Killiney Kopitiam and Existential Pedagogy

When we lived on Grange Road, Killiney Kopitiam (67 Killiney Road, Singapore) was my breakfast haunt on Saturday mornings. It was best to go alone, or with someone who didn’t want much chat, score a seat outside, next to the road, and read the Saturday Business Times between mouthfuls of lemak curry chicken and roti prata, finished off with slices of kaya toast. A good time too for thinking.
Killiney Kopitiam, Killiney Road

Am still brooding over pedagogical methods for teaching people to read their Bibles.

Was looking today specifically at the sort of instructional design that emerges from idealism, phenomenology, and existentialism. Might have misunderstood stuff, but here goes anyway:

Idealism is an ontological concept that says that reality consists only of minds. The physical world is only an illusion, a product of minds.

Phenomenology (closely linked with Edmund Husserl) is the epistemological concept that says therefore that all we know is our subjective reality. It is meaningless to seek out an objective reality. Our perceptions and internal experience are all that matter. As Albert Camus put it:

This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world around me I can feel, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction.

Existentialism (Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre et al) then says, in light of the above, that since there are no truths about human nature, the individual is free to make his/her life in whatever way he/she wants.

In this worldview, inauthenticity is the biggest crime one can commit. Inauthenticity is when the individual allows him/herself to be defined by social categorisation, by conforming to the pressure to be a certain sort of person, or to adopt a particular manner of living, or to ignore their own moral or aesthetic judgements. Inauthenticity is being a “moral person” because by doing so, one subjects oneself to traditional external ethics.

Authenticity then is to be true to one’s own personality, spirit, character, despite external pressures.

Killiney Kopitiam, Killiney RoadThe aim of education within an existential worldview would be to allow students to learn that the world is absurd and without intrinsic meaning, and their lives are limited and temporal. They must then learn to be authentic by unilaterally creating and re-creating their lives through their own free will.

Of the educational curriculum, James Magrini in Existentialism, Phenomenology, and Education calls us to recognise and seek:

to overcome the injustice of a curriculum that embraces and privileges certain modes of knowing about others, such as an epistemological model favouring analytic-logical-empirical clusters of knowledge over more intangible forms of knowledge, those associated with the arts, which include the intuitive-perceptual model of knowledge…
Curriculum making conceived existentially, as opposed to following a product-process model (Tyler, 1949), which in great part determines the trajectory of the education in advance of actual student learning, would attempt to adopt a process-product line of curriculum development (“curriculum-envisioning”). This would allow for the curriculum to develop and evolve autonomously as the learning unfolds. In this “existentially” conceived curriculum, benchmarks are merely temporary, transitory, and malleable, they develop along with the learning process.

Instructional design then, is along the lines of the constructivist model I looked at previously. Magrini again:

The method of pedagogy must allow for the student’s development of her own unique possibilities, which is why the existentialists would reject a standardized curriculum and an authoritarian model for teaching. An “existential” curriculum would include a diverse content as well as an array of varied pedagogical methods, which would, importantly, include ample opportunities for peer-initiated and peer-directed learning.

Educators should plan lessons that embrace and incorporate aspects of the student’s emotional and intellectual autobiography (Grumet, 1992). However, it is not only the aspects of one’s unique life-story that matter, it is also important that students understand the major role that “history” and “heritage”play in shaping who we become-history’s authentic role not only forges our past but as well contributes to the future enactment of our possibilities that we gather from our“heritage”

