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The Critique of Institutions September 18, 2010

Posted by Andy in Foucault, pedagogics, philosophy.
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The popular, textbook version of Kant’s ethical thought often goes as follows: morality is doing one’s duty, and doing one’s duty amounts to following good rules of behaviour. Good moral rules are not the same as good prudent rules in that they are not slave to some other function, they are good in themselves. Good rules are also good for everyone. So to solve a moral problem, you have to make up a good rule, see if it can be universalised and retain its logic, and then follow it. (more…)


Teaching teenagers: a learning experience November 26, 2009

Posted by Andy in Idea History, pedagogics.
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I’ve been spending a large part of the time since completing my PhD teaching teenagers about English and Religion. It’s been a learning experience.

In many ways, preparing to complete a PhD has been a lesson in concentration. I spent one entire year studying someone (Berkeley) who barely got a mention in the final thing. You have to focus in on topics and shut out other concerns.

So going from that to teaching eighteen and nineteen year olds about Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Philosophy and Religious Studies per se in the course of one year, with three lessons per week is something of an experience. Instead of going narrow and deep, you have to go shallow and broad. A couple weeks back, for example, I ran through, in the course of about 50 minutes, the tensions between Mediterranean power blocs and Iranian steppe-based power blocs from 500 BCE to around 700 BCE as a way to go from Buddhism to Islam. I used google map and my time line.

Now I’m teaching Islam, and ploughing my way through the Qu’ran (which is also available for free as a spoken word book), which is frankly exhilerating. Also, given that I am somewhat bearded and foreign, it gets me loads of street cred. Some strangers enthusiastically engage me in conversation, others take steps to avoid me.

My point is, all of us have a series of books that are really basic, but way outside their central field of interest that they’ve never gotten around to reading. Not having read the Qu’ran is a particularly heinous academic sin, but surely most people have similar academic skeletons in the closet. So I would wish every PhD graduate a chance to teach in school for a year or two before they continue their trek towards tenure. I’ve been forced to it (although I do not know if I will even rejoin the trek…) and have already seen how wonderful it is.

Not least because you’ll have an excuse to read Critchley’s hilarious Book of Dead Philosophers.

Describing the Person June 15, 2009

Posted by Andy in pedagogics.
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There has been a fair amount of activity around the question of describing the human situation through the person of Christ of late, and my position has largely been that the whole project of describing who we are is all wrong. I started off my PhD being naively suspicious of the disciplines of sociology and anthropology, and this caution has cropped up again in the wake of my teacher training. So I thought I’d just justify this fear by sketching out something I’m working on at the moment.

Educational studies are full of wonderful words about the human being. The good teacher should give space to his/her students so that their inborn talents may have free reign to develop unhindered; students love to discover if left to their own devices; it’s important to have a positive view of the person. The classic expression of all these beautiful thoughts is in the general part of the national curriculum in Norway (isn’t it pretty?). In addition to ensuring that students can follow the normal development of the human species, teachers should address all parts of the student.

This document is divided up into a series of sections called “the x human being” – where x stands for spiritual, creative, working, liberally-educated, social, environmentally aware and integrated. The grammar of each chapter basically states that children are x anyway, and so the teacher needs to accommodate and direct that x-ness so that it is conducive to learning and being together. Children are creative, so let their creativity find expression in the classroom for everyone’s good.

OK. So this is clearly a move away from a kind of academic cerebral classroom towards a more holistic education no doubt. But the argument employs a familiar move. Why should we all be utilitarians? Because everyone wants to be happy anyway! This insight is at least as old as Aristotle (Nich. I.iv). Why does it become so important in Mill’s time? Well, I think the answer lies in the concerns common to Mill and the writers of national curricula. It is important for the art of governing.

If you are disillusioned with exclusionary tactics like exile, the death penalty, and seclusion (or in school, expulsion, selection and failure), and you want to find ways of being together that compensate for everyone’s different tastes and peculiarities, you need to find some common ground in the population. Utilitarianism was a way of building a society based on everyone’s common need to be happy. As long as everyone is trying to be happy – which is to say, as long as everyone is being human – then utilitarian government works. Similarly, as long as every child is trying to be creative, social, integrated, etc. then Norwegian pedagogical theory works. The teacher uses those human characteristics in constructing learning contexts for classroom activities.

The dark side of this is perhaps that those who do not pursue happiness, attempt to be creative, etc. are thereby labelled subhuman rather than just in the wrong, and that has certain consequences. But they don’t have to be serious consequences: as long as human sciences can develop, you can keep them in the system by re-interpreting what you mean by the pursuit of happiness, being creative, etc.

The point is that the model of current class leadership is based on compensation rather than discipline. It’s about allowing for weirdness whilst appropriating the universal. The human sciences allow the leader to calculate the levels of dissidence, transgression and lawlessness whilst finding a human common denominator that can give them a handle on the classroom population. It’s a kind of intervention through human independence (and this model is largely worked out in Foucault’s Security, Territory, Population).

As soon as we know what is essential to the human being, we can compensate for it. The current political model is not the disciplinary prison, but the indulgent uncle. I allow my daughter to run away as far as she likes because I know she doesn’t like to run away further than is good for her. And by letting her run off, I don’t have to discipline her movements or teach her to walk independently. I use her own independent desire for my company (whilst it lasts!) in order to control her movement.

And that’s why I think describing humanity is complicit with government.

Christian Philosophy of Education April 8, 2009

Posted by Andy in Foucault, pedagogics.
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Whilst writing about Negative Theology and Foucault’s take on asceticism, I’m currently doing a teacher training course, and whilst reading up on this, I’ve come across a curiosity and a problem. (more…)

A cock for life: Foucault’s third lecture March 10, 2009

Posted by Andy in Foucault, Le Courage de la Vérité.
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The third lecture of 1984 (the 15th February) examines Socrates’ appropriation of parrhesia. The transition I think he’s getting at is from the kind of truth-telling that opposes the powerful for the good of the collective towards the kind of truth-telling that opposes vanity for the sake of the good life (and this is where life is inserted into philosophical practice). But the main locus for this history is the last words of Socrates. (more…)

Pedagogical timetable November 3, 2008

Posted by Andy in pedagogics.
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I’ve now started putting together matierals for teaching, and am about to attach the learning outcomes. I’m creating a document for each lecture, and each time I finish a book, I record the references and ideas in these documents. Then when I prepare the lecture, I select and fit these resources into the learning outcomes, and then go in search of what I don’t yet have.

I’ve also done a reading and lecturing timetable. Preparation will just continue throughout this period, which you can follow the practice-timetable link to. Isn’t that pretty? Now I have to get to work, as I want to get ahead and fit a couple more things into this (no space for Badiou as yet!)

More Pedagogy October 31, 2008

Posted by Andy in Idea History, pedagogics, philosophy.
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The past couple of days I’ve been reading up on Kant and sorting my life out a bit. I’ve discovered that both Mill’s Utilitarianism and Kant’s second Critique on Librivox, so that makes good preparation and teaching tools. (more…)