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Note for Habermasian philosophy of higher education

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  • Gary E. Davis
    Very interesting, Prof. Ayers, re: your blog posting, Teaching Philosophy, 9/24, which briefly expresses an interest in applying Habermas work to thinking
    Message 1 of 2 , Oct 13, 2007
      Very interesting, Prof. Ayers, re: your blog posting, "Teaching Philosophy," 9/24, which briefly expresses an interest in applying Habermas' work to thinking about higher education leadership:

      "Teaching Philosophy"

      I'd like to see a focus on higher education at the Habermas list at Yahoo! Groups:


      Perhaps you'll join and cause some good discussion. (This note to you is also being posted to the group, at least for the sake of flagging the important topic for students of JH's work.)

      I've seen Habermas' work as highly pertinent to philosophy of education for a very long time. I haven't looked at Stephen Brookfield's book that you mention indirectly (_Discussion as a Way of Teaching_, 2005), but I will one of these days! His 2005 article from Teacher's College Review on Habermas' work (Brookfield's conception of his book, I suppose) is available here:

      "Learning Democratic Reason: The Adult Education Project of Jürgen Habermas"

      Your synopsis of a Habermasian context (very brief, re: part of _TCA_v.2) looks fair to me, nicely slanted toward thinking about educational systems (rather than intending to get at what Habermas is basically doing).

      Habermas' view is concordant with an assumption that, in your words, "even students in the fine arts...need entrepreneurial skills." One may have this kind of assumption (a balance of, let's say, principled engagement and technical competence) without implying that "market discourses shape the way we reason." I will presume that you agree, though that's not clear from your posting.

      You say: "I describe my philosophy of education as progressive with radical tendencies." I would describe *my* philosophy of education as progressive without radical tendencies (any longer). Indeed, truly progressive thinking can't be radical, since its pragmatism ("progressivism" *should need* to be pragmatic) involves a balance of *realism* (so to speak: in the ordinary sense of prudence) with its idealism.

      Progress involves *broad-based* learning, which environments can only handle at their ownmost rate, i.e., according with their own developmental resourcefulness and with provided opportunity (which is a complex systems issue). A learning society is a function of the efficacy of learning in its organizations (inasmuch as they're able to see themselves as truly learning organizations committed to organizational learning), which is a function of its members embodying an endless learning in their own careers that works constructively in concert with their organizations. There is developmental inertia all around and for good reason. The motivation is constructive, future-oriented, developmental, and, perhaps, "evolutionary" in an enactive, proactive sense (non-naturalistic).

      Accordingly, it's an exaggeration to say that "the purpose of graduate education is to produce critical consciousness," etc., though *clearly* that is vital to professional capability, vital for broad-based organizational learning, vital for educational leadership, and vital for a society seeking to direct its development in a principled way, enhancing its humanity, let's say. What motivates critique? Call it the vitality of the lifeworld born to grow and learn and make good.

      Still, your brief statement is a fine example of a context that pertains to "discourses of application," anticipated by JH , for example in his sense of the university:

      "The Cultivation of Humanity"

      Wishing you great progress in your work,

      Gary Davis


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    • Gary E. Davis
      David Ayers provided a prompt and very substantive personal reply to my note to him. He s not yet a subscriber, but his reply contained no personal
      Message 2 of 2 , Oct 13, 2007
        David Ayers provided a prompt and very substantive personal reply to my note to him. He's not yet a subscriber, but his reply contained no personal information, so I'm going to quote him, for the sake of gathering my own thoughts, which I consider to be congruent with a Habermasian interest in thinking about postsecondary education.

        David, Thanks for your reply.

        DA> I'm not sure I understand your points, particularly the significance of the

        GD: Funny. The asterisks are just the old email convention of emphatic italicizing/bolding for email software or listserv software that doesn't "see" HTML formatting, in a medium that's not oral, of course.

        DA> I doubt that communicative action can ever lead to true understanding. In this sense, I gravitate more toward Foucault.

        GD: I suppose you don't really intend "ever" (rather: "often"—or "usually"?). But, then, "true" (genuine?) understanding *could* be so idealized that it's impracticable.

        Anyway, Foucault-Habermas disagreements favor Habermas, by way of their genuine (academic) existence, which implies a pretense of resolvability about disagreeing. At the end of his life, Foucault was moving toward Habermas' sense of reasonableness, which distinguishes an understanding-oriented interest in reasonableness from rationalISM (which is hegemonic). Foucault never denied that he was being reasonable, but he just didn't give attention to theorizing his own pretext of reasonableness.

        After all, respectful communication presumes that one's partner is capable of understanding "you", and genuineness provides fair chances for the other to get sufficient reassurance that s/he understands, as "we" move onward communicatively to do what we've set out to do together. Fair venues of interaction provide fair opportunity to reassure each other that each is fairly understanding the other.

        I respond at some length here as a promoter of struggling with Habermas' work, which pertains to myself, too.

        DA> ...I view higher education as primarily epistemological development (Perry; Belenky et al.; Kitchener & King, etc.),...

        GD: I'd be very grateful for more complete citations.

        DA> ...In my classroom, epistemological development is central. I often ask my grad students how they know what they know.

        GD: So, you're thematizing a vital difference between how and that. Whether a claim to knowledge is valid or not, it involves beliefs that imply the difference. So, it's a vital difference, whether or not it's critically employed against validity claims that turn out to be invalid.

