Freire, Hirsch and Indoctrination: the arguments against, the arguments against

I’ve brought together some arguments against the last post from Twitter and BTL and tried to answer them.

The argument about when elitism is elitism and when it’s not….!

The argument that people who use elitist academic language to argue against Core Knowledge are themselves elitist, is a common one. Of course that only works, if you approach the issues with a pre-existent elitist ideology.

If you consider Core Knowledge to be the only knowledge worth knowing, then clearly anyone who critiques it is, in effect, denying , “an other” the opportunity to share that elite knowledge.  Those  who critique it, have to do so, using appropriate language or the “no evidence” trope is dredged up, and if they use appropriate language they are elitists who are denying those who disagree with “me”, the opportunity to have this special knowledge. It’s a self contained argument.

Many argue from a genuine perspective. If you consider that knowledge is power then indeed the knowledge the gives you power is elitist. Of course most people think that power exists external to knowledge. People who are powerful have knowledge, it does not mean that the knowledge they have gives them power. Or at least the knowledge that gives them power may not be worth knowing. Indeed it may be the kind of knowledge that no one should value.

Hirsch has a point though we should consider what knowledge we all want to buy into and then teach it. A genuine debate about that should also consider the knowledge of the middle classes and whether indeed it is worth knowing.

The knowledge of Freire or Hirsch could be considered elitist. In truth knowledge of Freire or Hirsch is only purposeful within the context of a specific discourse. You need the knowledge of Freire to participate in the kind of conversation that this BLOG engages with, it has inter-subjective value, that is to say it has the value that those who use it, agree it has.

That does not mean that the conversation has intrinsic value. We may think that it does, and endeavour to prove that it does, and it may well have intrinsic value in terms of the impact that the inter-subjective value has on the natural world; but the knowledge of it has no value as a “thing in itself”. So, the only power that is implicit to Hirsch is that given to it, by the powerful, in this case Gove.

As I state in the article, the reasons he has adopted Core Knowledge are far removed from the ones he claims for them. That is not to say I agree or don’t agree. I think Gove has a classic Liberal ideology and finds himself in a rapidly globalising world. Core Knowledge has many of the elements that people find comforting in times of change (me included). That doesn’t mean that it is right or indeed wrong, but to deny that it is – what it is, is another matter.

The argument from the perspective of Success

Now you can argue that knowledge of the successful is useful if you want to be successful. That is, of course, if you are of the view that what is construed as successful at any given time is purposeful. You could use the same arguments for other less progressive regimes throughout history (Stalinism is one). There are worse, but I won’t name them.

Generally speaking the knowledge of those regimes is not (now) regarded as being purposeful, even though at the time accepting it and re-iterating it, would almost certainly have been necessary for the well- being of the individual. No doubt the middle classes adapted to accept the knowledge that allowed them to retain their place in society. Again that is not to say that they were all wrong, rather that ideology changes to such an extent, that simply re-iterating the dominant ideology of the time should be considered carefully.

So, you could use the argument that to decry the knowledge of the middle classes is in effect an elitist anti success stance, but that only works, if you view the knowledge of the dominant classes (at any given time) as being the only knowledge that makes you successful.

Clearly that is debatable to say the very least.

The argument from the perspective of the Arts

You could say that a suggestion that the Arts do not have intrinsic value is an attack on the Arts. It isn’t if you value inter-subjective knowledge. I do, of course, many don’t. Gove seems to be one who doesn’t.

The argument from the perspective of evidence

It’s not uncommon for BLOGGERS to write about Core Knowledge and then pepper their arguments with allusions to evidence.

Of course, these are political and philosophical issues not scientific ones or at least, not the kind of science that is commonly referred to as science in BLOGGING discourse. There is no evidence one way or another. Evidence itself becomes a discursive tool but for the most part, what evidence there is relates to very specific aspects of cognition and not general discourse about Core Knowledge.


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