Schwabian model of a liberal education

As indicated in Chapter 1, the Schwabian model is deeply embedded in and shaped by the Chicago tradition of liberal education. Like Bildung-centred Didaktik, this model can also be seen as consisting of three essential components: (1) a vision of a liberal education, (2) a theory of knowledge for the kind of liberal education envisaged and (3) a theory of content that seeks to inform curriculum planning and pedagogical practice (which will be discussed in Chapter 5).

Schwab’s vision of a liberal education is centred on an image of an educated person who possesses an understanding of culture and the world and a set of powers that allows him or her to face the challenges and problems in the society of his times (see McKeon, 1937). Also inspired by the ancient Greek notion of paideia, such an image was first articulated by McKeon in ‘Education and the disciplines’ - in which he attempted to restore the ancient notion of liberal arts to the centre of the curriculum (Westbury & Wilkof, 1978):

Whether it is called the trivium or not, whether it is applied to old books or new books or even to oral presentations, whether or not principles are thought to determine the sequence, a student should emerge from such a general education with a knowledge of how problems, whether of life or science or of art, have been treated, and with some insight therefore into how problems may be treated; and, joined to that knowledge, he should possess an ability to understand positions other than his own, to present his own convictions relevantly, lucidly, and cogently, and finally to apply informed critical standards to his own arguments and those advanced by others.

(McKeon,'1937, p. 377)

The powers of an educated person, later further articulated by Schwab, include a ‘capacity for “syntactical communication’”, a disposition to ‘quest, beyond mere survival, for a state called “happiness”’, an ability to ‘deliberate wisely about technologies based on science’ and ‘to choose thoughtfully among several technological methods’ (Levine, 2006, p. 119). The powers too include ‘abilities and insights to face the new problems of our times and to use the new instrumentalities with wisdom and freedom’ (McKeon, 1953, p. 113) and ‘critical and organising power and deliberative command over choice and action’ (Schwab, 1978, p. 125), among others.

The cultivation of such intellectual, social and civic powers is achieved through the interaction of individual students with various forms of knowledge embodied in contemporary academic disciplines. A theory of knowledge is articulated that identifies various types of academic disciplines which have potential for the cultivation of human powers and (re)conceives of the essence of each type in ways that arc productive of the cultivation. According to McKeon (1949), there arc three types of academic disciplines - natural sciences, social sciences and humanities -distinguished by ‘three distinct sets of problems and arts’, each manifesting distinctive human powers. Therefore, the significance of each type of these disciplines for cultivating human powers is determined by a distinct set of arts or methods of inquiry rather than content or subject matter per se:

The place of the natural sciences in general education is determined by the arts and skills required to analyse problems, validate knowledge, and formulate or understand statements about natures and things. . . . The place of the social sciences in general education is determined by the arts and skills required to analyse problems, validate knowledge, and formulate or understand statements about associations, communities, and institutions set up by men to achieve common values. . . . The place of the humanities in general education is determined by the arts and skills required to analyse problems, validate knowledge, and formulate or understand statements about the appreciation and use of the great achievements of man. All three of these arts are applicable to all subject matters.

(p. 295)

Building on McKeon, Schwab (1978) conceives of an academic discipline as consisting of not only statements/conclusions but also arts or methods employed in disciplinary inquiry, an understanding and mastery of which enables the development of liberating human powers that are applicable to wide-ranging situations and practices:

The ‘intellectual’ arts and skills with which the liberal education curriculum is concerned are not then intellectual as to subject matter, and thus exclusive of other subject matters, but intellectual as to quality'. They are the arts and skills which confer cogency upon situations and actions whether these be scientific, social, or humanistic, general and abstract or particular and concrete. The liberal arts, however formulated, are to be understood as the best statement of our present knowledge of the human make, of various means - some special in their application to specific subject matters, some general - by which the understanding frees us from submission to impressions, beliefs, and impulses, to give us critical and organizing power and deliberative command over choice and action. A liberal curriculum is one concerned that its students develop such powers.

(p. 125)

Such an exposition of the significance of arts or methods of enquiry in liberal education is also influenced by Dewey’s (1938/1998) construction of experience. As the ‘pattern and ideal of intelligent exploration and exploitation of the potentialities inherent in experience’ (p. 108), Dewey argues, the scientific method has liberating powers in terms of ‘getting at the significance of our

Bildung and theory of knowledge 43 everyday experiences of the world’ and providing ‘a working pattern of the way in which and the conditions under which experiences are used to lead ever onward and outward’ (pp. 111-112). Like Dewey, Schwab was to ‘invest the problem of knowledge with great significance’ in the belief that ‘the fate of a whole society might depend on the correct analysis of scientific method’ (M. White, 1976, p. 301, cited in Fenstermacher, 1980).

The exposition, overall, represents an important contribution that Schwab made to the reformulation of the liberal curriculum in Chicago (Westbury & Wilkof, 1978). He later characterised the arts of enquiry in terms of the substantive structure (essential concepts, principles and frameworks that guide inquiry) and the syntactic structure (modes of inquiry, canon of evidence and ways of proof) of an academic discipline (Schwab, 1962). The articulation of these two concepts were animated by and directed towards the previously outlined version of a liberal education (see Westbury & Wilkof, 1978). They were intended to serve as ‘an enlightened and illuminating means to engage persons in structuring their experiences in ways that continually enlarge their knowledge and understanding, their autonomy and authenticity, and their sense of place in the past, present, and future of the human race’ (Fenstermacher, 1980, p. 196).

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