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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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4 The Crisis in Education: What Crisis?

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The headline ‘Crisis? What crisis?’(James Callaghan in an interview in the Sun, 11 January 1979) 4.1 Setting the case 4.1.1 Our obsession with change and equalization ‘(…) to compensate for its ambiguity (...)[the teaching profession](...) over-invests in the idea of change in order to prove that like any other profession it has techniques and a body of knowledge which are always being refined and improved (...)The last thing that the specialist in Education can afford is to be caught purveying the older received wisdom. He must be constantly discovering new truths which through nothing more cogent than the mere passage of time must automatically become invalid. Thus syllabuses, teaching methods, methods of assessment must constantly produce novelty and above all impact’ (Martin 1971, 135, quoted in Hartnett and Naish 1977, 69). While Martin points to the desire of the educationalist to raise their professional ethos through constantly inventing and re-inventing education along methods adopted from the world of the natural sciences, Hannah Arendt links educational initiatives to political expediency. Forty-eight years ago Arendt wrote about an educational crisis in America which was made all the more acute by the political temper of the country, ‘(…) which of itself struggles to equalize or to erase as far as possible the difference between young and old, between the gifted and the ungifted, finally between children and adults, particularly between pupils and adults. It is obvious that such an equalization can actually be accomplished only at the cost of the teacher’s authority and...

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