The instructional methods employed should not be resemble the out-dated authoritarian model,where the teacher is the “superior” possessor of knowledge and the student the “inferior,” empty vessel waiting to be filled (Freire, 1970). This is model for pedagogy views knowledge at an objective remove from the student, and demonstrates no concern for the place of the existential “lived world” in the curriculum as shared by both teacher and student. Knowledge, according to the existentialists does not reside at a remove from our “lived world”  and in addition is constructive. Thus pedagogical techniques should stress the co-creative, co-responsive, and co-participatory aspects of education. This is not to indicate that the teacher allows the student to dictate each and every aspect of her education, for teachers need to be in command of the subject matter in order to first tailor it to fit the students needs. In relation to this issue, Heidegger (1952) famously stated that the most difficult task for educators was to learn how to let students learn

kaya toast, Killiney Kopitiam, Killiney Road
One’s first instinctive criticism of this worldview would be that there is no evidence or basis for these theories. But of course, that would be refuted by the presuppositions of this worldview – that there is nothing objective that can be quantified or measured.

And the Christian would object that it is God who defines right and wrong and morality, and reality, and the meaning of life, and the certainty of the future. At which, the existentialist would blow a giant raspberry and point to the self-referential pre-suppositions of existentialism.

But hardly any existentialist is a true solipsist of the Eastern mysticism persuasion, I’d think, so while I’m not too bothered with the validity of the worldview itself, its practical application suiting the convenience and what seems to be the natural self-centredness and selfishness is saddening.

However, might some of the pedagogical designs that emerged from this worldview be useful for a worldview that sees ample evidence for divine revelation?

Ontology, Epistemology, Learning Theory, Instructional Theory, and Instructional Design

Have been thinking again about how best to teach the various groups I’m to train over the next few months. Here’s a back-of-the-napkin thought about how instructional design is based on theories of instruction, that are themselves based on theories of learning, that must be based on different epistemological and ontological theories. Cheap and quick, so probably many errors.

ontology, epistemology, learning theory, instructional theory, instructional design, and Stump Jump GSM

Materialism says that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions. Knowledge, therefore, comes only or mainly from sensory experience and can be evidenced.

Its/their natural (not nurtured?!) children are:
(i) behaviourism (primary psychological paradigm 1920s – 1950s): humans are born tabula rosa (blank slate), resulting behaviour is a result of stimulus and response, the environment.

“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select–doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and, yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years.” (John B. Watson).

Related instructional theories would therefore be something to do with conditioning, whether classical (Ivan Pavlov), operant (B.F. Skinner), or social learning (Albert Bandura). And the attendant instructional design would be stimulus-response, reinforcement by rewards-punishment, and modelling. Skinner would also advocate practice as part of reinforcement – by for a reason different from that of David Ausubel (see below) who wouldn’t have cared for repetitive rote-learning.

(ii) cognitivism (primary psychological paradigm 1950s-1990s): humans are born with minds like black boxes that influence behaviour. Focus is on neuroscience, the brain, memory (long-term, short-term). Cognitive development occurs in stages (Jean Piaget) by the construction of a series of schemata to understand the world (schema theory – Frederic Bartlett, Richard C. Anderson). Therefore instructional theory emphasises learning styles (for different minds), repetition and mnemonics (to aid the memory), progressive differentiation and advance organisers (David Ausubel).

Phenomenalism says that physical objects do not exist as things in themselves but only as may be perceived through a person’s senses or with their mind. We cannot experience anything beyond the phenomena of our perceptions. Solipsism then states that actually, we can only be sure that our mind exists. Therefore, it agrees with rationalism that truth is best discovered by the use of reasoning and logic rather than by the use of the senses. Learning is therefore done in the context of constructing on what is already known (constructivism) rather than acquiring new knowledge.

Each person has a different interpretation and construction of the learning process. But this can be aided within a zone of proximal development (Lev Vygotsky). Instructional theory would therefore include scaffolding (because of ZPD), collaborative learning, active learning, discovery learning, knowledge building. This would result in instructional design outcomes like problem-based learning, assignments, disputations, interrogations, individualised programmed learning.

And critical theory probably says that none of these theories are valid because they include oppressive use of authority by educators! 😉

*this is not to say though that each of these instructional design theories must definitely be based on the corresponding ontological and/or epistemological theories as set out above.