Saturday, November 18, 2006

Learning in Community

Harry Daniels [Harry Daniels, Vygotsky and Pedagogy (London; New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2001), 42, 43] reviews contemporary debate in ed. psych. on how the individual learns in/from community: “The critical issue is with respect to whether the resources that a collective culture embodies are regarded as fixed offerings from which the individual selects or they constitute the starting points for negotiation.” This is strikingly similar to questions raised as we see Vanhoozer (Drama of Doctrine) reworking Lindbeck’s cultural-linguistic theory in Nature of Doctrine. If we put this in the context of constructivism in (theological) education/epistemology, we can say that both view learners as constructing their understanding of texts, but Vanhoozer, drawing largely on John Webster, calls for conforming our understanding to the texts as to things-as-they-are: reading with the view to “dwelling within” the text and living the Christian life as performing the established texts; Lindbeck sees exactly the texts more as artefacts to be shaped in my construction of understanding (myself, my world, God). Torrance’s insistence on the isomorphism of ontology & epistemology is relevant here, too—we must allow the object of our study to dictate to us the categories & method by which we learn about it.

Daniels quotes G. Wells, Dialogic Inquiry: Toward a Sociocultural Practice and Theory of Education (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 322-23, and his analogy of learning to dance as it illustrates learning-in-community (participating in the dance—learning to dance by dancing with others, very much like Vanhoozer’s “dramatic performance” model), but implies that some may need individualised, directed intervention from an instructor to learn the basics, including the techniques, of dancing-as-it-ought-to-be-done. That caution is an important corrective for Lindbeck’s cultural-linguistic theory, for Linda Zagzebski’s thesis re: virtue epistemology (that we learn to be virtuous and to act virtuously by observing virtuous examples), and also for constructivism itself. There are probably significant times when we learners need direct instruction in the established texts.

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