education, at its best, is total integration of one’s self with the knowledge they absorb and eventually synthesize for their own self-learning (Noble, 2002). When choosing between training and education we, as a nation, have often chosen the former in the name of workforce development and economic progress, but at what cost?
Unfortunately, the traditional teaching strategies employed throughout modern educational history do not offer a method or model with which to conceptualize, much less begin to solve such wicked problems. Only by understanding the conceptual underpinnings that support
contemporary pedagogy and andragogy might we begin to create educational spaces that help us solve such complex challenges.
Concerning Ontology, Epistemology, and Commodification in Leadership Education
It has been remarked that leadership is an amalgam of the arts, humanities, and sciences (Gardner, 2006; Wheatley, 2010). Such an integrated field is attractive to many, but there are challenges to finding appropriate methods with which to create learning environments that are conducive to developing the interdependence and awareness contemporary leadership paradigms propose. Furthermore, the ways students today receive educational programs focused on leadership for social justice is heavily dictated by how they value knowledge, understanding, and learning. In this idea brief we will first examine how western ontology and epistemology have impacted the manners by which all education writ large and specifically leadership education have developed. Second, we will discuss how privileging metaphysical world views have contributed to an unbalanced approach from both faculty and students and ultimately disintegrated leadership learning from the core curriculum. Finally, we will suggest an approach for reintegrating subjective and complex epistemology into the empirical base of contemporary leadership education.
Ontology – Nature of our World Epistemology – How we come to know Pedagogy/Andragogy – Facilitation of learning
Mysticism – “Teaching as Drawing Out”
Assumes that all learners, as part of a grandcreation,
There is one Truth. Provided thatone
Has to do with big questions (i.e. The meaning of life, our purpose in the universe, etc.) These questions are generally addressed through narratives that provide context, ascribe purpose, and provide meaning.
already have the Truth within them and usesnatural
phenomena to draw outunderstanding.
Religion – “Teaching as DrawingIn” Concerned with drawing students into establishedsystems and doctrines. More responsibility is placed on teaching
than learning. The learner’s self-development is
studies with enough rigor, Truth canbe known.
Rationalism – “Teaching as Instructing”
Has to do with the day-to-day knowledge necessary for function in a given socialsetting. Focused on practical and immediate aspects of experience
Assumes all knowledge is a matter of social interaction. Effectively, everything that is important to know is dictated by our social needs and agreements
Concerned with deductively seeking the Truth through
logic using facts that are known (or believed to be known)
Empiricism – “Teaching as Training”
Concerned with inductively seeking the Truththrough, typically using scientific method. Involves scripted movement through courses andassessments.
Structuralism – “Teaching asFacilitating” Focused on language and how we structure belonging. Knowledge and teaching is about facilitatingproductive interdependent integration of unique individualsinto
Post-structuralism – “Teaching as Empowering” Also focused on language, but more interested inthose concepts or individuals that are typically marginalized or left out. Empowering voice, agency, change, and inclusion
There are many truths the nature of the
universe is interdependent, ever- changing and cannot ever fully beknown.
are often sough outcomes.
Complexity Science –“Teaching asOccasioning”
Concerned with complex patterns and relationshipsof
Acknowledges the confoundingentanglements associates with understanding theworld.
Suggests that by measuring the world wechange it, and are in turn changed ourselves.
social, natural, and technological entanglements. Engaging, modeling, and finding meaning inwicked
Ecology – “Teaching as Conversing”
Concerned with connectivity in all things. Conversation and valuing of all positionalities in order to come to social/natural balance rather thanagreement.
It is not within the bounds of this brief to approach the depth with which Davis (2004) discusses the historical and archeological implications of the various teaching strategies noted in Table 1. However, the taxonomy provides an excellent framework to illustrate an anecdotal concern that many educators share when confronted by students who just want to know what is going to be on the test. Here, the delineation between the Metaphysical and Physical and the resulting ontological repercussions for education cannot be understated. Given the emphasis on the metaphysical we submit that contemporary education more often lends itself to a particular emphasis on Religion, Rationalism, and Empiricism as key contributing teaching and learning strategies (it should be noted when we discuss religion we are referring to the teaching strategies that have grown from religious epistemology rather than any specific faith itself). Figure 2 illustrates the imbalance that is fostered by such ontological emphasis.
