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In Defence of the Human in Education

Series:

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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5 Education: Working towards a Definition with the Human in Mind

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Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. (H.G.Wells, The Outline of History (1920) volume 2, chapter 41, part 4) ‘Imagine that the natural sciences were to suffer the effects of a catastrophe. A series of environmental disasters are blamed by the general public on the scientists. Widespread riots occur, laboratories are burnt down, physicists are lynched, books and instruments are destroyed. Finally a Know-Nothing political movement takes power and successfully abolishes science teaching in schools and universities, imprisoning and executing the remaining scientists. Later still there is a reaction against this destructive movement and enlightened people seek to revive science, although they have largely forgotten what it was. But all they possess are fragments: a knowledge of experiments detached from any knowledge of the theoretical context which gave them significance; parts of theories unrelated either to the other bits and pieces of theory which they possess or to experiment; instruments whose use has been forgotten; half-chapters form books, single pages from articles, not always fully legible because torn and charred. Nonetheless all these fragments are reembodied in a set of practices which go under the revived names of physics, chemistry and biology. Adults argue with each other about the respective merits of relativity theory, evolutionary theory and phlogiston theory, although they possess only a very partial knowledge of each. Children learn by heart the surviving portions of the periodic table and recite as incantations some of the theorems of Euclid. Nobody, or almost nobody, realizes...

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