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Immanuel Kant, Jean Piaget and the rage for order: Hints of the colonial spirit in pedagogy (1992)

The first coalescing in my own work of critiques of constructivism, issues of ecological awareness, and the nature of colonialism
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  Immanuel Kant, Jean Piaget and the Rage for Order: Ecological Hints of the Colonial Spirit in Pedagogy David W. Jardine University of Calgary Introduction In these ecologically desperate times, we are confronted with the painful task of re-collecting those images of ourselves and our Earth that we have come to live within our educational theories and practices. We are being forced by the sometimes gentle, sometimes violent guidances of the Earth, to reconsider what we understand ourselves to be and what, therefore, we wish our children to become. We are being forced back into questions that form the core of pedagogy itself and pedagogy, too, is being slipped back into its element. Ecology is reminding us that however aspiring our pedagogical theories might be, if they speak implicitly against or in spite of the fleshy conditions under which we may draw real breath to actually speak such aspirations at all such theories may be logically and epistemologically coherent, but may contain that bewildering, low-level dis-ease that we have come to understand as modem life. Such pedagogies may not be precisely false according to some norm of logical consistency, empirical verifiability or the like. They may, however, betray a sort of insanity that Wendell Berry (1986) hints at so eloquently: It is impossible to divorce the question of what we do from the question of where we are-or, rather, where we think we are. That no sane creature befouls its own nest is accepted as generally true. What we conceive to be our nest, where we think it is, are therefore questions of the greatest importance. (51) This paper explores some of the threads that influence what we consider our place to be in the area of pedagogical theory. What follows is a discussion of the work of Immanuel Kant, followed by a parallel explication of the Kantianism inherent in the work of Jean Piaget. In both cases we are presented with a bloated image of the importance of humanity in giving the Earth integrity and meaning. Although this may anticipate too much of what follows, we cannot deny, along with Piaget, that we structure our experiences in light of the categories and concepts (“schemata”) at our disposal and therefore ”make” that experience 28  lmmanuel Kant, Jean Piaget and the Rage for Order 29 meaningful. However, in the face of this realisation, it is not enough to blithely wallow in the constructions we have made, for they u2so describe the limits and dangers we face. We tend to impose constructs upon what comes to meet us, giving it order(s). We tend, too easily, to allow our understanding to be the right of passage (colon) for all things, forgetting the dependencies that draw our lives back into the Earth, forgetting that we, as living beings full of humus, pass through the Earth’s flesh and are “ordered” by it. Jean Piaget is a rather obvious choice for critical consideration in the area of pedagogy. His work has come to infuse educational theory and practice in a profound way, and his legacy persists in spite of the quarrek that have ensued in the literature as o the truth or falsity of this or that aspect of Piagetian theory. Those quarrels will not be taken up here. They are for the friends and enemies of Piaget to take up in ways appropriate to the ”inevitable advance” (Piaget, 1965, 102) of empirical work. Here, our concern is with the lingering images of Piagetianism that we have come to live with in the sphere of pedagogy. The choice of Immanuel Kant is, on the surface, a less obvious one. One reason for this choice is that Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (178711964) marks a revolution in our understanding of ourselves and our place on Earth the con- sequences of which we are still living out. Instead of the Earth putting us into question with the mysteries it poses about our dependencies, our frailties and our kinships with all life, it is we who put questions to nature. The ambiguous dependencies of the flesh become simply another object in the inert objective mechanisms of “nature”. Reason is conceived as u pion’, as independent of Earthly inheritance. And our belief that we might somehow live independently of our Earthly inheritance is a perfect segue into understanding the ecological rumblings we are now experiencing. Another reason for this choice of Immanuel Kant is Piaget’s explicit naming of his work as standing in the Kantian tradition (1965,57). n Piaget’s work, we may recognise the fleshy inheritance that logico-mathematical knowledge owes to the neonate and the embodied knowings of sensori-motor knowledge. But the progress of development is, in effect, the sequentially shedding of our reliances upon such an inheritance: “climbing up into our heads” (LeGuin, 1987, ll , nd, more pointedly, teaching our children to do the same. In fact, Piaget names our children as the ones who are destined to do the same. (Piaget, 1952, 372) The explorations which follow are not intended to do justice to the intent of the works considered. They are meant to bring out an ecologically disasterous undercurrent that haunts these works and haunts the lives we are living out with our children. It is far too late to expect satisfaction from blaming authors in the past for not foreseeing current concerns. What we can expect from con- sidering their works interpretively is a way of opening up and reading the signs we now confront. We are living out a logic that is centuries old (Berman, 1984, 8) and the signs we now confront must be read back into this logic. Following these readings of Kant and Piaget, consideration will be given  30 David W. ardine to Wendell Beny‘s (1983) distinction between “chaos“ and “mystery“ as images of that which falls outside of the boundaries of the known, and how the notion of mystery, far from being an esoteric notion, leads to a sense of practical propriety, a sense of living wisely and delicately on the Earth, mindful to the patterns that pertain whether we know it or not. Immanuel Kant: Breaking Free of Nature’s ”Leading Strings’’ Immanuel Kant’s so-called ”Copernican Revolution” (178711964, 22 in philosophy re-claimed at the epistemological level what was lost in the cosmolog- ical level in the work of Copernicus. Copernicus displaced the Earth as he center of Creation and placed the sun at the center of the visible universe, thus decen- tering humanity from its special cosmological place. Kant reclaimed the center by putting human Reason at the center of the knowuble Universe: anything knowable refers back to the conditions of knowabilty which are determined by the essential character of Reason. But there is an extra step to watch for in this re-claiming. Human Reason, as a synthesising faculty, bestows order upon the Universe, turning the chaotic influx of experience into a knowable (i.e., orderly) cosmos. Knowledge becomes conceived as constructive of u world. This additional step profoundly