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Nicholas C. Burbules

Meritocracy is a normative principle directing the distribution of opportunities and benefits based on ability, talent, or effort. It is a central issue in education, which seems centrally concerned with identifying, developing, and rewarding merit. But many have come to doubt the reality of meritocracy, apart from its worth as an ideal; and in a society in which opportunities and benefits (including educational opportunities and benefits) are in fact not distributed based on merit, the belief in meritocracy functions as a kind of legitimating myth. The essay concludes that meritocracy is an ambivalent principle, producing some things that we want and many things that we do not want.


The Philosophy and Ideals of Islamic Education  

Mujadad Zaman

The philosophy of Islamic education covers a wide range of ideas and practices drawn from Islamic scripture, metaphysics, philosophy, and common piety, all of which accumulate to inform discourses of learning, pedagogy, and ethics. This provides a definition of Islamic education and yet also of Islam more generally. In other words, since metaphysics and ontology are related to questions of learning and pedagogy, a compendious and indigenous definition of “education” offers an insight into a wider spectrum of Islamic thought, culture, and weltanschauung. As such, there is no singular historical or contemporary philosophy of Islamic education which avails all of this complexity but rather there exists a number of ideas and practices which inform how education plays a role in the embodiment of knowledge and the self-actualization of the individual self to ultimately come to know God. Such an exposition may come to stand as a superordinate vision of learning framing Islamic educational ideals. Questions of how these ideas are made manifest and practiced are partly answered through scripture as well as the historical, and continuing, importance of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam; as paragon and moral exemplar in Islamic thought. Having said “I was sent as a teacher,” his life and manner (sunnah) offer a wide-ranging source of pedagogic and intellectual value for his community (ummah) who have regarded the emulation of his character as among the highest of human virtues. In this theocentric cosmology a tripart conception of education emerges, beginning with the sacred nature of knowledge (ʿilm), the imperative for its coupling with action (ʿamal), in reference to the Prophet, and finally, these foundations supporting the flourishing of an etiquette and comportment (adab) defined by an equanimous state of being and wisdom (ḥikma). In this sense, the reason for there being not one identifiable philosophy of Islamic education, whether premodern or in the modern context, is due to the concatenations of thoughts and practices gravitating around superordinate, metaphysical ideals. The absence of a historical discipline, named “philosophy of education” in Islamic history, infers that education, learning, and the nurturing of young minds is an enterprise anchored by a cosmology which serves the common dominators of divine laudation and piety. Education, therefore, whether evolving from within formal institutional arenas (madrasas) or the setting of the craft guilds (futuwwa), help to enunciate a communality and consilience of how human beings may come to know themselves, their world, and ultimately God.


Conversation in Education  

Emile Bojesen

Conversation is a topic of burgeoning interest in the context of educational theory and as a prospective means for conducting empirical research. As a nonformal educational experience, as well as within the classroom, or as a means to researching various aspects of educational practice and institutions, research on or through conversation in education draws on a range of theoretical resources, often understanding conversation as analogous to dialogue or dialectic. Although only brought into this research context in the early 21st century, the philosopher who has engaged most extensively with conversation is Maurice Blanchot (1907–2003). His text, The Infinite Conversation, originally published in French as L’Entretien infini in 1969, responded to and took forward many elements of what would go on to be described as poststructuralist or deconstructive thought. Blanchot’s notion of conversation (in French, “entretien”) is distinct from those reliant upon philosophical conceptions of dialogue or dialectic. Itself the subject of philosophical research, Blanchotian conversation has been interpreted variously as either not sufficiently taking into account the ethics of Emmanuel Levinas, or else expanding beyond its more limited scope. Some of these interpretations stress the ethical and political implications of conversation; however, none engage specifically with its educational implications. Blanchotian conversation allows for contradicting and contrasting thoughts to be voiced without being brought to shared consensus or internal resolution. Its “lesson” is not only in the thought that it produces but also in the ethical relation of sincerity, openness, and non-imposition that it develops. Unlike some recent applications of conversation to educational context, Blanchotian conversation does not re-entrench the subject to be educated but rather deprioritizes the subject in favor of the movement of thought and the ethical “between” of conversation itself. This notion of conversation has corollaries in political thought, notably with Jacques Rancière’s understanding of “dissensus” and Karl Hess’s thought of an “anarchism without hyphens,” as well as the politically informed educational ideas of Elizabeth Ellsworth and the educational practice and research of Camilla Stanger.


