Walking with Wolfgang Klafki (2)

By Sean Blenkinsop

(For context, see my previous post.)

So here again is Klafki’s question #1:

a)     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?

Klafki really liked the idea of bringing the particular and the general into conversation with each other. In this question he is trying to bring the particular of any specific lesson—be it how to do long division, conjugate a verb, or kick a soccer/football—into the frame of the general. And here is where his question intersects with the aims of the educator. For there is the general of the subject (thinking like a mathematician, working with language in richly literate ways, understanding the art of sport) but there is another kind of general going on here for Klafki and that what all this education stuff is for, beyond subject matter ability. This where we get into ideas of the citizen, the free human, or responses to issues of injustice built into the culture. Aims upon aims.

For Klafki the teacher should be thinking at these multiple levels, and those diverse kinds of aims should actually influence the pedagogical decisions being made and the content being chosen. Now admittedly it can be hard to see verb conjugation as part of world changing. And yet intriguingly it can be, especially when it is part of a whole larger project of educating.

But how does one go about ecologizing this?  Good question… although in some ways this question needs the least work ’cause it has a flexibility built into it; the aims (particularly the cultural change ones) can change.  (Although I should note that there are some interesting things to be done within subject matter silos as well—think about the critique of the scientistic orientation to the world by many environmental theorists and you will see what I mean.) But back to the other potentially more ecological aims. We could start with something like eco-citizenship, or preparing students to live in an eco-democracy that includes newts, skunk cabbage, and hummingbirds as having rights and a voice that must be considered. Or maybe we could bite off just a piece like seeking to respond to alienation; it could really change pedagogy if we placed relationship at its heart, or a desire to be less anthropocentric, say by taking the idea of nature as co-teacher seriously. This might even require lessons to be co-planned in place with particular beings, spending much more time as a whole class in the presence of the natural world, leaving space for learners to encounter the more-than-human on their own and in their own ways, and actively positioning the natural world as equal in an educational sense. This then not only decentres the human but very much changes the position of the human teacher in the learning project and maybe makes things more ecologically and socially just.

OK, so that is a first shot at trying to ecologize Klafki’s question number one. But I have something more to say about aims and it came to me today as I was walking, here on day 4 of the Fisherman’s Way in southern Portugal. I should mention that I am currently writing this in the giant bathroom of a camping park ’cause that is where the power outlets are. But the counter is perfect even if there are mirrors everywhere and the other campers are a little surprised. 

So, I think there are more ecological and less ecological ways to think about the very idea of aims.  This morning we awoke, packed the tent, and headed down the trail with a distant-ish goal of getting to the next town 23 kms away for dinner and bed. There is a really well marked trail to get us there, but throughout the day there is a flexibility to it all. The trail braids and you pick one track over another, you lose sight of the markers and then choose to blunder on, turn back, or even go off road for a while hoping for the best. Thus, what happens is that the distant aim is actually the loose frame for all the little decisions, but even these little ones have their own aims—get to lunch, re-find the trail, stop to hang with the sticky acacias that smell like lemons (yes I know, crazy cool!). And the great thing about hiking vs say ripping down the interstate in your car is that these small options, tiny aims and surprises along the way are actually available.  They make themselves known to you and there is the time and space to respond and still get to that night’s camp.

My point here is that I think that a more ecologically and socially just education of the kind we might be “aiming” for here can better happen at walking speed. It requires a kind of intellectually nomadic pace rather than the breakneck speed that education often runs at today. Clinging to a particular aim no matter the cost, not noticing the wee aims and possibilities along the way, is part of the problematic cultural mindset that we are pushing against. And I figure that this is the kind of consideration teachers are going to have to give to conjugating verbs if they are seriously going to pick up Klafki’s first question.



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