education: a taxonomy towards understanding the beastess!

December 21, 2013

You see, every once in a while, some guys (peace be upon them, poor  things) become unfortunate enough to take part in my random training sessions – wherein I pretend  to bestow my infinite  wisdom on an otherwise  normal and happy bunch of people; there was one such workshop that I conducted a couple of weeks back, in which a few of us discussed the various angles / prisms (or axes, if you will)  through which one can see the myriad facets of that phantasmagorical beastess (yes, education is a female!)  called education; this note was circulated to seed  some discussions and here it is, as some food for your thoughts, that is, if you are the type which likes to think

But then, this is a rather looooong document, that has taken very many years of practical experience, observation and a sort of  reasonable scholarship to get assembled –  and so some patience is advised. If you do not have the patience, you please stop  right here. And, go away. Seriously.


In this document, we would look at the common ways of stereotyping education in terms of what sociologists call their sociological categories, Ideal Types.

An ideal type is formed from characteristics and elements of the given phenomena, but it is not meant to correspond to all of the characteristics of any one particular case. It is not meant to refer to perfect things, moral ideals nor to statistical averages but rather to stress certain elements common to most cases of the given phenomena.” (The methodology of the social sciences’ – Max Weber – a very fine text; some details below)

The methodology of social sciences / Max Weber / 1949 / The Free Press, Glencoe, Illinois; this is one of the books that I keep getting back to, when I have some fundamental doubts about categorizations and much else! Strongly recommended for anyone who wants to seriously study societal dynamics...

The methodology of social sciences / Max Weber / 1949 / The Free Press, Glencoe, Illinois; this is one of the books that I keep getting back to, when I have some fundamental doubts about categorizations – sociological and much else! Strongly recommended for anyone who wants to seriously study societal dynamics and dialectics…

Simply put, the world of ideal types merely allows one to stereotype, simplify and attempt to slot  – and then to grapple with  things – such as white and black, so that we can easily pretend to understand things.

But you see, the world is NEVER defined in terms of black and white. It has myriad hues – it is a true celebration of gray areas.

Salutations to thee, the Goddess of the Great Gray!

When I think about the applicability of the sociological category of ‘ideal types’ – a few examples float up immediately and I tell myself that we would bother only about ‘education’ here – and in terms of all of them being seen as forming pairs (or dyads, if you will) located on the opposite ‘extreme’ sides of a given phenomenon – or, an axis  of interpretation/understanding, if you will.

Of course, they are not in any particular order, but I sincerely hope that, a reasonable taxonomy would develop eventually – based on the following axes for the understanding of education, right??

Let us discuss!

आ नो भद्राः क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वतः


Note: I have tried to slot various pointers related to the beastess, under some ten headings – please note that they are NOT watertight compartments and  that, many of the categories straddle many universes; of course, this list is likely to grow, diminish and morph in its progress towards oblivion…


  • Frequently Asked Questions Vs Frequently Avoided Questions
  • Frequently Answered Questions Vs Frequently Questioned Answers
  • Infrequently Answered Questions Vs Infrequently Questioned Answers
  • I have all the Answers (oh the arrogant  me!) Vs I have all the Questions (oh the smart  me!)
  • Searching for Meaning Vs Meaning to Search
  • Meaningful metaphors Vs Content free sounds
  • Form Vs Content Vs Essence
  • Cliches Vs Perennial Truths

Philosophical moorings

  • Why Education (for a given, assumed value of Education) Vs Why not?
  • Literacy Vs Education
  • Theory of education Vs the Practice of it
  • Quality Vs Quantity
  • Tangible frame (‘certificate’) Vs Intangible content (‘education’)
  • Arts Vs Science (OR Creativity Vs Concepts)
  • Only social sciences Vs Only pure and applied sciences
  • Big picture Vs Details (OR Bird’s eye view Vs Earthworm’s view)
  • Competition Vs Cooperation
  • ‘A picture is worth 1000 words’ Vs ‘Even 1000  pictures are not sufficient to represent a word, leave alone being worth a word!’ 
  • Oriental Vs Occidental accents
  • Spiritual Vs Materialistic accents
  • University Vs Multiversity
  • Flaw of Averages Vs Minimum Common Denominator
  • Education as a: Social Emancipator Vs an yet another Social Stratification system
  • Free Progress Vs Free to Progress(for a given  value of progress)
  • Histories of Education: Western Vs Non-western
  • Education: Breadth first Vs Depth first
  • Education as providing: Models of excellence Vs Models of Mediocrity
  • Education as a force to: Transform the world Vs Transforming oneself
  • System beating/cracking Vs ‘following his own drummer’ Vs ‘also-ran’
  • Respecting Tradition (learning also from the past) Vs Totally new approaches (jettisoning the past)
  • Education as learning: How to learn (fill it, shut it, forget it) Vs How to constantly unlearn, relearn, fine-hone
  • Education as teaching: How to make a living Vs How to live
  • Learning Vs Teaching
  • Education as an aid  to life Vs Education is life

