Musings on equity and pedagogy

I am considering the implications of mapping student learning challenges and solutions like this:

Universality in education implies open opportunity and access. It also has cultural implications, that certain philosophies, methods, and subjects are worth exploring because they lead to knowledge in a larger sense.

Communality in education implies that the people being educated, and the educators, belong to particular groups or communities. These may include professional or personal groupings, but they may also include other groups favored by social scientists: socio-economic, racial, religious, etc.

Individuality in education implies that learning in basically an individual activity, and that the effectiveness of pedagogy depends on the individual. It also implies that teaching must take into account individual talents, proclivities, abilities. It underpins ideas of individualization and personalization of learning materials and methods.

At many institutions, those who privilege communality are increasing awareness of the influence of groupings on the lives of students. Some of this has taken the form of movements for student equity. In its most useful form, communality makes teachers more aware of the challenges students may face because of their identification within a particular social group. In its extreme form, communality mandates particular forms of speech, opposes ideas that are seen to represent the dominant culture, and publicly shames individuals who don’t engage in groupthink.

Within this construct, universality is seen as tainted. Access is not enough, because those who are disadvantaged by their group membership cannot benefit equally from that access. In its most useful form, this can cause the culture to acknowledge those deficiencies and seek to remedy them, through awareness and policy designed to offset limitations. In its most toxic form, it denies the universality of ideas, and engages in cultural relativism.

Individuality is similarly tainted, because it does not consider the pressures resulting from group membership. Individuals must acknowledge, and in many cases are expected to represent, the group. A person who seeks to overcome the limitations of their group is seen as a traitor to the group. This may occur even when the group is defined externally, and the individual does not identify as a member.

The image above centers the individual within the group, and wraps both individuals and communal groups into the universality of humanity. There are similarities to the philosophy of stoicism. Using stoic concepts of individual and universal, the diagram might look like this:

Creative Commons licensed A-NC-ND John Danaher

In stoicism, the goal is to connect the individual at the center with the universal ideas that supersede the social context. The social world is an intermediate place where it is hard to tell noise from signal. Although humans are automatically attuned to the social world, they must overcome its noise to find a deeper connection with the universal. Communality is highly changeable, redefining itself frequently. Today’s communality is the not the same as yesterday’s.

In education, a central goal is to connect the individual to larger schemes of human knowledge. Pedagogy’s purpose is to assist the individual in using information, creating knowledge, and ultimately gaining wisdom. To achieve only typical attainment may attach the individual to the communal in a way that can prevent higher knowledge.

2 comments to Musings on equity and pedagogy

  • jmm

    This is an excellent overview of a topic close to my stoic heart. I really appreciate the way you recognize the potential of each perspective as well as its limitations. I’ve thought about this a lot lately, but not nearly so neatly.