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Epistemology, Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry

Jonathan Toews – Modern Education and ZPD

This week, our ever-so-engaging philosophy class delved into “The Allegory of the Cave“. Live on ds106 Radio, we covered topics ranging from realism to progress.

Of all of the different directions the discussion brought us, I was most fascinated by the points brought up regarding change. Specifically, one of the headers in our vast and winding mind map was “Change = Uncomfortable”. This was in relation to the event of a prisoner being dragged, against his will, to experience “reality”. To experience change.

As a class, we applied this experiment more specifically; to learning. Whether learning has to be uncomfortable. Some believed people need to be in a situation of discomfort in order to learn at their maximum capacity, while others believed that in modern education, we can learn without any pain or agony.

Backing out for a moment, I’d like to show you where I was in this mini-debate. As a continuation of learning about philosophy, I began a project a few days ago, delving into the world of philosophers. Stepping into philosophers’ shoes, getting into their minds; literally. I created several Twitter accounts for these philosophers, bringing their ideas to life.

During these debates, I decided to contribute on behalf of these philosophers. Seeing as it was Plato’s allegory, I was tweeting as the great philosopher himself.

So, we’re in the middle of a debate regarding the necessity of pain in order to learn. In response, the famous Dr. Garcia (listening through ds106radio), tweeted as us a link to ZPD – the Zone of Proximal Development.

The Zone of Proximal Development goes something like this: “The difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help.”

Essentially, this theory assumes that there are levels of knowledge that learners cannot reach, without any form of guidance.

Immediately, I had to respond as Plato. For in Plato’s allegory, he illustrates the prisoner as being violently dragged to the surface, to experience the world. After he was released, he was given no guidance whatsoever. This is definitely not in line with the Zone of Proximal Development. In fact, I would interpret this as Plato’s message that the there is no such thing as ZPD. Thus, I responded:

This is when I started to truly think. Is it true, that we can only learn with maximum challenge? Or do we need guidance? I thought for a moment, to the math lesson I had taken part in just the day before. Prior to the lesson, I had tried to go through the curriculum by myself; and failed miserably. But I also realized, that I had given up fairly easily, knowing it would be taught to me in just a few minutes.

With this in mind, I would argue that we, as students today, have been trained to learn with guidance. I believe that if we were brought up to learn without assistance, we could do it. Modern parenting has crippled us.

When just an infant, you learn to communicate. Your mother doesn’t teach you how to cry. Nor does she tell you that crying will call for attention. In the most basic manner, you’ve learned how to draw attention to yourself, as well as to get what you want, without guidance.

Now, fast-forward a few years. You’re 12 or 13 now. And you’re failing math. So your mom hires a tutor, right? The best solution is to find you someone who can teach you what you need to know, in a different way. Good solution, right?

Wrong. What you have done is taken away the child’s opportunity to learn to learn. Think about this – what happens when the child hits 14 years old, or 15? In the next grade, he or she faces similar problems. The only tools he or she has are the lessons learned from the previous year. They do not know how to think for themselves. And this is how they get caught. One more tutor, one extra lesson, summer school. Yes, I do think learning the curriculum is important. But it has to be learned the right way. It has to be learned in a way that will extend into future years. Otherwise, education is about memorization, instead of problem solving and critical thinking.

In accordance with my first Philosophy 12 Project, I would say that our education system is wrong. I believe that if we cut all of this ZPD garbage, that people wouldn’t need guidance to learn. I believe that what’s important is the the act of trying to understand. Not understanding. If education did not push so hard for a goal to be met, a quota to be made, then we might be able to focus more on what we learn along the way.

There is no logical reason that the destination of education has to be achievable. It can be completely and utterly impossible, and we can still learn in trying to achieve that. Without help. Without guidance. Learning, by ourselves.



3 thoughts on “Jonathan Toews – Modern Education and ZPD

  1. I sympathize with your frustration with the current education system and also our personal lack of drive to learn without handholding, but I also disagree about the extent of your changes.

    Math is a perfect example of how “as students today, [we] have been trained to learn with guidance.” I often wonder if I would’ve gotten that question without the help of my partner or the teacher if I had tried just a bit harder. Still, I don’t think “learning, by ourselves” is the answer. It is precisely my problem with online education and the lack of face-to-face dialogue that would provide students with the opportunity to learn from each other and more educated adults.

    Really, I think it’s an issue of balance. We shouldn’t rely on others for our learning, or some may say memorization, but they are still integral to the expansion of our understanding.

    Posted by msbethechange | September 22, 2012, 4:13 am
    • I do agree, I may have taken an approach which views this issue as black and white. Yes, there definitely is a balance. At the same time though, do we really need to teach each other, face to face?

      I know this differs lots from my post, but what if teachers, instructors, mentors and fellow peers only showed each other different techniques of learning? Or different ways of learning? They do not necessarily have to guide each other in order to gain knowledge.

      I think that is something self directing learning is working towards – allowing students to discover information, using the tools that the educators provide. I think the only learning we need to do from each other, is learning how to learn.

      In short, this is what I’m trying to say:
      We’ve reached a point in society in which we have a worldwide database of knowledge. We no longer need to teach this knowledge to each other – we need to teach each other how to access it.

      Posted by JonathanToews | September 25, 2012, 3:50 am


  1. Pingback: If Philosophers Could Tweet (Jonathan Toews) « Philosophy 12 - October 2, 2012

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