This introduction to a special issue on the value of conceptual analysis provides a historical context and reasons for continuing to engage and value conceptual analysis in the contemporary educational landscape.
In his 2006 essay, “Moral Education’s Modest Agenda,” Robin Barrow argues for a clearly bounded conception of morality; he presents the moral domain as concerned with moral principles, and moral education as the cultivation of moral understanding. Barrow rejects behaviourism, character education, values clarification, developmentalism, and what he calls “the insidious influence of political and moral correctness” as practices and ideas that are irrelevant and inappropriate for moral education. While I share some of Barrow’s concerns about some of these approaches, I believe he over-restricts the scope of legitimately moral concerns and what educators ought to do in the name of moral education. In this paper, I make a case for a broader and bolder agenda for moral education, putting the question of what constitutes a human life (which Barrow takes to be a non-moral question) at the very heart of morality and moral education.
Robin Barrow has critiqued the use of the concept of “skill” for a wide range of human attributes that are not skills in the precise sense he articulated, namely: “a capacity that is discrete and can be perfected through practice and exercise.” Skill talk has persisted, though today commonly under the guise of “competency discourse.” In recent years, the British Columbia Ministry of Education has implemented a new K-12 curriculum that relies heavily on “communication competency,” “thinking competency” and “personal and social competency.” Based on Barrow’s work, I critique the tendency to refer to a wide range of human qualities as “competencies.” In addition, I argue that competency discourse commits a category mistake, especially with respect to moral qualities in the “personal and social competency” domain. After taking a closer look at the area of “personal and social competency” in BC’s new curriculum, I discuss the concept of friendship as an example of an area of significance to human life that cannot be reduced to competency. I close the paper by discussing why it matters that competency discourse commits a category mistake, and why philosophers of education should resist competency discourse.
This paper offers a defense of Robin Barrow’s main arguments in Giving Teaching Back to Teachers, including additional material concerning the inability of the aggregate data and statistical methods employed in research in education (and research on teaching) to speak to individual teachers and students or to particular classrooms. This defense and extension of Barrow’s position is applied in a critique ofa proposal made by Lorraine Foreman-Peck in her 2004 debate with Barrow, entitled What Use is Educational Research?, published in 2005 by the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain. A central confusion that attends and limits much empirical research in education and social science concerns conflation of two different senses of the concept general, as “common to all” or “on average.” The havoc this confusion plays ought not be ignored or minimized by educational researchers and their advocates who tend to exaggerate the empirical regularity in social scientific data and therefore the generalizability of social science research in education and elsewhere.
This essay argues for the urgent need for philosophy as the necessary first step in any educational undertaking. Philosophy is involved with making fine distinctions which are necessary to clarify concepts and terms. The paper focuses primarily on the problems with an overreliance on scientific research in the social sciences, with special emphasis on the dangers posed in educational research. Three specific problems are identified. First, the emphasis on scientific research downgrades non-scientific research, which may be more appropriate as modes of inquiry in many aspects of education. Second, the emphasis on scientific research distorts research in areas such as the arts and humanities because individual success as a scholar is largely measured by criteria that make sense in the natural sciences but not necessarily in the arts. Third, and most significantly, the paper questions whether social action and interaction can be investigated in a truly scientific manner.
This paper will revisit issues to do with the roles of education and an ostensibly liberal democracy in a world rife with disagreement. It seems certain that the outcome of the revisiting will be an insistence that to be true to themselves, the provision of education at both the individual and societal level must cling hard to the key notions of truth, objectivity, and rational justification in a world that perhaps more than any other time is inclined to doubt whether in any final sense these notions have much going for them. Disagreement is the challenge and spur to the reaffirming of our belief in the importance of rational debate in both the private and public spheres.