Postmodernism and Education E-mail
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Postmodernism appears to usually be defined in terms of modernism and modernity. Sometimes there is confusion about whether postmodernism is a concept or a practice. It also seems to be a moving target when trying to conceptualize its forms, effects, etc. Post modernism can also be defined by just looking at the words post and modernism separately. As a prefix post means the later, or after (Gutek, 2004). Modern is referred to from a time perspective, as a defining period in history where modern refers to something contemporary, more likely describing a period of industrial advancement and an unparalleled increase in man’s knowledge. According to authors Robin Usher and Richard Edwards, a postmodern moment is an awareness of being within a way of thinking, but the speaker can not name the term at that moment (Edwards, Usher, 1994). Identifying or concretely defining postmodern can be a challenge due to the fluid concepts and variables that make up what postmodern is. There seem to be many terms and associated with Postmodern but no one definition. There are many attempts and many books and writings that make efforts to iron out a more concrete definition for Postmodernism. As opposed to being a single structure of philosophy like Idealism or Realism, Postmodernism is more an orientation or perspective (Gutek, 2004). A better illustration of postmodernism can be understood by having an idea what postmodernism is not, or in the terms of what ideas and philosophies that are in some ways antithesis of postmodernism, or rejected by postmodernism. From certain Christian perspectives, a rise of classical science in the postmodern era has caused a radically new conception of nature (Allen, 1989). Nature is seen as a great device with universal laws, unlike Aristotle’s physics which had a different laws of motion for earthly and heavenly bodies. New religions were constructed based on nature as a machine (Allen, 1989). Postmodern natural sciences use impersonal explanations to provide show how nature works. There are no references to personal intentions or the actual will or consciousness that may drive certain actions. These views imply that postmodernism creates an environment that makes a religion out of nature and science (Allen, 1989). There is a logic, somehow, in which it is basically impossible to fully define the postmodern because the very attempt to do so bestows upon postmodernism a status and identity which that must necessarily oppose. In other words, any attempt at defining postmodern should lead to paradox or contradiction since it is to provide a total explanation, or to provide a single unified explanation, which might be contradictory to the pure idea behind postmodernism. Here we imply that there is understanding within the postmodern and we can grasp the understanding and identity. Postmodernism tries very hard to reject a description of itself as embodying a set of timeless ideals contrary to those of modernism; it insists on being recognized as a set of viewpoints of a time, justifiable only within its own time. There is literature involving many areas and explaining a diversity of academic disciplines and cultural topics; for example, art, music, literature, architecture, the media, advertising, photography and cinema. With the huge influence of all things postmodern, it can seem very limited help if the task is seen as one of arriving at a clear definition of postmodern. As mentioned before, it is probably easier to say what postmodernism is not as opposed to what postmodern/postmodernism is. To discuss post modernity, postmodernism or the postmodern does not entail designating a fixed and systematic ‘thing’. Postmodern seems to have a fluid definition most times. It seems to be a term which has a broad understanding or explanation and can include a set of practices, cultural discourse, an attitude and a mode of analysis (Edwards, Usher, 1994) advocates using ‘postmodernism’ as an index term for a position that is ‘different’ from traditional ones—‘a different position which in fact makes difference itself its point of view’. Postmodernism can be illustrated by contrasting it with the opposing ideology of modernization (Gutek, 2004). Postmodernism rejects: metaphysical philosophies that claim there are universal and eternal truths and values, enlightenment ideology’s claims that there is one method and approach to rationality, and modernization’s claims that it is the irresistible social and economic force of the future (Gutek, 2004). Postmodernism is not the first philosophy to deny metaphysics. Metaphysics was also rejected by pragmatism, which is where progressivism is derived. Pragmatists believed that scientific method was the true use of intelligence that could empirically verify or disprove claims to the truth (Gutek, 2004). The difference between postmodernists and pragmatists is that postmodernists reject the idea that scientific method is objective and unbiased. Postmodernism points out that scientific method is only objective and unbiased to those who share a dedication to use their version of scientific expressions and terminology. In regards to postmodernism and epistemological ideas, postmodernists challenge the idea that one can know matter and objects as they relate to reality. Postmodernism postulates that looking inside human past events and occurrences, as well as the present to help understand where truth may have started and assembled, as well as expressed. Postmodernists also take the view that one should look at how past events and the present shape consequences and outcomes that happen in social, political, and educational context. Constructivism is an important word to learn when trying to grasp and understanding of postmodern education. Constructivism is seen as the main underlying learning theory in postmodern education (Braund, DeLashmutt, 1996). It’s the basic idea is that knowledge is invented or constructed in the mind. As opposed to the modernists mindset Constructivism points to the idea that knowledge is not discovered. In other words, the ideas and concepts that teachers teach and students learn do not correspond to "Reality”, they are merely human constructions (Braund, DeLashmutt, 1996). Knowledge, ideas, and language are a creation of people, and not because they are true, but rather because they are useful. From the perspective of constructivism, reality is like a story. All reality does not exist objectively outside the mind but in the mind of those who perceive it. No one’s version of reality can lay claim to having more objectivity and authority because the versions are simply human creations, that were created in the