An addendum to the title of this post might read along the lines of: but not the income. And by that I am referring to institutionalised teaching.
Oddly enough, earlier today I was reading about the peripatetic nature of the early Greek form of transmitting knowledge. No, that’s not quite right. Perhaps more like their – well, Aristotle’s in particular – en plein air development of methods of critical thinking. Out in the open because, it is said, The Philosopher was not a citizen of Athens, a requisite to property ownership, and therefore wandered orating around the grounds of the Lyceum.
For Diogenes, however, even this extolling while strolling was elitist and a corruption of the true meaning of any and all philosophical discourse, namely the path to arete (ἀρετή) or virtue. What brought me back to Diogenes and the goal, as it were, of philosophy was this Scott Soames article, titled Philosophy’s True Home, the gist of which is a defence of the institutionalisation of philosophy as a discipline: “philosophers actually function best in universities”. Philosophy is not the quaint little practice of the everyday it once was, goes the argument. It is now massively complex, the accrual of a couple of millennia or more, a fully fledged discipline too big for any one person to carry round in their head.
This is a repost to the argument put by Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle in a piece from January, titled When Philosophy Lost Its Way. Taking their cue from Bruno Latour’s notion of philosophy ‘purified’, the authors argue that the practice died once it hit the modern institution, where:
“Real” or “serious” philosophers had to be identified, trained and credentialed. Disciplinary philosophy became the reigning standard for what would count as proper philosophy.
Moving from a practice to a discipline, philosophy lost its moral moorings in the institution; it “should never have been purified”, they argue.
So, as it turns out, the idea of philosophy’s death-by-credentialism was merely the prelude to a bunch of articles that came my way today, which was the purpose of this post. They came via a post by Alistair Livingston, which pointed to a piece by Jeff Noonan, titled Ten Theses In Support of Teaching and Against Learning Outcomes. Learning outcomes, Noonan argues, ‘are part of a conservative drift in higher education towards skill-programming and away from cultivation of cognitive freedom and love of thinking.’ That is, away from how to think and towards a what to think. Noonan, in turn, cited some earlier pieces, most notably a very interesting and persuasive piece by Frank Furedi, titled The unhappiness principle. The author here lays out in some detail the many contradictions in the logics of the institutional learning outcome. Again, an indictment against the present paradigm of dumbing down critical thinking. The fixation with the quantification of standardised learning outcomes is at odds with the often creative and unpredictable process which underpins critical thinking. (Another article cited: Who are the spongers now? by Stefan Collini.)
This need to quantify is endemic across all institutions and organisations – just about anywhere people perform activities. Among its many logics, almost certainly the product of school of management thinking, is that of return on investment (ROI). Every practice consists of discrete calculable units, and learning outcomes are one of the deemed measurable units of teaching. ROI models may function adequately enough in some domains, economics, finance and the like (even these are hugely problematic), but very quickly become pretty much alchemy and woo-woo in others insofar as conventional metrics simply do not migrate across to other fields. The results are in fact counterproductive. Furedi:
It is important to recall that the principal reason for the invention of learning outcomes was to hold academics and their institutions to account. As an integral component of auditing culture, advocates of learning outcomes claimed that through rendering the work of institutions more explicit, higher education would become more transparent and accountable. But, paradoxically, a method of organising education that has as one of its aims the institutionalisation of accountability fosters a climate of non-responsibility.