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The Beautiful Risk of Education

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This is a book about what many teachers know but are increasingly being prevented from talking about: that real education always involves a risk. The risk is there because, as W. B. Yeats has put it, education is not about filling a bucket but about lighting a fire. It is there because education is not an interaction between machines, but an encounter between human beings. This is a book about what many teachers know but are increasingly being prevented from talking about: that real education always involves a risk. The risk is there because, as W. B. Yeats has put it, education is not about filling a bucket but about lighting a fire. It is there because education is not an interaction between machines, but an encounter between human beings. It is there because students are not to be seen as objects to be molded and disciplined, but as subjects of action and responsibility. Biesta's book opposes the risk aversion that characterizes many contemporary educational policies and practices and makes a strong argument for giving risk a central place in our educational endeavours. The book is organized around a critical discussion of seven key educational concepts: creativity, communication, teaching, learning, emancipation, democracy, and virtuosity.


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This is a book about what many teachers know but are increasingly being prevented from talking about: that real education always involves a risk. The risk is there because, as W. B. Yeats has put it, education is not about filling a bucket but about lighting a fire. It is there because education is not an interaction between machines, but an encounter between human beings. This is a book about what many teachers know but are increasingly being prevented from talking about: that real education always involves a risk. The risk is there because, as W. B. Yeats has put it, education is not about filling a bucket but about lighting a fire. It is there because education is not an interaction between machines, but an encounter between human beings. It is there because students are not to be seen as objects to be molded and disciplined, but as subjects of action and responsibility. Biesta's book opposes the risk aversion that characterizes many contemporary educational policies and practices and makes a strong argument for giving risk a central place in our educational endeavours. The book is organized around a critical discussion of seven key educational concepts: creativity, communication, teaching, learning, emancipation, democracy, and virtuosity.