Curriculum Ideologies  

Christopher B. Crowley

The study of the curriculum and educational knowledge is a study of ideology. The curriculum is never neutral. It always reflects or embodies ideological positions. Ideologies present within the curriculum are negotiated and formulated through multilayered processes of strategic compromise, assent, and resistance. And as such, the curriculum ideologies become operationalized in both overt and hidden means—constructing subjects and objects of knowledge in active as well as passive ways. Teaching is always a political act, and discussions and debates over curriculum ideologies have a long history within the field of curriculum studies. In terms of its function related to the organization and valuing of knowledge, it remains important to recognize not only the contested nature of the curriculum but also how such contestations have ideological dimensions in the framing of the curriculum. Curriculum ideologies manifest in terms of what might be thought of as values, visions of the future, and venues or forms. This is to say, the curriculum is imbued with processes for valuing assumed choices related to its design, development, and implementation. These choices draw from ideologically based assumptions about the curriculum’s basis in political, economic, historical, sociocultural, psychological, and other realities—whether they be discursive or material in effect. Additionally, these curriculum choices also pertain to the means by which the curriculum achieves these goals or objectives through the formulation of designed experiences, activities, or other forms of learning opportunities. The curriculum—in certain regards as finding principle in the conveying of knowledge through a system of organization related to an outset purpose—has, as a central component to some degree, a vision of a future. The curriculum is something simultaneously constructed and enacted in the present, with often the expressed purpose of having implications and ramifications for the future. The curriculum’s role and purpose in constructing both tested and untested or imagined feasibilities again has to do with some type of vision of learning inflected by ideology. This may even take the form of envisioning a future that is actually a vision of the past in some form, or perhaps a returning to a remembered time that may have existed for some but not others, or by extension a similarly romanticized remembering of a mythic past, for instance. Ultimately, the curriculum, whether translated into practice or in being developed conceptually, is in all likelihood never exclusively one of these, but instead is in all probability an amalgamation of such to differing degrees wherein a multitude of possibilities and combinations exist. Among the key questions of curriculum studies that remain central in terms of both analyzing and theorizing the curriculum are: Whose knowledge counts and what is worthwhile? These questions help to raise to a level of concern the ideological underpinnings of all curricula in ways that through sustained critical dialog might work to collectively build a more sustainably just and equitable world.


Free Speech, Civility, and Censorship in Education  

Josh Corngold

Besides being protected by the First Amendment, the right of students and faculty to express different ideas and opinions—even discomfiting ideas and opinions—is central to the academic mission of schools, colleges, and universities. Two familiar arguments articulated by John Stuart Mill underscore this point: First, the dynamic clash of contrary ideas offers the best prospect we have of arriving at the “whole truth” about any complex subject. Second, unless it is subject to periodic questioning and critique, any established and received bit of wisdom “will be held in the manner of a prejudice with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds.” These arguments notwithstanding, heated debates persist as to the proper bounds of free speech in educational institutions dedicated to open inquiry and the examination of multiple viewpoints. Two distinct positions provide us with a useful framework for analyzing many of these debates. The libertarian position rejects regulation of campus speech—except in extreme cases of speech that invade the rights of individuals or small specific groups of people—while instead championing a maximally free marketplace of ideas. The liberal democratic position, however, proposes that, in the interest of scholarly objectivity and rational autonomy, verbal interaction that denigrates or stigmatizes others on account of ascriptive characteristics such as gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation should be constrained in higher education. Adherents to the libertarian position oppose the implementation of campus hate speech codes on the grounds that such codes violate First Amendment principles and are not an effective bulwark against prejudice, discrimination, and inequality. Adherents to the liberal democratic position support narrowly tailored speech codes that formally sanction slurs, “fighting words,” and the like, but they generally believe that most of the work of regulating abusive speech should occur through the informal enforcement of new “norms of civility” on campus. Although these two positions constitute a major fault line in debates over campus speech, they do not capture the range of standpoints taken by participants in the debates. To cite one noteworthy example, some scholars, in the name of what they refer to as “an affirmative action pedagogy,” call for broader restrictions on speech (particularly classroom speech) than either the libertarian or liberal democratic positions endorse.


Moral Education and Technology  

Paul Farber and Dini Metro-Roland

Moral education and technology seem to represent two fundamentally different kinds of concern and domains of inquiry. But these domains are fused in educational practice. Teaching as a fundamental human endeavor and form of activity has been a central component of human cultural evolution and regeneration from the earliest human social groupings. As a distinctive form of activity, teaching braids together ethical and instrumental norms and values. The modern, global institution of schooling has added layers of institutional support, constraint, and governance on the teaching it structures as well as increased scrutiny of the ethical and instrumental values in play; schooling is in effect a kind of moral technology for advancing certain norms and values in an efficient way. At present, technological developments with modern society make possible new forms of teaching and learning that likewise warrant scrutiny as they impact the ethical and instrumental ends of teaching and instructional practices today.


