The age of enlightenment was the period leading up to the French and American revolutions and extending back perhaps as far as the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. It was a reaction against the excesses of clerics. Philosophers built upon the renaissance, humanism and their classical heritage to argue for reason over irrationality, logic over superstition. And reason needed methods such as science and deductive logic.
We have met our enlightenment moment in education. We have our clerics who generate ethereal dogmas. Rather than being founded in Christianity, these find their roots in Marx, mediated by postmodernism. These ideas represent the opposite of enlightenment thinking. For the postmodernists, it is important to focus on who is producing an argument or how an argument might be interpreted; anything other than the argument itself. It is by this means that we create angels-on-pinheads research that sounds rampantly silly to the outside world.
Although this kind of thing is supposedly in the service of The Revolution, it has quite the reverse effect. Whereas doctors are largely allowed to regulate themselves, with pay and conditions the only political issues, the world at large is inclined to make the substance of education a political football. Nobody thinks we are capable of running things because we have little sensible to say. This allows politicians to force ideologically driven reforms on the profession; some fair and some daft. If we really want to mobilise and define our own future then we need to cast off the embarrassing stuff. We need to call it out.
Doctors no longer talk of the four humours or become offended when asked to clean their hands before performing examinations or suggest that diseases are caused by ‘miasmas’ or insist that illnesses are all unique to specific individuals and the most important thing is to understand each person’s particular circumstances.
Yet we are still in precisely this phase in education. There are common, well-established principles (here and here are a couple of useful summaries) that are largely not taught to trainee teachers in favour of teaching them about theory driven approaches that have long been known to be ineffective.
Perhaps you are approaching a threshold yourself. You are unlikely to have got here through established educational publications which are rapidly being made irrelevant in the internet age. Instead, you might have read my blog or the blogs of other teachers. You probably don’t agree with everything I write and that’s fine because the chances are that I am wrong about a lot of it. But what we share is a belief that there are better and worse ways of teaching things and that these may be established by the use of reason; that we have a right to question and to challenge.
You might want to observe the discussions between the old and new guard and see for yourself who makes the most sense. I don’t think that I will ever persuade many members of the educational establishment to agree with me. It takes a particularly strong personality to retract previous, publicly announced positions. Instead, my prediction is that you will see the following dynamic: This new movement will address specific ideas and practices and the establishment will challenge their right to an opinion on these things, either on the basis of experience, gender, some other personal characteristic or because they don’t like the manner in which the argument is expressed. The word ‘positivism’ will no-doubt be deployed as if it were an argument. But see for yourself and make-up your own mind.
And when you’re ready, there is a place for you here; an empty seat with your name on it. Come inside. Come, join the enlightenment.