Walking with Wolfgang Klafki (1)

By Sean Blenkinsop

So, welcome to my first blog. Given that I have never done one and really don’t understand the rules I will just wing it and see what happens.  I should also note that I have heard that academic blogs are for offering up new ideas, a venue to explore things that are, as yet, incomplete, and that citations, spelling, and grammar don’t matter. Most importantly, you all as readers will help me make these ideas better, richer, more complete.  So here goes…

I have just spent a week in Sweden with some colleagues who are wanting to expand the presence of wild pedagogies, outdoor/place based content, nature as co-teacher in a group of six rural schools.  Very exciting and interesting work which I could talk about in another blog if you like, but my focus here is on an educational theorist, Wolfgang Klafki. His dates are 1927-2016 and he is big in Northern European curriculum design and theory… I mean John Dewey big for those of you reading in North America.  I knew very little about this Klafki fellow until about two weeks ago (I still know very little but a lot more than I did… that is what reading 25 papers will do) but several of my new colleagues use him a lot with their teacher candidates and were wondering, quite pragmatically I think, about whether he might connect into the ecologizing conversations I have been having in Canada.  That is, they recognize how big a role Klafki plays in education in Sweden and thus it would be helpful if we could find the green in him (or maybe green him up) rather than throwing him out altogether as it were. 

Luckily Klafki is big time influenced by Bildung (maybe a topic for another blog…), an educational theory that worries about responding to culture problems/injustices of the times (good one for an eco-theorist) and has the flexibility to respond to differing contexts and thus problems. Thus, Bildung theory has been used to “free humans” (males really) in 19th century Germany, democratize the Danish population in the 20thcentury, and was even adopted by the Frankfurt school as part of its Marxist critical push against the neo-liberal agenda (before it was even named that)). So, if we posit that there are some pretty obvious eco-social and cultural challenges today, then maybe we can flex Klafki and his Bildung commitment into the Anthropocene, as it were.

What seemed to most interest these Swedish folks was to get right down to practice, that is, what teachers at these schools might actually do to “wild” or ecologize their curricula. Klafki was very much focused on practice, and he developed five questions to help educators think about pedagogical/curricular design. So this is where I want to go with this series of blog posts (I know it took a while to get here … but isn’t some background helpful?  For some?  Some of you probably already know all this way better than I do!).  

OK … how long are blogs supposed to be by the way?… here are the Klafki 5. Remember that they are mutually interdependent, they are not necessarily answered in order, and the answers to each question are really only understandable in the light of the other answers.

1)     What wider or general sense or reality do these contents exemplify and open up to the learner? What basic phenomenon or fundamental principle, what law, criterion, problem, method, technique, or attitude can be grasped by dealing with these contents as ‘examples?

2)    What significance does the content in question or the experience, knowledge, ability, or skill to be acquired through this topic already possess in the minds of the children in my class? What significance should it have from a pedagogical point of view?

3)     What constitutes the topic’s significance for the children’s future?

4)    How is the content structured? {which has been placed in a specifically, pedagogical perspective by questions I, II and III)?

5)     What is the body of knowledge which must be retained (‘minimum knowledge’) if the content determined by these questions is to be considered ‘acquired’, as a ‘vital’, ‘working’ human possession?

What I propose to do is to spend each of the next 5 days, while I walk the Fisherman’s Way down the coast of Portugal, thinking about these in turn and pondering this question of how they might be made more applicable for a context that must find ways to respond to the eco-social cultural problems of today. That is, find ways to free humans (all of them this time) again, but along with our more-than-human kin as well.



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