A Call for Pedagogical Reform



“Renaissance in Person” by Rick Steves

From what we know, formal education, in other words, the practice of a group of students learning together in a designated space, has existed since ancient Greece, ancient Rome, ancient India, and ancient China. Education systems flourished differently according to the culture and place it existed in. After all, nothing is produced in a vacuum. In Western Europe, cathedral schools flourished during the Early Middle Ages from as early as the 500’s CE, while in the Islamic world madrassa’s (Arabic word for “school”) flourished from the emphasis on knowledge. Madrassa’s were separate from the mosques, where learning and religious activities were conducted.

Yet education was not accessible to all levels of people in society until the 19th society. The industrial revolution led to a rise in demand for education and an educated workforce. Education became available to the poor masses, producing a prototype for the modern global education system existing today.

State-owned education originated in 19th century Prussia (today’s Germany). After the Prussian army was defeated by Napoleon, the Prussian aristocrats installed the first ever compulsory education system, believing their defeat was rooted in lack of education, or discipline.

Gradually, education underwent a series of global synchronization, which can be understood through three main peaks of expansion: the Colonial Era, the World War, and the Cold War.

Education Systems Today

There is a fundamental crisis in our global education system. Today’s global education systems are primarily designed in the form of disciplinary learning. This method of disciplinary learning constrains the learner into a number of commandment that must be the underlying basis and start towards analysing and examining the subject matter within that discipline.

Let us look at the topic of war. War has always been a part of the human condition, and so, if history has taught us anything, it is that wars will continue to be a part of societies. Which discipline should be used to study war?

An International Relations student would examine war from its perspective on nation-states, how they engage in intra-state and inter-state wars, preventable measures for war, post-war paradigms, how wars impact and shape the nature of global political relationships. Meanwhile, a sociology professor would examine war from a macrolevel level, the patterns of war making, including how societies engage in warfare, the meaning that war has in society, and the relationship between state structure and war making. A historian would examine war from a historical point of view, simply an archival take on the list of wars, its impact on history, and is beneficial to all other disciplines. A political scientist would collect and analyse the data of wars to extract plausible conclusions. An anthropological perspective of war and violence may focus on the sub-group of the military – their norms, values, and so on. An economical approach would reveal patterns and conclusions regarding the relationship between the economy and wartimes- whether this be a correlative or cause-and-effect relationship. Linguistics and/or English Literature would focus on examining the roles of propaganda and language in warfare. Psychology would shed light on what are the psychological causes and effects of warfare.

In order to attain the most holistic understanding of the subject matter, there needs to be an analysis of war from each of these disciplines. The International Relations student would end up having a completely different perspective on war than the Sociology student, and so on and so forth. What if you put them all in a room- how much could they learn from each other, wouldn’t the collective outcome of all their perspectives and methods of analysing and examining the same subject of war lead to a more holistic understanding and therefore beneficial and useful in application to, for example, finding and implementing solutions to post-war conflict or in methods of preventing interstate or intrastate wars?

Revolutionising Pedagogy

The concept of interdisciplinary studies has its origins in the 18th century, today it is most widely seen in America’s liberal arts colleges. As American educational reformer and philosopher John Dewey wrote in his The School and Society book, Chapter 3, “Waste in Education”:

“We do not have a series of stratified earths, one of which is mathematical, another physical, another historical, and so on. All studies grow out of relations in the one great common world.”

Therefore, “all studies are naturally unified”.

This argument pushed for changes in mainstream pedagogy through the likes of John Dewey, Ralph Tyler, and Benjamin Bloom through enabling a more interdisciplinary-curriculums to exist, today it is far from being the primary form of education systems provided to children.

This would require collaboration amongst educators. Indeed, it is more than implementing changes in how students select their topic of study for university, but indeed, a revolution of the very nature of how education systems are set up to examine the world around us. In order to ensure collaboration of professionals within their respective fields, talks and meetings should be set up across cities and in university programs to first introduce this concept of an interdisciplinary education and its importance to understanding what is, naturally, a variant world that requires variant disciplines to study it.

In this way, students would be able to build their own interdisciplinary pathway. This would be done by choosing their own pathway to examine the subject matter. For example, in order to study global warming- anthropologists, historians, archaeologists, and geologists would need to come together and share ideas and lenses to examining the subject of global warming.

