Authenticity and Constructivism in Education
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This paper examines the concept of authenticity and its relevance in education, from a philosophical perspective. Under the heading of educational authenticity (EA), I critique Fred Newmann’s views on authentic pedagogy and intellectual work. I argue against the notion that authentic engagement is usefully analyzed in terms of a relationship between school work and: “real” work. I also seek to clarify the increasingly problematic concept of constructivism, arguing that there are two distinct constructivist theses, only one of which deserves serious attention. I explain that the correspondence view of authenticity pays insufficient attention to the reality that the presence of “real world” connections does not guarantee that teaching and learning will be truly authentic. As a bridge to a philosophically acceptable understanding of authenticity, I reflect on John Dewey, who famously strove to base his views on education on the experience of the child, while rejecting that such experience requires validation from the “real” world. And Jean Jacques Rousseau offers several clues as to how the search for an authentic self might proceed beyond the Romanticist vision of an inner essence. These include the idea of the self as constructed inter-subjectively, which I capture by the term “one among others” and which, in turn, reveals persons as dialogically engaged in working out who they are and what they stand for (an idea found in the work of Charles Taylor). There is a clear affinity here with the imperative proposed by Newmann. I embrace the idea that the cultivation of dialogue should be a key priority in classrooms, because dialogue drives each individual to seek meaning in the context of seeing her/himself as one among others. I highlight the role of the classroom community of inquiry as an environment which has the dual function of cultivating disciplined inquiry and facilitating the kind of personal development that can, most properly, be termed “authentic”.