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In Defence of the Human in Education

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Isolde Woolley

The title incorporates the assumption that the ‘human’ in education is being threatened by certain processes. The guiding questions are: What are these processes and what constitutes the ‘human’ in education? Which activities characteristically performed by human beings are so central that they seem definitive of a life that is truly human and which changes or transitions in educational thinking are compatible with the continued existence of a being as a member of human kind and which are not? It is argued that the present debate on education is still dominated by the language of performance and global economic comparison. Educational practice must and will have to help the individual through a confluence of insights in his/her journey through life to form independent judgement.

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1 Preface

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‘On the pre-scientific level we hate the very idea that we may be mistaken. So we cling dogmatically to our conjectures, as long as possible. On the scientific level, we systematically search for our mistakes (…). Thus on the pre-scientific level, we are often ourselves destroyed, eliminated, with our false theories; we perish with our false theories. On the scientific level, we systematically try to eliminate our false theories – we try to let our false theories die in our stead.’ (Karl Popper, quoted in Bryan Magee 1971, 73) 1.1 Clarification of some central ideas prior to their theoretical employment The title incorporates the assumption that the ‘human’ in education is being threatened by certain processes. The guiding questions are: What are these processes and what constitutes the ‘human’ in education? My interest is therefore future orientated and is led by an endeavour to extract some guiding thoughts through the analysis of past experience and present circumstances. This thesis is above all motivated by a nagging concern for the un- measurable and essentially human in education and inspired by the writing of Hannah Arendt. The view I am promoting runs in some aspects counter to much of what is presently held as being the ‘new’ and ‘progressive’ in education. My paper will be partly ‘normative’ in nature as it concerns itself with the need for values. I am aware that the normative has been many times abused in pedagogics and worked against what it means to be human. Yet, by tracing what...

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