Conditions for Learning: A Footnote on Pedagogy and Didactics

By Andrews, Paul | Mathematics Teaching, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Conditions for Learning: A Footnote on Pedagogy and Didactics


Andrews, Paul, Mathematics Teaching


An interesting English tradition is the almost complete avoidance of words like pedagogy and didactics in educational discourse. Indeed, I know of several colleagues working in prestigious English universities who claim proudly that they never use them in their work with trainee teachers. Some years ago, my perspective would have been similar, as I was locked into an educational worldview that encouraged beginning teachers to find a style of teaching suitable to them. The use of the word 'style' in this manner allowed me to work within a pretence of intellectual respectability while avoiding the truth of the matter: that English education is essentially atheoretical. Sadly, and I know I have allowed myself to fall into both an acceptance and a use of this pernicious vocabulary, the word 'trainee' in relation to teacher education confirms, through its implicit sense of teaching as replicable skill, the antitheoretical nature of English education.

In my response (MT202) to Barbara and Derek's article (MT201), I suggested that when my Hungarian colleagues talked about 'pedagogy' they probably meant 'didactics', due to their knowing that the latter was not commonly used in English. Indeed, when I did a search in three UK-based online dictionaries, the word 'didactics' failed to turn up any hits. However, 'didactic' was in all of them, with their definitions confirming what I thought I knew already - that on the rare occasions when the English use the word it is almost exclusively pejorative. For example, the Cambridge suggests that it signals an intention 'to teach, especially in a way that is too determined or eager, and often fixed and unwilling to change', although the Oxford presents a slightly less disapproving perspective when it suggests that it is 'intended to teach or give moral instruction'.

In respect of 'pedagogy', all three dictionaries offer entries related to teaching and the study of teaching. In this respect there is a clear difference between didactic and pedagogy. Indeed, the perspective of the Oxford, which writes that pedagogy is 'the profession, science, or theory of teaching', is clearly removed from the anti-intellectual perspective underlying definitions of didactic. However, when one considers 'pedagogue', which one might expect to refer to persons with an interest in pedagogy, the underlying meaning reverts to disapproval.1 Thus, despite allusions to educational theory underlying the definitions of pedagogy, the atheoretical nature of English education finds support in the essentially equivalent sentiments embedded in both 'didactic' and 'pedagogue'. …

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