Education theories

  • Education for All: A big YES Vs But, Why?
  • One theory/approach fits all Vs Endless adaptations based on the given local conditions
  • Tagore? Steiner? Piaget? Gandhi? Goldman? Dewey? Montessori? Bruner? Aurobindo? Vygotsky? Or that bane of Indian education – Macaulay?
  • Connectivism? Cognitivism? Behaviorism? Constructivism? Contiguity? Gestalt? Experiential learning?
  • Learning theories? Andragogy? Symbol systems? Repair theory? Apprenticeship models?
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed Vs Pedagogy of the Oppressor Vs Pedagogy of the Repressed (mommeeee!)

there are as many theories about education as there are folks on earth!

And, does it take only  a village to raise a child??

Behaviour modalities in education 

  • Mappings: Developmental Stages Vs Graded Outcome Management
  • Autodidactic approaches Vs Teacher centeredness
  • Punishment Vs non-punishment
  • Gratification: Instant Vs Postponement
  • Try Vs Do
  • Direction by the needs of the self Vs behaving as dictated by outside instructions
  • Development of self esteem Vs Addiction to rewards & mere tokens
  • Self validation Vs External validation
  • Blooming under privacy Vs Wilting under an atmosphere of surveillance

Parental involvement

  • Complete outsourcing of education to the ‘school’ Vs Symbiotic relationship with the ‘school’
  • Schooling Vs Unschooling Vs Homeschooling … OR Schoolhoming Vs Unhoming Vs Homing
  • Overdiagnosed paranoia (=dyslexia) Vs Underdiagnosed parental mess
  • Overstimulated homes (= TV, Gadgets, busy parents, perennial holiday/weekend plans, parties…) Vs Understimulated homes (equipped with boring, duh oh so ordinary parents, armed-chair intellectuals)
  • Unfulfilled lives & desires of the Parents Vs Aspirations of the Children
  • Work ethic: System beating/priming okay Vs Principled approaches & hard work first
  • Quick & Dirty short cuts Vs The exploration of the Garden of the forked paths
  • Following familial vocations / traditions Vs Joining a non traditional unskilled force of Clerks

Practical pedagogy

  • Learning (use and throw) Vs Meta-learning (reuse, recycle, repurpose, repackage)
  • Medium of instruction: Mother tongue Vs Some other tongue (English) Vs an admix of languages
  • Language as a Tool  Vs Language as an End
  • Rote memorization Vs Learning with understanding
  • Physical Vs Mental activities (or) Working with Hands Vs Working with Heads
  • Left brain Vs Right brain Vs No Brain
  • Exams Vs No-exams
  • Work Vs Play
  • State board Vs CBSE vs IGCSE… (what a delightful variety)
  • Computers Vs NO-Computers (or a Sony PSP Vs NO gadgets)
  • Vocational training Vs NO-vocational orientation
  • Guild and Apprenticeship models Vs Class room / blackboard based deliveries

Educational/Class Environment

  • Democracy in classrooms Vs Autocracy
  • Open environment Vs Closed environment
  • Textbooks Vs No-textbooks
  • Class/Period/subject switching every hour Vs child directed activities
  • Older children in the environment (‘mixed’ age group) Vs Children of the same age (‘narrow’ group)
  • ‘Special’ needs of Normal children Vs Normal needs of  ‘Special’ children Vs Special needs of Special children (Death be  to euphemism and asinine political correctness)
  • ‘All children are Special Children’ (=All children are differently-abled children) Vs  ‘Some children are lesser than others, therefore are Special children’
  • Schools providing skills for being: Sociable Vs Antisocial

Schooling systems

  • Montessori Vs non-Montessori (OR Waldorf  Vs non-Waldorf OR NaiTaleem Vs non-NaiTaleem OR  <insert your favourite theory, including Piaget’s>)
  • ‘Open’ schools Vs ‘Closed’ Schools
  • Farm schools, Forest schools, Community schools Vs ‘Concrete building’ schools
  • Big school Vs Small school
  • Local schools Vs ‘International’ schools
  • Valley Schools (such as The Valley Schools) Vs Mountain Schools (such as a Montfort or a Lovedale or a Doon)
  • Non-missionary schools Vs Missionary schools (mainly those gazillion factory schools that call themselves ‘Christian’ schools that are neither Christian nor Schools, unfortunately)
  • Religious education Vs ‘Secular’ education
  • Professional teachers Vs consultants/experts
  • Government run ‘public’ schools Vs Private ones
  • ‘Mainstream’ schools Vs ‘Alternative’ schools
  • Guilds and Gurukulas Vs Boarding Schools
  • Brand building Vs Getting Branded (*ouch*)

