2/8/11

Kieran Egan on the nature of Knowledge



Kieran Egan was born in Clonmel, Ireland in 1942. He was brought up and educated in England. He read History (Hons.) at the University of London, graduating with a B.A. in 1966. He worked for a year as a Research fellow at the Institute for Comparative Studies in Kingston-upon-Thames and then moved to the USA to begin a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education at Stanford University. He worked concurrently as a consultant to the I.B.M. Corp. on adaptation of a programming method, called Structural Communication, to new computing systems. He completed his Ph.D. at Cornell University in 1972. His first job was at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, where he has remained ever since. He is the author of over 20 books, and co-author, editor, or co-editor of a few more. In 1991 he received the Grawemeyer Award in Education. In 1993 he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada, in 2000 he was elected as Foreign Associate member to U.S. National Academy of Education, he received a Canada Research Chair in 2001, won the Whitworth Award in 2007. His main area of interest is education. His work focuses on a new educational theory, which he has developed during the past two decades, and its implications for a changed curriculum, teaching practices, and the institution of the school. His work deals both with innovative educational theory and detailed practical methods whereby implications of his theory can be applied at the classroom level. Various of his books have been translated into about 10 European and Asian languages. His recent books include Teaching as Story Telling and Imagination in Teaching and Learning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), The Educated Mind: How cognitive tools shape our understanding (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), Getting it Wrong from the Beginning: Our progressivist inheritance from Herbert Spencer, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), An imaginative approach to teaching (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,2005), and Teaching literacy: Engaging the imagination of new readers and writers(Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2006), and most recently The Future of Education: Reimagining our schools from the ground up (New Haven: Yale University Press).

I am having a blast listening to all these authors on education on WWW.FutureonEducation.com. Egan has many controversial ideas about education. One of the quotes discussed in his interview is,
"Education is a contentious and unsatisfactory activity." That quote alone got me interested.

These notes below are from the interview, please note some ideas are quoted verbatim.

**Egan claims education is made up of three ideas that ultimately do not fit or work well together, the three ideas are:
1. School's purpose id to socialize children to the world we live in
2. Then there is the academic purpose/idea
3. And last there is the developmental aspect of education.

** Egan believes that the problem with these ideas is that they are mutually incompatible and that this incompatibility explains why education is hard to do

* Egan claims that we have typically looked at education as part of a balance. The idea being that if not able to be balanced then ultimately the compromise is the best solution. He says that these ideas are traditional ideas and they are not hacking it for us. He offers that we need to give up that each of these ideas for 3 bad ideas does necessarily make a good idea. He clarifies that confused ideas make for confused solutions.

** Egan is huge on developing of the imagination in children. He says that the world is wonderful and that it should not be so difficult to show kids that the world is wonderful. he has written several books about developing imagination.

** Egan likens education to the process of giving children tool kits. These tool kits can be anything from oral language, cognitive, storytelling skills, metaphor, images in mind to express ideas, sense of mystery, or story structure. He describes education equal to picking up as many tools as many as possible. he puts forth the idea of children choosing a topic each year and building on that topic over the year, so that in the next 12 years, every child will know as much on that topic as most people n the world.

** Egan out forth the imagination as crucial to children learning about the world around them. Yet, he claims the imagination can work only with what you know. The more you know the richer you can imagine.

** He became curious about education by asking questions such as why kids collect cards. He says there is very little out there about how children make sense of the world.

** Egan proposes that the problem of today's schools is that they do not get a sense of that wonder and asks "how you can make everyday teaching infused with wonder"

** In commenting on the PISA (international testing of industrialized countries) he says that we need to look on what is being tested. He says of course a child at a private school, where wealthy kids go, are doing superbly well on the 5 paragraph essay for they teach it to death. He says, of course, if the finite goal is measurable, it's not hard to reach the goal. He adds that in Singapore they do great on the tests, but that a great deal (of schools) is dreary beyond belief". He ends with saying that "This is a not an education triumph one we should be seeking to emulate." Oh! what a breath of fresh air this guy is. At this quote I made up my mind to buy one of his books.....I'm sold!!

** On questions about the role of technology in education, he says that "education is a conversation amongst generation, but that crucial to education is a conversation, face to face conversation is always going to be crucial to education."

** The most important message Egan left me with was his view on nature of knowledge. He proposes that no knowledge can be in books, on the Internet. He calls those things carrier of we 'codes'. He says books, Internet are invented ways we have found to express our knowledge. He says that the only source of knowledge is in human mind. He says schools often confuse codes and knowledge. "We see as satisfactory the repeat of certain kinds of codes are rewarded. We reward people for something that could be meaningless. We accept code in place of knowledge. He sees the role of the teacher as needing to "resuscitate knowledge from code. Instead of getting kids to replicate code, to seek meaning."


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