Hogan, P. (2010) The New Significance of Learning: Imagination’s Heartwork. Routledge.
I am SO happy about this book… I feel that is affirming everything I’ve been writing and thinking about in the last few weeks/months!
Hogan opens by acknowledging that education has been almost always been harnessed (hijacked?) by large bodies of interest; religions, governments and corporations. The first universities – Bologna (1088), Paris, Oxford (1167) were Christian institutions. Even at the separation of church and state following the Enlightenment, educational institutions were merely taken over by other (secular) custodians. Many educators appear to take for granted the custodial nature of education (which presumably has a lot to do with who is paying for it), and Hogan calls this the ‘natural view’; one that assumes or accepts education should have extrinsic utility from the perspective of its custodians.
When custodial organisations introduce requirements for measurable performance and impact against their goals, atrophy of the educational endeavour turns to disfigurement. Hogan aims to ask anew how education benefits humanity as an undertaking in its own right; to provide a substantive account of educational practice. He alludes to the educational practice embodied by Socrates and terms this the ‘independent view’. A modern-day example that comes to mind is the School of the Damned (http://theschoolofthedamned.com/) – an anarchic, free postgraduate fine art course of one year in duration that was originally set up as a protest against tuition fees but achieves so much more than that in terms of its educational aims.
Even in this short introduction, Hogan hints at some insights and definitions that resonate so strongly with my own feelings about education that I wonder whether it is best to stop and read something else! I feel like I am sneaking a peek at the answers in the back of the textbook of life itself…
For Hogan, the purpose of education is to uncover and nourish human potential that benefits others as much as the self – this is what I meant in an earlier post by fulfilment of the self in society. He also raises the potential difficulty of cultivating some of a person’s potential while leaving others undiscovered or undeveloped; this is adjunct to my concern – noted in the same post – that we miss out crucial aspects of our humanity if we only focus on and value that which is unique to us as a species. It also resonates with the discussion at the GLAD conference about forcing specialisation on students too soon – or at all. Yes, it is true that without personal specialisation we won’t reach the same dizzy heights of expertise and accomplishment as a species, but as Hogan points out, high personal accomplishment often turns to – or is fed by – greed and selfishness.
In these opening pages we are already given a strong hint of what Hogan thinks it means to be well-educated; to have a vibrant sense of personal identity, to be an open-minded but discerning learner, and to have a sense of responsibility for one’s continuing learning.
…and on that absolutely bloody fabulous life-affirming note, the sun is shining and I am off to take my beautiful little dog for a run.