30 review for The Beautiful Risk of Education

  1. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    There is simply no way I can cover all of the ideas that I ought to cover in this review. Often, when I read a book about education theory, I can expect there will be a couple of ideas I haven’t heard before – which is a function of the fact I’ve read quite a few books on this topic. But this book is bursting open with ideas I’ve never seen or thought about before. In fact, I’ve had to read it twice. Even so, I can still only hope to skim the surface here. That said, I’ve already been recommendi There is simply no way I can cover all of the ideas that I ought to cover in this review. Often, when I read a book about education theory, I can expect there will be a couple of ideas I haven’t heard before – which is a function of the fact I’ve read quite a few books on this topic. But this book is bursting open with ideas I’ve never seen or thought about before. In fact, I’ve had to read it twice. Even so, I can still only hope to skim the surface here. That said, I’ve already been recommending this book to people at work. This book uses a series of theories as lenses to bring different aspects of education and learning into focus. Mostly, what it does is call into question notions of ‘learning’, particularly ‘life-long learning’, and of the possibility of emancipatory education of the sort, to be honest, I generally find self-evidently good. She (oh, don’t you hate that – I’ve just checked and it seems Gert is a boy) He bases this book on one of the basic ideas of existentialism – that being proceeds essence. We like to think that we have an essence, our own true self. We believe that our subjective identity is something that is more or less given and nearly unchangeable. That is, that our essence is separate from our existence. This is all very Socratic – and in fact, Biesta even discusses Plato’s Meno in this book to explain this point – you know, if you don’t know what you are inquiring after, how do you inquire after it? Socrates solves this problem by saying that we don’t ever really learn anything new, but rather we ‘recollect’ things and this feels like we are learning – that we already contain all of the knowledge we will ever acquire and we just need to bring it out. His basic idea being that birth is such a traumatic event for us that even though before birth we knew everything there was to know, the trauma of birth means we forget everything. So, learning is basically a kind of recollecting of what we once knew but then forgot. This is, in fact, a necessary conclusion for Plato, linked to his idea that the world is made of essences, made of his perfect world of forms. For Plato you can talk of a chair or a house or a wall – but you can only do that because somewhere there exist the perfect chair, house or wall, that is, the perfect form of these things, their essence, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to recognised all of the imperfect manifestations of these things in our all too imperfect world. Knowledge is recognising these perfect essences in the messy imperfections of the world we live in. But what if the world wasn’t composed of perfect forms that we can only see darkly through the fog of our apparently real world? What if the world is instead something that needs to be experienced to be understood (oh, I’m very conscious of the fact I’m simplifying both Biesta’s and Plato’s arguments here, but let’s continue on regardless). That would mean that there is no simple, unified, subjective identity that is ‘you’. Rather, you would only get to see who you are via your interactions with other people – you would only see your own subjectivity within what you do. Your subjectivity would be more of a verb than a noun. Someone alone, sitting on top of a mountain, contemplating their navel, wouldn’t be the highest form of human spiritual awareness, but rather such isolation would no longer be something that could be considered even properly human. I think this is one of the central ideas of the whole book and it echoes throughout. The subjective is the social – a bit like the old feminist slogan (and perhaps part of the reason I read this assuming he was a she) that the personal is political. However, for Biesta our subjectivity is never quite an essence, but always merely a potential. This is brought into focus using a whole range of philosophical lenses. So, he discusses the pragmatism of Dewey, the deconstructionism of Derrida, the religious theories of Caputo, the ideas of the incompatibility between politics and education of Hannah Arendt – and so on. I told you – far too much for me to hope to be able to review here. I’m not going to make my way through all of these arguments, but like I said, I’ve read this book twice, because I think making one’s way through these idea is important. All the same, Biesta does a much better of that than I could – and in relatively simple and readable prose. If you are interested, you should read him. I’m going to pick a couple of these ideas to talk about here. The first is his discussion of the dual nature of creation in the Bible and how this duality might help throw light on our current understanding of ‘creativity’ in education. A lot of Western notions of ‘creativity’ refer back to one or other of the two creation myths in the Bible. The first is the idea that god made the world from nothing (a kind of complete creation), and so this form of creativity involves what could be also thought of as ultimate responsibility – since what now ‘exists’ is totally the creator’s ‘fault’, and so he holds total responsibility for it. This idea is played with in Frankenstein, for instance – or as my daughters said to me the other night when we were talking about this, ‘It’s Yahweh or the highway’. But in other translations of the Bible’s creation myth god doesn’t create everything, but rather everything was without form and god proves to be the wind that breathes life into creation, that sets the universe in motion. That is, rather than god being fully controlling of his creation, he is merely the first mover, the force that gets things started and who is therefore less responsible for everything that happens after that, and less controlling of it. Rather than god providing the ultimate rule book that then must be followed (if you are going to play in my creation, here are the rules you’re to follow) the universe is instead in a kind of chaotic dance that not even god can know how it will turn out, and that is the beauty of creation. Here true creativity is essential, as it involves not just following orders, but in our responding to the minute-by-minute-ness of the dance of creation and of life. Biesta argues that education has three essential domains: qualification, socialisation and subjectivity. Subjectivity is a key focus of this book – but all three are important. As I’ve already said about ‘existence proceeding essence’, he sees our subjective awareness as something quite different from a ‘soul’ that we each hold and that is unchanging and innate. Rather, he sees our subjectivity as a latent possibility that only comes to the fore once we interact with other people. As such, we can’t really be ‘trained’ to be ‘subjectively aware’ – and this is a theme he repeats throughout in different guises – our subjectivity, once it manifests, is likely to come to us as much as a surprise as it may to other people. It only exists in life and in the dance of our social interactions. Which is why he can refer to education as an impossible gift. At one point he discusses Freire’s banking model of education – the idea of an all-knowing teacher filling the empty heads of their endlessly stupid students until eventually even these students have some knowledge, like the teacher depositing money into a bank account. The problem is that knowledge doesn’t quite work in this neat way. And rather than students gleefully accepting this ‘gift’ of knowledge, they are much more likely to reject it, or simply not be able to accept it, even if they ‘want’ to. Rather than the teacher seeking to stuff knowledge into students’ heads, the role of the teacher is to create situations, based on their understanding of the students themselves, that will create the best possibility for them to perhaps find ways to accept the gift of education. And this can only be on the basis of an equal and respectful interaction between teacher and student. Not equal as in quantity of knowledge, necessarily, but rather in potential. All of which comes back to the ‘risk’ of the title. The part of this book I found most devastating as the discussion on the Marxist idea of ‘false consciousness’. You see, people who are exploited by a system often do not realise they are being exploited by that system – they might even do things that are completely contrary to their best interests (oh, I don’t know, say, vote for Trump or something). Anyway, this ‘false consciousness’ needs to be replaced by ‘revolutionary consciousness’. For that to happen, someone who is unaffected by false consciousness needs to provide some form of consciousness raising for the unenlightened and this will then mean their eyes will be opened to their real situation in the world. I’ve over-egged that, but the point still stands – it is clear that people very often act in ways that are contrary to their own needs and Marxists often explain that by discussing false consciousness and Bourdieu does the same by talking of ‘misrecognition’. The solution is invariably the same – those who know informing those who are ignorant. And this is Biesta’s point. If those suffering from false consciousness are to be treated as blind babies, when will they be declared ‘able to see’? When will they have what it takes to be a peer with the enlightened one? The problem is that too often the power relationship between the knower and the learner remains forever. If the learning project does not begin as a mutual learning endeavour, then it is unlikely to ever develop into such an endeavour. I can’t begin to tell you how uncomfortable this idea makes me feel. Not least because I do think there is such a thing as false consciousness. But I also think Biesta is right here – and his talking about Freire is the solution to this problem. Freire says the teacher’s role is to help people read the world and the word – but not by coming into their communities and expecting them to be blank slates, but rather by learning what are these people’s needs and how the teacher can help them realise these needs. That is, the teacher much position themselves as colleagues rather than generals. I’ve barely touched the surface here. This is a very short book, but overflowing with ideas. Really, if you are interested in education and how education is different from ‘learning’ – this is a must read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Thought provoking book about the "learnification" of education. Chapters on seven concepts: creativity, communication, teaching, learning, emancipation, democracy, and virtuosity.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chris May

