Praxis

“Thinkers think and doers do. But until the thinkers do and the doers think, progress will be just another word in the already overburdened vocabulary of the talkers who talk.”

Anonymous

This quotation is a reminder that there can sometimes be a gap between theory and practice in adult and community learning. Of course there are theorists who are teachers – and teachers who are theorists – but theory is sometimes remote from practice, where there is a rich experience of tutors intuitively developing creative and successful strategies for teaching, learning and assessment, often working collaboratively. It’s interesting that Twitter and social media are providing means to open up exchanges of ideas and debate, prompting wider professional dialogue on these matters.

Theory and practice come together in the concept of ‘praxis’.

What is praxis in education?

A simple explanation is that praxis is a cycle of theory and purposeful action that incorporates reflection. It helps us to analyse our efforts so that we can develop and improve our thinking, doing and effectiveness as educators.

Praxis2

There are other interpretations and this doesn’t capture the additional elements of informed moral commitment and critical thinking that are commonly associated with praxis. Paulo Freire’s definition of praxis in Pedagogy of the Oppressed was, “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.”  Praxis is reflective, active, creative, contextual and has social purpose.

Centuries ago the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle categorised three disciplines of knowledge: the theoretical, the productive and the practical and some educators see praxis as one of four ways of approaching curriculum theory and practice, based on these three disciplines:

Praxiscurric

  • The syllabus approach can be seen as transmitting a body of knowledge .
  • The product approach assumes an attempt for students to achieve specified outcomes.
  • Learning to learn is the main focus of a process driven approach.
  • Praxis can be seen as an extension of the process approach, where the curriculum is put together through planning, acting and evaluating as in the cycle described above.

Is this model too simplistic? Are the four approaches mutually exclusive?

These are very basic and introductory interpretations of praxis. Although they refer to education as being contextualised, they can imply that the relationship between tutors and students is not shaped or constrained by policy and, in many organisations, by management and governance decisions.

What issues does this raise?

Some organisations are taking imaginative and very distinctive approaches. For example, Louise Mycroft (@TeachNorthern on Twitter) and others have developed a ‘Community of Praxis’ based on Northern College’s teacher education programmes.

As ever, I’d appreciate comments, development of arguments, disagreements, other ideas or links. There is a great deal of expertise on this subject and many people who can add deeper (or different?) perspectives about praxis in education.

What do you think?

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Paulo Freire

And so to Paulo Freire (1921-1997), a towering figure in adult education for social purpose.

Freire was the Brazilian educator, political philosopher and writer, best known for developing his highly influential Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He used his own experience to shape his educational practice, having suffered from poverty and hunger as a child and imprisonment and exile as an adult. He spoke movingly about how hunger had limited his own ability to learn in school – an issue that’s all too relevant for some children and schools today.

A persuasive man with an impressive intellect and strong convictions, he was determined that the world’s poor and exploited people should have better lives, especially in his native Brazil.

Freire believed that education has an essential role in relieving poverty and transforming lives. He developed methods of encouraging literacy while also raising social and political awareness through his educational work with impoverished Brazilians. He showed that oppressed people could become involved in democracy even if they hadn’t known about the concept before. He won poor people’s trust and attention, convincing them that they should and could have a say in the day-to-day decision-making that affected their lives.

Freire firmly opposed the idea that an education system should be like a bank, with students expected to withdraw specific types of knowledge that more powerful people had decided were necessary. (E.g. UK education policies of recent years?) Instead, he believed that there should be dialogue between the student and teacher and that the teacher should never impose their views of a problem on a student.

In Freire’s approach, literacy workers studied their students’ lives and derived a curriculum that promoted their sense of dignity and self-worth in their own knowledge. The educators encouraged students to develop literacy skills while they explored issues of exploitation, the meaning of culture and the power of written language through critical action learning. He and his colleagues created more than 20,000 ‘culture circles’ throughout Brazil using these principles. They worked on the basis that ‘understanding the world was as important as understanding the word’ and that students’ increased awareness of political matters could provide a basis for action to improve community wellbeing and resilience. (These concepts are highly relevant to the current review and development of the WEA’s curriculum .)

Freire proposed that the use of his ‘see-judge-act’ student-centred methods could raise critical consciousness and create change by inspiring students to:

  • see the systems that preserved injustice
  • judge the assumptions that maintained those social systems
  • act to achieve equality and democracy.

The Paulo Freire Institute was created in Sao Paulo in 1991. It brings scholars together to foster dialogue about new educational theories and interventions in a Freireian tradition.

Freire was a brilliant thinker and his ideas about education and society were original and effective, so it seems odd that his writing (or his translators’ interpretation) is unexpectedly complex for someone so interested in making ideas more accessible to the masses. Evidently he wasn’t a fan of dumbing down. He didn’t patronise the poor, but worked with them to broaden their horizons and to make sure that they could be involved actively in democratic processes.

This is a very condensed summary of Freire’s work. Please feel free to add any comments about his relevance to current educational policy developments at a time of austerity, pointers to other resources or any other thoughts on Freire’s contributions.

Pedagogy of the NEETs?