Other selected thoughts about ESL

Thursday 23 July 2015, by Igor Bijuklič

Why civic education?

According to Arendt’s position in her text “Crisis in Education” (1954) school is not the same as the world and should not pretend that it is: “It is an institution, which is placed between the privacy of home and the world in order to make possible the passage from family to the world”. Education and teaching are interrelated and as such they constitute an activity, through which new generations are introduced to the world as it is, where educators are the first representatives of it. For Arendt the purpose of this “introduction” is very clear and in character political. To educate and teach young generations how to live together with other people and share the common world is nothing that can occur optionally or by principles distinctive for the private or economic sphere. The reason why education cannot be only about how to prepare new generations for necessities of life itself or in other words why it must be distinguished from necessities of economic activity, is that it would introduce new generations only into one part of the world and into only one specific human activity, where due to necessities of the life itself, political freedom is absent and impossible to practice. In the same manner education must also be distinguished and separated from politics and political life. The reason for this is following; education must remain a sort of preparation for future responsibility for the common world. Only if politics is not interfering in this preparation in the sense of indoctrination, determining and planning their future horizons of imagination new generations can prepare and be prepared for future political life as active citizens and thus have the possibility to begin anew. This position is relevant also in rethinking approaches in the ESL question, because it points on one of the decisive elements in giving and presenting the meaning of education to those who are to be educated, that is the development of those human capacities that can enable new generations to be part of the world and take action in it.

Behaviorism in education: “Engineering fundamentals of behaviourist psychology and the ESL question”

In our effort to question the role educational system has in the ESL problem we have to examine also those scientific disciplines whose contribution to modern educational theories and practices was/is predominant and decisive. No one can deny the influence behaviorist psychology had on education. Its notability as a discipline in this field differs from place to place (most distinctly in USA). Which aspect of behaviorism is decisive? In its foundational inclination toward human engineering, behaviorism advocates the conditioning of human responsiveness, where the deliberate formation of stimuli commands and manipulation of human environment would result in predictable behavior response. The behaviorist assumption is that all human capabilities and activities, regardless their differentiation in philosophical and humanist tradition, can be reduced and consequently studied as “behavior”. Oriented toward natural sciences, “behavior” is set and understood as a bare responsive reaction that always has a definable preliminary cause (stimuli) and from where it is possible to reveal the “laws of behavior”. Namely, from the beginning behaviorism is not limited just by theoretical purposes but it is explicitly declared as a technique of “prediction and control” that is operating in the field of human affairs using scientific laws and most of all serving whatever needs or expectation society has toward how to adjust or adapt its members. One of behaviorist applications in the field of educational practice resulted in the introduction of methods based on the concept of reward and punishment – operant conditioning (B.F. Skinner). Like the behaviorist reduction to “responsive organisms” also this method is extremely problematic, because tends to introduces the belief that the purpose and result of hard learning is a certain reward located "outside" what learning and education can bring itself or in other words that we learn for the sake of something else and not in order to be educated, which is in long term distorting every attempt to give and explain the meaning of education (“why should we persist in the educational process and be educated”).

“Entrepreneurship in education!”: From where it is spoken from and where it is headed?

It is inevitable to deal with this question, not only because it became a guiding line and general view in official EU and OECD strategic documents (how to deploy education as a whole to serve “knowledge economy” and in this way regain competitiveness, example ET2020), but also because educational institutions themselves are more and more open to propositions from this direction, like to introduce entrepreneurial skills as a sort of pedagogical method and final learning outcome. Entrepreneurship elements and skills like creativity and innovation are thus on both sides proposed and accepted also in connection to newly defined educational performance results (ET 2020 benchmarks) and how to improve them in different aspects (lifelong learning, low-achievers, early school leavers etc.). To introduce entrepreneurship into education even as a new form of pedagogical method (learning through creativity and innovation) is something completely new regarding vocational and classical education. In the first case mostly because it is not about a certain skilled profession (carpenter, electric engineer), in the second case because its orientation is not concerned with the past and present human achievements or in other words with the world as it is but with the future - with how to change the world, and that is crucial, before or even without being told about it, without knowing its past and present. Entrepreneurship as a principle in education is surpassing both, because it is not a certain vocation but a specific mindset and posture (attitude) toward the world and human affairs, which is not concern with the human capacity of understanding, but with innovation and creativity. To these two elements knowledge is now subdued and every new innovation, which is never happening separately from knowledge that supports it, makes also the previous knowledge obsolete and thus impose to everybody to constantly re-learn and know only those contents that are currently useful and applicable. Using entrepreneurial skills as a direct method to solve or prevent ESL would mean that we are not (re)integrating students into educational process , but into the process of achieving specific work competences.

The question of authority in education: The willingness to take responsibility for the world as a constitutive part of education

According to Arendt (1954), the disappearance of authority in politics is followed also in other spheres of human affairs, education is no exception here. This phenomenon results in the following paradox: Because education is the activity where new generations are gradually introduced into the existing, old world, this activity cannot take place without authority and tradition, but nevertheless education nowadays takes place in conditions where both are disappearing. This “introduction” of new generations is always determined with the fact that they are introduced in a world that is always older than they are. So, education and teaching is “inevitably looking back into the past, no matter how life is taking place in the present”. We could consider modern trends of introducing entrepreneurship (as “looking forward” and “permanent innovation”) in all levels of education as a systematical disruption of its role. The qualification of those who run the educational process consists in knowing the world and its past and being able to instruct others about it, but their authority rests on the assumption of responsibility for that world. In front of those who are to be educated, teachers are the first representatives of the world of adults. This task requires a conservative posture rather than an innovative or revolutionary one, because it has to conserves both the world as it is—insofar as he teaches the child what is rather than what should be or what will be—and the newcomer in his/her newness—by allowing them the possibility to take action in the future, when they will take their own political responsibility and thus the possibility to begin something new/anew and different from the existing. To renounce to authority on the side of teachers is highly relevant in the ESL question, because it is on this point that becomes almost impossible to actualise the role of education as a connecting path by which new generations can step out of privacy and intimacy of the family and enter into the world of adults as adults and prepare themselves to take up political responsibility and concern for it from previous generations.

Managerization of educational process: “Why the ESL problem cannot be addressed in terms of standardization, efficiency and specialist enclosure?”

Today we can track the phenomenon of managerization of human affairs in all fields of human activity, which should not be surprising at all. In its foundation (Taylor, 1911) scientific management was not limited to processes of production in industry, but rather as a universal method applicable on every conceivable human activity, now seen and understood in the narrow perspective of managing processes, people or oneself effectively. Generally speaking, scientific management became the grounding paradigm from where today’s specializations in society are derived. One of its main inventions is the specialization division between those who plan and those who execute the plan. This kind of division, intended to become universal, is eliminating the possibility for an integral person, where thinking and doing would be capacities that both belong to a single person. In the final consequence, the notion of a person that could possess and practice its own most human capacities (thinking, judging, acting) by their own initiative is replaced by the notion of available human resources that can be lead, developed, instructed and trained to their optimum performance level and efficiency. This systematic strive for efficiency assumes that every type of human activity in all their specific aspects can be dismantled into individual parts, quantified, put into laws and ultimately improved. Educational institutions tend to become managerized in the moment when they accept the conviction that pre-planned method, standardized procedure, calculation models, quantitative measurability (quantitative standards of academic achievement) can replace the human capacity of assessments and judgement and offer a more adequate picture of "what and how to do ". This can cause severe problems, because when dealing with the ESL question and drop out cases, which require an individual and specific approach in every single case, we face an imminent conflict with managerial paradigm in the bare organizational structure (school).