The New Significance of Learning: Imagination's Heartwork

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This book arises from a bold suggestion: that education is to be understood mainly as a practice in its own right, as opposed to a subordinate activity controlled largely by society's 'powers-that-be'. Yet the long history of the practice has abundant examples that reveal just the latter. Many centuries of ecclesiastical control have cast teachers and pupils alike in an acquiescent role, and proclaimed a paternalistic order of things to be the natural one in the world of learning. In a secular age, a more mercantile credo gains ascendancy, but the hierarchical order of things in education essentially remains in place. Furthermore, international educational reforms in recent decades have done much to secure a major renewal of this order for the 21st century. The New Significance of Learning draws on a wide range of insights from history, philosophy, literature and social sciences, in an accessible style. The author's analyses reveal a vacuity that lies at the heart of this renewed educational order, for all its conspicuous concern with excellence and its measurement. In response to this, the book seeks to uncover the eclipsed classical origins of education as a characteristic human undertaking with its own inherent purposes. The seminal power of these origins is revealed by aligning them with major contemporary insights, to elucidate a distinctly educational understanding of human understanding itself. The merits of such an understanding are explored in some detail, not least by reviewing some objections that might be brought against it. The book proposes a more original understanding of education as a practice, and a number of examples suggest the merits of seeing it as a form of imaginative heartwork. This 'heartwork' recognises the plurality of the human condition, but also emphasises the necessity to cultivate and sustain environments of learning which embody universally defensible practices. A central ethical orientation for educational practice thus emerges, which combines a commitment to progressive fluency with an educated sense of one's own ignorance, and, in turn, of the relative ignorance of humankind. Such an orientation identifies an overlooked significance for learning in an era where fundamentalisms have made headway internationally, not only in religion, but also in politics and in commerce.