Conference Papers

Education beyond planability, knowability and certainty

The Dutch-born Canadian educationalist Max van Manen once referred to the verbal invitation ‘Here, take my hand!’ as the archetypal gesture of any pedagogue (gr. pais agein = to accompany the child on its way to school). Correspondingly, it symbolises the concept of education: ‘Taking by the hand’ reconciles the otherwise distinct meanings of bringing up (lat. educare) and bringing out (lat. educere) within the broader context of education’s underlying topological metaphor of leading out (lat. e-ducatio). In doing so, it also links up etymologically with the educational issue of emancipation (literally lat.: e – manus – capere = to let go of the hand).

In this presentation, I want to explore in three steps some of the ethico-epistemological implications and limitations of our current understanding of education arriving at an alternative conception by drawing on this symbolic pedagogical gesture in an illustrative manner:
First, ‘taking by the hand’ illustrates an educational paradox. It allocates the roles of educator and educatee, thereby establishing a binary system in which one signifier is invariably privileged over the other (child- or adult-centredness). This in turn causes two well-known paradoxes in educational theory: Kant’s ‘cultivation of freedom under the conditions of force’ (problem of emancipation) and the paralogical idea of leading into an unknowable future (problem of educatio).

Second, for many, education has come to mean negating these conceptual difficulties. Insofar as these paradoxes are interpreted as a theoretical weakness, notions of education and their practical application (pedagogy) involve the desire to optimise planning (cp. e-ducatio as directive intentionality), skills of application (cp. educere as reliable knowledge transmission) and attitudinal certainty (cp. educare as effective concern). We currently see this desire in the relentless global pervasion of politico-technological steering mechanisms in educational policies and research (evidence-based methodology, datafication, best practice etc.).

Third, if the constitutive nature of these paradoxes is accepted, then education may also mean embracing these difficulties positively! In that case, the actual source of education would not lie in the acceptance and subsequent theoretical mediation of binary terms (planning vs. lack of planning, knowledge vs. nescience, certainty vs. uncertainty) but in the originary event of the lived difference between them, that is the acknowledgment that education/pedagogy presuppose situations as self-eventuating plans (e-ducatio as a situational response to unplanability), teaching in awareness of the otherness of learning (educere as a knowing response to unknowability) and care as openness (from undecidedness) to the concerns of others (educare as a tactful response to the uncertainty of another’s fate).

Altfelix, T. (2019) 'Education beyond planability, knowability and certainty', paper presented to The 15th Annual Conference of the British Education Studies Association (BESA), 27–28 June, viewed 21 January 2020, <https://educationstudies.org.uk/?p=10165>