    A view of education I fully buy into, but arguments are presented too briefly. Each chapter is more a starting point than a finished article. This leads to a feeling of the book being incomplete or lacking a unifying thread. Having said this, lots of incredibly important insights.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Luca

    Short and inspiring. Biesta is sharp as a knife in his analysis of education. In this book, he shows us some of the pitfalls of modern education and learning but also provides alternative ways to look at the matter. The book has some complicated passages, but the summaries at the end of each chapter make their understanding easier. Biesta is very knowledgeable in its references and presents old and modern thinkers through his book. This book is for people who are interested in the philosophy of Short and inspiring. Biesta is sharp as a knife in his analysis of education. In this book, he shows us some of the pitfalls of modern education and learning but also provides alternative ways to look at the matter. The book has some complicated passages, but the summaries at the end of each chapter make their understanding easier. Biesta is very knowledgeable in its references and presents old and modern thinkers through his book. This book is for people who are interested in the philosophy of education and want a fresh way to look at the way we conceive school and learning.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Eveliina

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jjspijksma

  7. 4 out of 5

    Oliver Cooper

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nicky

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sherry Martens

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ricus

  11. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Hannam

  12. 5 out of 5

    Renata Aquino

  13. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Dalby

  14. 4 out of 5

    Guo Shanshan

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nannike Buvelot

  16. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Doxtdator

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bart Overgaag

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dirk

  19. 4 out of 5

    Karina

  20. 4 out of 5

    Erik De paauw

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  22. 5 out of 5

    S

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kees IJzerman

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jakob Klinkby

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rob Philip

  26. 5 out of 5

    Krijn Pansters

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lise Roulund

  28. 4 out of 5

    Roland Bruijn

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gabrielle Hansen

  30. 4 out of 5

    MAARTEN

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