Education: The Right Desire

Education: The Right Desire

Roel Kuiper (Kampen Theological University, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8006-5.ch009
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Present discontents and concerns about schooling and learning call for critical reflection about education as a practice. Education is not to be degraded to instrumentalism. The profession is about the formation of pupils in a process of interaction to bring them to “human flourishing.” Learning implies mastery and self-responsibility, guided by the “right desire” to do what is ultimately good. This “right desire” in the Aristotelian and Christian tradition precedes the work of any professional or practitioner. The normative practice approach serves as a valuable help for the reflection that is needed. It presents a given set of norms that are appropriate to understand a professional practice. Reflection on the “right desire” in schooling, learning, and teaching helps to redirect education in our time of discontent.
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Critical concerns about our system of schooling and learning are increasing in our late-modern world. Present social, cultural and moral discontents feature in current debates about the meaning and purpose of education. What we have in mind in these debates, and also in this chapter, is the schooling of children and teenagers in crucial stages of their life in a world that is rapidly changing. In this world the role of knowledge and skills changes is becoming more instrumental and specialized, which has an impact on the professional outlook of teachers and educators. However, the direction of these changes and professional role-understanding remains unclear and all considerations together make professionals uncertain and hesitant as to where to go. In the meantime new approaches and innovations present themselves to be tried and tested. It seems as if education has lost its way.

These present discontents and criticism can be analyzed at three levels, roughly corresponding with the macro-, meso- and micro-levels Glas presented in chapter 1 of this book. We need to be more precise about the nature of the current debates and therefore I will discern three complexes of core-problems at those levels.

In the first place – on a macro-level - there is the question how education can contribute to society at large and our ambition to (re-)humanize the world. Jan Amos Comenius described the school in the seventeenth century as a ‘humanitas officinae’, a workshop of humanity (Habl, 2017, xiii). Pedagogical literature since then has considered humanity as core value of education, aiming at the upbringing of civilized members of society as its purpose. According to the Czech pedagogue Jan Habl, discussing the legacy of Comenius, ‘humanization’ was one of the key principles in the transformation of the educational systems of the second half of the twentieth century in Europe. At the same time this humanity ran in a deep crisis, a crisis characterized by one-sided techno-scientific revolutions, cultural destruction, economic problems, deepening inequality and social disintegration, alienation and depersonalization. Humanity is not well-kept by its shepherds and therefore there is a call for ‘new humanism’ among educators. Thus stated, this sounds humanistic and idealistic, however in this call one should not notice an ambition to refurbish an old-fashioned Bildungsideal, but a genuine response to a deeply felt pedagogical need. Schools must contribute to the pedagogical education of new generations to let them take their place as responsible citizens in a world art, presenting in everyday life the complexities, ambiguities and effects of a multi-religious, multicultural and globalizing cohabitation. Meanwhile, young people grow up in a technological culture, secular by pretention and at the same time searching for moral and ethical nourishment. What does ‘being human’ mean after all? How can education contribute to the world as a ‘better place’?

Secondly, on a meso-level of schooling itself this cultural crisis translates itself in reflections about good education. How can education, in the organized setting of the school, support pupils best in their development to become responsible and well-equipped partakers of civil society? Critical voices have asserted that school education and teaching has become as instrumental as many practices in our technological society. By the end of the day, we want to see well-defined ‘results’, to be measured and produced by our educational system. This system is held accountable for individual-cognitive achievements of pupils, making a new generation ready for the labor market, fit to navigate on all kinds of ‘information’. Among educators there is manifest criticism about education degraded as ‘technology’. They warn that education itself is in danger, because pupils are no robots or objects to be drilled or disciplined. Rather, education is a work of human interaction, aiming at the formation of men and women that have learned to be adult members of society (Biesta: 2014).

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