pedagogy /PED-ə-gah-jee/. noun. The principles, practices, art and science of teaching. From Greek paidos (boy), and agogos(leader).
Education is a noble enterprise…but it is also a business and a bureaucracy (and some would argue a bad business built to fertilize budding bureaucrats) within which you will find a specialized vocabulary it can take a while to get used to.
To the extent that education is about teaching and learning, it is about pedagogy, the principles and practice, the art and science, of instruction. Pedagogy comes to us via pedagogue. Pedagogue was adapted from Old French pedagoge (children’s teacher), which was derived from the Greek paidagogia (education), which (whew!) was based on Greek paidagogos [literally pedo- (child) + agogos(leader)], which initially referred to a slave whose role was to escort boys to school and generally keep an eye on them.
We still hear pedagogue in popular parlance and even pop music. In their song “Brian Wilson,” an homage to the melancholic Beach Boy, the Barenaked Ladies (who, by the way, are neither), plead “Dr. Landy tell me you’re not just a pedagogue”—using the word with the negative connotation it has taken on since at least the mid–1600s.
This connotation of the pedagogue—the pedant rather than the teacher—is straight-forwardly captured by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren who observed in How to Read a Book:
If the students are on all fours with a difficult problem, the teacher who shows that he is only crawling also, helps them much more than the pedagogue who appears to fly in magnificent circles far above their heads.
Or, as Thomas Bernhard writes in his starkly titled novel The Loser, also pressing the “those who can, do; those who can’t teach” button:
Having set out to be great virtuosos, they spend the remaining decades of their existences as piano teachers, I thought, our fellow students in the conservatory now call themselves musical pedagogues and lead a disgusting pedagogical existence, are dependent on talentless students and their megalomaniacal, art-obsessed parents while they dream of music-teacher pension plans inside their petit-bourgeois apartments.
Or if you really want to enjoy the kind of comedic fruits that reveal themselves only after some hard literary labor, consider the first lines of Wallace Stevens’ “The Comedian as the Letter C”:
Nota: man is the intelligence of his soil,
The sovereign ghost. As such, the Socrates
Of snails, musician of pears, principium
And lex. Sed quaeritur: is this same wig
Of things, this nincompated pedagogue,
Preceptor to the sea?
Trust me, those are some madcap poetagogical antics, yo.
Anyway, while you won’t hear many modern-day faculty members referring to themselves as pedagogues (though some others might)—and some adjunct instructors might wonder how far we’ve really progressed from those days of enslaved teachers—Pedagogy has not (yet?) been so sullied, despite its first recorded use dating back nearly 400 years. Modern education is bursting with pedagogical theories, and indeed whole frameworks themselves referred to as pedagogies such as “digital pedagogy,” which digs into what digital tools, technologies and applications contribute to teaching and learning, or “hybrid pedagogy,” which combines digital pedagogy with “critical pedagogy,” applying principles of teaching and learning to the study of culture and politics.
For 300 years, pedagogy—despite its origins in education for children—was used to refer to the practice of teaching all ages. But in the 1920s, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy pioneered research into andragogy (andro- being a Greek for man), or the practice of teaching adults. He wrote:
Adult education takes place in life, not in school. […] Youths are formed by school; adults are formed by life. Andragogy is an effort to distinguish the particular characteristics of adult learning from all the theories of “pedagogy.”
And then he adds that andragogy is also intended to
…rescue adults from conscious and dangerous mis-education, “demagogy”. “Between pedagogy and demagogy andragogy arises.”
And if pedagogue has long since been leached of positive connotations, demagogue (from the Greek dēmos (people), thus once a leader of the people, now a rabble-rouser) is even worse: where the pedantic pedagogue is a danger only to the people they presume to teach, the dangerous demagogue’s reach extends to the hoi polloi, the crowds, the throngs and the mobs they inspire.
