Recapturing Pedagogical Thinking

In didactics there are many terms (concepts!) that are so established and in long-term use that no one asks anymore what they are actually supposed to designate. Characteristics displaying a kind of pedagogical naturalization can be seen in the unreflected use of these terms in every sort of pedagogical context, as well as in scientific publications, and consequentially, in term papers and classroom analyses from students and new teachers. This massive influx of concepts, particularly those anchored in curriculum, guarantees that each concept can be used successfully. Examples of such naturalized concepts are especially those regarding ‘competences’ – or what is commonly considered to be ‘intercultural competence’, ‘social competence’ or ‘communicative competence’.

The secret of conceptual success

The secret of success with such concepts can be found in many aspects:

1 First, they are suitable for everyday use and are made to do so. Furthermore, they lend themselves to social, political, and economic application which enhances our daily life in the classroom, especially in political discourse and where one doesn’t just live one’s life, but lives it competently, fit for every condition of life, terminologically well-equipped. Who does not apprehend ‘interculturalism’, ‘society’ and ‘communication’? Who would like to be incompetent in such subjects or not be able to discuss them?

2 Secondly, such terms are so general, so abstract that they cover everything. One doesn’t have to argue long until they are relevant to ‘media’ or ‘interculturalism’. Something must be negotiated in a foreign language? Of course, that must be intercultural. Someone can use Facebook? This person must be competent in media. Facebook is, of course, media – one way or the other. People sit, work and have fun together? That must be social! Such abstract terms make our everyday world available and they also make the world more pleasant, because we can understand it and arrange it to our liking.

3 Finally, and by far the worst: Such terms spare us the ability to think on our own, and reflect on the deeper sense of education in classroom settings in particular. The same applies to pedagogical academic papers: almost incessantly, the reasons for teaching proposals are justified through abstract, unquestioned and naturalized concepts. The simple reason is: those who use such terms – such as medial, social, intercultural competence – are likely to be on the safe side, because this way one is likely to comply with mainstream curricula and pedagogical mainstream thinking. Nevertheless, this doesn’t necessarily lead to successful teaching and learning.

What is there left to do?

What is there left to do? I am not against defining competence goals. However, it is our duty to reinstall the right to, and autonomy on, pedagogical thinking. Teachers are not henchmen of state-regulated curricula and standards, but rather free-thinking educators and theorists devoted to their students, and professionals in the design of teaching and learning processes. As human individuals, we are contact persons, guides and foreign language learning experts for our students.

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Copyright © 2018 Wolfgang Hallet