In search of knowledge, learning and teaching : a case for integrative education in and for the 21st century
Salim, Omar Akbar
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SubjectCurriculum Development; Integrative Education; Reality, Knowledge and Truth; Teacher Professional Learning; Transformative Learning; Values Pedagogy
There is growing evidence to suggest that many of today’s North American colleges and universities are pedagogically ineffective in preparing students personally, professionally and publicly. This widening gap between what we need and want of higher learning and what its educators and structures provide comes at a time in which new social, political, cultural, and economic unrest and uncertainty accompanied by technological disruption and looming environmental danger require more than ever that our students become creative, critical and collaborative life-long learners who can develop a philosophy of ethics and pluralism and fashion entirely new ways of living in the world. Hence, this dissertation is an exploration of the current state of post-secondary education (PSE) in Canada. It adopts a book-based structure, design-based research methodology and multi-methods approach to investigate three broad issues: 1) What are the contemporary and interrelated challenges facing the Canadian PSE system and society in general? 2) How has the Canadian PSE system and pedagogical practice evolved over the course of history and how has this shaped today’s local and global state of affairs? 3) What can we do to improve the delivery of PSE pedagogical practice in order to better equip our graduates to deal with this century’s looming existential challenges and to seize upon the creative and sustainable solutions available to the international community? All of these issues are addressed through three stand-alone, yet interrelated chapters that respond to a number of research questions in each respective chapter. The three chapters can be read separately but also work together to generate an interconnected and nuanced understanding of the issues pointed out above and to identify theoretical and practical ways forward. The first and second research chapters are conceptual in nature and based on a historical and contemporary narrative that draws upon a transdisciplinary body of literature. Together, these two chapters make a case that we have entered a point in history in which reform in our interconnected social, political, economic and pedagogical structures are no longer viable options. Instead, I contend that governments, PSE institutions and especially educators must break free from their reductive, outmoded and corporatized philosophical assumptions, in order to re-discover Canada’s personal, professional and public transformative identity – where educators, along with citizens, demand that governments and, by extension, institutions of higher learning re-establish a purpose and practice of PSE that truly serves the democratic, egalitarian and environmentally sustainable interests of all Canadians. Here, the notions of knowledge should be understood as a prescriptive (constructive) rather than descriptive (objective) process and learning and teaching operationalized in its fullest and broadest dimensions (including the mind, body, heart and spirit). As such, one of the major steps in initiating such radical change will be to reverse the disconnected, ‘objective’ and instrumentalist subconscious reality of the present world (as prescribed and normalized by the hegemonic world views of scientism, technical-rationalism and neoliberalism). Here, as the pre-moderns long understood, and a growing body social and natural science research recently confirms, human learning is a constructive process that is not based on the separation of knowledge from values, life and being, but upon their inherent unity and integration. With this understanding, I propose we prescribe an entirely new and integrative model of education based on UNESCO’s four pillars of learning for the 21st century: learning to know, to do, to be, to live and work with others (Delors, 1996); accompanied by a fifth pillar that I have added: learning to impact/influence society and the environment. This integrative vision and practice of education could be effectively supported by Taylor’s (2007) super nova of a secular, inclusive and humanistic ontological thesis, accompanied by Habermas’s (1972, 1988) theory of knowledge (technical, practical and critical). Together, these offer a way in which we can foster a holistic, contemporary and comprehensive pedagogy that engages with full dimensions of knowledge, learning and teaching: the cognitive, the affective, the social, the intentional, the somatic, the intuitive, the moral, the intellectual, and the spiritual. Here, both Taylor’s ontology thesis and Habermas’ knowledge thesis would suggest that truth (or the Universal) may exist, but that we must accept and appreciate that no one theory or construction of human perception or consciousness, either from a person, philosophy or tradition (religious, scientific or cultural) may claim monopoly over it. In light of this, I make the case that we can no longer sit comfortably on the political fence and pretend that our education systems are ‘neutral’ and ‘objective’ institutions of learning. Here, as Chair of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Honorable Justice Murray Sinclair enjoined, in his recommendations about making right the tragic wrongs and injustices brought upon Canada’s indigenous peoples, “education got us into this mess, and education will get us out” (Anderson, 2016, para. 10). In other words, just as an endlessly looping unintegral closed system of knowledge and truth can been created, prescribed and institutionalized through a combination of story generating ideological agents (such as education) to sort people and maintain an unjust, iniquitous and unsustainable reality for so many people and communities around the world, so too we have the power to challenge and reclaim this system in order to rebuild an open, egalitarian and environmentally sustainable/peaceful alternative. Subsequently, the third chapter takes a practical turn. It uses insights from the previous two chapters and combines them with the most up to date research on knowledge, learning and teaching to propose a heuristic model of understanding pedagogy in a holistic sense, called the Integrative - Knowledge, Learning and Teaching (I-KLT) Rubric/Chart. This rubric provides a ‘map’ and ‘compass’ (and accompanying tools) by which educators might locate their underlying philosophical values and related pedagogical practice; as well, it is designed to challenge, encourage and guide educators in adopting an integrative pedagogical enterprise that diverges from their existing traditional and instrumentalist teaching practices. This study undertakes a design-based research methodology and multi methods intervention in which the I-KLT rubric was used as a centre piece to deliver a series of workshops with educators at an Ontario College. The results from this study suggest that the workshop accompanied by the I-KLT rubric, had indeed, accomplished a significant measure of change in helping participants shift their view toward a more integrative nature and practice of knowledge, learning and teaching. However, the data also revealed that while a conceptual shift had clearly taken place among participants, a more widely adopted practical implementation would require more teacher professional learning commitment, deliberate practice and a community of practice initiated by participants. Also, change toward a more broadly accept model of integrative pedagogy would require institutional transformation supported by college administration and government leadership/policy.
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