Economics of education

  • Education as business Vs The business of Education Vs Education as service
  • Opportunities based on availability of funds Vs Others available irrespective of funds
  • Funding patterns: Local community supported Vs funded from ‘elsewhere’
  • Education as one giving respectability Vs one enabling the getting of some ‘required status’ (=dowry, ‘a good match’ and all that!)
  • Education driven by: market forces Vs equitable society building efforts
  • Scalable education models:Accommodation of Diversity Vs A Central Core approach

Politics of education

  • Equality of opportunity Vs Equality of status
  • Exclusion Vs Inclusion
  • Education as a political agenda: Collecting votes Vs Mobilization based on ideologies
  • Ensuring uniform national blandness (as Bill Watterson so eloquently puts it) Vs Celebrating the Exceptionals
  • Education for: Inner Party Vs Outer Party Vs Proles (Thanks, George Orwell!)
  • Us Vs Them

May be, we should jointly try to address and understand where we stand and where we may  want to go – with respect to the above and a few more.

And, we may begin to understand that both polarities in most of the above (so perceived) dyadic relationships are important, if we are seriously talking about education.

So, we may eventually find out that, in most  of these so called dyadic cases, we are, in effect, traversing a Möbius strip – which apparently & on the face of it, has two sides, but actually has only one.

mob-strip-non-dyadIn some of the above dyadic ideas, we get more pointers to reach clarity about the others – they by themselves are not critical, but they help a lot towards understanding things that impact education or at least make us aware of our  understanding of it.

We would also discuss the broader social context in which ‘education’ operates – coexisting and symbiotically working with other ‘systems’ in society.

Of course, your mileage will vary, depending on where you are and where I am coming from  – and therefore where we are NOT.

Please feel free to share your thoughts / anger / annoyance in the interim. The forum is open. If you are silent, you will be forced to listen to my untempered views!

Caveat emptor, what else! :-)


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3 Responses to “education: a taxonomy towards understanding the beastess!”

  1. Packirisamy N Says:

    Your students must be lucky to have a teacher like you. In my school time 1970’s, I never thought whatever I studied, is meant for real life. Those days, they were just meant to get marks. None of our teachers, made us to understand education is meant for real life. We studied “Thirukural” , but just to get marks. No one really bothered to follow. It was always scary to ask a question. Asking questions were never entertained. Life was easier, because either it was black or white. At times not even either, there in only one. We were not meant to think otherwise. Thanks for the article.

  2. Yayathi Says:

    You have come up with an exhaustive list covering the whole gamut. Though I am not in the field of Education, previously I have looked at the analogy of Road/Vehicle for Life/Education from a System Theory (i.e. Life System/Transportation System analogy) perspective. You also have mentioned very briefly at the end of your blog about systems and I am assuming you have some similar thoughts as well. Please note I am only using the analogy and this opportunity to expand on the applicability of System Theory concepts and I recognize there are always limits to using an analogy :-)

    Design Perspective: Based on the Road/Vehicle analogy we could design multiple vehicles – Bicycle, Motorcycle and Car etc. as equivalents of Primary, High School/Trade school, College Educational systems etc. We also need to design specialty vehicles like Racing cars or All Terrain Vehicles for kids with specific/additional talents and limited abilities. As we have more of these vehicles, the existing roads could get congested (e.g. Unemployment or under-employed or some other social/political conflict) and we have three choices: a) Increase the size of the road or build new roads (e.g. expand the economy or societal changes) b) Alter the design of the vehicles (change the course design) (c ) Try both. Just as in designing Transportation Systems, we have to look into efficiency, cost, adaptability, reliability, stability, pollution, wastage etc., while designing Educational Systems. Educational systems also have wastages – look at the amount of time and effort in learning some of the things that were never used in later life; pollution – young minds can be set to think based on certain specific ideological doctrines.

    Operational perspective: In order to manage a dynamic Educational System, it needs to be observable, controllable and stable. To be observable, it needs to be measurable, and to be controllable it needs to know the target and have a feedback mechanism. Stability – when changes (either planned or unplanned) are introduced, the system should operate within the defined target levels within the defined time – e.g. Recent Introduction and change in “Samacheer Kalvi” – if High School system can be compared to Motorcycle, certain critical components (i.e. books – for me, teachers are the engines) were not repaired/delivered during the maintenance downtime but had to be delivered/fixed while it was operational, thereby slowing down the performance.

  3. Ranganathan Says:

    Thanks for this list sir ! In my opinion, this is an important list for those who are interested in education. I appreciate the efforts you have put, in preparing it.

    This prompted to think about the personal factor in the education.

    – The interests of educator VS the personal interest of the educated
    – The desires of the educator, controlled by the theory of the healthiest possible education.
    – The interest of the community/state that tend to make a citizen

    Nataraja guru (in his doctoral thesis) discusses the above points and says “we see clearly that the principles of each of the forces are so many that it becomes almost impossible to conceive of something that is worthy of the name of the educational process in what passes for it in ordinary life”

மேற்கண்ட பதிவு (அல்லது பின்னூட்டங்கள்) குறித்து (விருப்பமிருந்தால்) உரையாடலாமே...

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