27 October 2009

Understanding the Context of Education

It may be news to the so-called Internet generation that history did not begin only fifty years ago. That's why I ground my own research into contemporary organizations in 3,000 years of history. There is also an underlying existential, epistemological, and ontological foundation for the things we do today. That's why I introduce a philosophical frame to provide reasoned guidance to Valence Theory. Together, history and philosophy provide the context that enables meaning to be made, even (especially) in a contemporary context that has been tremendously influenced by the follies of post-modernist thought.

Believe it or not, education as well has a history, and a philosophy that allow today's practitioners to make sense of the circumstances that inform their pedagogical practices. Or, to put it simply, teachers and educators need to understand from whence we came to comprehend where we should be going.

This very simple lesson seems to be lost on the Chief Educators at the largest graduate faculty of education in the world, namely the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education - OISE - at University of Toronto. The Dean, Jane Gaskell, in conjunction with Brian Corman, the Dean of Graduate Studies and Vice-Provost of Graduate Education for U of T's School of Graduate Studies, announced that they are shutting down the doctoral program in the History and Philosophy of Education in the Theory and Policy Studies department at OISE.

Nominally, the Ontario Council for Graduate Studies states their reason for recommending that the program be shut down as:
The staffing levels for the program are extremely low and will be exacerbated by imminent retirements. The Committee was not convinced that a critical mass of Faculty is associated with the program to ensure the necessary intellectual climate for a doctoral program. In addition, there is no commitment for hiring at an appropriate level to ensure program viability.
However, there are no imminent retirements (two professors who are approaching the former mandatory retirement age aren't retiring), and the 7 tenured faculty in the program are augmented by 17 associate faculty who are paid by other U of T departments. What is true is that Dean Gaskell seems to have been starving this program of academic renewal for six years, apparently refusing to hire a new professor even though the TPS department unanimously agreed that the next TPS hire should be for H&P (the unanimity has been since 2007).

How easy it is to say that there is not academic critical mass when the requisite supplementary mass has been repeatedly refused by the Dean. It's not as if there was a long-standing tacit plan to shut down the program, right? After all, it's only 85 students we're talking about.

It may appear that History and Philosophy of Education are not immediately relevant to the corporate view of instrumental education. It may be that H&P don't get the paying bums in the seats - after all, most of us are nothing more than BUs (Basic Units) to the bean-counters on OISE's 12th floor - the same ones that have repeatedly told us there would be no negative impact to increasing enrolment, decreasing tenured faculty, decreasing adjunct stipends, and preventing part-time students from taking more than one course per semester (tell that to the person whose salary depends on completing her M.Ed.). These are the same bean-counters that wanted to introduce the concept of indentured servants to the funded cohort at OISE ("no impact," they said, even though it means that a student would be tied to a professor they have never met for the duration of their degree) because that's the way they do it in many science faculties.

Without doctoral research in History and Philosophy of Education (which, of course, attracts the Master's research before it) the understanding of educational context withers and dies. Thus, that which creates meaning to current practices goes by the wayside, and most important, what fundamentally enables us to query and probe why we are doing what we are doing, and whether it's still relevant, vanishes. Perhaps the status quo is acceptable to Dean Gaskell - after all, people are still paying to be taught how to be good 19th-century schoolmarms, albeit with fancier tech. But (and this is where it gets personal) were it not for a doctoral thesis produced by graduate of H&P at OISE (on Plato, of all things), I wouldn't have been able to state No Educator Left Behind (that has garnered attention among thousands of educators throughout North America), and quite literally, the foundational work that led to Valence Theory of Organization would not have existed, and thus, neither would my thesis. How about that? What I hope will be the Next Big Thing in business had its humble beginnings in the History and Philosophy of Education.

Yes, Dean Gaskell, it is a complex world - what you might perceive as a relatively inconsequential budget saving may indeed have implications far into the future that none of us can yet perceive.

Sign the petition to Save History and Philosophy of Education.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Dear Mark,
Thank you for your courageous and poignant message. The support received from colleagues in other areas who appreciate the foundational importance of History and Philosophy is a testament to the fact that the proverbial wool cannot be pulled over our eyes without a fight!

Jennifer Hompoth,
History and Philosophy of Education