An interdisciplinary approach to education would also revolutionize the student’s role in the process. Promoting John Dewey’s criticism of the student as a passive-learner, this would instead promote the student as an active participant in a back-and-forth process with the teacher. This would open an entire new area of thought, for solutions to conflict, new ways of thinking by looking at traditional topics that have been studied in a more rigid and constraining manner.




3 responses to “A Call for Pedagogical Reform”

  1. Loved your thought provoking post. I would like to add a few other considerations to the topic.

    I believe we need to first consider the purpose of the education system.

    I think it can be agreed that in today’s ‘modern’ society, the education system is objectively primed to suit the society’s economical needs and requirements. This has created a surplus of college graduates that fit a certain expected set of characteristics like bacteria in a petri-dish. The problem here of course resides in psychological expectations (career path and goals) and the casual relationships between supply-and-demand of learned/taught expertise. The existing solution has been to anticipate industry requirements (sometimes accurate) and making announcements which may or may not impart immediate change on the academic curriculum. Considering this issue, in an overly rigid academic structure, academia is constantly in a state of catch-up. The overly rigid academic establishment as stated in your post should then be flexible enough to adapt to the correct or incorrect newly assessed requirements. Unfortunately, if academic systems were over-hauled today, this would create drastic effects on the supply-and-demand relationship of the workforce. These effects if observed within a given time-scope would paint the over-haul in a negative or positive light depending on the given economic and political culture of the time. This presents the problem of how should the educational system be changed and in what fashion. Whether it should be slow or fast and whether or not the consequences of those actions can be absorbed or understood in the future as a necessary adaptation for possible growth and direction. However, there would only be one attempt so end-effects can not be obviously empirically verified through relative comparisons.

    This brings up the questioning of the educational system’s objective and the higher level-of-analysis of the country in which the educational system resides in. As you brought up in your post, war studied from an economics perspective reveals complex back-and-forth patterns in where different countries have taken upon different strategies in both preventing and executing warfare. During the American Civil War, there was taxation on British tea which later influenced the consumption of coffee. There was the blockading of ports and leveraging of gureilla warfare by ‘rebel’ groups in defiance. In more modern times, the Cold War was fought on two primary ideological fronts and strategies – from the Americans, the mainstream accepted idea of having a strong and powerful economy to outlast and outpace their Russian counterparts. Recent actions by the Russians and the perceived collapse of America’s political reach bears into question whether or not the American’s ideological strategy has actually been able to outpace and outlast Russia. This reveals the complex problem of whether or not an educational system exists to protect the nation in an economical fashion or whether or not educational systems exist to provide the tools for individual freedom, expression, and creativity. How these different systems relate and ought to reciprocally weight their own importance and requirements for the essential objective. I believe there is are no absolutes and easy solutions to this observed issue in our educational system. Perhaps it is better to observe the issue at an even higher scope of level-of-analysis.

    From a sociological perspective, the greatest common factor of all of these disciplines are people. The question and essential objective should then be focused on what the people want and need. As this question is morally and psychologically subjective as well as reciprocal to environment it is hard to deduce objectively in the short-term. However we can accept modern cultural development and history for a general grasp of what have been considered to be the most important. From my perspective, it has been religious, economic, and social freedoms. However, unfortunately the paradox of freedom and its varying degrees also creates the problem of competition. To cut things short, perhaps the real question is how to reverse the pattern of thought that competition is harmful and non-conducive to the development of society. That relative differences in value supports the possibility for the development of even far greater value or experiences. Of course this hints at accepting the general nature of capitalism to be beneficial rather than deprecating to society as a whole if it can simply be accepted as objectively good. Social aspects can then be tackled in a more objective fashion at lower levels-of-analysis. In truth, both capitalism and its considered polar opposites need to find a common ground on where society as a collective ought to direct itself – paradoxically once again reaffirming the issue of degrees of freedom.

    Once again, thank you for your post! It was very thought provoking. 😛


  2. Hi Amanda,
    Very nice and inspiring article! I agree with you wholeheartedly: we desperately need better education and meaningful learning experiences for students. (I blog about this at https://notesfromnina.com/)

    One way to increase the active learning for students and break the boundaries created by school subjects is to use phenomenon-based education. Finland changed the national curricula to reflect that holistic and constructivist approach and make learning more meaningful for students. Here is more info: http://www.phenomenaleducation.info/home.html



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