R G Collingwood and the Role of Enquiry in Education

This essay examines some potential insights from Collingwood’s philosophical methods for the philosophy of education. I particularly focus on how his logic of question and answer might illuminate some of the aims, problems and methods of ‘enquiry-based-education’ (EBE). EBE is a methodology which emphasises the role of student-led enquiry and research in a given topic/field. This contrasts with more traditional educational approaches which focus on knowledge transmission from teacher to student. I suggest that the aims and methods of enquiry-based education resonate significantly with Collingwood’s historicism, particularly his account of meaning as dependent on a question and answer complex, which facts cannot arbitrarily be abstracted from. For this reason, I suggest that Collingwood’s arguments could be used to support and clarify some aspects of enquiry-based education, such as the appropriation of knowledge, and the disadvantages of alternative approaches to education.
In the first section of this essay, I present some of the main ideas behind EBE and contrast this with alternative approaches to education as ‘authority-based’. I suggest that there are significant links with the shift of emphasis to enquiry in education, and the humanities-based ‘revolution’ that Collingwood calls for. In the second section, I draw on Collingwood’s ‘logic of question and answer’ to provide an argument against authority-based education as an alternative to EBE. I suggest that Collingwood’s critique of knowledge as propositional makes it impossible for any genuine alternatives to EBE to successful teach students knowledge. I then link this back to my initial remarks about the possibility of a ‘historical revolution’, and suggest that EBE is needed for knowledge to be appropriated in a way that promotes historical “insight”.