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The paradox of the pedagogy of knowledge transmission without A philosophical understanding of what knowledge is

Author: 
Ronald Laura
Subject Area: 
Social Sciences and Humanities
Abstract: 

Whatever else education is deemed to be, it is incontestable that it at least involves the transmission of knowledge. Considerable time and effort is thus devoted to this task in our schools. Teachers are trained to be sufficiently equipped with skills in a specialized subject area, thereby passing on to their students the knowledge they have acquired. Educational leaders have done much to ensure that knowledge is transmitted effectively in schools, and this task minimally requires that those who teach are proficient in the art and science of teaching. Notwithstanding this pedagogic orientation, we shall argue that it is logically ironic, if not paradoxical, that leadership in education has focused so much on the transmission of knowledge that we are left with little, if any, understanding of what knowledge itself is. We thus know much about the art and science of teaching, but we remain philosophically naive on the critical question of what it really means ‘to know’. The reason we believe this is such an important question for educational leaders, and indeed for us all, is that whatever account is given of knowledge, it is clear upon reflection that knowledge is not value-free. In what follows we shall argue that the dominant forms of knowledge and the modality of technology which are essentially reconfigured applications of it, are perniciously value laden. To put it euphemistically, the ideological pills we sometimes unwittingly swallow with the pedagogic elixirs we imbibe end up being far more intoxicating than we ever expected. Without understanding the values covertly imparted with the knowledge we transmit in our schools, the way in which we inform, shape and condition the moral and socio-cultural consequences of our propaedeutic proficiencies will remain unknown to us. This being so, we will have no philosophical sense of whether the knowledge we transmit does a service or disservice to the deeper goals and purpose of education. Once the philosophical rationale which provides the purpose for teaching is lost, so is the purpose of learning. Without grounding education in a philosophical framework of purposive principles, education becomes exploited by vested interests as the primary tool by way of which society unreflectively reproduces itself. Education, that is to say, is co-operatised and managerially regulated as an ideology of consumerism within which all relationships are ultimately commodified for utilitarian, not humanitarian purposes. In the final analysis we remain in ignorance of whether what is taught in our schools is genuinely worth knowing. In turn we lose sight of the truth that what we teach is a form of knowledge which, by its very nature, is fundamentally depersonalising, disconnecting, self-fragmenting and alienating, and perhaps not worth teaching at all. When this happens, the next query is whether schools of this kind are worth having at all.

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