shifts the logic of the Cartesian legacy in which Kant’s work stands. Rene Descartes (circa 165011955) endered the subject worldless through his methodical doubt (90) and the world was retrieved only through God’s benevolent guaranteeing of the objective reality of the clear and distinct ideas that this worldless subject thinks (107-126). he subject, in Kant’s work, is not worldless. But neither has it retreived the world itself through Divine interven- tion. Rather, the human subject lives in u world of its own muking. Given this, the human subject can do with the world what it wishes, since the world as experienced is of its own “doing” in the first place. Consider, from the “Preface” to Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (178711964): A light broke upon the students of nature. They learned that reason has insight only into that which it produces after a plan of its own, and that it must not allow itself to be kept, as it were, in nature’s leading-strings, but must itself show the way with principles of judgement based on futed laws, constraining nature to give answer to questions of reason’s own determining. Reason , must approach nature in order to be taught by it. It must not, however, do so in the character of a pupil who listens to everythmg the teacher chooses to say, but of an appointed judge who compells the wit- nesses to answer questions which he had himself formulated. While reason must seek in nature, not fictitiously ascribe to it, whatever has to be learnt, if learnt at all, only from nature, it must adopt as  lmmanuel Kant Jean Piaget and the Rage for Order 31 its guide, in so seeking, that which it has itself put into nature. (20) There are two echoes in this passage that are enticing. Both contain implicit images of pedagogy. One is a clear echo of the Enlightenment call that Kant himself (178411983) xpressed: Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity s self-imposed when its cause lies not in a lack of understanding, but in a lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. apere A& : ”Have courage to use your own understanding ”-that is the motto of enlightenment. (41) Kant’s Copernican Revolution elevated human Reason to the point of being its own guide, of needing no guidance from another. We therefore find hints in the above-cited passage from the Critique of Pure Reason of the pupil turning away from his teachers and their guidance (one meaning of ‘leading strings” is ”pupilage” or being lead or taught by another). Under the Enlightenment ideal, any guidance is ruled out as indicative of childishness or immaturity. We must approach the Earth unindebted, “self-guiding”. Another image buried here is one of the boy cutting the leading-strings (or “apron strings”) that bind him to his mother-an implicit denial of any lin gering dependency on the one who gives us birth. If we admit that the Earth gives us birth, then Reason remains somehow indebted to another. This again despoils the Enlightenment ideal of a humanity guided by Reason alone, somehow independent of its animate but irrational humus (‘leading-strings” names a cord used to lead animals). Once the leading strings are cut, it is we now who take the lead, who can “stand on our own two eet” (‘leading-strings” were use to teach children to stand and walk; it is also used as a metaphor for ”dependency”). As with Descartes methodical doubt, this metaphor of Kant’s embodies the denial that the Earth somehow guides us, sustains us and bears us up. Kant’s work stands, to this extent, in the shadow of the Cartesian ideal of a subject who is severed and separate from the Earth. Now separate and alien, the Earth no longer houses us but stands before us as an object. This object can henceforth be subjected to the subject’s logico-mathematical demands for clarity and distinctness from all that comes to meet it. However: If a kind of Cartesian ideal were ever completely fulfilled, i.e., i the whole of nature were only what can be explained in terms of math- ematical relationships - hen we would look at the world with that fearful sense of alienation, with that utter loss of reality with which a future schizophrenic child looks at his mother. A machine cannot give birth. (Bordo, 1987, 97) We need to consider in more detail how this schizophrenia is possible, for it  32 David W. ardine has profound effects on pedagogy. As Susan Bordo (1987) oes on to suggest: We are all familiar with the dominant. hemes of starting anew, alone, without influence from the past or other people, with the guidance of reason alone. The specific srcins of obscurity in our thinking are the appetites, the influence of our teachers, and the "prejudices" of childhood. The purification of the relation between knower and known requires the repudiation of childhood through a deliterate and methodical reversal of all the prejudices acquired within it, and a beginning anew with reason as one's only parent. (97-8) Should threads of this legacy infuse educational theory and practice, we are left with a bizarre prospect. It may be that a great deal of work in educational inquiry begins with an implicit, unvoiced repudiation of childhood. Such a repudiation might make it possible to render children into a controllable, predic- table and manageable object and such rendering certainly has a place in our living relationships with children. But it at once rends the tenuous, ambig- uous threads that make children our kin , our kind, nd that make us and our children of the Earth. In striving to break these threads in the name of a Reason able to act without guidance or hesitation or any sense of "kind-ness" towards what comes to meet it, ecological disaster is already foretold. Steps in the Breaking of the Strings: The A Priori as the Unborn(e) Against empiricism, Immanuel Kant maintained that mathematics, Euclidiean geometry and formal logic cannot be derived from experience, since all that experience can allow us to derive from it are empirical generalisations which can never attain the universality and necessity requisite of logic and math- ematics. For empiricism, each distinguishable empirical moment is separate and distinct. "Experience" is a chaotic rush of instances without form or figure. For experience to have any shape at all requires our concerted action upon it. For empiricism, the only warrantable action upon experience is posterior to it, u posteriori. The only warrantable action upon experience is a generalisa- tion from the instances of experience. Such generalisations are always subject to the continuing influx of experiences. The next instance can prove incorrect the empirical generalisation thus far derived from past experiences. They are therefore not universal but general(ised). They are not necessary but contin- gent upon the next instance. Kant's work began elsewhere. He began by afhrming the e fu fo exis- tence of logic and mathematics as forms of knowledge which are universal and necessary and therefore cannot be derived from generalisations from empir- ical experience. Such generalisations will not yield the necessity and univer- sality requisite of logic and mathematics. Kant maintained that the de fu fo
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