mind. This view of knowledge has serious implications. It is a major view of a feature of an uncertain idea based on relativism, and somewhat pragmatist concept of knowledge. It is seen as the equal worth of knowledge which has been constructed by the student, the teachers, and/or the scientists (Braund, DeLashmutt, 1996). If no one person’s knowledge is necessarily true, that means everything changes. This makes the question of what qualifies as knowledge to be taught in the schools as not a matter of objective evidence or arguments, but rather a matter of power to influence or dictate perspective. Since the classroom focus, in postmodern education, becomes the learner’s constructed knowledge, there is a shift away from a teacher-centered classroom to a more student-centered environment. Looking at this student-centered view, it would appear that postmodernism is a close relative or shares common philosophical DNA, so to speak, with progressivism and the ideas that were put forth by John Dewey. Many of Dewey’s progressive ideas and approaches to education, as well as his view of nature, seem to fall in line with the same ideas of postmodernists and postmodern institutions. Educators and Educational Institutions in the Postmodern Era According to postmodern scholar, Johnella Butler, the colonization of minds is a characteristic of American education. Under the postmodern idea, there exists no colonization of the mind. By saying this Butler is implying that, whenever the dominant culture asks other minorities to speak using classroom English, solve math problems, or history and science the dominant cultures way, they have acted in the old colonial ways. (Braund, DeLashmutt, 1996) Values of Postmodernism According to Roger Braund and Gary DeLashmutt, in and article called ‘Postmodernism and You: Education’ values of postmodernism include: • Pursuit of diversity-- guarding, unchanged, the existing values, tastes and way of life of each subculture in our society. • equality--In postmodern ideology, equality means equal in terms of power relationships • tolerance and freedom--tolerance has a new meaning: roughly, never negating or criticizing oppressed groups. Freedom for cultures and communities to express themselves • the importance of creativity--Creativity is clearly allied to the postmodern emphases on the construction of knowledge and diversity. Stimulating and affirming creativity in students is important in constructing knowledge and values, particularly, if diverse viewpoints are to be encouraged • the importance of emotions-- Affirmation of emotions follows along with the importance they place on self-esteem. They believe that any time children's emotions are challenged (even hate or selfish jealousy) the child is being disabled by having the teacher's reality imposed on her • the importance of intuition--intuition gains in importance, because rational thought has lost its authority as a means for dealing with ideas. Modernists tend to suppress intuition and feelings, according to postmodernists, even though they are just as legitimate and perhaps even more important than rational, conceptual (or "linear") thought Looking at this explanation it should be apparent that postmodern educational theory is a major departure from what students are used to in education. In some ways you can see all these and many other positions in postmodern educational theory, all supported with material from the ambassadors and representatives of this movement in their own words (Braund, DeLashmutt, 1996). Realizing that the focus of the classroom in postmodern education becomes the student's construction of knowledge, there is a shift away from a teacher-centered classroom to a more student-centered environment. Grayson Wheatley, a professor emeritus of mathematics at Florida State explains, "Rather than recognizing the set of skills and knowledge to be obtained in student’s minds, attention is shifted to establishing learning environments that is conducive to children constructing their mathematics and science in social settings." Again we see that a student-centered classroom from this perspective is likely to have very little structure. In such an environment, students create knowledge, and are no longer forced to submit to the subjugation of traditional objective "knowledge." As explained, school knowledge can hinder to the extent that it keeps students silent, and takes over their minds or at least forces them to consent to what is being forced upon them. This knowledge usually puts boundaries between feelings and knowledge. The students have no control over the knowledge, but rather are forced to act a part and follow scenarios and conform to the teacher's direction. The teacher should come to realize that what he or she presents as a problem may be also be seen differently by the student. Therefore, the student may generate a reasonable solution that makes no sense to the teacher. To then be told that the solution is wrong is not helpful or encouraging and also inhibiting, because it disregards the effort the student put in. This is where we see postmodern relativism at work in an intimidating fashion. Children not being taught right from wrong, even in areas like science and social studies. This has implications on their future as well. Postmodernism challenges how learning has been categorized and taught in Western cultures. There is a rejection to the construction of knowledge that developed with the birth of the modern age in the Eighteenth-Century Enlightenment (Gutek, 2004). Postmodernists contend that ideas of scientific non bias are a fabrication or construction. With this the postmodernists imply that the claims to knowledge are never neutral, but are representative of an institute of a power relationship between ones who say they know the truth and the ones whom they impose the truth upon. Postmodernist see instruction as a representation, a cultural expression, or discussion. Postmodernists want to encourage teachers to be very conscious of how influential they are in representing reality to students. For postmodernists, it is important for teachers to critically assess the representations that are made in their teaching. The view held by postmodernists is that curriculum should not be organized into discrete subject matter disciplines, separated by boundaries and guarded by experts. Curriculum should make for a fluid and flexible means of looking into issues of personal and group identity, social, political, and economic problems (Gutek, 2004). Like the philosophy of Postmodernism it self, postmodernists attempt to undefine and concretely unidentify the postmodern scholastic institution and make learning as fluid and free flowing as postmodernism appears to be.