Give this a view (and a listen):
I really like this little “animate” of Sir Kenneth Robinson talking about the challenges facing our contemporary system of education (from K-12 to higher ed), but I was left wondering about his characterization of curricular standardization as a legacy of both the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution (you’ll hear it around 2:05).
I understand and agree with his point (made many times by others) about standardization as a consequence of industrial theories of organization, but I’m not clear how educational theorists like Locke or Rousseau could be blamed for this. In many respects, Robinson’s pedagogical agenda, in its insistence on following the individual pupil’s rate of learning, is at least as reminiscent of Rousseau’s Emile as it is Dewey’s critique. I was also intrigued by his notion that the (unspoken?) assumptions driving Enlightenment theories of education reflected an “intellectual model of the mind” focusing exclusively on “deductive reasoning” and “knowledge of the classics,” assumptions that will quickly divide students into an academic elite of “smart people” and a much larger group of “non-smart people.” What’s more, such assumptions persist, zombie-like, in our contemporary obsession with high-stakes testing of cheaply delivered, testable content, “student tracking,” and curricula based on a lockstep progression of students into an industrial workforce. And he shows, without much difficulty, how very different the (advanced, post-industrial?) world is from the assumptions in which the current system is formed.
As someone who agrees with much of this diagnosis of contemporary education, and who witnesses how it has played out in my state’s system, I think there’s a lot of value to this critique. (I do wonder how to scale up the kinds of interactions he calls for, to maintain the educational access that everyone says they want).
But without expecting too much from a thought-provoking cartoon, I’d still like to think about the Sir Ken’s characterization of the “intellectual culture of the Enlightenment” (if there is such a thing): does it really foster a reductive notion of the mind and its capacities, and does it really divide education into academic and non-academic tracks? Another way to put this question is to ask whether practices like standardized assessments of learning represent yet another legacy of Enlightenment theories of mind, or something that the historical Enlightenment could teach us how to critique?