Education studies is in an interesting state of affairs. Educational debate in the public sphere, and much educational policy, is being shaped by a dialogue between policy-makers and the work of “teacher-gurus” and educational “tsars,”* whose outputs are easily accessible both discursively and materially: their work is often noticeably non-technical, and is generally published online in blog form.
With the advent of the edublog and the edublogger, educational philosophy faces a challenge: it does not yet know how to fill and, as it were, dwell in the space which public debate over policy and practice leaves open for it and it alone; but it must learn how to do this if it is to contribute to and participate in educational culture itself and the shaping of that culture.
One of the things philosophers of education can afford to do is to take seriously those influential works which may not be presented or positioned as works of philosophy, but which nevertheless make unexamined philosophical claims or work from problematic, inconsistent, or incoherent philosophical presuppositions. Daniel Dennett has remarked that “there is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination”; the same is true of educational writing, especially that which would lay claim to “objectivity,” “factuality,” or “common sense” (for these notions are obvious or transparent, and are not immune to serious philosophical investigation). The success of the campaign for evidence-based research in education has made it harder for philosophical enquiry to make itself heard in public; for while such organizations as ResearchEd have effectively challenged some fatally flawed educational thinking, the paradigm-shift to so-called “evidence-based enquiry” has resulted in a narrowing of just what “evidence” and “research” in educational studies can mean, and just what form and processes “evidence” and “research” might take and follow.
The challenges faced by philosophy of education in the public arena is thus two-pronged: it needs, in the first instance, to move into the space left open to it by the muted philosophical presumptions of non-philosophical work. But in taking up this space, philosophical thought needs also to present itself as – and show the ways in which it is – a mode of research, one whose engagements are themselves evidential, in ways that should both satisfy calls for “evidence” and “proof,” and stretch the common sense of what “evidence” and “research” are.
*This of course refers to the way in which Tom Bennett has been cast by the popular press, in light of his appointment to head a Working Party on behaviour in school classrooms. Bennett has been careful to distance himself from this title. See his comments here and here; see also here and here.