Academic journal article International Education Studies

Countering the Pedagogy of Extremism: Reflective Narratives and Critiques of Problem-Based Learning

Academic journal article International Education Studies

Countering the Pedagogy of Extremism: Reflective Narratives and Critiques of Problem-Based Learning

Article excerpt


This paper is a critique against "purist" pedagogies found in the literature of student-centred learning. The article reproves extremism in education and questions the absolutism and teleological truths expounded in exclusive problem-based learning. The paper articulates the framework of a unifying pedagogical practice through Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's conceptual use of beside and leverages upon translation theory to counter argue against a pedagogy of extremism. The teaching and learning narratives of the authors are invoked in critiquing student-centred learning approaches that attempt to minimize the authority of the teacher/educators and advocate unguided learning.

Keywords: student-centred learning, pedagogy of extremism, problem-based learning, unifying pedagogy, beside, translation theory

1. Introduction

Thus sects arise: schools of opinion. Each selects that set of conditions that appeals to it; and then erects them into a complete and independent truth, instead of treating them as a factor in a problem, needing adjustment. (John Dewey, The Child and The Curriculum, 1902)

We approach the writing of this paper as teachers committed to the emancipation of pedagogy from extremist methodologies of student-centred learning. We argue that the teacher's voice must break through and be heard amidst the silence in the literature of student-centred pedagogy such as problem-based learning (PBL). In the corpus of literature focusing on student-centred learning, it is disturbing that the "I" of the teacher weakly punctuates the critical spaces of education. The forceful approbation for student-centred pedagogy has enabled (or disabled?) the empowerment of student voices but muted the embodied presence of the teacher. As Michel Foucault (1977) reminds us, "the body is also directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold on it; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks to perform ceremonies, to emit signs" (p. 25). To investigate, discuss, examine or critique pedagogy without involving the narrative of a teacher's corporeal experiences is to ignore power-relations that censors and binds our actions and thoughts in the institution. The Foucauldian caution is to avoid the metonymic construction of the teacher as a vessel that can be mechanically used for the implementation of school curricula, standards, policy, and social norms.

Our aspirations for transgressive and powerful scholarship to articulate the unknown, the absent, the "not yet" (Kirylo and Thirumurthy, 2009) within the domains of pedagogy get choked when institutional extremism denounces all other pedagogical approaches except the few. We taught in an institution of higher learning (anonymously referred to as PBL institution) that zealously promoted problem-based learning as the sole methodology of curricular delivery. Advocates of student-centred learning criticise the role of teachers in teacher-centred learning environments with inimical labels such as the "sage on the stage" (Gibson, 1996) and "oracle" (Wiesenberg and Hutton, 1996) of teaching and learning. However, we must ask if the majority of teachers have ever professed to their students that they are omniscient? And if teachers do boldly show their authority and understanding in their field of knowledge, should they be condemned to Jane Gallop's (1982) aggressive metaphors of the phallic teacher and the passive-student receptacle? Kirschner, Sweller and Clarke (2006) asserts and base their careful analysis on research evidences that shows that minimal or no teacher guided instructional approaches such as problem-based learning, discovery-based learning and other variants ignore the framework of human cognitive structures that facilitates learning. In their article they convincingly present evidences based upon human-cognitive structures, expert-novices differences and cognitive load, which demonstrates the learning excellence of teacher directed guidance in presenting essential information to students. …

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