Paradoxes & Praxis: The 21st Century Imperative for Educational Foundations

Paradox, Ethics & Pedagogy

We propose that educators need more, must to do more than what codes of ethics dictate. Lipman (1980) suggests that in terms of ethics we should be able to think logically and clearly as we face problems, and open ourselves to new options. We suggest that ethical educators and those in our societies concerned with education move beyond practice into praxis, a process, which requires shifting between theory and practice, reflecting and acting, questioning and transforming (see Freire). Praxis is important for ethics and education.

How can we attend to the needs of many students and the individual?
How can we educate for the potential of the individual and the society?
How can we focus on the means and the ends?
How can students have individualized curricula and a curriculum for all?
How can the curriculum draw on the past and prepare for the future?
How can the majority and the minority, the poor and the rich, the influential and the     ignored, the common and the elite, and so forth determine the curriculum?
How DOES education form society and result from society?

We propose that an ethical praxis has more to do with paradoxes than codes, because the world is too complex for codes to be sufficiently comprehensive and specifically relevant. Our first step then, as educators and people concerned with education, is to recognize paradoxes within moments, across moments, and among moments.

Paradoxes are much like binary opposites and we can respond to them like opposites. Because paradoxes “suspend us between too many good answers” (Sorenson, 2003), we indulge in strategies to make the choices easy. Below are four options to make the paradoxical choice too easy

Choose one part of the paradox and ignore another.
Destroy a part of the paradox and make another seem like the only viable option.
Seek a middle ground, an average, the median, or a compromise.
Push both sides of the paradox continuously in opposition to each other.

Using the breathing as analogy discussed earlier illustrates how each of these options is not viable for living with the paradox. Ignoring the exhale will not allow one to breathe. Destroying the possibility of ever inhaling, will leave one exhaling to extinction. The median place between inhaling and exhaling is half-empty, half-full lungs, which cannot sustain life. If the inhale and the exhale continuously resist each other, existence would be cripplingly labored and short. What parallels can you draw between the 4 options above and walking?

We are suggesting that an ethical praxis for education would sustain the paradox, shift between its oppositions, and suspend us between too many good answers

long enough to breathe
supportive enough to walk
persistent enough to notice how each part is useful
and when each is not
This is the fifth option.
But first, we must learn to breath and walk
into the paradoxes of ethics and education

This semester, we will explore philosophical and ethical thought and learn to exist in and move through educational paradoxes.

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