        DA> Students must then provide reasons for their claims, and by talking through these reasons, they often discover that unfounded assumptions--hegemonic discourses--are the basis of their arguments. Thus, developing critical consciousness is truly an outcome of learning.

        GD: I wholeheartedly agree. On the other hand, they only got into the classroom due to a lifeworld of tacit claims that turned out to have reasonably well-founded presumptions, such that they are *able* to act justifiably—to keep their dignity when proven wrong, which allows for being ready to internalize self-incriminating critique (e.g., critique of, say, their sexism or ethnocentrism). To clarify the validity basis of belief is, according to the lifeworld-oriented side of Habermas' work, the hermeneutical basis for critique that works. You see it in every diplomatic communication, be it the teacher who respects the student's ability or the Secretary of State who tells the Russians that they're looking authoritarian. "We are on common ground, though we seriously disagree (and you're actually *wrong*)."

        DA> As for knowledge acquisition--they can get that by reading a book. They don't need college for that.

        GD: ...presuming they know how to read accurately or insightfully, which is why textual exegesis is basically hermeneutical.

        DA> That education is preparation for work is an assumption that we take for granted...

        GD: I find useful a distinction between work and career, and I promote a rich sense of career, including (but beyond) occupational life. Wanting a rewarding life motivates a career, yet ultimately rewardingness can't be validly understood monetarily. What we should need to do, generally in higher education, is enrich the sense of reward beyond monetary value (money is for *what*?—and what's the real worth of *that*?), enrich the sense of career beyond occupation (success for *what*?—and what's the real worth of *that*?), and promote the meaning of work in terms of an enriched sense of career, truly rewarding life, and true worth---which involves dwelling extendedly with questions of the meaning of "things" like "truly rewarding" and "true worth" across the curriculum, in professional development, and in formulations of research projects.

        Generally, the point here is that critique doesn't help much unless it's part of an extended conversation that re-works the basic terms of our understanding of our lives and our place in the world. This is why, I suppose, Habermas gives such attention *first* to the existential aspect of ethical life in his important beginning to the book _Justification & Application_, chapter 1: "On The Pragmatic, The Ethical, and the Moral Employments of Practical Reason," my favorite essay by him.

        DA> ....(Of course, common sense is always ideological and determined by cultural hegemony.)....

        GD: Not true. The lifeworld *includes* ideological aspects and hegmonic determinations, but only in pathogenic environments is this determinative. Largely, the lifeworld works: We're commonly decent, reasonably able to be collaborative, reasonably capable of learning to love and work meaningfully, etc. This validity basis of common sense deserves to be appreciated, if only as the common ground we share in dealing with critically important realizations, which are very uncomfortable to deal with, if the critique is really important.

        DA> ....In other words, education has become associated with its exchange value, and its use-value is not recoognized.

        GD: No doubt. So, what's the use-value that deserves to be understood? It doesn't follow ex nihilo from the critique of exchange value. You must have gained insight relative to appreciations that you would employ to inspire thinking newly about the aims of education. Indeed, this may work better than critique, because the appeal of Meaningfulness---"true understanding"---*annuls* the appeal of false consciousness and creates the basis for critique to give the other a place to stand after demystification. Exchange value is a phoney basis for thinking about the meaning of one's career *because* the worth of education—for a truly rewarding life, in a truly worthwhile endeavor to make a lastingly meaningful world for our later years, our loved ones, our communities, and our children—can be made more appealing than just having money without meaning. At least, this is my hope. (Also, I'm recalling philosoher Jacob Needleman's general-audience book, _Money and the Meaning of

        I would argue that it's an appeal of the better basis for case making rather than a force of critique that makes an overtly critical argument durably efficacious for particular others. Critical theory provides language for distantiating stands, but doesn't provide an Elsewhere for standing, except inasmuch as the critique stands Elsewhere in the first place. But the disclosure of the Elsewhere doesn't happen through critique, which *opens* understanding to a better place, but doesn't create it.

        DA> ...one university ... claims that all students need entrepreneurial skills. I disagree with this statement, and I believe that applying entrepreneurialism to, say playing the bassoon, is an example of how we tend to equate learning with occupational outcomes. ...

        GD: The musician who lacks entrepreneurial skills won't get far as a musician in a tight market. It's especially difficult for artists to support themselves with their art. Every artist who *does* live via their art will tell you that the university is right about entrepreneurial skills. Likely, the artist will support herself/himself doing something other than their art.

        DA> ... Further, occupational outcomes are uncritically aligned with work in the private sector, which although applies in most cases, does not apply in others, particularly unpaid domestic labor.

        GD: What's unpaid domestic labor, if not an alienated attitude toward homemaking that results from a failing marriage (e.g., persistently unshared work that's become regarded as labor because the home life is not working)? Or perhaps you're thinking of tax policies that somehow price homemaking (in order to calculate the tax relief fairly across vastly different family situations). Anyway, the public sector and the nonprofit sector have to be very concerned with occupational outcomes, as a matter of tightly-budgeted organizational goals that justify re-budgeting (or re-granting) for the next financial cycle.

        Don't make the mistake of some students of Critical Theory, who work as if economics isn't integral to a good society, thus showing a vague sense of economic factors in their strident conceptions of progressive practice.



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