Burden of participation: on the prospect for transformation from education
Present day education is goal directed in ways that ask to be examined critically. The successful delivery and assessment of a standard curriculum goes far beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic skills to suggest a value is being placed on standard attitudes representing social values, work ethics, and uniform goals. We need to reflect on the conditions of modern educational practice, however well-meaning, as prejudicial to intellectual progress and innovation. The term transformation is used here with the meaning of alteration or change as a desirable goal of education and a necessary ingredient of a healthy evolving social culture.
I examine the philosophical influences towards education in the 18th century focussing on the metaphysical thought of Descartes and Rousseau. Both philosophers uniquely made available empiricism as a suitable account for our mind coinciding with our action. I consider a time when empirical thought was strongly influential, and identify the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, which recognised the limits of empiricism, and more carefully balanced its demands to return metaphysics as a fuller expression of our lives.
Currently the idea of transformation in education exists as a lifeless and worn out concept adapted from metaphysics of the 18th century that eschews its philosophical underpinnings. By contrast, there appears to be a large history in education scholarship that views transformation as addressing the whole person as enlivened and creative. Instead, learning operates in education as either a template for a pre-ordained notion of a curriculum, or narrow vocationalism that minimises the prospects that education plays in our lives.
Transformation is a key notion from metaphysics that Whitehead reworks as a central concept for viewing ourselves in process. We need no longer regard ourselves undertaking transformative education as static beings, but rather that our actions are never settled and are derived from within the world in process. Each action taken in process arrives from the coincidence of our mind with the actual world. We find our thought on display from participating in the world. We can recognise the thought of educators when they adopt a particular stance, a position from which to act. Such participation requires educators to remain amidst the processes of the classroom. The burden of adopting a particular stance is supported from a process of transformation that is novel, creative and original. Our actions as educators that seek to return transformative education as worthwhile to us can be viewed as that which educators can never escape. The result will place thought in education on display and return professionalism in education from the actions of educators themselves. In this way, educators avoid acting as mere facilitators of a curriculum, and they can return a deeper purpose for education in society.