Educators negotiate between two related but distinct demands: (1) the need to preserve knowledge and (2) the need to prepare students to apply knowledge. While complementary in education, the two are not necessarily closely linked. In the United States, they have become distant from each other at all levels of intellectual labor. I have been circling this issue, not quite making progress until I found myself talking about Thomas Kuhn over on the Archdruid Report. There is a way to frame the issue historically in reference to the Enlightenment that clarifies the basis for the present-day disjoint between these two demands. I want to talk through that in the hopes that better grasping that provides us with some insight into fixing the disjunction today.
I haven’t stopped chewing over the topic of my last post; it opens onto quite a few topics that I would like to write about here. Rather than try to cram all of those topics into a single post, though, I have decided to break them out into a loose series of posts that will all be identified with the [CPE] tag you see above. As you might guess, all of these posts will be united around issues of cosmos, paradigm, and education. Education may seem like the odd-man-out in this equation, but it occupies an essential place in the discussion. This series began in what I thought would be a single post on the failures of contemporary education, but in proceeding to trace that I found myself involved in a much larger series of topics.
The failures of contemporary education have deep roots that extend back into the roots of European modernity itself. It is surely easy to be cynical about the state of contemporary education (and I am sometimes), but I don’t want to get stuck in cynicism. Rather, I want to examine the failures of education by vieiwing them as a sort of higher order ‘interesting errors.’ Like interesting errors, they are worthy of study so that we can see more clearly the way in which those failures reveal useful truths as an ill-fitting pair of clothes reveals something of how we move. One of the more important failures is the failure to integrate cosmos and paradigm.
By cosmos I mean a totality organized according to unified principles and the sense of enclosure it gives to human society. The sense of a cosmos gives members of society a set of ideals through which they are able to regulate themselves and their society. A paradigm, by contrast, is partial. It refers to a specific set of phenomena and proceeds to provide an explanation of the phenomena’s behavior. On a purely conceptual level, these two patterns do not appear to be in conflict. In fact, there seems to be a complementarity to the way in which the phenomena described by a paradigm can be integrated into a bigger picture, cosmological model. However, in historical terms, these two modes of approaching the world are deeply at odds with each other and efforts to resolve those tensions are part of what structures the failure of education.
The subsequent [CPE] posts will all be centered at getting at this historical conundrum and thinking (i.e., speculating) about how we might get beyond it.