referencing was due to poor implementation and not a mistaken ambition, in the next sequence of posts I shall explain why we still need to describe our educational objectives clearly and at a granular level. In this post (part 9 of my series on educational purpose) I shall explain why our current delivery model is failing and will continue to fail so long as we reject the explicit description of educational objectives.
My previous six posts have examined the position on educational purpose taken by Professor Biesta. I have concluded that when he (like many of his child-centred colleagues) says that we should focus more on purpose, he does not mean to clarify but rather to obfuscate that purpose. He means to place responsibility on individual teachers to decide what their various, implicit and often meaningless purposes should be. This leaves no possibility of taking systematic action to achieve such objectives or of giving any clear account to the rest of society on how effectively this has been done. It is a model that sits uncomfortably with Professor Biesta’s professed desire to improve democratic accountability. In this post, I turn to the reasons why Daisy Christodoulou also opposes the explicit description of educational purpose.
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.
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 two and 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.
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.