Author Interview: Yusef Waghid

Yusef Waghid is Professor of Philosophy of Education at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Here he discusses his most recent book, ‘African Philosophy of Education Reconsidered: On Being Human’, which is reviewed here this month. 

Why did you decide to write African Philosophy of Education Reconsidered: On Being Human?

I thought it apposite to highlight some of the underlying meanings that constitute an African philosophy of education in order to gain more clarity on how to achieve justice in/through education. Simply put, to my mind, African philosophy of education offers possibilities for the enactment of justice in and through educational relations.

What’s the main aim of the book, and why is it important now?

African philosophy of education is often criticised for existing mostly in the oral tradition, while most philosophical works are said to have been documented in texts. Instead of refuting the criticism that the oral tradition dominates African philosophy of education, inasmuch as Socrates’ ideas were documented in the dialogues of Plato, I rather refer to literature on African philosophy of education to explain such a philosophy of education from an African perspective. In addition, I consider how this concept will influence educational relations amongst people.

And what is it that draws you, personally, to this area of research?

My own interest in the texts of African philosophy of education is guided by my initiation, in the early 1980s, into an Anglo-Saxon analytic philosophy of education, which focused overwhelmingly on the quest for meaning and understanding in and about the texts that informed educational change in post-apartheid South Africa. It was only in the early 2000s, when I encountered the Ghanaian philosopher Kwasi Wiredu (an African now living in Florida in the USA) on a visit to our department, that I began to give African philosophy of education much more attention. Wiredu’s claim – that one would not necessarily compromise one’s African identity if one draws on other ‘truths’ outside of one’s own African tradition of thought – had a major influence on my own scholarship in the field of African philosophy of education.

What sort of reaction do you hope the book will get?

Perhaps advocates of an African philosophy of education would respond positively towards my argument of fusing what is considered as universal (and perhaps global and dominant) and appropriate, with what counts as local or indigenous and credible. On the other hand, critics of an African philosophy of education would vociferously argue against the existence of such a view of education, in particular pointing out that reason and culture are incommensurable.

What’s your current project? What’s next?

I am currently engaging in some analytical inquiry into democratic citizenship education in relation to its relevance to African politics, education, ways of being, and ethics.

What is philosophy of education and why does it matter?

(African) philosophy of education is both a way of thinking and doing. As a way of thinking, on the one hand, it offers a framework of critique whereby one listens, reflects, reasons, and questions. On the other hand, thinking also draws on the experiences of people within their environments or contexts. In this sense, (African) philosophy of education consists of critique and attention to lived experiences. As a way of doing, (African) philosophy of education involves making one’s thinking responsive to problems on the African continent. In this way, African philosophy is pragmatic in the sense that it can contribute to the political, social economic, intellectual, and ethical development of Africa’s people.