SFU Canada Research Chairs Seminar Series: "Why Education is Difficult and Contentious"

Thursday, September 17, 2009
11:30 - 12:30

Dr. Kieran Egan, Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Development and the Curriculum
Faculty Of Education


Everyone in universities is an expert in education, everyone in universities tends to assume. The aims of education promoted by such people are designed to produce people like themselves, perhaps without the warts they are willing to acknowledge. But, because people differ, the conceptions of education one can excavate in such aims are different, which makes deciding on educational policy fraught with problems. In general most people are inclined to conceive of education as comprising three general purposes: socialization (derived from oral cultures long ago and continuing today), academic (derived from Plato's and Aristotle's program of shaping minds to perceive "the truth about reality"), and developmental (derived from Rousseau's claim that successful education requires attending to the natural or spontaneous forms of individual difference and development). It is generally assumed that these ideas are essential components of any reasonable educational program, and assume too that the trick for educational institutions is to keep these somewhat competing aims for the process in balance. I will try to show that our problems are due to the fact that these aims are at a fundamental level incompatible and that any institution that tries to incorporate all three as aims is doomed to consistent frustration and general failure. After this cheering opening, a way around this trilemma will be suggested.

About the Speaker

Kieran Egan read History (Hons.) at the University of London, graduating with a B.A. in 1966. He worked for a year as a Research fellow at the Institute for Comparative Studies in Kingston-upon-Thames and then moved to the U.S.A. to begin a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education at Stanford University. He worked concurrently as a consultant to the I.B.M. Corp. on adaptation of a programming method, called Structural Communication, to new computing systems. He completed his Ph.D. at Cornell University in 1972. His first job was at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, where, lacking all initiative, he has remained ever since. He is the author of about twenty books, and co-author, editor, or co-editor of a few more. In 1991 he received the Grawemeyer Award in Education. In 1993 he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada, in 2000 he was elected as Foreign Associate member to U.S. National Academy of Education, he received a Canada Research Chair in 2001, a Killam Research fellowship from 2001-3, won the Whitworth Award in 2007, and is dripping with gongs. His main area of interest is education. His work focuses on a new educational theory, which he has developed during the past two decades, and its implications for a changed curriculum, teaching practices, and the institution of the school. His work deals both with innovative educational theory and detailed practical methods whereby implications of his theory can be applied at the classroom level. Various of his books have been translated into about ten European and Asian languages. His recent books include The Educated Mind: How cognitive tools shape our understanding (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), Getting it Wrong from the Beginning: Our progressivist inheritance from Herbert Spencer, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), An imaginative approach to teaching (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,2005), and most recently The Future of Education: Reimagining our schools from the ground up. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.)