The learning debate is nothing new, it goes way back: Dismbodied Universals vs Contextualised Particulars

In 1896, John and Mary Dewey opened their laboratory school,

Dewey wished to ensure that learning was grounded in real-world contexts and activities rather than abstract ideas and rote learning… the educational process should mimic normal social behaviour, as opposed to the regimented kind of work he witnessed in traditional schools. 

Gislason, N (2009) Building Paradigms: Major Transformations in School Architecture (1798-2009) The Alberta Journal of Educational Research, Vol.55 No.2 Summer 2009, 230-248

The Deweys wanted to create a learning paradigm which was “intrinsically motivated, authentic and context rich” as Gislason describes it.

However, 1896 is more like last week, when we look at the origins of this thinking – it goes back to Aristotle and Plato in the 4th century BC. My interest was piqued went I down a reading rabbit hole. Starting with a Twitter link to Forbes article We’ve Got It Backwards: Starting With Content Rather Than Learners Doesn’t Work by Tom Vander Ark 

Why are high school students so bored? How could we engage them to learn the required content? How can we nudge, support and coerce college learners to graduation?  What if we”’re asking the wrong questions? What if memorizing content and procedures wasn’t the point?

Vander Ark (2019)

In answering these questions, Tom referenced a short paper, Aristotle and Learning as Engagement in Particulars by Sasha Barab. In 350BC Aristotle warned:

Whereas young people become accomplished in geometry and mathematics, and wise within these limits, prudent young people do not seem to be found. The reason is that prudence is concerned with particulars as well as universals, and particulars become known from experience, but a young person lacks experience”. Whereas, the Platonic ideal is focused on, transmitting abstracted universals into a learner’s disembodied mind. (p.1)

Barab, S. (2019) Aristotle and Learning as Engagement in Particulars, Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

These ‘particulars’ and ‘universals are at the heart of the debate – not merely ‘knowing about’ with a focus on content, but ‘knowing for’, uniting the person and context with the content.

Barab concludes with, “Imagine if schools were laboratories for transforming particulars rather than factories for memorising predetermined structures”. (p.6) 

I’m with Aristotle.

Anything that we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it; People become builders by building and instrumentalists by playing instruments. Similarly, we become just by performing just acts, temperate by performing temperate ones, brave by performing brave ones.

Nicomachean Ethics Book 2


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: