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Lushyn, P. The Problem of Pedagogical Transfer of Critical Thinking Curriculum: An Ecopsychological Interpretation
|The major task which we set for ourselves in undertaking this project
was to define just what is involved in the transfer of a form of
pedagogical experience from one environment to another-in this case,
from the American way of teaching critical thinking to the current
educational situation in Ukraine. |
A necessary first consideration is to characterize the process of pedagogical transfer in general. From a theoretical point of view, the following structural elements of the process need to be considered: 1) To define the meaning of the contents to be transferred, in that they are determinative of the process itself; 2) To determine the structural characteristics of the system from which the contents will be transferred; and 3) The characteristics of the system to which the contents will be transferred; 4) The dispositions of the agents and subjects of transfer in both systems; which requires 5) taking a metaposition-i.e. the disposition of the analyst him or herself.
Number 5 leads to an infinite regress, in that, in order to do so one must take a meta-meta position, and so on. Even if we attempt to take a simpler approach and to define the "building blocks"-i.e. the essential components of the transfer, the same problem presents itself: as soon as I define the meaning of a new component(s), my position as the agent or observer of the component also changes, thereby changing both source and target systems themselves in an essential way. We are faced again with an infinite regress, in this case in the relation between the agent/observer and the object of agency or observation. Thus, neither way of approaching the problem help us to come to any definite understanding of the process.
An alternative approach is possible from the point of view of dialectical systems theory. In this case, in order to better understand the process of pedagogical transfer, we need to determine the basic core problems or contradictions lying in each system involved in the transfer. From the Ukrainian side, we notice most prominently that education is in a period of major transition. On the level of pedagogical awareness and practice, as well as in the preparation of teachers, many educational theorists and practitioners have been aware of the need and possibility for democratization of the contemporary school for some time. Starting with the period of perestroika-the social economic transformation of the former Soviet Union-many pedagogues and psychologists began to assimilate democratic ideas from both native and foreign sources. In particular, the wave of pedagogical innovators in the late 80s and early 90s-who constituted a movement called the "pedagogy of co-operation"-were supported, not only at high levels of government but by the media, and became celebrities of sorts during this relatively brief period. In spite of this notoriety, the educational systems, not just of Ukraine but of most of the former soviet republics, remained authoritarian in their basic character. The basic manifestation of this form of authoritarian pedagogy is the explanatory, illustrative style of intervention, which was severely criticised by the proponents of internalization theory (Galperin and Talyzina) as well by theorists of learning activity or higher order thinking formation (Davydov and Elkonin)-both of which movements originated as early as the 70's. Thus, the major contradiction which confronts the project of the democratization of Ukrainian education: while the pedagogy of cooperation is universally accepted in theory, it is universally ignored in practice.
In order to resolve this contradiction, we decided to analyze one of the authoritarian forms of pedagogical intervention characteristic of Ukraine in a cross-cultural context-namely, the lecture. We posed the question-just what is it that the lecture accomplishes for teachers which makes it so difficult for them to abandon it as an instructional form? Research in social psychology indicates that, if one takes context into account, no style of pedagogical intervention can be considered necessarily less adequate than another. For example, a pedagogy based on a laissez-faire approach-considered in Ukraine to be the least effective of all approaches-might be viewed as adequate in the context of a classroom community at a high level of development. In such a situation, the teacher becomes either a mediator of the group process or another member of the social unit. Thus, it follows that a lecture approach could be equally appropriate in a different sort of context.
Historically, the former USSR set educational goals designed to produce a universally literate populace capable of balancing individual and social expectations under extreme circumstances-post-war reconstruction, economic hardships and ecological catastrophe. This project was left primarily to the teacher, who was often lacking the most basic supports-whether structural or materials. Overcrowded classrooms made it impossible for teachers to individualise instruction in any way. Individualised and collaborative activities were considered more difficult to design and carry out, and more time-consuming than lecture. Low teacher salaries, combined with immense teaching loads, increased the pressure. In these political and ecological circumstances, what we understand as authoritarian pedagogy could be considered the most appropriate approach to the goals in mind.
During this period, a great deal of research and development was dedicated to the lecture form as a pedagogical strategy. At times, lectures were rendered as "monological dialogues". For example, teachers often shared their own experience of the process of mastering the difficulties of their discipline in lecture form, which they considered crucial to the psychological development of their students. So designed, they intended their lectures to display the history and development of the subject matter in its dialectical complexity. In many cases, teachers were able to identify themselves with students to the degree that their lectures triggered an internal dialogue in their silent listeners, which focused and enriched the seminars which regularly followed, thus increasing their efficacy. The teacher who was a master of his or her field was considered something of a motivational speaker-capable of recapitulating his or her own history as a learner in order to offer listeners multiple perspectives on their own learning processes. This list of ecological justifications for an authoritarian (expertise) form of education could be expanded from the point of view of the political system, the economic system, and the information environment in general.
From a holistic point of view, no particular form of education can be transferred in its actual operative form, because the latter is dependent to a great degree upon the character and qualities of the system which it helps to maintain. This implies that a system in transition, like Ukraine, must construct a relatively new pedagogical context before it can transfer any but those techniques and methodologies already congruent with the system out of which it is transitioning. A paradox immediately presents itself: since the system is transitional, neither its current forms (the old) nor forms from another system are congruent with it. Neither a form of pedagogy which fits the old context, nor one designed for the emergent one (which is mostly unknown anyway) will be ecologically appropriate. This helps explain the lack of success of the pedagogy of cooperation in the current emergent system in Ukraine, as well as, we might predict, the probable resistance to the community of inquiry pedagogy imported from the U.S. Although these methodologies might be completely understood from a theoretical, ethical and technical perspective, yet they remain inert and inoperative in a context which does not require them ecologically. Such a situation can be resolved only by a synergistic emergence of a relatively new pedagogical model--which will emerge, in turn, from a new political, social, economic context, with its own particular demands and constraints. The emergent context in its current transitional form is seeking to resolve the contradiction between authoritarian and democratic structures (and we may add, "liberal," anarchic, libertarian, etc.), habits, practices and social and individual dispositions. The educational model which is adequate to this emergent integrative form, we would suggest, may be called the ecological.
As a general principle, ecology is concerned with the preservation of a whole existing matrix, whether we think of it as human existence or the existence of the whole biosphere. Preservation, first of all, implies the protection or maintenance of the form or function of an object which is under threat. One understanding of this process understands it as maintaining a "steady state," without mutation or transformation. Preservation is, so understood a form of stasis, and any change involved in the object is linear, reversible (from present to the past) and predictable process. The core metaphor informing this understanding is a mechanistic one-a repeating cycle.
A second metaphor understands the idea of preservation as a form of development--or irreversible, non-linear, hardly predictable transition within an existing context. This core metaphor is an organismic one, whose main image of growth is, rather than the circle, the spiral-i.e. a torn circle. This is best illustrated by the phenomenon of insight-the experience of breaking out of a outdated or exhausted pattern, and the generation of a new one which sublates (i.e. both overcomes and includes) the old one.
A third interpretation of preservation expands the second metaphor. Like the second, it is a non-linear, irreversible and unpredictable transition to a new context or system of development; but in this case, the transformation leads to a change of identity. This metaphor understands the process of transformation as metamorphosis involving discontinuous change, rather than--as in the second-- the development of one system towards its potential. The core metaphor is survival in a new form; the image is, like the second metaphor, of a spiral, but in this case the emergence of a new spiral from an existing one. The exemplary instance in nature of this form of organismic change is the caterpillar-butterfly transition; applied to the realm of knowledge, we call it the paradigm shift. Such a paradigm shift is often triggered by technological advance, as in the discovery of penicillin, or cloning, or the introduction of new pedagogical approaches like Suggestopedia by the Bulgarian Losanov. Or Philosophy for Children.
Traditionally, the problem of preservation of the human being or his or her nature is understood according to the first metaphor. The negative implications of this understanding of personal and social change are various, and occur within a number of spheres. Because it ignores the non-linear and irreversible characteristics of change, and the inherent capacity of the organism to be transformed by as well as to transform its environment, it attempts to manipulate change so as to maintain a steady state, and thereby weakens the organism's adaptive capacities. For example, modern health care, in its concern to maintain a steady state, deprives the organism-either as individuals or as species-to develop the antibodies which would allow it to survive without medical technology. In addition, transitional forms are often interpreted according to this metaphor as corruption, degradation, or decline-new problems in mental health for example, or the phenomenon of juvenile delinquency, or ethnic conflicts. All of these issues could be regarded as-rather than system dysfunction--manifestations of the irreversible nature of human preservation through transition from chaos to order (Lushyn, 1999); manifestations of new possibilities of transforming basic human values and dispositions toward a new level and context of development. If we look at it this way, we can define the task of ecology neither as the restoration of an existing order, nor as the formation of what we traditionally mean by "ecological thinking"--which in its essence is a form of pessimism, anxiety, and alarmism, manifested in the urge to curb technological and economic growth.
In short, I am attempting to redefine ecology as a process of constant reconstruction of human forms of life characterized, not by an anxious conservatism, but by creativity and a sense of emergent process. This perspective leads, not to the restriction but the liberation of the human mind--to interpreting human problems in terms of resources and opportunities, rather than scarcity and unwilling sacrifice.
The issue of the transfer of the U.S. critical thinking curriculum to the Ukrainian educational system-seen from the perspective of ecological preservation-thus can be interpreted as a case of systemic transformation. According to ecological theory, the source, impulse and pretext for transformation is the existence of contradictions within the system. The success of the U.S. Ukrainian transfer depends on the resolution of basic pedagogical contradictions in both--the source and the target--systems. The Ukrainian system is stuck in the transition between totalitarian and democratic educational forms. The major contradiction in the American critical thinking curriculum lies in the fact that a extensive educational practice is based on a diverse and chaotic understanding of the critical thinking process (Lipman,2000), (Lushyn, 2000). In Ukraine, there is theory but no practice; in the U.S., practice, but no clearly delineated theory.
Proponents of critical thinking understand the discipline to be comprised of the skills of formal and informal logic, reflective thinking, the capacity for dialogue, and for careful listening. Some proponents add the capacity for democratic or anti-totalitarian thinking to this list. If all of these are valid characteristics, their multiplicity suggests that the field of critical thinking constitutes an ecopsychological matrix, the dimensions of which are dependent on the position of the observer. Matthew Lipman, the founder of Philosophy for Children, includes in the matrix sensitivity to context, the capacity to search for criteria, and to self-correct. More recently, he has added the elements of creativity and caring. Finally, aware as he is of the pervasively social aspect of thinking, he grounds the critical thinking process in the Vygotskian notion of the genesis of internal thinking processes from intersubjective and distributed processes--as Vygotsky put it, the reproduction of the interpsycic in the intrapsychic.
We interpret these contradictions, not as forms of regression or as indications of a fatal theoretical crisis, but as a major opportunity for a further change and development. Seen thus, these contradictions-in both the Ukrainian and the American systems-constitute a transitional form. Mamardashvili characterised the latter as forms resulting from systems overlap, leading to a complex and implicit process of displacement of old forms by new, through the emergent stabilisation of a chaotic situation, and the eventual transformation into a new system. The process is syncretistic, ecological, polymorphous and dynamic, apprehended non-theoretically, and ultimately balance-seeking.
It is well known that the major educational form through which critical thinking is fostered is what is known as community of inquiry (CI). Thus, we assume that it is this form that reflects the major contradictions which must be resolved for the development of an adequate ecological matrix in Ukrainian education to occur. CI is an ecological transitional pedagogical form capable of being accepted cross-culturally, and thus the key to the process of educational reconstruction.
CI carries, on the one hand, the elements of traditional pedagogical form, in that teacher manages his/her pedagogical activity by preparation of certain learning materials (philosophically charged and problematic texts and exercises), creates favourable conditions for adequate learning (an atmosphere of intellectual security) and organises the discussion of the CI participants. On the other hand, s/he also functions as a facilitator or mediator/integrator of the group process, who at a certain stage of the group process, genuinely participates in the ongoing deliberation, which usually results in series of unexpected outcomes. At this stage s/he loses the possibility of direct control and encounters the condition for personal and professional growth which we view as a participatory form of control.
In the process of teaching critical thinking as reasoning skills which is CI, the curriculum presuppose the formation of a linear, predictable and reversible process to the extent that it is comprised of different instructional materials and exercises. But the manner and style in which these materials are presented is basically dialogical and ecological. Thus, the students are also exposed to models of mediating and moderating cognitive and communicative processes. Once internalised, they are transformed into cognitive tools for the reflective regulation of thinking. For instance, having appropriated the discussion-leading skills of CI, the student can transfer this ability to his/her own self-direction, and to self-facilitation of his/her own constructing activity. The following facilitation skills -- the ability to build rapport, to mirror another's experience, to find hidden assumptions, to build connections, to paraphrase and listen empathically-these may turn into the ability to maintain self-worth and self-appreciation, as well as to develop the intellectual flexibility necessary to detect dissociated meanings and clarify emotionally charged material. By definition these internal thinking processes are non-linear, scarcely predictable and irreversible.
Thus in one educational format, both directive and indirective forms of pedagogical intervention and self-organisation are not only merged together but complement each other and build a wide ecological space for the development of the whole pedagogical matrix. Through understanding CI as a distributed or externalised form of thinking, we may define critical thinking as an internalised form of non-linear, irreversible, unpredictable self-organisation. Its function is the preservation of an ecological matrix of personal as well as social consciousness. Its components are critical thinking as the ability to reason, caring thinking as the ability for empathic self-facilitation or listening, and creative thinking as the construction of new meanings. Finally, I would like to characterise the transfer of the critical thinking curriculum in terms of preservation the whole of the ecological matrix of the Ukrainian as well as the American educational systems. The basic pedagogical form which reflects the whole of the pedagogical matrix in the source and target educational systems is the community of inquiry. Internalization of the inherent in the CI skills and processes of directive (ZPD) and indirective (ZAD) participation makes it possible to create necessary condition for integration and development of the critical thinking curriculum in the educational system of Ukraine.
Lushyn, P. and Kennedy, D. (2000) The Psychodynamics of Community of Inquiry and Educational Reform: A Cross-Cultural Perspective // Thinking, vol.15, pp.9-16.
Lushyn, P. (1999) On the Psychology of Man in Transition: How to Survive When Everything Goes Wrong. Kirovograd: Kod. (In Russian).
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