Gregynog 2019 Abstracts
Why faith communities should not support faith schools
This paper owes a significant debt to Richard Pring (2018), who has recently summarised the contours of the faith school debate. I frame the question as ‘Why faith communities should not support faith schools’ to emphasise that I am not offering an atheistic or humanistic objection to faith schools, but rather an educational objection that should convince members and non-members of particular faith communities alike. I contend that Pring’s defence of faith schooling depends in large part on a misrepresentation of secularism, or at least a neglect of one educationally compelling way of thinking about it. There is a tendency in arguments about faith schools to see secularism as an alternative to religion, or to conflate secularism with atheism. The argument I offer is not about ‘faith’ schooling vs ‘non-faith’ schooling. It is an argument about education and the common school conceived in light of what might be called, with regard to the conditions of theistic belief, the fact of secularism (in Charles Taylor’s ‘third sense’), and the educational imperative to which this leads. One of Pring’s most interesting arguments is that faith schools might be essential for resisting a pervasive materialist and technically rationalist agenda in contemporary schooling. I largely accept Pring’s diagnosis of the situation of schooling, but argue that supporting faith schools contradicts this insight. I offer some further reasons why faith communities might no longer want to mix their charitable endeavours with the project of state funded education.
Pleasurable, pleasing or pleasant? A conceptual investigation of Reading for Pleasure
In recent decades, educational practitioners, researchers and policy-makers have developed an interest in the benefits of reading for pleasure; or, rather, of ‘reading for pleasure for both educational purposes as well as personal development’ (DfE 2012, p.3). The double ‘for’ is at the core of Reading for Pleasure research, which presents pleasure alternatively as an end in itself and as a means to other ends. Both visions, of course, are defensible. Reading ‘only’ for pleasure is, tautologically, a good thing; and there is compelling evidence that reading undertaken freely and leading to personal gratification also has positive effects on other aspects of one’s development - among which, but not limited to, literacy acquisition. But what does it actually mean to enjoy reading? What kinds of pleasures does reading afford? What kinds of pains? And what of the politics of reading pleasure?
Reading pleasure, of course, is never a simple matter of individual gratification or edification; the promotion of certain types of pleasure over others has performative effects on literature itself, and on its place in society. Literary theory and the philosophy of literature have wrestled with such questions for decades; yet, very little of that extensive theorisation is harnessed by Reading for Pleasure research, and thus its central concept remains subject to considerable equivocation. In this paper, I attempt to distinguish between different types of reading pleasures promoted by Reading for Pleasure research, and to reflect on them in the light of literary theory and aesthetics. I argue that there are significant tensions between the interests of literary and aesthetic education, and those of literacy acquisition, in the current promotion of reading for pleasure. Fuzzy definitions of reading pleasure make these tensions invisible, indeed even unthinkable, and disconnect pleasure from its economic, political and social ramifications. We have a duty not just to learners, but, to put it rather grandly, to literature, to see and think these tensions; and we must do so in close interdisciplinary dialogue with the fields that have been reflecting on those questions for centuries. In return, I argue, we might also contribute to those fields, complementing and enriching their reflection by promoting reading for pleasure for literature.
Too much time, too much education: exiting the Educational Rat Race
Based upon a discussion of the concept ‘education’ and its temporal foundations, this presentation attempts to show how education could be seen as contributing to different forms of social and individual temporal crises prevalent in modern societies since at least the end of the 19th century. In contemplating those relations, and based on historical and intercultural explorations, into Japanese thinking in particular, the presentation aspires to open up a new horizon for a systematic revaluation and conceptual reinvention of education.
Beyond the public/private divide: critical theory and the implications of education as a social good
Debates over the nature and purposes of higher education often coalesce around the notions of private or public goods. From this perspective it appears that higher education is increasingly being positioned by government policy, and some university behaviour, as a private good. This is in contrast to the idea of a public good which is, in some quarters, still cherished and advocated. In this keynote I want to consider these issues from the perspective of critical theory. I propose a more radical vision for higher education lies in the idea of it being a social good, and that this also moves us closer to achieving greater social justice within and through higher education.
I propose the term social good to reflect two important and related features of critical theory. The first is an aversion to easy dichotomies such as public/private. Such dichotomies belie the complexity of the social world which was, and is, at the heart of what critical theory seeks to understand. The second is the fundamental inter-relation of individual and social wellbeing. This as a theme of critical theory runs right through from Horkheimer’s early exposition of the purposes of the new Institute for Social Research (Frankfurt School) in 1931 to the current work of Axel Honneth, and what he has termed co-operative self-actualisation. Thus the idea of higher education as a social good offers a deeper, more complex understanding of both individual and social wellbeing, grounded in an historical understanding of their potential realisation. Finally, this exploration of higher education will take place in the context of its relationship with primary and secondary education, and lifelong learning and the ways in which all sectors of education need to nurture individual and social wellbeing.
Home is where the mind is: finding a place for philosophy
Philosophy’s truths and concepts are seldom site-specific. The claims of philosophy aim at general applicability, even universality, and thus are rarely tied to particular places. Though some philosophers drew much inspiration from the environment around them – one thinks of Rousseau or of Heidegger, for instance – their readers and followers do not, as a rule, feel the need to immerse themselves in these environments in order to forge a better connection with their philosophies.
This is in stark contrast to authors of what we call literature: a small industry has sprung up dedicated to preserving writers’ homes and birthplaces, offering the chance to see first-hand the circumstances under which their key texts were written. Experiencing an insight into, say, Dickens’s London townhouse, or Hardy’s Wessex cottage, or the Bronte parsonage in Haworth, is widely held to be an educational experience, enhancing our appreciation of the link between the life and work of the author in question.
It is unsurprising, then, that there are over 80 literary heritage sites in Britain alone, but less than 20 philosophical heritage sites across the whole of Europe. My interest in this paper will be in asking why (and whether) the two seem so different. What, precisely, is the point of sites and museums dedicated to philosophers? What educational opportunities can they offer? Is the model of literary heritage sites to be emulated or avoided? Are there ways in which philosophical heritage sites can facilitate philosophical debate and insight, or are they inevitably exercises in biography?
Existential visions of the human-technology relationship
Man-computer symbiosis was the existential vision which drove internet pioneers in developing online computer technology. More recently, we can observe that this relationship between human and technology is developing; from being cyborgs today, to the long-term goals of posthumanism. These models of the human-technology relationship provide a space of revealing to understand our own sense of being, and our desires in becoming. As human beings, and educators, we have a moral imperative to continue exploring that blurring of boundaries both in its utopian ideals as well as its existential threats.