The most outdated enterprise of our time?


February 9, 2011 by Willy Cardoso


Camden Basement Couple

In an era marked by constant transition and paradigm shifts (this is cliché), teachers are faced with opposing forces in their efforts of change, a duality that is found in all layers of social life. On the one hand, there are the demands of a postmodern society that foments technological advancements, multiculturalism, insecurity and uncertainty. On the other hand, the strong side-effects of modernity with its mechanistic paradigms and top-down control.

At the level of school improvement and educational reforms, new ideas are intended to be progressive and democratic, but their implementation and administration are still industrialized, that is, planned and controlled by a few and imposed on the majority. Teachers today are expected to promote pupils’ identity formation, higher order thinking skills and (multi)culturalization in order to ‘release in the market’ flexible and creative beings, or workforce. These new attributes of teachers’ responsibilities are not substitutes to last century’s pedagogy, they are an addition. At the same time society necessitates large bulks of this new person, the main instrument which they rely on to achieve such, namely schooling, is one of the most outdated enterprises of our time. (This is one of the educational paradoxes)

Today, what teaching is supposed to be is highly uncertain. With a post modern age challenging moral certainties and knowledge base, old missions and purposes begin to crumble (Hargreaves, 1994: 4) with no apparent replacements. Methods of instruction are constantly criticized and many are losing their scientific and philosophical validity (e.g. behaviorism and humanism respectively). If the knowledge base of teaching has no scientific foundation, educators ask, “on what can our justifications for practice be based?” (ibid.)



2 thoughts on “The most outdated enterprise of our time?

  1. ddeubel says:


    If I read this correctly – I think you have hit on a crucial point that many don’t get. It is that are schools DO work. They are not failing at all and actually accomplish the major goal they are intended to reach – the creation of a consumer class with basic literacy and skills. This is the glue that keeps everything working and marching forward. This change came about in the 50s and still dominates – prior to that, school was a place where students were inducted into a shared cultural vision/version (this is now the role of government and media). Postman, Blomenfeld, Gatto, Illych (see this podcast for a great lecture, dialog about this…). . School creates just enough hope to keep the masses from revolting. It keeps them busy with the planning of future purchases.

    A lot of the reform and calls for new designs are just really fueling the strength of “school” as an institution. It all sounds sensible but really it is feeding a monster.

    That said, I think there are great reasons to “have school” . I’m not fully convinced by the unschooling / deschooling movement. School provides a place for universal literacy and for cultural cohesion (to harp back to Dewey and his sound principles). It just needs to go back to those roots and shared vision – and get away from the skill based, scientific approach and be more “liberal” and flexible. School needs to be voluntary and the gutted of the monster of accreditation. Let life be the final arbitrator over who can and can’t do a job – a diploma should represent a basic set of skills all of us have and that should be that.

    About the “knowledge” society. We will still need school as a place where we can meet others and process knowledge. You can wiki information (lead the horse to water) and get students to complete assignments but you also have to spark them to think/create (get them to drink, digest, grow). And we do still need standards. It is just that we’ve packaged education into this crazy commodity and made it seem much more than it really is. That is the problem. Same with TESOL. We make teaching a language out to be much tougher than it is. Students can get by without a school or teacher – but like the larger institution of school – we create the artificial need. Millions learn language without the need of school, each year. Yet we have a billion upon billion dollar industry that tells us it ain’t so. You need this book, you need to learn this way, you need to pay for a course.

    I can’t tell you what our justifications should be based – only what my own is based upon. It is based upon the belief that knowledge is power. That unfortunately, to have a “good” life, one needs this power. I can share with others to give them this power. So, I do. I wish it were different and that we’d value all people equally. However, we don’t. There won’t be the kingdom of heaven on earth any time soon so I render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.


    I have always thought that certain forms of society are self-perpetuating (a kind of Weberian idea).

  2. Schools DO work, yes, that’s the idea. But even for this modernistic purpose it’s starting to collapse. Schooling and its stakeholders are taking the notion of ‘knowledge society’ to the extreme, there’s no room in the marketplace for all these well educated people, after awhile they’ll be asking for a bachelor’s degree to work at Starbucks. Human Capital is not as beautiful as it is painted, it doesn’t mean much if I have a master’s if everyone does too. So in the end, knowledge is power, yes, but not everyone can have it, otherwise we’d be all equal and as equals the wheel would stop spinning.

    Moreover, I don’t think we need a scientific knowledge base for teaching, at least, not in the way most people understand science and method today. To teach is in our nature, as it is to destroy, it is proved we can do it, and we can do it well. But once you need massification of it, then we need technology and policies and all that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

receive new posts by email.

Join 485 other followers


Events 2015

IATEFL Manchester, UK
10 April, 2014
TDSIG PCE: Challenges and Rewards
More info

IATEFL Manchester, UK
12 April, 2015
Talk: Initial teacher training: challenges and innovations in course design

23 March, 2015 - Kragujevac
28 March, 2015 - Belgrade
Theme: Assessment: who is it for?
More info



%d bloggers like this: