Towards a Philosophy of Education for the Caribbean: Exploring African Models of Integrating Theory and Praxis.

Author:Thompson, Canute S.


There is an overwhelming tide of resistance to what is deemed to be an overly theoretical focus in philosophical reasoning and a concomitant insistence that the ultimate value of this important discipline is its capacity to solve real-world problems. This article addresses the question: "What is the task of philosophy and more specifically, the task of philosophy of education?" Thus, the issue with which this paper wrestles is how to engage in philosophical discourse which at one and the same time takes account of various philosophical perspectives, and traditions, while imagining ways in which these perspectives and traditions may be relevant to the context of the Caribbean. This struggle may be characterized as seeking to bridge the divide between theory and praxis.

In our view, philosophy is intended to answer the complex questions of the purpose of life, the meaning of being, and the nature of humanity and to offer questions, considerations and norms concerning the human condition. In keeping with this broad aim of philosophy, we hold the view that through Philosophy of Education, there is the opportunity to explore the purpose of education and its relationship to the structures of society. In exploring this relationship, greatest attention is paid to the ways that education can lead to activism, engagement, and collective action that can improve the quality of life, enrich human relationships, deconstruct structures that are inconsistent with our view of humanity, and facilitate human happiness, well-being, and flourishing.

The Problem

Philosophers have agreed that the discipline of philosophy exists for the purpose of exploring the complexities of human experience. With respect to philosophy of education, Waghid (2014) contends that its primary role is to contribute to solving the problems related to advancing educational ideals in any society. He calls for the elimination of the distance of philosophy of education from the problems of society and suggests that African philosophy of education must articulate proposed solutions to the continent's most pressing problems. Waghid lists poverty, hunger, disease, abuse, lack of accountability, and the prevalence of military dictatorships as among Africa's most intractable concerns. Taking its cue from Waghid (2014), the problem with which this paper seeks to contend is whether philosophies of education exist that are responsive to the major challenges facing the Caribbean countries.

The Caribbean Islands and Latin American countries exist within similar geographical space and comparable socioeconomic context. Indeed, in the global financial centers such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the US State Department, and the World Bank, the Caribbean and Latin America are grouped together for the purposes of defining foreign policy. A similar grouping is used in this article. The most pressing problems facing the Caribbean and Latin America are violence, measured principally in the rate of murder per capita, and continued under-development resulting in high dependence on aid and economic support from the hegemonic powers of the West and more recently of the East, namely China.

The 2018 rankings of the top twenty-five countries with the highest rates of murder per capita, countries in the Caribbean and Latin America account for seventeen or sixty-eight per cent of the twenty-five countries. Table 1 shows the countries and their place on the ranking.

The centuries-old hegemonic control of the countries of the Caribbean and Latin America by Western powers, and China's similar pursuit of dominance represent a threat to the realization of true economic independence of the countries of the region. During the period of colonization these countries lacked political independence. While political independence has been attained, there remains subtle and sometimes overt economic threats to their national sovereignty and continued political colonization.

In addition to the problem of high levels of crime and violence, many countries in the Caribbean and Latin America face severe internal economic challenges that severely undermine the region's prospects of achieving sustainable development. High levels of crime are also a threat to sustainable economic development. Thus, the twin problems of high levels of crime and violence, on the one hand, and economic dependency represent among the biggest problems that Caribbean and Latin America countries face. Any philosophy of human flourishing which fails to tackle these fundamental and life-threatening challenges cannot be said to be applicable to the realities of the society.

Research Questions, Objectives and Significance of the Study

Against the background of the foregoing problem, this article seeks to answer the following questions:

(1) What is the task of philosophy as it relates to the aims and purposes of education?

(2) What models of philosophy of education may Caribbean educators and philosophers of education pursue?

(3) To what extent should education be praxis-focused?

The objective of these questions is rooted in the consideration that the task of philosophy is to provide ways of making sense of the vexing and complex questions that face society. Thus, the study seeks to articulate a philosophy of education that is designed to contribute to addressing threats to well-being and flourishing being experienced by countries of the region.

This study is significant for at least two reasons. First, this analysis is the first of its kind in the last decade and a half that has sought to tackle the issue of philosophy of education and its meaning for the Caribbean. Secondly, this study is unique in its juxtaposition of the socio-economic issues and the normative mandate of philosophy of education.

Literature Review

While a comprehensive discussion of the purview of philosophy is beyond the scope of this article, it is worth noting the views of prominent modern thinkers in the field and relating them to education. McIntyre (2006) holds that the task of philosophy is to offer insight about the complexities that threaten the quality of life and limit the capacity of human beings to experience happiness. Rodgers (2016), in seeking to provide an explanation for the task of philosophy, contends that Nietzsche's existentialism views the work of philosophy as intentionally revisionary. In this regard he suggests that philosophers should reconceive themselves as creators of value, and to own up to and embrace the cultural significance of this task. Political philosopher Rawls (1999) advances a profound social change perspective on justice and inherently outlines the task of philosophy. The task of philosophy, in Rawls' thinking, was largely to create the justification for, and facilitate the attainment of a new political arrangement. Weithman (2009) in his analysis of Rawls' thinking contends that Rawls conceived the necessity of creating new constitutional mechanisms for liberty and the possibility of achieving such new arrangements that are capable of a sustained commitment to justice. As such it was the task of philosophy to articulate that possibility. If the foregoing characterizations are representative of the task of philosophy, generally, it may then be asked: What is the task of philosophy of education?

The Relation of Philosophical Perspectives and Education

Philosophy of education brings to bear philosophical inquiry, reasoning, and ethics to the domain of educational theory and practice. Siegel describes the field as "the pursuit of philosophical questions concerning education" and that "This sort of dependence on the parent discipline is typical of philosophical questions concerning education" (Siegel, 2009, p. 4).

Historically, the development of the field of philosophy of education had a storied past in North America and in the United Kingdom as part of a vibrant engagement with significant and important issues related to educational practice and policy. Pratte (1979) states that:

The traditional view of philosophy of education was that of educationists engaging in speculation concerning philosophical issues in education. It was the heir of the philosophic tradition that took the affairs of the heart quite seriously, attempting to give the best possible interpretation of the world and its application in terms of 'implication' for educational policy and practice. (p. 146) During the 1950s through the 1960s, there was systematic conceptual clarification about education policy and practice (Pring, 2007). In North America in the 1950's, 60's, and 70's work in philosophy of education was infused with Deweyan progressivist influence, confronting critical theoretic challenges in Neo-Marxism and relating philosophy to philosophical thought through "-isms." These early conceptions of the "isms" (e.g. perennialism, essentialism, experimentalism) proposed a framework of philosophy of education in which there were schools of thought with which philosophical views about education can be associated. According to Pratte (1979):

One segment of educational philosophy turned from the traditional "ism" to the alleged more relevant "isms" of progressivism, essentialism, perennialism, and reconstructionism, teasing out of these their "implications" for practical educational problems.... Thus, in the 1950s the function of philosophy of education in teacher education programs was either to provide students with a directive for life and its connection to the schoolroom or to be relevant to the problems or issues of everyday classroom teaching. (p. 148) In addition to the teacher education strand, Soltis (1966) details the analytic focus that emerged and flourished in the latter twentieth century. These philosophers of education examined the "technical language of educational theory and practice seeking clarity and precision of meaning." It was their goal to get beyond "the surface of philosophizing about...

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