The crisis in pedagogy

Parkes, R. J. (2000). The crisis in pedagogy. In M. O’Loughlin (Ed.). Philosophy of education in the new millennium: Conference Proceedings of the International Network of Philosophers of Education, 7th Biennial Conference, Volume 2: Authors M-Z (pp. 73-87). Sydney, NSW: International Network of Philosophers of Education (INPE) and University of Sydney.

Underlying important critical-theoretical work of the late Russian psychologist, educator and semiotician, Lev Semonovich Vygotsky – including his concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) – was an attempt to address what he perceived to be a crisis in psychology (Kozulin, 1990; Veresov, 1999). In Vygotsky’s (1997) posthumously published paper, “The historical meaning of the crisis in psychology”, he argues that the crisis had arisen as radically different psychologies competed for legitimization as the way forward. In this paper I suggest that as we enter the new millennium there exists another crisis to which a textually resurrected Vygotsky might respond, a crisis in pedagogy. Although I argue it is possible to assert the broad nature of this crisis (see for example Symes, 1997), I do not attempt to do so in this paper, rather I localize it as a crisis in my own pedagogy. It is a crisis of both meaning and practice initiated by an encounter with the leitmotifs of the postmodern, each of which I suggest, reflects some notion of the death of certainty. If indeed the postmodern turn can be said to have brought an uncertainty about the status of our knowledges and disciplines, then mainstream pedagogies that focus on the efficient delivery of pre-packaged content are, in societies (or for pedagogues) experiencing postmodern instabilities, an anachronism. Consequently, in place of definitions of pedagogy as efficient instruction, an encounter with the postmodern encourages us to adopt a description somewhat like McWilliam’s (1997:217), in which pedagogy is depicted “as a troublesome field of bodies, utterances, spaces, and texts”. Having first problematized pedagogy by exploring the leitmotifs of the postmodern that are implicated in my construction of the current crisis in pedagogy, this paper attempts to address this crisis by retheorizing the pedagogical relation itself, drawing on a new reading of Vygotsky’s ZPD, derived from a unique synthesis of poststructural and cultural-historical accounts of the sociogenesis of human development.

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