Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

An Analysis of Aims and the Educational "Event"

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

An Analysis of Aims and the Educational "Event"

Article excerpt


In a recent article, Stephen Thornton and Keith Barton (2010) review the range of aims offered by history and social studies educators throughout the 20th century to justify a place for their subjects in the U.S. public school curriculum. In regards to such aims, they conclude that both educators of history and social studies should stand together to face a common adversary: those who promote either subject as an induction into nationalistic patriotic pride. The other aim they offer as a more palatable alternative is democratic citizenship. These options, however, do not adequately account for what is at stake in the question of educational aims in contemporary times.

As explored here, socialization and sophistry are two nouns that accurately name the dominant vision of education today. These stand in contrast not to citizenship or patriotism, or other related aims such as disciplinary induction, competencies, or values, but to the always-present potentiality of a Socratic form of the educational. Whereas sophistry and socialization aim to empower students into an existing order of opinion, the educational begins precisely where such orders break down to instigate a "truth procedure" inaugurated by an "event" (Badiou, 2001):

As with anything that constitutes an event, worlds are turned upside down, neuroses engendered, terrible beauties are born and education departments are forced to confront something that they are professionally required to find incomprehensible, namely, the desire to be educated, as something over and above the development of a specialist-knowledge, vocational competence, or the vague promotion of currently venerated "values." (Cooke, 2013, p. 3)

To explore this framing of aims applicable to a host of subject areas--the educational inaugurated by an event in contrast to the scriptable learning required by socialization--I examine the work of Kieran Eagan, Gert Biesta, Alain Badiou, and A. J Bartlett to trace out a case for the claim that "the only education is an education by truths" (Badiou, 2005, p. 9). If by truths, then the curricular question is less "what knowledge is of most worth?" (that everyone in a political jurisdiction supposedly needs to know) and more "how might the forms of knowledge be arranged for the possible inauguration of a 'truth process?'" (Badiou, 2001). Such a question asks that we better balance schooling's socialization function with its educational potential that lies within people's ever-present capacity for "becoming subjects" to their learning and lives (Badiou, 2001). To make this distinction requires examining "the very stratum of presuppositions underlying curriculum aims, programming, or enactment" in the Euro-American tradition (Deng & Luke, 2008, p. 66). I end this piece with a call for non-Indigenous educators to attend more closely to what we might learn about the educational from North American Indigenous traditions.

A Brief Review of Aims

Thornton and Barton (2010) trace several historical and contemporary educational movements in order to highlight two key dichotomies they see in social education today: a celebratory national (i.e., U.S.) story encouraging patriotism versus the "progressive" interpretations of citizenship as a lived experience, and inter-disciplinary orientations to social studies versus those who advocate initiating the young into discipline-specific reasoning procedures (for a concise argument in favour of this aim across disciplines, see Gardner, 1999). As to this latter tension, advocates have long shared a concern for preparing citizens:

Even before the term social studies originated in the early 20th century, attempts to specify content for the history curriculum had rested in broader conceptions of the subject's role in preparing active and thoughtful citizens.... [T]hese efforts--led by historians--explicitly rejected patriotism and nationalism and extolled the role of history in preparing citizens. …

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