Philosophical Issues in Critical Thinking  

Juho Ritola

Critical thinking is active, good-quality thinking. This kind of thinking is initiated by an agent’s desire to decide what to believe, it satisfies relevant norms, and the decision on the matter at hand is reached through the use of available reasons under the control of the thinking agent. In the educational context, critical thinking refers to an educational aim that includes certain skills and abilities to think according to relevant standards and corresponding attitudes, habits, and dispositions to apply those skills to problems the agent wants to solve. The basis of this ideal is the conviction that we ought to be rational. This rationality is manifested through the proper use of reasons that a cognizing agent is able to appreciate. From the philosophical perspective, this fascinating ability to appreciate reasons leads into interesting philosophical problems in epistemology, moral philosophy, and political philosophy. Critical thinking in itself and the educational ideal are closely connected to the idea that we ought to be rational. But why exactly? This profound question seems to contain the elements needed for its solution. To ask why is to ask either for an explanation or for reasons for accepting a claim. Concentrating on the latter, we notice that such a question presupposes that the acceptability of a claim depends on the quality of the reasons that can be given for it: asking this question grants us the claim that we ought to be rational, that is, to make our beliefs fit what we have reason to believe. In the center of this fit are the concepts of knowledge and justified belief. A critical thinker wants to know and strives to achieve the state of knowledge by mentally examining reasons and the relation those reasons bear to candidate beliefs. Both these aspects include fascinating philosophical problems. How does this mental examination bring about knowledge? What is the relation my belief must have to a putative reason for my belief to qualify as knowledge? The appreciation of reason has been a key theme in the writings of the key figures of philosophy of education, but the ideal of individual justifying reasoning is not the sole value that guides educational theory and practice. It is therefore important to discuss tensions this ideal has with other important concepts and values, such as autonomy, liberty, and political justification. For example, given that we take critical thinking to be essential for the liberty and autonomy of an individual, how far can we try to inculcate a student with this ideal when the student rejects it? These issues underline important practical choices an educator has to make.


Praise in Education  

Sofia Benson-Goldberg and Karen A. Erickson

Classroom teachers receive myriad advice about how best to manage students’ attention, interest, and behavior. Praise is often highlighted as a specific tool that teachers should use to reinforce both behavior and learning. Since praise statements are positive evaluations of students’ performance or behavior, they are thought to be an encouraging, motivating, and affirming tool for reinforcement. So strong is this belief in praise that many interventions have been created to increase the rate of praise teachers offer in both general and special education classrooms. These interventions, when evaluated narrowly, appear to be successful because increased rates of teacher praise result in increased student compliance. However, when evaluated more broadly, research shows that praise statements have long-lasting, often negative impacts on students that may inadvertently negatively impact academic achievement. Therefore, despite the seemingly positive benefits of praise, its role in learning and development remains unsettled.


Wrongful Influence in Educational Contexts  

John Tillson

When and why are coercion, indoctrination, manipulation, deception, and bullshit morally wrongful modes of influence in the context of educating children? Answering this question requires identifying what valid claims different parties have against one another regarding how children are influenced. Most prominently among these, it requires discerning what claims children have regarding whether and how they and their peers are influenced, and against whom they have these claims. The claims they have are grounded in the weighty interests they each equally have in their wellbeing, prospective autonomy, and being regarded with equal concern and respect. Plausibly children have valid claims regarding the content and means of influence they themselves are subjected to. For instance, considerations of concern and respect for children confer duties on others enable them to know important information and develop important skills. Children also plausibly have valid claims to be free from certain means of influence, including indoctrination. This is because indoctrinatory practices threaten to diminish both their capacity to reason soundly, thereby constituting a wrongful harm, and their opportunities to form judgements and choices in response to relevant evidence and reasons, thereby constituting a wrong of disrespect.


Catholic Theology and Philosophy of Education  

Jānis T. Ozoliņš

It has been said that little or no Catholic philosophy of education has been articulated since about 1980, suggesting that it has been subsumed under more general philosophical conceptions of education. This implies that there is nothing particularly distinctive about a Catholic conception of education that would enable us to distinguish it from a nonreligious conception of education. There is no doubt that a philosophy of Catholic education shares many of the features of liberal education. The roots of a Catholic philosophy of education are grounded in Catholic theology. That is, the great Mediaeval Christian commentators articulate their conceptions of education and its purposes informed by a Christian theological understanding of the nature of human beings, their relationship to God, and to their common, final end. Without theology to articulate how human knowledge, purpose, and fulfillment are connected, education is incomplete and reduces to training and the gaining of skills for the workforce. It is theology that enables us to understand how training and gaining of skills is connected to the final end of human beings, which is God. A philosophy of education that is Christian cannot be separated from theology.