Interpretation as Adaptation: Education for Survival in Uncertain Times

Jun. 15, 2012

Source: Curriculum Inquiry , Volume 42, Issue 3, June 2012, p. 368-385.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article draws together two strands of recent work in the philosophy of education.
One elaborates the implications of a semiotic theory of learning.
The other draws upon economic thinking, and has a particular focus on the parameters of human decision-making over time.
The article draws on a framework grounded in the commonalities that underpin this convergence, bringing together strands from a number of areas of academic inquiry.

At the heart of the framework is the acceptance of three broad propositions:
that human beings are the product of, and subject to, evolutionary processes;
that each human life is a process of engagement with a unique set of signs and signals;
and that social institutions can influence that process of engagement, whether deliberately or by accident, and for better or worse.


The authors argue that in relation to the present debate about climate change, governments may be entitled to act to (for example) alert populations to potential dangers and expert scientific advice, forbid certain highly polluting activities or use the tax system to incentivise and disincentivise as appropriate.

They claim that our descendents must achieve the impossible to ensure future survival and flourishing: the limits of the finite will again have to be extended in ways as yet unforeseen.
To achieve this, education as learning, in the narrow sense of achieving set objectives, will not be enough.
We could teach the next generation everything we know, but they must still achieve more than that.
Indeed, the time spent on learning so much might well inhibit their capacity for innovation.

Education’s role is to ensure that variety is productive, with regard to both the biological fact of survival, and what it means to survive.
However, for the necessarily unpredictable to emerge in such forms as permit the future, when it comes, to be judged a success, both information and invitation to critique and respond are prerequisites.

In short, curricular practices are for the long term, and have an importance at least equal to, and usually greater than, the environmental priority of the moment.

Updated: Dec. 09, 2014