Vol. LXXV (2017) - No. 267 Una filosofía de la educación políticamente incómoda (edición a cargo de María G. Amilburu) [A politically uncomfortable philosophy of education (edited by María G. Amilburu)].

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Pring, R. (2016).


«Remember Chicago!» This is a warning that those of us who work in university teaching and research in the field of education should repeat over and over again. The Department of Education at the University of Chicago, founded in 1895 by John Dewey, disappeared despite its early prestige. This department chose to pursue scientifi and theoretical excellence in research. Turning its back on the connection with teaching, it ignored the training of teachers and the learning that university researchers can and should derive from the practical contexts of teaching at other levels (primary and secondary schools). In platonic terms, the members of the department in Chicago chose to take refuge on the Isles of the Blessed, dedicating themselves to the contemplation of pure forms without taking risks or trying to descend to the cave of everyday educational practice. Consequently, they lost credibility in scientifi terms, in proportion with the discredit that they earned among professionals and politicians, circumstances that led to the department’s closure. ,

In this magnificent book which combines several previously published pieces by Richard Pring, the author gives warning signs such as this one while offering a framework for reflection to understand more deeply the phenomenon of education at present. In short, he sketches an overview in which the role of the philosophy of education is more justified than ever, this awkward discipline that rebels against the currently dominant empire of quantification, measurement, and the language of educational evaluation. ,

It is true that, following the British tradition, Pring identifies education with formal education, dedicated above all to teaching of knowledge. But this task, intended to satisfy a fully human demand, is inconceivable without moral learning. The vision of education the author offers explores the field opened by J. Dewey and S. Peters among others, even stating that an educated person might not shine at an academic level and might not show high levels of performance in the ever-more abundant external tests, or will perhaps not have high marks in the centre’s internal exams. Nonetheless, this person will have a sense of the direction to take in life, and will be able to reflect broadly and critically on what he or she values in it, from a humane and humanising position. ,

This is precisely one of the missions of the philosophy of education: to ask repeatedly what it means to be an educated person, and schools, universities, educational centres, the community in general, and experts must collaborate in the answers. Practitioners of philosophy of ed- ucation must motivate these reflections, they must collect and synthesise the most valuable answers, delving into them in greater depth from a more general and abstract plane and based on previous theorising. But they cannot arrogate the exclusive right to offer solutions, isolated from praxis. ,

Likewise, on the part of the educators involved (in this case teachers) involved, it would be most inadvisable to become mere dispensers of a curriculum imposed from on high or from outside, or to turn into no more that examiners or, even worse, offi exam preparers with the aim of scoring highly in the rankings. In contrast, as Pring states, the teacher should be a thinker and rec- reator of the curriculum, not just its de- liverer. And it is in this rethinking that the value of the philosophy of education is located, which, as we said above, must not be the exclusive task of professional philosophers. ,

While reading this text and after reading it, one feels like one is taking the pulse of the current state of affairs in education, discovering basic problems such as neglect for reflection about the aims of education when faced with a mercantilist view of human beings, a new discourse that revolves around eye-catching concepts like success, management, external tests, performance, rankings, competence, evaluation, quality indices, etc. In light of this, Pring asks: is this education? How is it possible to call this education? Where are the integral growth of the person, the citizen’s contribution to the common good, understanding the real need for ethical transformation, the relevance of participation for making democracy an authentic way of life, or the educational celebration of diversity to rewrite, between everyone, a common space of coexistence? ,

Answering questions like these is undoubtedly vital in our time, as even though the official documents of governments and ministries of education say that the objective is to provide an education for all, in reality, as Pring observes, «it has not been possible to avoid a reductionist view of education that only guarantees success to a small number of students: those who perform well in the framework of a nar- row concept of education, limited to the academic framework» (p. 65). ,

In this compilation, painstakingly edited by María G. Amilburu, the reader encounters stimulating arguments to develop this broad idea of education, guided by one of the most prestigious philosophers of education, in whose reflections thinkers of the stature of Dewey, Peters, Oakeshott, Hargreaves, Kohlberg, Noddings, McIntyre, Ayer, and Ryle, among others also appear. ,

The revision of the figure of John Dewey is especially interesting. In an article with the more than eloquent title: «Saviour of American education of worse than Hitler?» Pring, leaning more towards the former position, tries to deconstruct the accusations that, since M. Hutchins, have affected the legacy of Dewey and his proposal for human development in democratic communities. As Pring notes, «in England and Wales, as in the United States, we are witnessing a revolution in educational language, aims, and provision, characterised by dis- dain for personal experience and the professional tradition; by the transfer of responsibility for education from the public to the private sector, specifically to profit-making companies; by an emphasis on competitiveness at the expense of cooperation, the deprofessionalisation of teachers and an equivalence between what is worth learning and what is measurable and quantifiable» (p. 82). Educators and educational academics and thinkers who question the benefits of such a revolution, which has expanded beyond the borders of the USA and Britain, might find a good basis in the pedagogical thought of Dewey who might not have been education’s great saviour, but undoubtedly casts light on the shadows of the current educational panorama. ,

As well as the article mentioned above, this book contains an unquestionably well-chosen series of Pring’s writings, forming a coherent whole around questions such as the meaning of education and educated person, the relationship between school and community (regarding Dewey’s common school), the need to expand the mercantilist notion of the human being and education, the importance and limits of evidence in educational research, the virtues relating to such research, and the essential role of universities in training teachers. It should be noted that these institutions must, of course, maintain the critical tradition that characterises them but not at the cost of avoiding praxis and immersion in real educational settings. Remember Chicago! ,

Vicent Gozálvez

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