Figure 2. Privileged Instructional Methods adapted from (Davis, 2004)
Commodification refers to the process by which depth and understanding of a concepts is coopted in order to facilitate easier transaction. Consider the eggs you might have eaten for breakfast this morning. For many, eggs are a commodity: you go to the store, pay the price on the carton, and take your eggs home without much thought. Now consider the eggs that your
great, great grandparents may have eaten. They might have raised chicks from hatchlings, cooped and fed the birds as necessary, cleaned the cages, and harvested the eggs. Eggs are likely far more commodified for us than they were for our ancestors. Unfortunately, education has suffered a similar commodification process. Noble (2002) shares a three step progression by which education has been commodified in the United States. First, educators focused less on the learner and became more interested in tangible, delimited collections of course materials (subjects, units, lessons, exams, etc.). Engaged educators, of course, recognize that these materials in their own right are simply tools, but in the eyes of a trainer they become goods and services. The second shift was the arbitrary fragmentation of integrated concepts into courses.
This step was particularly damning because it disintegrated holistic learning and bind it into property delineated by limited learning outcomes; a commodity that has an owner and can be sold for profit. The third step is quite simple and involves the process by which tuition, state dollars, or other capital is exchanged for a given instructional unit (Noble 2002, 2013).
Design as a model for reintegration in leadership education. We would argue that commodification is a generally poor idea for any subject matter given that commodities make no demand on our skill or attention and require little to no thought. Alternatively, we may be better served to acknowledge that commodification is simply a misstep resulting from over-privileging a metaphysical world view in leadership education. In keeping with our assertion that instruction methods often associated with the sciences subscribe to one universal Truth and the arts and humanities tend to focus on subjectivity and the interdependence between many truths we suggest a more balanced approach is warranted. Such an approach has been in existence for over 40 years in design thinking, but has, frustratingly, never gained traction within mainstream education policy or curriculum. As such, many of the seminal texts described here are dated, but nevertheless compelling.
As an example I recall a story told to me by a colleague. Our colleague was working on a grant to bring modern farming techniques to rural villages in developing countries. One particular initiative involved providing a tractor to a certain village in order to increase planting and reaping speed to grow more food for the malnourished villagers. The villagers were given the tractor and taught how to use and repair it and our colleague and his team returned to the states. After a few years the team returned to the village and found the tractor rusting beside the field where the village’s crops were grown. The initial assumption was that the tractor had broken down and the villagers had been unable to fix it, but after some investigation the team learned that the tractor had not been used even once. The villagers explained that they did not want to be impolite and reject the tractor as a gift, but that mechanized planting and reaping had no place in their society. Planting and reaping were communal times for the village and provided imperative connections to each other and the land. Ultimately, no harm was really done to the village, but no solutions were produced either and hunger continued. From the prospective of science, technology was the answer to food production problems; from the humanities, perspective technological encroachment was an affront to the villagers’ way of life.
Neither perspective offers a balanced enough approach to solve or even understand the wicked problem involved with meeting the needs of the village.
team’s approach viable because the local population will not adopt it. Through the use of qualitative coding and modeling, a design team might better develop a solution that allows for the social imperative of planting and reaping all while increasing crop yield to support the nutritional needs of the village.
We will not solve the village’s problem here, but imagine the leadership learning you could facilitate if you asked your class to apply empathetic, solution focused, constructive thinking to solving this problem themselves. Or more to the point, imagine the possibilities of having your class engage a wicked problem in your campus’ community. Design is no more a fix-all solution for leadership education than any method that has gone before. In fact this
method is emergent. Designers have and continue to struggle with how to teach learners to utilize design (Jonassen, 2010; Rowland, 1993). Rather, design provides a bridge between the sciences and humanities that is sorely needed in the field of leadership studies. It allows diverse teams of students from different majors and backgrounds to come together and leverage both scientific knowledge and understanding from the humanities for practical problems solving and decision making. Imagine the learning that could come from a future engineer, mathematician, biologist, economist, thespian, and psychologist all practicing the process of leadership, followership, and active citizenship while working on the issue of social justice with a given topic like healthcare,
human trafficking, or immigration. Now that might be interesting.
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Nik Clegorne serves as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education at Virginia Tech. Clegorne also has the privilege to direct the Residential Leadership Community; a living learning community rooted in the discovery, scholarship, and practice of leadership for social change.
Jason Mastrogiovanni serves as the Director of the Office of First-Year Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Mastrogiovanni is an advocate for collaboration and intentional design in higher education. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Educational Psychology with a specialization in Learning Environments and Educational Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.