I could cite any number of examples of demagogue from today’s press, but let’s indulge in part of an entry from Witold Gombrowicz’s 1959 diary:
If the private life of an American is still characterized by a certain regularity and if it is still obvious, for example, that if he does not repair the roof, it will rain on his head, then this social, wider, higher political life becomes something like a Great Frontier—one can clamor, riot, and frolic, for where there is no logic, there is also no responsibility, nothing will happen to so vast a country. And so demagoguery, claptrap, political lunacy, illusions, theories, phobias, manias, megalomanias, caprices, and especially the most ordinary viveza (we can pull the wool over their eyes but they’d better not do it to us!) abound! One can tell people absurdities strewn with the cheapest banalities and life will never unmask them, because collective reality is laxer here—and a blusterer will walk in glory in his old age.
Fifty years after Rosenstock-Heussy’s implicit plea for andragogy as a means of outwitting the would-be-demagogues, Malcolm Knowles would build on his idea and create the more fully-realized theory of andragogy still embraced today, that differentiated adult needs by virtue of, among other things, the adult learner’s different motivations, their desire to know through doing, and the benefits of being partners in an informal learning environment versus being students in a formal setting.
But the academic demand to publish-or-perish promotes an endless stream of papers and new words (and the occasional nervous breakdown). In the year 2000—the Y2K crisis averted and the digital age in full swing—teachers Stuart Hase and Chris Kenyon blessed us, the educators, each and every one, with the coinage heutagogy, the “study of self-determined learning.”
Based on the Greek word heuriskein (to find or to discover)—the same word that gives us heuristic (a rules or set of rules that guides investigation)—heutagogy emphasizes not just learning but, in an ever-expanding world of information and access, learning how to learn. The heutagogists seek, in theory anyway, to use technology as a tool to complete the change of this evolutionary chain of -gogies from a focus on the role of the teacher to one centered on the role of the mostly independent (and hopefully-lifelong) learner.
Needless to say, this is a big ask, even for universities that reluctantly concede enough to the importance of their teaching mission to consider andragogy (it’s telling that in Bryan Alexander’s Devil’s Dictionary of Education Keywords he defines pedagogy as “A dark mystery [acquired] through meditation and osmosis”). So, heutagogy—with its shift in power from teacher to learner and implicit questions about the value of the credentials the institutions sell (I can’t resist inserting here another entry from Alexander’s dictionary which defines tuition as “the purest distillation of time, debt, and dreams”)—has proven to be a bridge too far. In the meantime there’s been a resurgence of interest in geragogy and eldergogy (teaching and learning for the elderly), and before heutagogy takes hold I suspect we will see theories of octogeneragogy or even centenagogy being bandied about…assuming we haven’t preemptively transitioned to education via skull jacks or on-the-job training facilitated by our robot overlords.
It’s not as if the ersatz churches of education have a monopoly on the theory and practice of learning. In some ancient religions, the mystagogue [from the Greek mystagogos (person who initiates into mysteries)] held sway, sometimes literally leading blindfolded initiates into sacred spaces of learning. The term survived into the Christian era, used to describe bishops who prepared believers for baptism in the form of what are still referred to as mystagogical homilies.
Oddly—and take my appraisal with a grain of salt given that I find it strange that Greek letter organizations still exist at all—there are mystagogues at work today in the form of leadership positions in many college fraternities and sororities. The responsibilities of these mystagogues range from being mentors working with individual pledges (the mystagogue-mystagee assignment according to the Alpha Chi Omega initiation ritual) to ensuring that their organization’s customs and traditions are upheld, with the full power to shut parts of the organization down if they don’t.
Finally, a relevant word that appeared and disappeared in the 1600s but might be ready for restoration is scleragogy. From the Greek scleros (hard)—seen in words such as scleroid (being hard or hardened) and scleroderma (hardness of the skin)—scleragogy refers to severe training and discipline even to the point of mortification. But in the best cynical teaching tradition, I’ll just say scleragogy and leave the doing to you.
- Bryan Alexander’s Devil’s Dictionaries: Educational Technology – Educational Technology, Part 2 – [Education Keywords](A devil’s dictionary of education keywords | Bryan Alexander
If you’re weary of repeating demagogue lately, change it up a little with ochlagogue. From Greek okhlos (mob), the Wiktionary definition includes:
A manipulator of a mob who holds sway by use of inflammatory rhetoric, casting opprobrium, and by appeal to the lowest common denominator generally; an extreme and wholly unscrupulous demagogue…
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